George Stephanopolous did a pretty good job yesterday of holding Indiana Governor Mike Pence's feet to the fire. And Pence did a pretty good job of playing the weasel.
I think I just made an understatement. You sort of expect politicians to be weasels, but every once in a while a four-ply, government-inspected, no-doubt-about-it, honest-to-goodness political weasel will come by and redefine the weasel category.
Watch the interview. It’s only 12 some minutes long. The piece starts out with Pence claiming Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom” law has nothing to do with discrimination. “… (I)f I thought it was about discrimination, I would have vetoed it,” he says.
You have to laugh sometimes when politicians go this far into the red pants-on-fire liar zone. You wonder how anybody can survive the headaches that must come with being so brazen.
What Pence is doing, of course, is what George Lakoff has been trying for years to get democrats to do – grab hold of the narrative and make your opponents tell the story according to your framework. By labeling his bigotry “religious freedom” he gets the non-critical religious right – his kind of folk – to see him in heroic terms. Looking out for their interests.
What’s going on here is a direct nose-to-nose confrontation between civil rights and the right of a religious group to claim their God is behind them in their disapproval of somebody. Christians did it when slavery was in harmony with the spirit of the times. They did it when keeping Jews out of country clubs was simple Episcopalian common sense. They do it today when radical lefty pastors open the church to the homeless and they can’t get the stink out of the pews so they put pressure on the pastor to stop. All well and good to turn the other cheek, give your coat to the guy who asks for your jacket, and walk two miles when he asks you to keep him company for only one. Just so long as it doesn’t burst your comfort zone.
There is terrible nastiness in religious scriptures. Parts of the Qur’an the Islamicists use to justify their brutality. Parts of the Gospels that Martin Luther and all sorts of Christians before and after him used to justify blaming the Jews for the ills of the world. Parts of the Old Testament that encourage genocide and smashing the heads of small children against the rocks. And parts that many Christians use to this day to justify keeping women subordinate to men and gays on a permanent sinner shit list they can get off of only if they give up any hope of a satisfying sex life, including one with a loving partner for life.
We live with taboos. One of those taboos is that we must never criticize what is in the Bible or the Qur’an. We must honor religion. It’s a social requirement. Although the number of atheists is on the increase, it’s still a good way to flunk a job interview to let it be known you don’t believe these Bronze Age texts are definitive. And a certain way to lose an election. This country is still cursed by religion, and despite our separation of church and state we have the unwritten rule that this includes never telling anybody their religion sucks. Even if you make plain it's only some particularly wacko misinterpretation of their religion you're going on about. Nice people, we are told, don't say things like that. And I know my rights, they say. Your freedom of speech is OK as long as it doesn't make me feel bad. And my freedom to believe nonsense entitles me to cross the church/state line and make laws affecting you and frame it as freedom of religion. What a royal pain in the ass these religionists can be.
That’s why Mike Pence can make a fool of himself on national television refusing to admit that the new law in Indiana will prevent LGBT people from getting equal treatment. He knows the religious right, which is very much in control of his party and his section of the country, will not worry about his prevarications. They are in what they consider a good cause.
One can only hope reason will ultimately prevail and this is merely a bump in the road to the still elusive goal of equality in America.
picture credit: http://media.washtimes.com.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2014/07/27/7_272014_ap9366833150848201.jpg (The caption "weasel" is mine - and not part of the source material)