Liberals regularly discredit themselves by their refusal to recognize the existence of evil in this world, and with their notorious reluctance to call that evil by its proper name. As conservatives, on the other hand, we occasionally undermine our cause by crying wolf on evil – imputing wickedness and malevolence to those with whom we merely disagree in ongoing debates on government policy.
For instance, I recently received the following e-mail from a listener named Robert in Frankford, Delaware who felt outraged by my support for comprehensive immigration reform. “Your absolute cowardice (sic) to confront illegal law breaking wetbacks in my country is repulsive,” he wrote. “My forefathers were standup pioneers who forged this nation. This nation was not forged by cowards like your family and the yellow law breakers you come from. People like you don’t fit into any decent country because you are so concerned with rights that you will never confront evil in any form. You’re a disgrace, Medved, go back to the Soviet Union where you fit in.”
I must say I felt more perplexed than wounded by these sentiments. Concerning the “yellow law breakers you come from,” it’s true that my great Uncle Abe (my grandfather’s brother) was a small time bootlegger during Prohibition (as I acknowledged in my book, RIGHT TURNS) but other than that, I am aware of no family history of law breaking. My father was born in Philadelphia, and served in the United States Navy in World War II; my Uncle Fritz, my mother’s brother, served in the Army Air Corps; my mother’s first cousin, Hans, died as a teenager while flying as a tail gunner in the U.S. raid on Nazi oil facilities in Rumania. My wife’s dad, the late Stan Edwards, served with distinction as a Major in the United States Army, and my own first cousin, Aytan, enlisted in the Air Force as soon as he graduated from high school. Our family most certainly contains more than its share of eccentrics and cranks, but after extensive research I remain unable to identify the criminal history to which my correspondent alluded. His statement “people like you don’t fit into any decent country” may contain an unmistakable whiff of anti-Semitism (how else to understand his phrase “people like you”?), but the most disturbing aspect of his note involves its identification of illegal immigrants as “evil” and the peculiar charge that “I will never confront evil in any form.”
Of course, some illegals do deserve classification as “evil” – especially those involved in rape, murder, assault, gang warfare and other criminal violence. Like all other rational participants in the immigration debate (very much including the Bush administration), I energetically support the immediate arrest and deportation of more than 400,000 illegal immigrants convicted of various crimes. But once you look beyond the need to cast out the thugs, gang-bangers and welfare chiselers, you’re still dealing with millions upon millions of hard-working families whose major crime involved crossing the border illegally in the first place. Even if you believe that such people must leave the United States, with no chance to make up for their unauthorized entry with fines, back taxes and probation periods, does it really make sense to identify the undocumented but industrious gardeners and baby sitters and roofers and farm workers as “evil”?
Applying this powerful word in this context not only distorts the immigration debate, but cheapens the strongest condemnation we can apply to human behavior. If sneaking across the border to feed your family counts as evil, what do you call the carefully planned mass murder of 3,000 American civilians? Terrorists are evil, child molesters are evil, Communist dictators are evil, serial rapists are evil, slave traders are evil, but illegal immigrants – while hardly innocent – rarely qualify for this most monstrous designation. Terrorist violence and illegal entry into the country may both be wrong, both count as serious violations of the law of the land, but it’s warped and misguided to identify them as equally evil. A conservative who refuses to recognize the profound difference between mass murder and an individual’s violation of immigration laws displays a moral idiocy, an ethical illiteracy every bit as alarming as that of the liberal who refuses to acknowledge that evil exists at all.
The attempt to place domestic policy disagreements in the context of the “eternal struggle of good versus evil” represents one of the most loathsome trends in contemporary politics. That tendency turns up regularly on the Left (with the Bush-Hitler analogy, or the charge that Cheney is the “real terrorist”) and increasingly on the Right, with arguments that Democrats aren’t just misguided (as they obviously are) but ungodly, vicious, inevitably sinful.
Consider the recent indefensible comments by U.S. Representative Katherine Harris, currently seeking the GOP Senate nomination in Florida. She told a magazine called “Florida Baptist Witness” that “God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected then we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly not what God intended.” I wouldn’t presume to discern “what God intended,” but by claiming America has never been a nation of “secular laws,” Representative Harris seems to suggest that we currently operate under religious law –in other words, as the “American Theocracy” so regularly decried by the radical Left. Representative Harris went on to propose precisely the sort of religious test for candidates for public office that the Constitution explicitly, unequivocally forbids. (Article VI, Clause 3 declares: “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or Public Trust under the United States”). Nonetheless, Katherine Harris ludicrously declared: “If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin.” In a subsequent press statement, Representative Harris attempted to explain her remarks but refused to retract them, citing her “deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values” and her admirable but altogether irrelevant support for legislation supporting Israel and recognizing the Holocaust. For many Jews and other non-Christians, her acknowledgment of the Holocaust counts for less than her refusal to acknowledge the right of candidates beyond “Christians, tried and true” to seek public office and earn the support of people of faith.
Like my correspondent who labeled an approach to immigration with which he disagreed as a refusal “to confront evil,” Representative Harris insists that those who fail to share her religious outlook must inevitably “legislate sin” --- in both cases associating contemporary and perhaps ephemeral political differences with the eternal battle between right and wrong. This association crucially damages conservative efforts to secure the mainstream support we need to maintain a governing majority, while cheapening and trivializing the language of moral struggle at a moment when we face precisely that sort of battle in the ongoing war on Islamo-Nazi terror.
If we cry wolf on the issue of evil, then what will we have left to say when the real ravenous beasts, representing real and unmistakable evil, bare their fangs and come howling at the door?