Of State…And Church
Yesterday evening, I was watching Cecil B. DeMille's masterpiece, "The Ten Commendments" on the new HDTV. Yes, I've seen it a bazillion times, but I wanted to see how the special effects held up — and the answer is that you can kind of see how the magic is done. (One of the disadvantages of the close-up view, I suppose, is that sometimes the magic behind the curtain is a little too exposed.) Which is pretty much what Dahlia Lathwick does with this snippet from her op-ed this morning:
Monica Goodling had a problem. As senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House, she no longer seemed to know what the truth was. She also must have been increasingly unclear about who her superiors were. This didn't used to be a problem for Goodling. Everything was once very certain: Her boss's truth was always the same as God's truth. Her boss was always either God or one of His staffers….
…Her chief claim to professional fame appears to have been loyalty to the president and to the process of reshaping the Justice Department in his image (and, thus, His image). A former career official there told The Washington Post that Goodling "forced many very talented career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points." And as she rose at Justice, a former classmate said, Goodling "developed a very positive reputation for people coming from Christian schools into Washington looking for employment in government, always ready to offer encouragement and be a sounding board."…
No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God's work with the president's. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, such as Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.
In the end, Goodling and the other young foot soldiers for God may simply have run afoul of the first rule of politics, codified in Psalm 146: "Put not your trust in princes, in mere mortals in whom there is no help." (emphasis mine)
Somehow, Machiavelli got to be an interchangeable text with The Bible in someone's mind, and a thirst for power replaced the hunger for working toward salvation. But, and this is a very big but, Machiavelli was meant as a cautionary tale, not a users' manual. Someone forgot to tell Goodling and her fellow Bushies that The Bible is not a text that was ever meant to be cherry-picked as a justification for being able to screw over whomever you please, or as an excuse to be able to do whatever you want, grasping for promotions and chits from the powerful along the way.
Perhaps a review of The Ten Commandments would have helped — the first commandment reads: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." That includes Presidents who say they talk to God, as well as their political power broker minions, too, and not just golden calves — and working hard to curry favor with any of the above is an act that worships power and what you can get from it. Nothing more, nothing less. Anyone who thinks securing earthly power, consolidating one's position and amassing a number of favors owed to you that you can call in when you need them is the point of existence is worshiping at the alter of Gordon Gekko.
Decency and ethics always has a place in public service. But simply slapping a "Christian" label on yourself is not an excuse for grasping, greedy behavior because you have some back-of-your-mind understanding that you can ask forgiveness for your piss poor behavior later. That's a post hoc ergo propter hoc justification, and it doesn't fly. God has not rewarded you with the promotion — you earned it all on your own by stabbing a whole lot of people in the back and, thereby, appealing to the crowd of malignant political minions who were looking for just such a self-serving, grasping person to stab a few more people in the back. Congratulations, Monica, you've lived up to the very low standard of Karl Rove.