Romney, Ryan and Cheap Grace
Now that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate, the transformation of the Republican Party is complete. The Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Ayn Rand. The party of small business and the family farm is now the party of big business and private capital.
One might have thought that the Great Recession would have halted the Republican March to Plutocracy. After all, it was Republican faith in unregulated markets that brought about the economic meltdown. Alan Greenspan admitted as much. But, instead of taking Greenspan’s suggestion that their policies were misguided, Republicans doubled down, insisting on more tax breaks for the wealthy and huge cuts in social spending. That is what Mr. Romney’s running mate stands for.
How does one account for this remarkable refusal on the part of Republicans to re-evaluate their position? Mike Lofgren, a former Republican staffer, offers an explanation:
Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war.
The religious right has energized the Republican Party — and it has wrestled control from the party’s formerly ascendant secularists:
The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-year-old culture wars.
So much so, writes Lofgren, that
there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: Major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to share their feelings about their faith in a revelatory speech, or a televangelist like Rick Warren will dragoon the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, offering himself as the final arbiter. Half a century after John F. Kennedy put to rest the question of whether a candidate of a minority denomination could be president, the Republican Party has reignited the kinds of seventeenth-century religious controversies that advanced democracies are supposed to have outgrown. And some in the media seem to have internalized the GOP’s premise that the religion of a candidate is a matter for public debate.
But worse still has been the acceptance of a kind of religious orthodoxy which the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace:”
By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before.
Because Republicans now believe with religious fervor that they carry the keys to the Kingdom of Economic Salvation, they insist that America needs more of the same. Mitt Romney is their Moses. And, if for some reason, he doesn’t lead them into the land of milk and honey, Paul Ryan — like Joshua — will see that they get there.
The truth is that, if Americans buy what the Republicans are selling, they will be wandering in the desert for another forty years.