IT’S SAFE TO say a mixture of resignation and panic (in that order) has swallowed the conservative ranks whole. With eight days to go and Barack Obama leading by almost eight points in the national polls, miracle scenarios are the only ones that suggest John McCain might recover in time for November 4. High-profile (if only marginally loyal) conservatives have jumped ship, and the talk has turned to the strengthening effect an Obama victory could have on the fractured, aimless Republican Party. McCain supporters are sighing about Americans having collectively lost their mind.
That apparently means it’s time to set the doomsday clock: McCain’s message for the last week is something along the lines of “be afraid, be very afraid.” And yesterday, in a sure sign the situation is dire, the political arm of Focus on the Family released a sixteen-page “letter from 2012” detailing the political landscape four years into the future Obama administration.
United States 2012 looks something like a cross between 1984 and The Road. Three justices resign from the Supreme Court, leading to “far-left, ACLU-oriented” judges taking their plac on the bench and mandating nationwide gay marriage. The Boy Scouts and Christian schools disperse rather than be forced to admit homosexual scout leaders and refrain from speaking against homosexuality, respectively. The Fairness Doctrine returns, signaling the end of conservative talk radio. Obama nationalizes healthcare, allows rampant pornography, prohibits See You At the Pole rallies, restricts homeschooling, and systematically prosecutes Bush administration officials. Old-school Americans cry when they sing the national anthem, because it’s now a pack of lies—their country is no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, “free.”
Focus claims that the letter is not a prediction, but rather an ultimate “what if” scenario based on Obama’s own public positions, statements, and record. Unfortunately, that qualification only helps if we’re okay with Focus on the Family being the Christian version of MoveOn.org—the document is too ridden with pure speculation and uncharitable extrapolations of Obama’s motives to even be an illuminating thought experiment.
There are a few things we do know about Barack Obama: he ardently supports abortion and champions Planned Parenthood; he has never acted on his supposed “personal opposition” to gay marriage; he wants to nationalize healthcare; he will withdraw from Iraq without concern for the long-term consequences. He makes no apologies for being a liberal. Those are clear positions that Obama would affirm to anyone who asked, and listing them cannot be called an apocalyptic smear job.
But most of the Focus document plays on something else entirely. It depends primarily on the most fashionable partisan trope of the decade: the Supreme Court. The frightening degeneracy the letter describes needs a liberal majority on the high court to even begin to represent a possible reality, and that would require a highly improbable three justices to retire during Obama’s first term. (One retired during Bush’s eight years, and one died, for a total of two—only two in two terms.)
That this technically could happen is enough to mask the truth that it probably won’t happen. There is little evidence to suggest Obama will put ACLU lawyers on the Supreme Court, and less to suggest that even the more-liberal Supreme Court justice take an activist left-wing position on every single case. Even if they did, it is statistically impossible for that many crucial cases to be tried all the way to the Supreme Court in four or even eight years, which makes the idea that every cranny of freedom and morality will be crumbling a mere four years into the future ridiculous. There is no way Obama’s domestic agenda—every last bit of it—will sail through Congress and become the law of the land. But the facts should never get in the way of a good story.
Focus gets one major point of its foreign policy story correct: the consequences of an Iraq withdrawal, which would be a shattering of the country’s fledgling government, immediate al-Qaeda resurgence, and crushing oppression for the Iraqi people. But the rest is sketchy, fear-mongering speculation that begins with an ominous revelation: “President Obama has been reluctant to send our armed forces into any overseas commitment.” I’m sorry, but shouldn’t any respectable president be reluctant to send American soldiers to their death in a foreign conflict? Since when did conservative Christians become the primary cheerleaders for ill-considered war? Imagery of nuclear bombs detonating Israel, Russia goose-stepping though its sister republics, and widespread terrorist attacks on the United States cannot even be called educated guesses.
But what’s most upsetting about this letter—like Focus on the Family’s political pronouncements in general—is its demagogic tone. The facts are never enough; they must always be embellished with slightly dishonest speculation and, in this case, wrapped in an emotional scenario that invokes patriotic tears and the Star-Spangled Banner. It’s as if adult Christians are not intelligent enough to research the candidates and make an informed, thoughtful decision on their own. (That’s a joke. Focus on the Family knows its constituency is a hot-headed, emotion-driven group on political matters, which makes statements like these all the more distasteful.)
Obama-supporting Christians are scoffing, wondering what in the world happened to God’s sovereignty. That’s a weak argument, since even the strongest understandings of sovereignty should never lead to apathy or inaction. But a Christian’s rightful concern for political matters should also never lead to the hysterics that happened in the 1990s, when everyone was certain that Clintons were marching us all toward mandatory abortions and one-world government. Eight years of Obama will make America a different place. But so do every eight years, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office. Focus on the Family’s imaginary America may not be able to “get through tomorrow,” but the real one can and will.
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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