Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wolf Continued, Steps One Through Three

Naomi Wolf's central argument in her book The End of America is that George Bush is adopting ten steps typical of dictatorships everywhere. Having previously addressed the general merits of her approach, I will now look at the ten steps individually.

Step 1, Invoke an Internal and an External Threat. That threat, Wolf comments, can be real. Certainly Al-Qaeda and 9/11 are real. But Bush has shameless exploited that threat to consolidate power in his own hands. Wolf describes fearmongering by Hitler (at length) and by Mussolini, Stalin and Pinochet (more briefly). But, once again, she would do better with a more systematic approach. Do all dictators fearmonger? Just particularly harsh ones? Or mostly ones consolidating power?

Step 2, Establish Secret Prisons. By "secret" prisons, Wolf means prisons beyond the reach of the law. Obviously, the Bush Administration is doing just that. It is has set up a prison system in Guantanamo deliberately intended as a law-free zone, where routine humanitarian standards, fair trials, or indeed, the requirement for any sort evidence or justification for detention do not exist. Worse still are the truly secret prisons, the "black sites" and "extraordinary renditions." Comparisons with prison conditions, torture and mock trials under real dictatorships here are prefectly appropriate. Of course, there have been only a few hundred people in GTMO and fewer still in the black sites. Some people might dismiss such abuses as small-scale compared to real dictatorships, or even to our own past failings, such as the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Wolf argues that such prisons will necessarily proliferate (her word is "metastasize") and expand to include US citizens.

Arguably, the metastasis has begun, and on large scale. The Bush Administration is now seeking to pander to nativist elements in the Republican Party by being as heavy-handed as possible with illegal immigrants. Workplace raids are sweeping up hundreds of illegal immigrants at a time, and sometimes legal immigrants along with them. Helicopters are being used in the raids, and whole areas blocked off for detentions. Children come home from school to find their parents gone, or else, in the name of preserving families, children (some of them citizens) are also detained. The scale is comparable the the WWII internment, but conditions are far worse. The sheer numbers overwhelm any meaningful sort of due process. No one pretends that terrorism or security are involved. European visitors are not treated as brutally, but they have experienced shorter-term arbitrary detentions for matters as trivial as overstaying a visa years ago or even no reason but an immigration officer's discretion.

But the firewall protecting citzens from unaccountable prisons remains (mostly) intact. And, as Wolf comments, most Americans ultimately do not care unless citizens are detained. On the one hand, this lack of concern for our egregious violations of human rights is appalling. On the other hand, Americans are essentially right that a country may commit all manner of atrocities against foreigners while remaining a democracy so long as the firewall protecting citizens is maintained. Thus far, with the exceptions of Hamdi and Padilla, it holds.

Step 3, Develop a Paramilitary Force. All dictatorships have a political police of some sort, one that fills neither the military role of foreign wars not the police role of fighting crime, but is used for political intimidation. A systematic account of the sorts of political police different dictatorships have had, showing how they differed and what they had in common, would be extremely useful here. It would give us a much clearer idea of what to look out for. Alas, Naomi Wolf does not offer any meaningful sort of comparisons here. Instead, she describes how Mussolini and Hitler used street thugs to intimidate the opposition in the process of gaining power. Dictatorships do, in fact, sometimes use street thugs to do their dirty work. Street thugs have the advantage of plausible deniability. But they have the disadvantage of not being well enough organized or disciplined for the dictatorship to control very well. Sooner or later, dictators need some sort of personal army or secret police ("dreaded" is the usual adjective) to do their dirty work. Wolf does not discuss this subject at all.

She does offer one useful guideline -- she warns against private armies that are not accountable to "the people." But what does it mean for an army or police force to be accountable to the people? Wolf does not go into detail, but the Founders were clear on this point. A private army was one created, funded and controlled solely by the executive without legislative oversight. An accountable army was one created, funded and regulated by the legislature, though under the command of the executive. Hamilton discusses the distinction at length in Federalist Paper #24, and Jefferson's grievance listed in the Declaration of Independence include, "He [George III] has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures."

So who would play the role of a secret police in George Bush's America? In the days of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI played something approximating that role. When the extent of FBI abuses became know, Congress passed laws to reign the FBI in. Those laws appear so far to have been successful. Abuses have been documented, but the FBI has refused to take part in torture, and the head of the FBI was prepared to resign over warrantless surveillance. The FBI as a whole appears to be uncorrupted. The Army, to judge from resistence from the JAG Corps to Bush's kangaroo courts at Guantanamo, also appears generally uncorrupted. Clearly the Founders were right; proper legislative control is the difference between an accountable and an unaccountable army (or police).

