Friday, March 03, 2006

The Prejudices of Andrew Sullivan

are not normally of great concern, except insofar as others share them. Here, for example, is insensitivity in the blogosphere:

Andrew Sullivan:
If you had any doubts about the reach and power of Christianism in today's Republican party, read this letter from Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Alito, to James Dobson, the leading fundamentalist in the U.S. today, and the central power-broker in this White House on social policy...

So what did Andrew do wrong here? Well, for starters, let's take a look at that "fundamentalist" phrase that Andrew is throwing around. Andrew doesn't seem to know this (most Catholics, unfortunately, don't), but fundamentalist has been a term of offense for most conservative Protestants in this country since at least 1942: the National Association of Evangelicals, formed in that year, was founded under that name precisely because evangelicals were weary of "fundamentalist" as an insult. When some sixty years later, the term fundamentalist is thrown around loosely, it has about the same force as "boy" had applied to black people in the South, or Ross Perot's famous "you people". Andrew Sullivan would not refer to Barak Obama as "the leading Negro leader in America today." And Andrew Sullivan would not take it kindly if Dr Dobson referred to Mr Sullivan as "the leading fag blogger in America today." Civility and tolerance are important virtues--but in these matters one needs to give if one hopes to receive.

There are still a few Christians left who still do prefer the term fundamentalist. Most of them are clustered around Bob Jones University; but if you don't understand that Bob Jones has been anathema in the broader evangelical community for decades, then you probably get too much of your news from ABC, CBS, & NBC.

In and of itself, Sullivan's use of "fundamentalist" may well stem from simple ignorance. But bigotry and ignorance march together, and his follow-up is every bit as bad:

A few emailers have asked what I see troubling in the Alito thank you note to Dr James Dobson. First, Supreme Court Justices should be very careful associating with overtly political entities, and you don't get much more political than Dobson. Secondly, Dobson himself read it out loud on the air to brag of his influence on national affairs. Thirdly, there is more than just a hint of a constitutional quo for a political quid in the letter.

Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1967. If he had received a letter of congratulations from Martin Luther King, and Marshall had written back thanking King for his prayers and support, who would have deemed that inappropriate?

Memo to Andrew: every new public official gets flooded with letters of congratulations after taking office. And every new public official in turn writes back some kind of a gracious response.

The ripples of shock flowing in some political circles over a simple thank-you letter are troubling. Opposition to the political agenda of evangelical leaders is all part of the game. But when a thank-you letter can rile the waters, there is something more than political disagreement here: there is rather the passion of prejudice, passions that have been directed toward evangelicals for most of their history, and which make them the single most stigmatized community in American public life today.

3 Comments:

At Monday, 06 March, 2006, Blogger Laserlawyer said...

The funny thing is that folks like Andrew Sullivan are, perhaps unknowingly, responding to people like Alito with a kind of presuppositional awareness that is somewhat accurate.

He knows enough about Alito to know that Alito's presuppositions about life and the law are probably very different from his own, and so he is concerned about any indication that those presuppositions are going to be applied to the law in ways that might described as "activist." Of course, the irony is that if a Supreme Court appointment had been made (say, like Ginsburg) that reflected Sullivan's presuppositions more closely, he'd be celebrating every expression of such activism.

 
At Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Alito might prove to be the least activist judge in recent memory. His intellectual biography shows a strong commitment to Alexander Bickel, one of his old profs at Yale, who had serious doubts about the legitimacy of judicical review in a democracy.

I suspect that Alito is going to be very reluctant to overrule legislation, even legislation that he disagrees with strongly.

 
At Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Alito might prove to be the least activist judge in recent memory. His intellectual biography shows a strong commitment to Alexander Bickel, one of his old profs at Yale, who had serious doubts about the legitimacy of judicical review in a democracy.

I suspect that Alito is going to be very reluctant to overrule legislation, even legislation that he disagrees with strongly.

 

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