Now the heroes of the tea party movement, it turns out, are also closet theocrats. "If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry," argues Michelle Goldberg in Newsweek/Daily Beast, "understanding Dominionism isn't optional." A recent New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza contends that Bachmann has been influenced by a variety of theocratic thinkers who have preached Christian holy war.
As befits a shadowy religious sect, its followers go under a variety of names: Reconstructionists, Theonomists. The New Apostolic Reformation. Republicans. All apparently share a belief, in Goldberg's words, that "Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions."
The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of Shariah law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any subscriber to The New Yorker. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth. The followers of R.J. Rushdoony produce more books than converts.
Ok, so maybe Gerson has a legitimate point and the kneejerk liberal responses to Dominionism and Evangelical involvement in politics is overstated. No problem there.
But here's where things get really good.
So it becomes necessary to stretch the case a bit. Perry admittedly doesn't attend a Dominionist church, or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is "common in Reconstructionist circles."
The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.
Bachmann is prone to tea party overstatement and religious right cliches. She opened herself to criticism by recommending a book that features southern Civil War revisionism. But there is no evidence from the careers of Bachmann or Perry that they wish to turn America into a theocratic prison camp.
If this kind of attack sounds familiar, it should. It is not just an argument but a style of argument. Critics of a public figure take a marginal association and turn it into a Gnostic insight -- an interpretive key that opens all doors. Barack Obama was once trained in a community organization that was associated with Saul Alinsky, whose organization was reportedly subject to communist influence. And we all know what that means. Or: Obama's father was a socialist, anti-colonial Luo tribesman, and, well, like father like son. Never mind that that there is no serious evidence of political philosophic influence of father on son.
Forget political philosophic influence of Obama Sr on Obama Jr. How about, say, any of the crazy fringe theories that mainstream conservative pundits and commentators have either said/written themselves about Obama or allowed to go on unchallenged by their friends, colleagues, coworkers, or allies? He's been called a Nazi, a Communist, a Socialist, a fascist, a radical, a jihadist, a Muslim, an African, and a sleeper agent. About the only things people haven't accused him of being are a lesbian, a member of Opus Dei, or a ninja.
Gerson's gripe about people "stretching their case" is particularly laughable given that he's writing in the virtual pages of Townhall, where his compatriots have been given free rein to say dopey things about Obama since he first ran for office. Where was Gerson then?
Are Gerson's points about conspiracy theories and exaggerated fear reasonable? Sure. But there's the sad irony: the same argument was reasonable three years ago, too. Only when Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann were getting the same conspiracy treatment did Gerson feel compelled to say anything. So I'm sorry, Michael, but you won't get much sympathy from me. Yeah, Perry and Bachmann are to dominionism as Obama is to Wahabbism (and Marxism, for the record). If you want to have a giant rally declaring that most politicians aren't actually as evil as their enemies claim they are, I'll be happy to come. Just make sure you invite Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, too.