So what paramilitary do we have outside legislative control? Wolf suggests defense contractors, such as Blackwater. Defense contractors work for private, for-profit companies and, as such, avoid the sort of legislative regulation that regular armies and police have. Indeed (as Wolf points out), defense contractors are trying to be exempt from any laws at all. As Americans they are exempt for Iraqi law; as residents of Iraq they are exempt from American law; as civilians they are exempt from the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and as a military body they cannot be civilly sued. But, like secret prisons, defense contractors operate overseas and, despite their use in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I see no evidence that "Blackwater is coming home." Far from trying to create a secret police, the Bush Administration appears to be simply following their usual belief in privatization, and trying to increase the number of troops available in Iraq without resorting to a draft.

Thus far, it seems safe to say that the Bush Administration will not create a dictatorship precisely because they do not have a secret police, and no instrument short of that can be effective.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Naomi Wolf's End of America: A Valid Concept, But Need More System

Well, I still haven't read Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, but I have now read what appears to be one of his inspirations, Naomi Wolf's The End of America. Goldberg makes no secret that Wolf was one of the people that Liberal Fascism was intended to refute, "I think it is simply amazing that so many liberals who are cavalier about calling conservatives fascists are suddenly willing to become so doctrinaire about what fascism is. It’s like Naomi Wolf insisting that we are literally living in early 1930s Germany. This is paranoid and cartoonish thinking." Indeed, Goldberg appears to believe that in order to worthy of respect any liberal must first repudiate Wolf and preferably "spen[d] your days . . . denouncing Namoi Wolf, Christopher Hedges and the legions of other liberals who have accused today’s conservatives of being Nazis and Fascists."

So, what has Wolf said to get Goldberg so upset? She argues that under George Bush we are experiencing a "fascist shift," meaning that democracy is being undermined in numerous (specifically ten) ways, and that we are heading toward a dictatorship. Or, as she puts is (p. 21):

When I talk about a "fascist shift" in America, I am talking about an antidemocratic ideology that uses the threat of violence against the individual to subdue the institutions of civil society so that they in turn can be subordinated to the power of the state.
Perhaps if she had used the more precise and less inflammatory term "dictatorial shift," we might have been spared Liberal Fascism!

Wolf's basic argument is that all dictatorships use ten basic steps to suppress freedom and democracy, and that the Bush Administration has adopted all ten. She then addresses each anti-democratic strategy individually, comparing the actions of the Bush Administration to the actions of various dictatorships -- Mussolini and Hitler, Stalin, Chile under Pinochet, Communist East Germany and Czechoslovakia and China (as it is today, not China under Mao). The most obvious question about Wolf's book is whether her technique of comparing the Bush Administration to these dictatorships is legitimate.

Certainly comparing Bush's genuinely dictatorial behavior such as secret prisons, illegal wiretaps, torture, or harrassing dissenters is a good deal more legitimate than Goldberg's approach of finding any similarity between liberals and fascists (such as liking organic food!) to paint them as kindred spirits. But Wolf often makes the same error (so much so that I wonder if Goldberg's book began as a parody), failing to understand the difference between serious and superficial resemblance. Comparing Bush's interrogations techniques to those used by Nazis or Stalinists, or his encouragement of informers to spy networks under dictatorships is legitimate. But Wolf sounds foolish claiming that Bush is like a dictator because Hitler also used the term "homeland" (p. 7) or "war footing" (p. 9) or because Stalin used the term "sleeper cell" (p. 10). There is nothing sinister about Rumsfeld talking about "New Europe" just because Hitler also used the term (p. 35) or Bush calling three of his aides the "iron triangle" just because the Chinese use that term to mean three forms of surveillance (p. 83).

That being said, most of the comparisons do legitimately show how Bush is behaving like a dictator. But they are not really systematic portrayals of how dictatorships work. Wolf describes ten anti-democratic behaviors by the Bush Administration and then picks and chooses a similar behavior by a dictatorship as a comparison. But she never demonstrates how each dictatorship employs all ten techniques. Yes, this would make for a longer book, but the descriptions could be concise. This would more effectively make the point that dictatorships are not all the same, but they do have certain common features, in different forms.

