When powerful people say really dumb things
When powerful people say really dumb things By Tom Regan
All of us have, no doubt, at one time or another, said something really dumb. I know I certainly have.
You know, the kind of statement that can bring an entire room of
chatting people to dead silence. Almost as soon as the words leave your
lips, you realize, "I shouldn't have said that."
Perhaps it was anger, or ignorance, or incomplete information. Whatever
the reason, you have that "D'ohhh" moment and wish you could take it
back, because it often makes you look really ridiculous.
Apparently, however, evangelist Pat Robertson, one of the founders of
the Christian Coalition and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN),
never has one of these "D'ohh" moments after saying something really
Take his two most recent statements that fall into this category. He
made both of them last Sunday on ABC's "This Week with George
First, he said that no Muslims should be allowed to serve either as
judges in the US (which, of course, violates Article VI, Section 3 of
the US Constitution which states: "no religious test shall ever be
required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the
United States") - or in the president's cabinet, for that matter.
Then he said that "the out-of-control judiciary" is the greatest threat
that America has faced in the last 400 years - a greater threat than
the Civil War, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and Al Qaeda.
And when Mr. Stephanopoulos gave Robertson the chance to backtrack, or
to say that his remarks were "taken out of context" (always a favorite
fallback), he said no, he really believed that.
These were interesting comments to make as we celebrate the 60th
anniversary of the defeat of perhaps the greatest evil the earth has
ever known, in a struggle that killed millions of people worldwide,
including hundreds of thousands of Americans.
It would be easy to dismiss Robertson as a foolish bigot. After all, he
continually shows himself to be the kind of person who would run into a
burning building with a can of gasoline. But the problem is that he is
a powerful foolish bigot, and when he makes statements like the ones
above, people's lives are affected.
His show, The 700 Club is seen in 96 percent of the television markets
in the US, and has a daily audience of 1 million. He has the ear of the
White House (remember, he also ran for president once) and appears on
TV talk shows.
So let's turn Robertson's statement on its head.
The crusade of people like Robertson, GOP representative Tom DeLay and
James Dobson of the Focus on the Family against anyone who doesn't
automatically parrot their values, may actually be one of the greatest
dangers our country has ever faced. (Unlike Robertson, however, I still
think that Al Qaeda and Nazi Germany rank higher on the list.)
Why do I believe that? Because these men and their supporters would
take several of the founding principles of this country - in particular
the belief in religious tolerance and freedom of thought - and trash
them in order to achieve their narrow, right-wing Christian agenda.
If you take their flawed logic at face value, you end up with the
ridiculous spectacle of conservative southern federal appeal judges
(especially in the Terry Schiavo case), and even right-of-center
jurists like Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, being labelled
'enemies of the state' because they aren't toeing the religious right's
I've said it before and I'll keep on saying it. One of this country's
greatest achievements is its embrace of religious diversity and
tolerance. It hasn't always been easy, and it still isn't easy, but it
has always been a forward movement. One only has to look at countries
like Iraq or Northern Ireland or Nigeria to see the danger of what can
happen when religious convictions are allowed to rule over common sense.
You can especially see this danger in Robertson's comments about
Muslims, although he's also made disparaging statements against other
religious beliefs as well. In 1995, he said that Hinduism was "demonic"
and that Hindus should not be allowed to enter the United States.
Christians have felt his wrath as well - he insinuated in 1991 that
Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians reflect the "spirit of the
And it's not a dumb thing to say that when I hear conservatives
condemn those who disagree with them as "evil," or hint that judges who
give unfavorable rulings will "have to answer for them," I hear
uncomfortable echoes of 1930s Germany, or Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Now, Pat Robertson has every right as an American to say dumb things as
often as he likes. That's because the US Constitution - the very
document that stands in his way - gives him those protections.
But that doesn't mean the rest of us have to sit around and just nod
our heads in a "There goes Pat again" manner.
Because the rest of us, who believe that the rule of law and the
practice of religious tolerance help make the United States the great
country that it is, cannot afford to be silent. We just can't. Now more
than ever, we have to speak up against the kinds of statements made by
Robertson and his ilk.
And that is not at all a dumb thing to say.