The proposal to create a federal department of Judeo-Christian values is only a symbolic proposal. It’s useful to remember this. The politician who put it forward, John Kasich, is not considered to have any realistic chance of becoming the next president. He is an unrealistic presidential candidate because he is, at the moment, viewed as being too conventional and moderate to make an interesting impression with the public.
The same day this week that Kasich told NBC about his plans, a more realistic or interesting candidate, Ben Carson—No. 2 in recent polling of public preferences in the Republican primary field—published a piece on the Time magazine website to “call on the American people to stop viewing Islamic extremism through the lens of political correctness.” Carson wrote that “the U.S. simply cannot, should not and must not accept any Syrian refugees” and reiterated his previous announcement that “I personally would not support having a Muslim president in the White House if he or she had not renounced Islamic extremism, Sharia law or the tenets and practices of Islam that are in conflict with the Constitution.”
If you’ve bothered to read to the third paragraph here, you are fully capable of drawing a little arrow back up from Carson’s “in conflict with the Constitution” to Kasich’s desire to have the federal government officially promoting Judaism (or at least a prefix’s worth of Judaism) and Christianity around the world. Probably also you can connect that to the expressed point of view of the ISIS terrorists—who gave Kasich and Carson the occasion for expressing their thoughts—that the whole world is a theater of battle between the devout and ruthless forces of jihad and the wicked, Muslim-hating Crusaders of the West.
But what do we do with those connections? What’s the point of making them? Alex Pareene, this month’s editor of Gawker.com, wrote to the staff this week that the site “shouldn’t exist in an echo chamber and it shouldn’t preach to the choir.”
And how. I am bored by my own opinions about Syria and ISIS and especially the Syrian refugees. Of course this country owes the refugees shelter. Of course it is morally and practically self-destructive to argue otherwise, to announce to the world—at the very moment it is most disgusted by ISIS’s brutality and slaughter—that we despise the entire Middle East, down to its helpless children. Of course, 14 years into a military intervention that failed on its own terms, it would be insane to listen to the same people who ruined the region making the same arguments that created the ruin in the first place.
I can get this already from smart people on Twitter, expressed forcefully and well:
1. ISIS is run by the officer corps of the army the US heedlessly disbanded in its defeat.— Jacob PaperBacharach (@jakebackpack) November 16, 2015
3. That there may be some danger to the US, as a refuge, *increases* rather than ameliorates the totality of the moral demand.— Jacob PaperBacharach (@jakebackpack) November 16, 2015
Meanwhile, the United States House of Representatives has voted, by a 152-vote margin, to block Syrian refugees. Meanwhile a majority of state governors have announced that they will try to block any effort to settle Syrian refugees in their states. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is directly reproducing Nazi cartoon imagery of refugees as invading rats.
The new axis of opinion in the U.S. and Western European countries is plainly going to be harsher, more interventionist and less tolerant of, well, tolerance. Americans were already beginning to lose their post-Iraq war squeamishness about intervening overseas: a November Quinnipiac University poll found that American voters, by a 54-38 percent margin, backed sending U.S. troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq. It’s safe to assume we’re about to grow more even more interventionist in mood, and Obama, as is his wont, may well follow the public temper, stepping up the minimalist approach he’s taken to countering Islamic State in Iraq and Syria so far.
It is widely taken for granted that public discourse is in the grip of a stultifying liberal or leftist consensus. Ben Carson—a man whose worldview betrays very few signs of his having spent time in any liberal echo chamber—made a point of this when he urged Time’s online readership to reject the “lens of political correctness.”
Who is looking through this lens, exactly? If we take “political correctness” here to mean “the opposite of what Ben Carson stands for”—pacifism, or at least skepticism about the effectiveness of the use of military force; the belief that a regional neo-medieval death cult is not synonymous with the global Muslim population; a basic familiarity with what the United States has tried to do in the Middle East for the past generation and what the results have been—what evidence is there that this is a dominant, or even an influential, public point of view?
The real argument seems to be running entirely the other way. Or rather the presumed real argument is. The striking thing about the governors and Congress standing up to block Syrian refugees was that they were staging a preemptive performance, pandering to what they calculated the public opinion would be. Why? Are they facing recall elections next week, in which a public panic could sweep them from office? What would it have cost the politicians to say nothing, or to wait to say something?
At this point, public opinion on ISIS-related matters is essentially insane, anyway:
BREAKING: 60 percent of Americans think U.S. should do more to attack IS, majority oppose sending troops to Iraq, Syria: Reuters/Ipsos poll— Reuters U.S. News (@ReutersUS) November 16, 2015
But it is very wrong to tell the public that it is being insane (or dumb). This is one thing you could find proper-minded liberals saying this week: Just because one side of the refugee question is obviously correct, and the other side is wrong and crazy and evil and unconstitutional, you can’t disparage the wrong side. Here’s Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:
It validates all the worst stereotypes about liberals that we put political correctness ahead of national security. It doesn’t matter if that’s right or wrong. Ordinary people see the refugees as a common sense thing to be concerned about. We shouldn’t respond by essentially calling them idiots. That way lies electoral disaster.
And maybe it does. But being afraid to express your basic positions—out of fear that the public (“right or wrong”) will find them unacceptable—doesn’t sound much like the path to electoral success, either. It sounds more like a surrender to some overarching set of political rules, in which certain ideas are rejected simply for being incorrect.