Few things can be more calculated to raise hackles and end calm discourse than using the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, as John Danforth did last week, to accuse the Republicans of being in thrall to “conservative Christians.” And when the finger being pointed belongs to a former Republican senator and member of the Bush administration — a Christian minister, no less — well, you can hear the hoots and hollers from Howard Dean’s office as the Democrats finally get some payback for Zell Miller.
I was Danforth’s legislative counsel when he was Missouri’s senator. I have tremendous regard for him but, speaking as a Jew, I think Danforth’s lament does unwarrantable damage — not least of which is to needlessly inflame religious divisions that have only recently begun to be overcome.
It was Danforth who taught me, on my very first day on his staff, that the root of the words religion and ligament is the same: “that which binds us together.” Today, it is this dynamic that I see at work in the expanding Republican base, as Americans of diverse faiths increasingly are bound together politically.
The GOP may be demonstrating its tendency toward conservatism, just as the Democrats pursue liberalism and progressive agendas. But there is nothing objectionable in that, because there is nothing sectarian — nothing uniquely “Christian” — about what the GOP is doing.
The Republican Party is defending our Constitution and the rights of individuals against government intrusion. It is pursuing an inclusive, ecumenical agenda rooted in the same Judeo-Christian morality that gave rise to the Constitution in the first place. In the decade since Danforth left Washington, the entire system has methodically begun to be undermined by a shockingly aggressive agenda based on clearly defined secularist dogma and pursued recklessly by a frustrated, out-of-power Democratic Party emboldened by its own insulation from responsible decision-making. In this generation, this is the threat to minority religions — like mine.
Many Jews, in particular, see what Danforth might not: how this same leftist mindset is, in the world of academia, giving rise to a new wave of “respectable” antisemitism that has led to discrimination, intimidation and even violence against Jewish students and faculty on campuses. Traditional Jews are glad for the GOP and are flocking to it — as much as 80% of us reportedly voted Republican in the last election — precisely for its moral center. So, too, are younger Jews, regardless of affiliation; the Jewish collegiate rose 75% from 2000 to 2004.
This moral center is no departure from Republican principles. Small government and economic thrift are not, as Danforth argues, the core principles. All things being equal, they are a means to achieve the core principle: the protection of individual freedom against unnecessary government intrusion.
But all things are not equal. Secularists want to invest government with the power to force citizens to abandon their scruples on an array of the most basic building blocks of individual conscience. Judges willing to ignore the Constitution want to force citizens to redefine families. The left wants to assign power to the government to determine the quality and worth of innocent lives in order to allow their intentional destruction.
It is to protect us from sliding into the eugenics of big government that the Republicans are trying to defend the sanctity — or, if you prefer, the centrality — of individual human lives. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, I am terrified by what the left is doing here and grateful beyond words for the Republican response to the Terri Schiavo tragedy. It may look like a Christian agenda in Missouri, but in my neighborhood it looks profoundly Jewish.
Jack Danforth is a minister in a large mainstream Christian denomination. I respectfully suggest that he may not share the fear of the adherents of minority religions, like mine, that are struggling to maintain our traditions against a cultural and political onslaught. The average observant Jew willingly makes enormous economic sacrifices to live and preserve our faith and transmit it to our children.
Frankly, so long as the Democrats continue to pursue the left’s agenda politically, a shift by the Republican Party to an exclusive focus on issues such as the deficit and free trade would leave me and my family bereft. I am sorry to say this, but a GOP return to Danforth’s nostalgic agenda means a total abandonment of us.
For traditional Jews, we need to do no more than compare our extraordinarily warm relationship with this President Bush to the uneven and sometimes strained relationship we had with his father — a distinguished and honorable Republican, but more in the moderate mold Danforth romanticizes. The GOP Danforth remembers was, in fact, much less popular. He spent most of his Senate career in the minority; the first President Bush was not re-elected.
Republicans should stay the course, and will — because morally, constitutionally and politically, it is the better one. The very reason that Bush, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are the left’s betes noires is their phenomenal success: Republicans now have their strongest majority in 80 years. Americans of all faiths have responded not because we are so easily manipulated by political strategists, but because the values we cherish are the ones we learn from our families and in our houses of worship — and it is clear that more of us see those values reflected in the Republican Party.
I believe there was a time when Danforth would have seen the current political crisis for what it is: an opposition party, having lost power within the constitutional framework, desperately bent on undermining the foundation of commonalities on which the Constitution is predicated. I believe there was a time when he would have decried how, in the process, Senate Democrats are mutilating the Constitution by refusing its mandate to advise and consent on judicial nominations. Above all, I believe there was a time when he would not have thought of any and all legal efforts to end the government’s intentional starvation of an innocent woman as “extraordinary” at all.
Jeff Ballabon is president of the Ballabon Group LLC.