According to some polls, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who believes that ancient Egyptians built the pyramids to store grain.
Not far behind Carson (or leading him, other polls say) is Donald Trump, a millionaire real estate developer whose platform consists mainly of insults delivered while he waves his arms and screams.
Other GOP candidates – among them several current or former senators and governors – look at this state of affairs and are flummoxed. Why are people gravitating to these strange outsiders who have never held political office?
These candidates have options. They could challenge Carson and Trump and point out that their policy experience is non-existent and some of their proposals are thin and anchored chiefly in incendiary rhetoric.
But they have not done that. Instead, these candidates have chosen to try to outdo Carson and Trump with policy proposals that are even more bizarre.
The recent terrorist attack in Paris has provided a platform for numerous demagogues and those who prefer petty pandering over professional policy. It isn’t enough to vow that Muslims refugees will no longer be admitted to the United States. That ante was quickly upped, and now anyone hoping to break out of the pack needs something even more extreme.
Enter Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who yesterday proposed the creation of a new federal department – one that will work full time to spread “Judeo-Christian” values overseas.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Kasich said, “U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have lost their focus on the case for Western values and ideals and effectively countering opponents’ propaganda and disinformation. I will consolidate them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share.”
And you thought the “faith-based” initiative was bad!
There are a few problems with this proposal. Let’s consider some:
It’s blatantly unconstitutional:The creation of an entire federal bureaucracy that does nothing but spread religious concepts in an attempt to proselytize people is an obvious violation of the First Amendment. Unlike many politicians, Kasich is not an attorney -- but that shouldn’t stop him from reading the Constitution.
It’s patronizing: The proposal has the feel of the bad old days of colonialism. Those poor souls in other parts of the world can’t get it together without our help. Their own customs, values and religious traditions are insufficient. They need to adopt ours!
It’s simplistic:It’s a core belief of many Christian conservatives that if people who are acting badly would just embrace “Judeo-Christian” values, everything would be all right. (And guess what, those values always turn out to be more Christian than Judeo – and fundamentalist Christian at that.) Although this view is popular especially in the criminal justice field, no empirical evidence backs up the claim.
It’s kind of creepy: So we’re to have an entire ministry – I’m sorry, department – run by the federal government that exists to change the way people think about religion and persuades them to adopt new beliefs. The agency would do this, we must assume, by disseminating propaganda prepared by someone in government who has been given the authority to prepare an official theology that reflects the state’s political goals. Ew! In all honesty, this sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel.
Just a few months ago, Kasich was being lauded by some in the media as the “serious” Republican candidate who was being sadly overlooked in a crowded field dominated by loud-mouths, xenophobes and fundamentalist zealots.
This daft proposal will likely put a damper on that talk.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."