By Alisa Craddock
"Let all of the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out."
Those were the words of the Emperor, Claudius (played brilliantly by Derek Jacobi) near the end of his reign in the BBC Masterpiece Theatre Production of Robert Graves' I, Claudius. Claudius' ambitious, conniving wife had prepared a delightfully appetizing dish of [poisoned] mushrooms in order to hasten her husband's demise so that her depraved son, Nero, could become emperor. Claudius wanted a return to a republican form of government, but in an ironic twist, he had himself, some years before, been declared emperor by the Praetorian Guard, after the murder of his equally depraved nephew, Caligula. Claudius, realizing what mischief thousands of suddenly unemployed elite Praetorian Guardsmen would wreak on the city, accepted their invitation to be their new boss in order to spare the city. Now he is near the end of his life; his son, his hope, has been murdered by his wife's henchmen, and now she has prepared for him an exquisite dish of mushrooms, a delicacy she knows he adores, but he is not fooled by her false doting. He knows she is trying to poison him. In a moment of desperate hope, he considers a deadly gamble: take the poison, sacrifice himself, let Nero become emperor, in the hope that, after Nero has unleashed all the horrors of cruelty, debauchery, and infamy upon the people of Rome, they will conspire to kill him as they had done his nephew, Caligula, and the people will then restore the Roman republic. And so he makes the decision to die for Rome with these words:
"Let all of the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out."
In many ways, we religious conservatives are faced with a similar choice this year, and in 2008. It has become very clear to most of us that the party who rode to victory with our support, in truth, despises us. Our antiquated ideas of God, family, and country do not fit in with their globalist agenda. They are looking for ways to win without us. They are looking for candidates with crossover appeal: A Rudy Guiliani or a John McCain. Someone that will draw in enough moderates and social liberals to ensure victory without having to kowtow to Bible thumpers and Rosary wavers.
Heather MacDonald, writing in USA Today, criticized the infusion of piety into politics. In her feature, Conservatism doesn't need God, (October 23)she points out that, though "the conservative movement has apparently benefited from politicians who publicize their relationship to God…non-believing conservatives see this electoral gain as a Pyrrhic victory. Conservative principles, they say, are best grounded in reason and evidence, not revelation." What she says here makes sense to a certain extent. I too find the idea of a president who makes decisions based on what he thinks God has instructed him to do a bit disconcerting. How many pious ladies have you heard say, "I asked God what I should do, and he told me…" Yikes! It's scary enough when your neighbor says it. But without "reason" grounded in what are commonly referred to as "Judeo-Christian" moral truths, truths that have been tried and tested on the crucible of history, "reason" takes a decidedly secular-humanist turn. So from that standpoint, Conservatism does need God. Faith must be reconciled with reason, but reason devoid of moral absolutes loses its moral compass just as surely as compassion does.
Contrary to popular (carefully crafted public) opinion, religious conservatives are not seeking a religious state. They simply desire that the laws of the land should be in harmony with the natural law, and not only in matters of sex and marriage, but in matters of property and economics and individual rights. But all of these things become perverted when natural law is ignored, and the government that perverts the laws of God sets itself against the conscience of its people. The other thing that happens when natural law is ignored is moral, social, and economic disaster. It is inevitable.
Why then do our neo-con brothers try to distance themselves from us? Why are they conspicuously distancing themselves from truth, justice, and the American Way. Well, they've got other plans, apparently, and religious conservatives are like an unwanted stepchild. And so, religious conservatives are considering withholding their support, choosing not to vote at all unless the Republican candidates do more than pay lip service to our social concerns. By abandoning us, they are doing much more than that. They are signaling their hostility to us, and what we stand for.
There is mixed reaction among conservative columnists to this possibility. Some pundits are urging religious conservatives to give their support to Republican candidates anyway, even if the candidates are not ideal or even desirable choices, because the alternative is a radical leftist government led by Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi that will aggressively destroy what's left of our culture and religious freedom, or political freedom for that matter, and the traditional family. On the other hand, others (mostly Evangelical Christians) are suggesting we withhold our support, not be "yoked with the unrighteous", let the Democrats win, because if the Democrats were to regain power, and they did carry out their radical agenda, it might cause the Republican Party (and the American people) to return to its conservative roots and restore the rule of law and justice and common sense government. (The Claudius solution.) It would also earn us respect. But by then it may be too late to reverse the damage.
So you see the dilemma. In addition, if we don't go to the polls, and the Republicans retain control anyway, then we become a non-entity, disempowered, disrespected. We are looking for a hero, a man of true conviction, a man of authentic integrity. A man who believes in a higher law than the shifting winds of fad.
