The Corner

This Is Elevated Discourse?

Over at Sojourners, Jim Wallis has written another thoughtful, measured, grace-filled meditation on American politics. Comparing last week’s national-security speeches between President Obama and former vice president Cheney, Wallis informs us that in 2004 his father, who, we are told, was a nonjudgmental man, declared, “Dick Cheney is evil.” Wallis goes on:

I will leave the judgment of Dick Cheney’s soul to God, who alone is in the position to render that judgment on all of us. But I will say the vision of America that Cheney offers is decidedly evil, and has helped to spread even more evil around the world. Cheney represents the dark side of America, a view of the world dominated by fear and self-righteousness—always a deadly combination. It accepts no real reflection or self-examination; the evil in the world is always external, and the threat ever present. There is only certainty, and never humility. And, when the dark side goes unchecked, what it leads to is a state of permanent warfare, which will only be won by using any means necessary, and where the ends always justify the means. At the end of his breathtaking speech, the former vice president was so full of admiration and praise for those who used “enhanced interrogation” against America’s suspected enemies that you got the impression he would happily preside over those brutal sessions himself. . . .

The good news about these dueling moral visions of America is that the first was offered by a young new president who has a personal priority to change the image of America in the world — to the thundering applause of an audience at the National Archives. The second was offered by an aging figure of an old and imperial view of American leadership — rather, domination — in the world, which he wants to defend by any means necessary, to an increasingly marginal right-wing tank with only tepid applause. The first is now the governing vision of American foreign policy, while the second is now a politically defeated ideology. Thanks be to God!

Where to begin? Perhaps with the observation that Wallis routinely engages in this kind of shallow, ad hominem, and hypocritical arguments (my previous critiques of Wallis can be found here and here). I say hypocritical because Wallis has chastised James Dobson and Tom Minnery for using language that is “simply inappropriate for religious leaders to use in an already divisive political campaign. We can agree or disagree on both biblical and political viewpoints, but our language should be respectful and civil, not attacking motives and beliefs.”

A friend of mine wrote me a note that summarized things nicely:

Wallis self-righteously demonizes his adversary… as “evil”, smugly invokes God on the side of Wallis’s positions, and invokes a black and white world in which Obama is all good, the GOP is all bad, and any sense of proportion or nuance is obliterated by Wallis’s moralistic omniscience. All of which, in an irony lost on Wallis and his fawning media acolytes, he accuses Cheney of doing. 

I would add two other things: According to the New York Times, Wallis is one of five pastors Obama “has quietly cultivated” for “private prayer sessions on the telephone and for discussions on the role of religion in politics.” (funny how those “quiet cultivations” make their way on the front page of the New York Times). I wonder if Wallis is the model Obama had in mind when Obama repeatedly promised to heal the political divisions of America, to elevate public discourse, to put aside petty and nasty personal attacks against those who hold different views?

The second thing is that, if the tables were turned, and a figure from the “religious right” who had access to the president and routinely used the kind of ugly rhetoric Wallis does, you can bet that the press would turn him into a well-known figure of scorn and ridicule.

Some of us have criticized the religious right for its sometimes angry and bitter tone, worried as we are about what some of its spokesmen have done to both American politics and Christianity. But the Falwells and Robertsons and Hagees of the world have nothing on Jim Wallis. Mr. Wallis fancies himself as a peacemaker, a man committed to reconciliation, the author of a book which calls for “a new politics of compassion, community, and civility.” He is none of those things; he is, in fact, very nearly the opposite. Wallis’s rhetoric is noxious and his spirit animated by a good deal of hate. People of good will and faith should say so.

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