Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Column 7: The Price of Certainty

The Price of “Certainty”
by Ed Gurowitz

Last week I said that in this, the last column before the election, I would make some recommendations and endorsements on races that were other than local/nonpartisan and on the ballot propositions. Since then, others have written letters and columns that reflect my views and preferences very well, and our esteemed and erudite editor, Mr. Maziarz, has done and will continue to do, I’m sure a fine job on the propositions, so I am going to leave it at that and urge you, no matter your preference, to be sure to vote.

The view has been expressed on the Right that this year’s probable high voter turnout may not be a good thing, painting a picture of the great unwashed ignorantly trooping to the polls to wreak havoc. Mr. Clark last week included among the founding principles of Conservatism “a preference for liberty over equality,” which seems to me to be another expression of this view. While Jim attempts to change Burke’s principles to disavow elitism, it seems to me that elitism is at the heart of Republican Conservatism, and in its current form it is elitism of a particularly pernicious sort.

In last week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, Ron Suskind, author of the book “The Price of Loyalty wrote an extensively documented article called “Without a Doubt” in which public figures from both sides gave examples of the President’s unwavering certainty that his view is the right view, and his disinterest in any other views or any possibility that he might be wrong. Suskind describes the Bush presidency as one in which “open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision maker.”

As one schooled in the Western tradition of reason and discourse, this scares the heck out of me. More importantly, it scares the heck out of thinking people in public life regardless of their politics. Suskind quotes Bruce Bartlett, a staffer for President Reagan and the first President Bush, who is certainly no liberal, as saying that “if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3, a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.”

This is good news. Fundamentalism is fundamentalism whatever its basis, and religious fundamentalism is characterized by the same rigidity of thought, intolerance of others’ views, and certainty of the rightness of one’s own views as is the thinking of doctrinaire Communists, Fascists, or Anarchists. Fundamentalists may affect an air of civility, but it doesn’t take much of a challenge to have them start using derogatory and insulting names and characterizations for their opponents. They can also effectively ignore those with differing views – after all, if your thinking is divinely inspired, why listen to mere mortals?

President Bush said publicly before the 2000 election that he believes he was chosen by God to be President at this time. While I have no doubt that God takes a hand in the affairs of people, and that the values and ethos of the United States are closer to God’s plan for humanity, the notion of ruling by divine right went out with the Magna Carta.

I don’t know how the election will turn out, but either way, I take heart that there are those in the Republican Party who have reached the end of their tolerance for a presidency that is based on an unquestioning, arrogant faith that one man has all the answers. I have no doubt that the extreme right will take a Bush victory as validation for their man’s rigidity, and will attempt to negate a Kerry victory by demeaning the wisdom of the electorate’s choice. Nonetheless, I can only hope that the record of misstatements, mistakes, and missteps of the current administration will be corrected over the next four years. Please vote. rGod knows, we all need to be heard.

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