Friday, September 19, 2008

The Right is Wrong

As the Brits might say, we’re supposed to be mum about the Mum-to-be. This from the family value folks who preach against sexual promiscuity and the failure of parents to take responsibility for the behavior of their children. I happen to share many of these family values. What I do not share is the blatant hypocrisy of the Sarah Palin claque, those who have quickly elevated the Alaska Governor to undeserved sainthood.

Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is, as we have been told, a private matter and she should not be the target of media probing. Her right to privacy is not diminished by her status as the daughter of a now very prominent national figure.

The problem is that her privacy has been violated by those who are marketing her mother as a paragon of good values. They employed the teenager as a centerpiece at the Republican Convention and then went further by flying in from Alaska the teenage father-to-be who appeared to be in a daze. We know little about him or the wedding plans, whether it will happen before election day or after or perhaps not at all. I imagine the decision will be made by those who decide which option will be best for the McCain-Palin ticket. Perhaps there will be a White House ceremony when the lad reaches the age of consent, presided over by James Dobson, the eminent head of Focus on the Family and the great advocate of sexual abstention.

There are reasons to support John McCain. He is a war hero who is not being swift-boated. He has a good record on Israel. He has often shown admirable independence and political courage, rising above the crude partisanship that degrades political discourse. Sarah Palin is not among the reasons and not only because she is not in the slightest prepared for the great responsibilities that soon may be hers.

There is another responsibility, parental responsibility. Parents cannot control or monitor what their teenagers do every moment of the day. Yet, in a legal and moral sense we insist – and rightfully so – that parents have responsibility for what their children who are minors are doing. We hear the constant refrain, “Do you know where your children are?” Was Sarah Palin completely unaware of Bristol’s relationship? We are told by those who are carefully crafting her image that she is a soccer mom and a hockey mom. We need to know what kind of real Mom she is, how concerned she was about her daughter’s behavior.

Our society is plagued by teenage pregnancy. The emotional, social and financial costs are enormous and the harm to parents and children is more often than not enduring. What message is being sent to teenagers by the adoration visited upon Sarah Palin by the vocal champions of sexual abstinence and restraint? Is it that if your mother is famous and an advocate of right-wing ideology it is okay to be promiscuous?

While conservatives and religious fundamentalists are holding their noses, as well as their tongues, on Election Day they will toe the ideological line. What makes Sarah Palin right to them is that she is right-wing. Ideology enslaves the mind by doing away with the difficult task of thinking, of reflecting and making choices based on what is right. Life is simpler when the mind is put into mothballs, when ideology dictates how we are to view a wide range of public issues.

The sin of ideology worship is not monopolized by the right wing. Last week I criticized the liberal antagonism toward religion, the tendency to constantly oppose involvement of religion in the public square, including the vital and irreplaceable role played by faith-based groups in providing critical social services. A significant number of American Jews are in this camp, the Orthodox being a notable exception. They have moved in the main far toward the right, a process that I first discussed in a 1967 article, “The New Style of American Orthodox Jewry” that was published in Jewish Life, then the magazine of the Orthodox Union. Their ideological conservatism encompasses opposition to gay marriage and abortion, as well as a wide range of family values and social issues.

Regrettably, too many Orthodox have bought whole hog into the right wing agenda, including on environmental issues, civil rights and civil liberties, the treatment of workers and governmental responsibility to the poor. Isn’t it possible to be strongly against gay marriage and strongly for increasing the minimum wage? I know of no Orthodox Jewish breadwinners who can get by on the current minimum wage.

Religious Jews do have something of an ideological guide, although it is much more than that. It is called the Torah and there is nothing in it that mandates opposition to gun control or to the protection of the environment or, for that matter, going gaga over Sarah Palin. Total fidelity to a political ideology is a form of idol worship, as I argue in a 1974 Jewish Press article in which I described the growing enthusiasm among religious Jews for political conservatism. I wrote:

“My principal objection to the new embrace of conservatism is that [Orthodox] Jews have adopted a new pseudo-religion to replace the one that they have recently rejected. The false gods of conservative politics have succeeded the false gods of liberalism and little has changed since too many of us remain political idol worshipers. We are in the process of elevating our gratification with conservative rhetoric and policies to the transcendent status of a religion. Once again, we are true believers, and once again the object of our belief is false. Idol worship is alien to Judaism and this includes political idols.”