November 17, 2007

Is Rudy Giuliani on a mission from God?

WaPo's Robert Barnes wrote about Rudy Giuliani's speech to the Federalist Society this way:
The former mayor said the country plays a "divinely inspired role'' motivated by "ideas and idealism.''

"It was this nation that saved the world from the two great tyrannies of the 20th Century--Nazism and communism," Giuliani said. "It's this country that is going to save civilzation [sic] from Islamic terrorism.''
I want to expand on a point I noted yesterday. Barnes is doing something to Giuliani that is often done to Bush — making it seem as though religion generates and controls his political ideology.

There are several questions this raises:

1. Does the politician deserve this characterization?

2. If so, is the politician sincere, or is he wooing the people who like religion in politics?

3. If the former, do we like or at least accept religion in politics?

4. If the latter, is it unremarkable ordinary politics or something that should worry us?

To answer question #1, we can look at the text of the Giuliani speech:
The theme of this conference is “Shining City Upon a Hill: American Exceptionalism.” Of course the shining city upon a hill was the great reference that Ronald Reagan used bringing up the words of John Winthrop....
So Giuliani is speaking at a conference with a title that is a religion reference. In 1630, John Winthrop wrote a sermon for the Puritans as they were arriving in the New World:
For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. Soe that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.
This is a reference to the Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:13-14:
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Many politicians have invoked Winthrop's sermon over the years, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Wesley Clark, and Howard Dean. But Giuliani names Ronald Reagan. He's speaking to a conservative group, making a political speech, and connecting his remarks to the theme of the conference. If it were a liberal group, I think we'd see John Kennedy's name in this part of the speech.

Look how he goes on after saying "Of course the shining city upon a hill was the great reference that Ronald Reagan used bringing up the words of John Winthrop....":
... but the American exceptionalism is also a very, very important part of that theme. There are some people I think nowadays that doubt that America has a special, even a divinely inspired role in the world. Now I don’t understand how you can look at history and not see the wisdom of that and the reality of it.
Here we see the phrase Barnes quoted. Clearly, Giuliani is disparaging those who don't believe that America has a special role to play in the world. But he doesn't say that this is necessarily a "divinely inspired" role. He says "a special, even a divinely inspired role," which means it's certainly a "special" role and one might "even" think that role is "divinely inspired."

That's short enough that you could miss it — especially if there's static in you mental facilities when you hear religious things — but Giuliani is not expressing a personal belief that America's role in the world is "divinely inspired."

In a way, he is saying it without saying it, and therefore signaling to people who want to hear it. That one word — "even" — carries a lot of weight in my analysis. But it's there and it means that he has not said he thinks America's role is "divinely inspired."

So the answer to Question #1 is: probably not. Since I'm not giving a definite no, we should go on to Questions 2 and 3 or 4. I'll leave that to you for now.

13 comments:

Donald Douglas said...

Nice posting! Drawing on the Reagan legacy's a smart game, City on the Hill or not!

Love the new pic. Looks like you're staring down Robert Barnes!

American Power

Donald Douglas said...

Wrong return signature link (it's 6:00am on the West coast!). Meant to leave this one:

American Power

That's better. Have a great day!

Omaha1 said...

1. Does the politician deserve this characterization?

To me it doesn’t seem like Rudy is especially religious, no more than Reagan anyway.

2. If so, is the politician sincere, or is he wooing the people who like religion in politics?

It’s difficult to judge another’s sincerity, although Rudy’s personal life would seem to point in the direction of “wooing”. Caveat: contrary to popular perception, most religious people are willing to overlook past transgressions if an individual appears to be making an effort to overcome his/her past weaknesses.

3. If the former, do we like or at least accept religion in politics?

Most people accept religion in politics. It is a time-honored tradition throughout the history of the world. The majority of Americans are religious to some degree, and it is unrealistic to expect that anyone’s most basic philosophies, religious or otherwise, will not inform one’s political views. Even if Rudy is not sincere, pandering to the religious is another time-honored tradition for both major political parties. Spiritual themes employ language that moves the emotions, and are therefore a powerful tool in manipulating the electorate.

4. If the latter, is it unremarkable ordinary politics or something that should worry us?

Unremarkable ordinary politics, despite the constant cries of imminent theocracy from the anti-religious “reality-based community”.

paul a'barge said...

religion generates and controls his political ideology

I'll come out of the closet ... I'm one of these people. And I'm not ashamed of it.