At least one politician with his finger in the wind is warming up to religious conservatives: Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is preparing to run for the presidency in 2008, and has met with Baroness Margaret Thatcher at a recent Washington think tank. Reports claiming she has "given him the nod" and such are flying, but at this point I don't find that to be the case, only that he met with her, signaling his intent to demonstrate his solidarity with the conservatives. He is "reaching out" to religious conservatives, coming out strongly against gay marriage, for example, at a forum sponsored by the Family Research Council. "The price of same-sex marriage is paid by the children," he said. "The child's development is enhanced by the nurturing of parents of both genders. Every child deserves a mother and a father."
Bravo! That's the kind of truth we need to hear! But that statement really only addresses the issue of children of gay couples, and not gay marriage itself. Though the Governor appears to be talking the talk, has he been walking the walk? Not according to Brian Camenker of MassResistance (formerly Article 8 Alliance/Parents Rights Coalition). According to Camenker, Governor Romney is ultimately responsible for gay marriage in Massachusetts. In an email I received from his organization, he describes the action that led to the imposition of gay marriage on the state of Massachusetts:
"We are forwarding to you a letter that was received by Tony Perkins (of the Family Research Council) just over a week ago with news on same-sex "marriage" in Massachusetts. Pro-family attorneys, activists, and political experts here alerted Mr. Perkins that same-sex "marriage" is still not legal here, and was not created by the Goodridge ruling.
"In fact, it was Governor Mitt Romney who was ultimately responsible for same-sex ‘marriages' taking place. The Supreme Judicial Court only ordered the Legislature to act (which it never did). Governor Romney created these "marriages" through an unconstitutional and illegal Executive Order to his Department of Public Health (to print new "marriage" licenses), and threatened to fire any Town Clerk or Justice of the Peace who failed to implement the (non-existent) ‘new law'".
The full story and the supporting documentation can be found on the MassResistance website.
To be fair, Gov. Romney has supported the ballot initiative to put the issue before the voters—a drive that netted substantially more petitioners than required by the state law to get it on the ballot.
But what about abortion, the other major issue with religious conservatives? Where does Gov. Romney stand? Well, in 1994, his position was pro-choice. Due, he said, to the death of a relative from an illegal botched abortion, his position has been that he was personally opposed to abortion, but would support keeping it legal. "It is since that time that my family will not force our beliefs on that matter," Apparently the death of his relative shaped his belief that "regardless of one's beliefs about choice, you would hope it would be safe and legal." In 2002, he reaffirmed that position: "On a personal basis, I don't favor abortion," he said. "However, as governor of the commonwealth, I will protect a woman's right to choose under the laws of the country and the commonwealth. That's the same position I've had for many years."
However, in 2005, his political strategist told National Review he had been "faking" his pro-choice status for his entire career. Michael Murphy said, ''He's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly." Hmmm. Now that's a creative way of flip-flopping. You've got to give him credit for that. So why after all this time suddenly say that he's been lying? Because if he doesn't, he'll appear as just another candidate saying what he has to say to get the Party's nod. He's a pro-choice Republican who wants to be President, so he has to convince us he's one of us in his heart of hearts—a pro-life, pro-family, bona fide Christian by God Conservative.
Now I will not presume to know the heart of a man I don't know, and I certainly would not want to shoot down a good candidate. But I am very cautious of flip-flops on vital issues. Whether he was lying to the liberals or lying to the conservatives, it is difficult to persuade me that he lied to conceal his moral integrity. I mean, come on now! Do you really expect us to swallow that? It just doesn't work that way.
Remember, George Bush Sr. was pro-choice until he became Reagan's V.P. choice, then suddenly he became pro-life. But as President he gave us Justice David Souter. As far as I am concerned, this was not an honest misjudgment. I believe he knew exactly who he was appointing. A leopard don't change its spots (well, unless they get religion, like me...) So I will be very cautious as we begin the countdown to 2008, and I will be watching and listening very closely.
As for the "Claudius Solution"? Well, his scheme (as imagined by Graves) didn't work. In actual history, Claudius was poisoned, the corrupt adolescent Nero became emperor, Rome burned, Nero blamed the Christians and his persecution of them was vicious and relentless. Nero, seeing his power waning, committed suicide at the age of 31. The empire went on, and continued to decline. But on its ashes Christianity grew and flowered, and Western Civilization prospered. As long as we have a republic, we should not take it for granted. We should try to work on it.
So I guess I will be going to the polls next Tuesday to cast my vote for a bunch of neo-cons and one solid Christian Conservative who is predicted to lose by a landslide. (Say to the mountains, "fall on us" and to the hills, "cover us.") I can't bear to watch. But its better than the alternative.
Alisa Craddock is free-lance columnist and activist in the culture war, a convert to Catholicism, and describes herself as a Christian Libertarian. Her columns have appeared on Enter Stage Right, Alain's Newsletter and Out2 News. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other related essays: