Will I Vote for McCain?
I just reread Richard Quebedeaux’s outstanding critique of American evangelism. It’s aptly entitled, The Worldly Evangelicals. Though published 30 years ago, it could have been written yesterday.
Quebedeaux contrasts two sharply different “Christianities”: Cultural Christianity, or what might be called evangelicalism; and Secular Christianity, or what might be called liberalism. That I wish to be identified with neither camp will surprise no one.
Ironically, however, many of my closest friends and acquaintances sincerely believe that, this election, the McCain-Palin ticket is the only acceptable choice for evangelical Christians. This, despite the fact that McCain is likely to continue the current administration’s adventurism – an adventurism that led us into a war on the basis of incorrect information, with a flawed plan, and with an even worse approach to occupation, an adventurism whose hollow “victory” may well lead us into war with Iran and Syria.
I for one do not accept Mr. McCain’s extraordinary confidence in the righteousness of American actions tied to the efficacy of American arms. Indeed, I doubt very seriously that democracy is a universal ideal – hence my disavowal of the neoconservatives who believe in America’s power to spread democracy. To me, only a dangerous naïf would joke about bombing Iran. When, in 2002, the Republican administration made preemption the national strategy – an astonishing departure from centuries of tradition – the GOP lost my support.
Clearly, our invasion of Iraq only undercut our counteroffensive against terrorism and turned the whole region into a cauldron. Our government was stunningly wrong when it came to pre-war intelligence. The administration was simply looking for evidence to support its preconceived conclusions – not unlike preachers who read into the biblical text the conclusions they have already reached.
During this entire time Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas stood astride the railroad tracks, knowing he wasn’t going to change the course of events but protesting nonetheless. “How in the world did Iraq become part of the ‘war on terror’?”, he asked time and again, to no avail. Meanwhile the nation stumbled into chaos, and our brave men and women in uniform are paying the price for the chest-thumping mistakes of Washington policy makers.
Now John McCain seems willing to roll the dice again in Iran.
Surely you would think that conservative evangelicals would care about this. After all, we often refer to ourselves as the conscience of culture. After all, we are “pro-life.” But, as Quebedeaux has reminded us, American evangelicalism is simply Cultural Christianity, and if the Republican Establishment is convinced that interventionist neoconservative ideologues ought to be running the country, who are we to question their collective wisdom?
Have we forgotten that our entire pre-invasion intelligence was a house of cards? “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” said Secretary of State Colin Powell in a 2003 speech before the United Nations. Today his words seem like a sick joke. But at the time Americans reasoned, “If the nation’s most respected dove says, ‘Trust us,’ it’s time to believe the administration.”
Meanwhile, we were promised that Iraqis would cheer American troops, that Iraq would finance its own reconstruction, that postwar Iraq would be easy. “Stuff happens!” was Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s response to the looting in Baghdad. Such empty optimism, such unbelievable hubris, is now being repeated by Mr. McCain, and conservative evangelicals seem eager to go along with it.
While our soldiers were making noble sacrifices in Iraq, our military commanders failed to plan for a major insurgency after combat operations. Mr. Bush’s thoughtless response (“Bring ’em on!”) only exacerbated a rapidly deteriorating situation. Despite McCain’s rosy assessment of the chimerical “surge,” Iraq remains an unmitigated disaster. “I have seen this movie,” said General Anthony Zinni in April 2004. “It was called Vietnam.”
America has morphed into the proverbial elephant trying to squash a mouse – too ponderous, too bureaucratic, too distracted by other things.
The election this year is about many things. Not least it is about the electorate’s duty to hold its elected officials responsible for the country’s military actions. Blaming the generals while excusing the politicians will not do. It’s time for a total overhaul of U.S. foreign policy. Arrogance and incompetence have been disastrous for our interests abroad.
It’s not clear to me that Mr. McCain understands how bad the situation in the Middle East is. America has lost the moral high ground, and I do not foresee any significant shift in U.S. foreign policy in a McCain-Palin White House. As we say here on our Virginia farm, the bloom is off the rose – and I’m not referring to Mrs. Palin’s extravagant clothing or makeup habits. Our Pyrrhic victory in Iraq has only weakened America in the world. Fear and distrust of the U.S. government is now ubiquitous. Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as a breeding ground for new jihadists.
Neither McCain nor Palin seems to comprehend this. Neither seems able or willing to state the obvious – that if a nation wages war for faulty reasons it undermines all the actions that follow, especially when it refuses to acknowledge those errors.
Quebedeaux concludes his thoughtful book with these words: “Culture is not inherently evil. But in the biblical context, the values of culture must always be put in second place to the values of Jesus.”
Admittedly, the concept of preemptive war will always be controversial among followers of Jesus. Over the years the national ethos has gone from George Washington to Rambo – from honored revolutionary nation to pulverize all our enemies nation. I may be wrong, bit in my estimation Mr. McCain shows a strong tendency to act much more like the latter icon than the former. Many of my friends think this is a good thing and a valid reason to vote for the Republican ticket. I respectfully disagree.
Only if I believed in the myth of the Redeemer Nation – the fusion of political and religious missions into a vision that America is the last and best chance offered by God to a fallen world – would I vote for John McCain on Nov. 4.
October 27, 2008
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.