Forty years ago, conservatives awakened to the fact that their agenda was getting little traction in American public life. So they hatched a plan to turn things around. Pooling their considerable financial resources, they would invest in the marketplace of ideas and fund books, professors, journalists -- anything to promote, amplify, and disseminate their right-wing worldview. In short, they would buy the American mind.
Quite a bargain, that. One of their most successful investments was the support of an eager young man who got his start writing for the Dartmouth Review, a conservative newspaper founded in 1980 by disgruntled students who thought that the college’s daily paper was way too liberal. Dinesh D’Souza was carefully groomed to flower into what he is today -- a vitriolic, one-sided, outrageously craven wingnut who will say anything and everything as long as it supports the most rancid right-wing agenda. You might think of him as the inhabitant of the deepest, darkest spot in our political discourse, the Mariana Trench of American intellectual life.
If you look back over recent decades, you will find this creature surfacing in any number of conservative crusades. Stirring up jingoistic anti-Obama fantasies, for example. Or protecting traditional marriage from gays.
Which is why it has been amusing to hear D'Souza, until today the president of an evangelical college, explaining just how he came to be sharing a hotel room with a woman who is not his wife and introducing her as his fiancée. Apparently D’Souza was in the process of ending his marriage of 20 years, but had not quite gotten around to signing the divorce papers when he shacked up with his lady friend at a South Carolina conference. He has since “suspended” his engagement.
Frankly, as far as scandals go, this one ranks low on the excite-ometer. It would have been more fun if he had been caught sharing a men’s room stall with Larry Craig.
But hell, we’ll take it. The question of why religious conservatives are so likely to be caught in the act is eternally compelling.
From the Pentecostal televangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s love for prostitutes to abstinence-preaching Senator David Vitter’s extracurricular romps, hardly a year passes when some big-time right-winger isn’t found to be coloring outside the box. Now lefties really don’t care if Vitter, fondly known on the web by his fetish moniker “Diaperman,” likes to get his kicks wearing adult diapers and paying someone to powder his butt. In fact, we might encourage him to let his freak flag fly and march in the diaper fetish parade. As long as the sexual activity doesn't hurt anyone, who cares? It’s the fetish for moralizing, sermonizing, and finger-wagging that sets our teeth on edge. Particularly when it ossifies into laws that make it impossible for many women to manage their reproductive lives or prevents loving partners from getting hitched. Not only do public pieties fail to prevent personal improprieties, they seem to have an unusually strong correlation. When legendary conservative Strom Thurmond was promising never to force southern whites to admit blacks (not the word he used) “into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches,” he neglected to mention that at the age of 22 he had admitted one into his bed and impregnated the family’s 16-year old black maid. His daughter was a secret until his death in 2003.
So what is that? Why condemn what you desire? Part of the answer can be found in the style of religion you embrace if you are a right-winger. Monotheistic religions like Christianity are especially patriarchal and tend to be built on the denial of the feminine and a special abhorrence of those flesh packages known as "bodies." If you’re only going to have one god, that god is probably going to be male, and so you’ve got to suppress the female element of spirituality so that He doesn’t have any competition. Women are associated with the processes of nature, which can be scary, and you’ve got to do something about that, too. They give birth, and anything that is born must die, which is an unpleasant thought, so to get rid of that you just go around pretending that life is eternal and that everything really springs from the Great Celestial Father. Pretty soon you have concocted possibly the most unnatural idea in human history: The Virgin Mother.
Polytheistic religions don’t tend to operate this way, which is why you can see male and female gods frolicking with abandon on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples. Which is also why the Second Commandment in the Bible tells you not to ever, ever look at them. In fact, you’re really not supposed to look at or think about bodies at all. They are inconvenient encumbrances to your eternal life, and the sooner you get rid of them, the better. Anything that upsets the fragile order of this strange system where males are celestial beings and women are nasty creatures whose bodies reek of dirty sex -- like gay love, for example -- will have to be squelched at all costs. Holding all these contradictory thoughts in your head deforms the mind into a labyrinth of twists and turns and on top of that there’s a phantom floating around in there.
Thanks to Freud, we know that humans are often haunted by something called The Return of the Repressed. The more you try to deny the undead incarnation of your repressed desires, the stronger he becomes, and he will hunt you down. Before long you find yourself in a park restroom in Florida asking an undercover policeman to fellate you for 20 bucks. And your boss John McCain is pissed.
D’Souza himself provides a curious perspective on the subject. In a meditation on the high standards of conservatives in which he deplores the adulteries of both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, D’Souza imparts this gleaming nugget of insight:
“Even hypocrisy is in the conservative view preferable to a denial of standards because such denial leads to moral chaos or nihilism.”
Let’s call this Conservative Chaos Theory. Without hypocrisy, the conservative mind would explode from the sheer force of its eternal contradictions and Dinesh D’Souza, along with his phantom, would be sucked into the void. Hypocrisy is the glue that holds it all together. Tolerance for others is corrosive to hypocrisy and must be avoided come hell or high water. In that South Carolina hotel room, Dinesh D’Souza was taking a stand against moral relativity. Maybe even the General Theory of Relativity. Anything which denies the absolutes and standards that protect the insecure human from the knowledge of his mortality -- and ultimately, his insignificance in the great design of things. People, this is courage. And I submit that it is not easy to take a stand while you are lying down.
This is why, friends, that you will very likely soon turn on the news to hear that yet another promoter of God’s word has been caught with his pants down.
In motel rooms across America, these men are bravely resisting chaos.
*Cross-posted from AlterNet.