Sanford, Arrogance, Etc.

I keep wondering whether the GOP will recalibrate its relationship with the religious right. Cutting them off would be suicide. It also would be passing the buck. The problem is conservative sanctimony, and it's true that you see it in New Gingrich carrying the mantle for traditional family. But you also see it Lindsey Graham's pleas to the wages of whiteness. And you see it in a foreign policy that talks more than it listens. Now sanctimony is ideological--just look at the history of dialogue between black and white liberals over race. But there has been dialogue, and we've come a long way since RFK and Jimmy Baldwin.

Dialouge drives you to humility, and the GOP's general absence of that trait isn't a matter of religion, but philosiphy. There's a resonance between the certainty with which the right approaches religion, and the insistence that the absolute, unquestionably correct thing for Obama to do is to jump in, with both feets, on Iran. Think about this statement which Steve Benen flagged from Liz Cheney:

We've now seen several different occasions when he's been on the international trips, where he's not willing to say, flat out, 'I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe unequivocally, unapologetically, America is the best nation that ever existed in history, and clearly that exists today.' Instead we've seen him do what we saw him do in the speech in Cairo, which is sort of, 'on one hand this, on the other hand that,' and then attempt to put himself sort of above it all. I think that troubles people.

The best nation that ever existed in history. No conservative skepticism. No Niebuhrian humility. Now consider the resonance between that statement and this one from George Wallace which I flagged a few weeks ago:

In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Now, per the bold type, the equation isn't with the racism, but with the unbridled nationalism. The worst part of Wallace's statement isn't the segregation part, it's the myth, the candy that he's feeding his audience--the greatest people that have ever trod this earth. (One could wrap the arrogance of the Lost Cause in here too, if you were so inclined.)

What you have, in both cases, is a hustle, a bait and switch, in which one claims to be hawking patriotism, but in fact, is selling jingoism. If patriotism is love of country, then much of the unquestioning GOP rhetoric fails on the rudiments. Is love of kin, love of siblings, love of spouse, telling your beloved, that they are the best person that's ever existed in history? Or is that  sycophancy, fast talk proffered by loose friends, who in your darkest hours, appeal to your worst self.

The religious right isn't what's wrong with the GOP. It's the pervasive, unthinking, unreflective nationalism. It's the arrogance of thrice-divorced adulterers reaching for the banner of traditional families, and it's the arrogance of men who prosecuted a poorly planned war, on weak intelligence, presuming to lecture us on national security.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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