Sorry about Perry, but you asked for it
We've seen this movie before
The last time a Texas politician hit the national spotlight to be, for a time, promoted as the savior of American values, a straight shooter, and all that rot, it was George Bush, 'Dubya', choosing Jesus as his favorite philosopher and a children's book that had not been published when he was a child as his favorite reading when he was a tot. The nation should have figured it out then: we send our governors into national politics to make sure they get the hell out of this state. It is a practice we learned from successful companies--promote into oblivion. I suppose the bright side of this year's maverick venture is the collapse of Perry came quick, indicating, I hope, that there is a demand for substance and reason in the public today that was lacking in the anti-Clinton reactionary hysteria of Bush's election.
I could be wrong. It seems that Perry thinks I am wrong, as he goes a-courtin' the fringe. At least in his latest video for the Midwest he isn't sporting his cowboy credentials, just his alliance with intolerant, paranoid Christians. Note that paranoid Christians live an unreasonable fear of persecution, for which they require no evidence, only the feeling that somehow the world is not as it should be, they are less powerful than they would like to be, and this all makes God unhappy. There is a comfort in paranoia. The wrong is identified, demonized, and prepped for execution. The problem is, of course, that the evil identified is often of no real power, has no real connection to the malaise afflicting our nation, and the misidentification of the cause ends all thinking about possible, pragmatic, workable solutions within a democratic system.
I am referring, if you have not already guessed, to Perry's now famous advertisement in which he strangely connects the service of homosexuals in the military to attacks on the ability of children to celebrate Christmas and pray in school. In an odd way, this opens up a compromise point: hey, let us pray in school and we'll let you serve in the military. I will not post a link to the video here, nor embed it: if you want to watch Perry make an ass of himself, agree with him or disagree with him, get on youtube and have a blast. I watched it once. I'm not enough of a masochist to do so again.
One thing about the sort of ad hominem attack perpetrated by Perry in this ad, made to appeal to a strong conservative community in the midwest, is the extent to which demagogues largely target minorities, in this particular case homosexuals, that do not form a threat to them. The Nazis targeted the Jews, an insignificant demographic in 1933 Germany, but one to which a lot of symbolic importance, capable of carrying an irrational, immoderate weight of fear and loathing, had been assigned. The Jews were not a threat, but they could be painted as one using elements of intolerance and insecurity already present in the society apart from Nazi ideology. The Jews could be threatened because no one would protect them, and so popularity as a fighter, a champion, could be gained without truly facing an opponent capable of delivering a return blow. Today, people discomfited by the increasing tolerance and even welcome given to homosexuals in some circles are making them bear a weight as symbols of decadence and downfall that is not theirs, that is unreasonable, and that is unjust.
Homosexuals can serve in the military. They have been serving in the military, without our permission, for a long time. I do not see the use in inquiring into the sleeping arrangements of those men and women who volunteer to be this country's defenders and tools in war and peace. What does this fact have to do with Christmas or prayer in school? I would rather, in fact, being sort of a prude and uncomfortable discussing sex in any detail, leave people alone in their bedrooms. The sex other people are having only concerns me if it is a question of consent: rape and child molestation are matters for the police and the courts, and they should be. Everything else is private, personal, sacred, in that it is set apart, off limits, and not a public concern.
I am married, and don't view homosexual marriage as a threat to my own marriage. Unless they make homosexual marriage mandatory. Then, I'm against it. My choice has been made and I don't intend to change it., but it was my choice. I was allowed by society to choose a person I loved and intended to share the rest of my life with, ask her to share her travails, pleasures, and journey with me, and create a home recognized by the state as a home, a family, a legal partnership, with all the risks and benefits that entails. I happen to have chosen well. I am a happily married man. I am so happily married that I do not want, nor do I think it is my place in a free society, to deny to other human beings that opportunity, that choice, that risk.
I have a Facebook friend who has been posting messages since Thanksgiving about his right to have a Merry Christmas, say Merry Christmas, have a Christmas tree, etc. For a while, I ignored his postings. It's a busy time of year for me with a five year old in the house, snow on the ground, and a tight budget. Finally, though, I had enough. It was late at night, my day had kicked me in the head, and his last post was one inanity too many. I had to ask him who he was fighting. Some stores prefer that their employees in the carrying out of their jobs greet customers with a Happy Holidays instead of a Merry Christmas. This is not an attack on any person's ability to have a Merry Christmas without the blessing of the Walmart greeter. It is a recognition that not all customers are Christian. Christmas celebrations are still safe. Even atheists will celebrate the season with a tree, presents, and family. Feeling brave for defending an institution that is not under attack is just silly, where it isn't down right creepy. And my friend, by the way, so fervent in his defense of Christmas, is not a Christian, although I guess he is playing one this season. He is an American Indian with a grudge against the church and the good Christians who took the land and dignity of his people. Go figure.
For years people have been telling me that I did not say the Pledge of Allegiance in school because it wasn't permitted. But I did say the pledge, standing with my hand over my heart while the kid next to me gave the standard mutilated version out of sheer boredom. We all mumbled our way through it, sat down, and went through the rest of our day. And no one can stop children from praying in school, but they can, and should, stop public schools from being churches. You do not have to pray loudly in order to pray. You do not have to force others to join you for your prayers to be heard.
Some people who support prayer in school defend themselves from questions of coercion and the intent of prayer by saying that no child would be forced to pray, just to be silent. This is facetious. Establishing prayer in school, as a component of its structure backed by the power of the institution, creates a coercive situation and allows children to be judged and ostracized on the basis of their religion with the institution as a detector of difference. It is problematic. The problems with it can be recognized through the use of this simple thought exercise: Say that prayer is required in school, but the prayers involved will be determined by the differing strengths of sects and denominations in each school. A Christian child in a school in which most students are Muslim would be required to pray properly and respectfully to Allah. In a Hindu dominated school, prayers to Vishnu would receive institutional support. In a school in which most children's parents were atheists, that time would be occupied by a discourse on evolution. Is it still okay? Is it still the proper role of a school to run a prayer meeting?
In closing, Christmas is safe, and children do pray, even though there are homosexuals in the military.
Happy Holidays everyone.
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