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February 14, 2014 5:03 PM El Cid of Louisiana

By Ed Kilgore

It may seem like I’m getting caught up this week in too much stuff about the intersection of religion and politics. But Lord have mercy, the proponents of faith-based conservative politics, and those who fear liberals are inadvertently aiding them, have been very busy.

Plus, there’s something about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal that’s just catnip to me. It’s so much fun to watch this one-time whiz kid calculate, almost visibly, what sort of dumbed-down appeal will make him the hero of the conservative movement and a serious presidential candidate. Last year it was rejecting the federal government and all its works (presumably including the three Republican Senators and one House member considering a 2016 run).

If his speech last night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is any indication, Bobby’s latest pitch is going to be all about the “silent war on religion.”

This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.
Their vision of America is not the vision of the Founding. It’s not even the vision of ten years ago. It’s a vision in which an individual’s devotion to Almighty God is accorded as much respect as a casual hobby — and with about as many rights and protections.
These elites have to this point faced little opposition - a non-profit here, a dedicated attorney there, a small business over there. A handful of principled organizations with the courage to stand up to the crushing weight of a liberal consensus unalterably opposed to their participation in the public square. They are the remnant who have the temerity to believe in America and its promises — and to do something about it.

Give me a break. “These elites have to this point faced little opposition,” eh? What about the “war on religion” meme pursued by the entire Republican Party and its presidential candidate throughout 2012? What about the endless, interminable harping on the idiotic “War on Christmas” every Yuletide on Fox? How about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the pompadoured hosts of conservative evangelicalism who have been posing as martyrs since the day the Affordable Care Act was enacted? Did I imagine the decades of agitation by the Christian Right—invariably in harness with conservative pols—claiming that resistance to their agenda represented a unconscionable effort to restrict the exercise of faith “in the public square” (the Richard John Neuhaus buzzword Bobby so unoriginally tosses out today as though it’s a fresh way of looking at things)? Is the Kansas House of Representatives a persecuted sect, a “remnant” fighting the brave, doomed fight against the Infernal Hosts?

You can read the rest of Bobby’s screed if you wish, with its elevation of the Duck Dynasty crew to virtual sainthood, and his shrewd if predictable self-identification as an “evangelical Catholic,” and his sophomoric gibe at Barack Obama, which concludes the speech, for promising “if you like your religion you can keep your religion.”

Paul Waldman thinks Jindal’s tapping a rich vein, however unlikely it is that someone so “goofy of mein, dull of voice” will be able to put his brand on the golden ingot:

Jindal is rather shrewdly attempting to tap into something that’s universal, but particularly strong among contemporary conservatives: the urge to rise above the mundane and join a transformative crusade. It’s one thing to debate the limits of religious prerogatives when it comes to the actions of private corporations, or to try to find ways to celebrate religious holidays that the entire community will find reasonable. That stuff gets into disheartening nuance, and requires considering the experiences and feelings of people who don’t share your beliefs, which is a total drag. But a war? War is exciting, war is dramatic, war is consequential, war is life or death. War is where heroes rise to smite the unrighteous. So who do you want to get behind, the guy who says “We can do better,” or the guy who thunders, “Follow me to battle, to history, to glory!”

If the El Cid routine doesn’t work out for Bobby, I’m sure he has some other angles to play until he ultimately achieves his destiny as HHS Secretary in the next Republican administration.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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