A stupid word
Last week, while I was wandering around the west coast looking at old airplanes and big rocks, Katherine Harris was hard at work trying to lose the Florida Senate race. Her latest misadventure began when she gave a pandering interview to a Baptist newsletter and never imagined that someone who wasn't a far-right, Christian fundamentalist might also read her words. In the course of the interview she called separation of church and state "that lie we have been told," claimed the founding fathers did not intent America to be a nation of secular laws, and warned "if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin." Mustang Bobby has the highlights here.
Naturally a few people who are not far-right, Christian fundamentalists did read her words--some of them members of the liberal press and even unhinged, leftist bloggers--and the poo hit the fan. Harris' explanation/non-apology amounts to,"I was telling a special interest group what they wanted to hear and some of my best friends are Jewish." To make the second point crystal clear, her statement made sure to throw the term "Judeo-Christian" around a lot.
"Judeo-Christian" is one of the more vile bits of double-speak in our political lexicon. For years that term was only used by academics in the humanities and social sciences to make some vague generalizations about Mediterranean and European culture. At some point in the near past it was adopted by right-wing culture warriors in an effort to pry Jewish voters away from the Democratic Party.
Historically, the modern religious right has been a Protestant movement. As they have become a real political power, their leaders realized that they needed to expand their coalition in order to be large enough to rule. Leaders of the Republican Party, in their complicated dance of captive and captor with the religious right, saw an opportunity to poach on some traditionally Democratic voter groups by adopting a modified version of the language of the religious right.
The key was to get the religious right to disguise some of its purely Protestant associations and distance itself from its overt anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic history. American Protestantism, in general, was already headed in this direction, but the rise of Christian Zionism among fundamentalists and their apocalyptic fascination with Israel greatly aided this effort. The phrase "Judeo-Christian values" was the perfect marketing phrase to tell conservative Catholics and Jews that they had something in common with religious right Protestants and that they should all vote for the same slate of candidates.
So far, this marketing campaign has been more successful among Catholics than it has been among Jews. Too often, leaders of the religious right let slip old attitudes. In 1999 Jerry Falwell stated of the Antichrist, "Of course he'll be Jewish." That same year the Southern Baptist Convention restated converting the Jews as a major goal. And many Jews can't help but notice that the central apocalyptic narrative of Christian Zionism, as luridly told in books like the Left Behind series, is that the Jews will all gather into Israel where they can be conveniently killed to bring about the second coming of Christ. Only a tiny number of converts will survive.
In political discourse coming from the religious right, "Judeo-Christian" is essentially a code phrase that means "you should vote for us, you greedy Christ killers." Harris shows the true colors of the religious right when, speaking to a Christian audience, she conveniently forgets to include Jews among the exclusive possessors of morality who should rule this country. There might be some legitimate reasons why a Florida Jew might vote for such a person, but religion and morality should not be among them.
In the next installment of "Stupid Words I Never Want to Hear You Using" I'll explain why drunken lout Christopher Hitchens deserves to be thrown in a volcano for coining the neologism "Islamo-Fascist."