What is it with you anti-religious bigots? Do you never look in a mirror and see the big red "H" branded on your foreheads?

Richard Fagin said...

Giuliani has been pretty open about his stance on abortion, at least. I'd have to give him an affirmative on sincerity for that alone.

Do "we" want a politician to be divinely inspired, or at least divinely guided? That's why we have elections. Some think divine guidance is essential, others find it repulsive. It's pretty clear what Robert Barnes' opinion is.

Some can't seem to make the moral distinction between divine guidance in the defense of life and liberty and divine guidance in the imposition of brutal religious dictatorship, even mass murder of non-believers. That is difficult to explain, particularly when those unable to make the distinction are supposedly the best and brightest of the society that defends the former. President Pat Robertson might set us back a few years socially. He wouldn't order anyone stoned to death for adultery or order beheadings and female genital mutilation. And Speaker of the House Pelosi would not have to wear a head covering to visit him in the White house.

Tim said...

"Barnes is doing something to Giuliani that is often done to Bush — making it seem as though religion generates and controls his political ideology."

Of course he is, and none should be surprised to see more of it, especially if Giuliani is the nominee. Wrapping Republicans in cloak of "excessively religious" (even when obviously false, as it is with Giuliani) is the mainstream media and Democrat's dog-whistle to secular swing voters.

rcocean said...

This whole "lets keep religion out of politics" is impossible and isn't practiced by anyone. Religion is the basis for public morality. Why isn't polygamy or infanticide legal in the USA? At bottom, its due to morality and religion.

And if Gulliani thinks the USA is an exceptional country, what does it matter *why* he thinks that?

The country was founded by religious persons and their religious principles informed their policies. For example, the abolition movement was motivated by religion. Many Christians support Israel for religious reasons.

P. Drāno said...

No, you are wrong. You cannot add anything to the word "even" by way of interpretation.
Supposing I say: "Mr Giuliani enjoys food, even barbecued ribs", you may not infer "possibly" or "some might say". My statement implies that Mr Giuliani enjoys barbecued ribs.

Ann Althouse said...

But, Drano, he doesn't say I believe there is a special, even a divinely inspired role in the world. He's saying that some people doubt that there is a special, even a divinely inspired role. I think the implication is that people should believe that there is at least a special role and they may even go so far as to think it is divinely inspired.

Omaha1 said...

Some can't seem to make the moral distinction between divine guidance in the defense of life and liberty and divine guidance in the imposition of brutal religious dictatorship, even mass murder of non-believers. That is difficult to explain, particularly when those unable to make the distinction are supposedly the best and brightest of the society that defends the former. President Pat Robertson might set us back a few years socially. He wouldn't order anyone stoned to death for adultery or order beheadings and female genital mutilation. And Speaker of the House Pelosi would not have to wear a head covering to visit him in the White house.

Richard Fagin, as you have alluded, even the most religious of candidates, once elected, would find their political impulses moderated by the influence of our representatives in Congress. In the predominately-Muslim Middle East, such moderation does not always exist, but in the US, the imposition of a theocratic, legalistic form of government would prove to be virtually impossible.

There may be a significant number of voters who believe that biblical doctrine should be enforced by federal government authority. In my opinion, however, even most Christian fundamentalists would object to this type of theocratic assumption of power, in the fear that it could be usurped by a non-Christian cabal in the future.

Paco Wové said...

"Do you never look in a mirror and see the big red 'H' branded on your foreheads?"

Standing for what? "Heretic"? "Hologram"? "Hereford"? "Hypocrite"? "Heterozygote"?

Paco Wové said...

"My statement implies that Mr Giuliani enjoys barbecued ribs."

A better analogy would be something like, "Some doubt that barbequed ribs form a vital, even foundational role in American cooking. I don't see how you can say that..."

So there's a triple layer of indirection -- first, the "x -- even y" tactic Althouse notes, wrapped in a negation attributed to others -- "Some doubt" -- wrapped in Rudy's own negation ("I don't understand..."). I suspect all these layers were added precisely to permit the sort of parsing Althouse engages in here.

It avails Rudy naught, however, because Barnes simply chops away at the full quote until it says what he wants it to say.

Trooper York said...

Jake: First you traded the Cadillac in for a microphone. Then you lied to me about the band. And now you're gonna put me right back in the joint!
Elwood: They're not gonna catch us. We're on a mission from God.
Rudy: Come on I got the tambourine.
Elwood: Let's lose the bald guy.
(The Blues Brothers 1980)