Yesterday, I wanted to comment on the latest development in the Keith Ellison story, but because all I would have said was something like “Virgil Goode is a dumba** racist f**king P.O.S.” I decided to wait and comment on it today.
You know the background, Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and plans on taking his oath with his hand on a Quran. That has some folks extremely mad. Dennis Prager started it with his demand that Ellison swear on a Bible or not at all. Roy Moore upped the theocratic ante by saying Congress ought to ban Ellison from even serving in Congress. I’ve got links to all these stories, and refutations of Prager and Moore, here.
Then yesterday, this story broke nationally:
In a letter sent to hundreds of voters this month, Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, warned that the recent election of the first Muslim to Congress posed a serious threat to the nation’s traditional values.
Mr. Goode was referring to Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat and criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student and was elected to the House in November. Mr. Ellison’s plan to use the Koran during his private swearing-in ceremony in January had outraged some Virginia voters, prompting Mr. Goode to issue a written response to them, a spokesman for Mr. Goode said.
Here’s Goode’s written response:
Dear Mr. Cruickshank:
Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.
The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.
Virgil H. Goode, Jr.
70 East Court Street
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Well, I waited a day to comment, and still all I want to do is agree with the Charlottesville Weekly, the paper that first broke the story, doing so with the headline “Goode makes complete ass of self.”
Really, where do you start? The ridiculous non-sequitur of using as a reason for restricting immigration the election to Congress of a person born and raised in the United States? The incredible hubris and ignorance displayed when Goode proudly declares that, though he represents an entire district of people, he has no concern for the religious beliefs of anyone except his fellow Christians? The clap-trap about traditional values?
And of course, Goode completely embraces the stupidity of Moore and Prager. An oath only matters if the swearer respects the thing on which he swears. So of course a Muslim ought to swear on a Quran and a Christian on a Bible. This is a non-issue. Besides, Congress is totally powerless to require one book or another, or that its members be one religion or another. The Constitution is clear: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
But this letter got to me even more than the idiocy of Prager and Moore. I’ve spent the last day thinking about it, and I’m not sure why. But here’s my best guess.
Goode’s letter was in response to letters and e-mails he received from his constituents. I understand their concern. Like it or not, fair or not, reasonable or not, for plenty of people Muslim is a proxy for theocratic insanity. Based on the behavior of some Muslims as reported in the news, I do not think that is an entirely unreasonable presumption. Nor would I think it unreasonable for someone to presume Christians are violent, ignorant bigots. Or that Mormons are fools.
I think what makes me mad about Virgil Goode is that he heard this concern and inflamed it. Instead of trying to explain how oaths work, and that our Constitution gives people of all religions – or none – equal treatment, and that the people of Minnessota chose Mr. Ellison as their representative just like the people of Virginia chose him, rather than any of that, Goode encouraged his constituents’ prejudices.
A real leader would have explained that in America, we judge people as individuals. Sure, some Muslims are insane. So are some Christians. And no, I would never, ever vote for a Muslim who thought the Quran was the Supreme Law of the Land, any more than I would vote for a Christian who thinks the Bible is the Supreme Law of the Land. But I would not draw from those particular examples of lunacy the conclusion that no Muslims or Christians can serve in public office. There are far too many rational believers to make such a rule.
As for Keith Ellision the individual, unless the people who elected him are truly foolish, I think we can assume he is not one of the wackos. And he certainly sounds like a reasonable person:
Mr. Ellison dismissed Mr. Goode’s comments, saying they seemed ill informed about his personal origins as well as about Constitutional protections of religious freedom. “I’m not an immigrant,” added Mr. Ellison, who traces his American ancestors back to 1742. “I’m an African-American.”
Since the November election, Mr. Ellison said, he has received hostile phone calls and e-mail messages along with some death threats. But in an interview on Wednesday, he emphasized that members of Congress and ordinary citizens had been overwhelmingly supportive and said he was focusing on setting up his Congressional office, getting phone lines hooked up and staff members hired, not on negative comments.
“I’m not a religious scholar, I’m a politician, and I do what politicians do, which is hopefully pass legislation to help the nation,” said Mr. Ellison, who said he planned to focus on secular issues like increasing the federal minimum wage and getting health insurance for the uninsured.
“I’m looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him,” Mr. Ellison said, speaking by telephone from Minneapolis. “I want to let him know that there’s nothing to fear. The fact that there are many different faiths, many different colors and many different cultures in America is a great strength.”
So there is nothing to fear about Mr. Ellison’s election.
That’s what Goode ought to have said. But he did not. Instead of educating people, he reinforced their prejudices, assuring them he does not like Muslims either.
I do not know if he actually believes the ignorant garbage in that letter, or if he just used it to pander. Ultimately it does not matter. As DBT says about George Wallace:
Now, he said he was the best friend a black man from Alabama ever had,
And I have to admit, compared to Fob James, George Wallace don’t seem that bad
And if it’s true that he wasn’t a racist and he just did all them things for the votes
I guess Hell’s just the place for “kiss ass politicians” who pander to assholes.
Oh well, at least Goode isn’t from Alabama.