'Creeping Totalitarianism'

Posted: Nov 16, 2004 12:00 AM

  It?s company policy at The New York Times that opinion columnists may not officially endorse presidential candidates. Still, there was no doubt during the past year which man most of the page?s writers were backing.

A trio of hysterical pieces published Nov. 4 confirmed that, each claiming that a nationwide outbreak of religious zealotry had led to Sen. John Kerry?s defeat.

?The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule,? wailed Maureen Dowd.

Not to be outdone, Tom Friedman chipped in, ?We don?t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is. Is it a country that does not intrude into people?s sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make??

Well, a better question would be: Is America a country where the people want to be governed by unelected judges? Where a 4-3 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court is considered binding on the rest of us? By passing defense of marriage amendments in all 11 states where they were on the ballot, voters indicated they want to govern themselves, not be ruled by a judicial elite.        

But the most over-the-top Times piece came from an outsider, historian Garry Wills. He claimed that Bush?s re-election spelled the end of the Enlightenment. ?The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate,? Wills opined. ?Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain.?

By all means then, let?s compare ourselves with Europe. Consider Rocco Buttiglione. He was recently nominated for a job in the European Union as commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security. But there was a problem: Buttiglione is a devout Catholic, thus he believes in the importance of traditional marriage and thinks homosexuality is a sin.

Such views are unacceptable in Wills? supposedly ?enlightened? Europe, as Buttiglione found out during a three-hour inquisition before members of the European Parliament. Even when he gave reasonable answers, the Italian found himself under fire.

For example, asked about his views on homosexuality, the nominee answered, ?Many things may be considered immoral which should not be prohibited. I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime.?

But Buttiglione?s ?live and let live? policy isn?t good enough in modern Europe. ?A man who openly discriminates against homosexuals and who is openly for reducing the role of women cannot deal with these affairs in the commission,? claimed Johannes Swoboda, an Austrian member of the European Parliament.

Of course, that?s not what the nominee had said -- he?d explicitly pointed out that his personal beliefs wouldn?t affect his politics. And that just highlights the problem in Europe today: The ?elite? seem to think they can censor not just the politics of citizens, but their very thoughts and beliefs as well.

Meanwhile, freedom of religion is thriving in the U.S. This year?s presidential election featured a well-known Protestant against a self-proclaimed Catholic. Four years ago, Joe Lieberman became the first Jewish man to run for national office. And we?ve already heard talk that Barak Obama, just elected to the Senate, may seek higher office in 2008. Obama?s grandfather was Muslim.

In order to calm the ?enlightened? Europeans, Buttiglione eventually withdrew from consideration for the justice commissioner?s job. ?I am the victim of a new form of creeping totalitarianism, which forbids the asking of certain questions. Anyone who doesn?t accept that is excommunicated,? Buttiglione told The Times of London.

That?s the sort of ?enlightenment? some would prefer to impose on American voters. The results on Election Day simply prove that we?d prefer to retain our traditional tolerance -- even if doing so angers some at The New York Times.