Nor is there any real method to how Wolf chooses which dictatorships to use as examples. There are and have been many dictatorships, after all. Why those seven and not some others? The book would be stronger if Wolf could offer some recognizable system for the dictatorships she uses as examples.

What sort of criteria? There are several possibilities. On page 20, Wolf quite correctly points out that the distinction between democracy and dictatorship is by no means black and white; there is a wide spectrum of gray. Dictatorships can be harsh or mild, and democracies can do undemocratic things. One system she might have used would be to choose a wide spectrum of dictatorships from harsh to mild. She could then show how the ten steps look different under harsher or milder dictatorships, but still achieve the same thing.

Wolf frequently emphasizes the fragility of democracy and points out that both Mussolini and Hitler came to power by election and then undermined democracy from within. This is a perfectly legitimate point. Another system she could have used in choosing dictatorships would have been to use only dictatorships that replaced democracies and demonstrate how they destroyed democratic institutions. Wolf does this to some extent (but not systematically) with Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany. She hardly discusses it at all in Chile or Czechoslovakia, although these were also ex-democracies. And a focus on ex-democracies would mean leaving the Soviet Union, East Germany and China off the list and instead including others such as Spain or Portugal.

Alternately, if Wolf wants to focus only on how elected leaders can undermine democracy, her choices were be narrower. Democracies do not always fail in the same way. In Germany and Italy democracy fell victim to undemocratic politicians who nonetheless came to power by election. Though less famous and dramatic, Antonio Salazar of Portugal came to power by the same route. But democracy in Spain fell victim to a ruinous civil war; in Chile it fell to a bloody coup, and in post-WWII Czechoslovakia, the Communists seized power by a mixture of subversion of democracy from within, rebellion from without, and coup. She could write about how Mussolini, Hitler, Salazar and the Czech Communists manipulated, undermined and finally destroyed democracy. This would call for more detail and a more chronological approach than the one she took. (Four more chapters, maybe?)

In any event, some (not all) of the Bush Administration's behavior really does resemble the behavior of a dictatorship. The comparison (at least to some degree) is legitimate. But if Wolf really wants to make her case, she should be more systematic about it.

Next post: The Ten Steps

Labels: ,

Monday, May 12, 2008

More Wiretap Statistics

The secrecy (necessary) of the FISA and warrant process makes it very difficult for an average citizen to assess the Bush Administration's claims. But one thing that helps at least assess the claim that the sheer volume is overwhelming is some sense of the scale involved. In a recent post I cited a link that gave at least some information:

(1) The very gold standard of a terrorist call was one from Bin Laden's own satellite phone, until he stopped using it in 1998. During the preceeding two years, he made 1,100 calls. The recipients of 100 of those calls remain unknown.

(2) Of the 1,000 calls traced, over 200 were to Britain, but only 27 phone numbers were involved.

(3) Six (6) of those calls were to the United States.

(4) Bin Laden's phone was only the tip of the iceberg. There were numerous other Al-Qaeda communications locations, especially a hub in Yemen (since shut down).

The total phone numbers captured from Al-Qaeda documents, laptops and cell phone in the Afghan War presumably dwarfs the number called by Bin Laden. But it need not be so overwhelming, since a single number can receive multiple calls. Projecting from Bin Laden's calls, I postulated that if six Al-Qaeda contacts out of 1,000 are with the US, it would take 10,000 phone numbers to amount to 60 in the US and 100,000 numbers to reach 600 US numbers. How many warrant applications can the FISA Court handle?

An article from the Los Angeles Times (H/T Talking Points Memo) offers some statistics about FISA warrants versus prosecutions since 1998:

1998: 796 warrants; 69 prosecutions (ratio 11.5 to 1)
1999: 880 warrants; 99 prosecutions (ratio 8.8 to 1)
2000: 1,012 warrants; 75 prosecutions (ratio 13.5 to 1)
2001: 934 warrants; 115 prosecutions (ratio 8 to 1)
2002: 1,228 warrants; 1,208 prosecutions (ratio nearly 1 to 1)
2003: 1,724 warrants; 899 prosecutions (ratio 2 to 1)
2004: 1,754 warrants; 762 prosecutions (ratio 2.3 to 1)
2005: 2,072 warrants; 771 prosecutions (ratio 2.7 to 1)
2006: 2,176 warrants; 624 prosecutions (ratio 3.5 to 1)
2007: 2,370 warrants; 505 prosecutions (ratio 4.7 to 1)

We do not know the origin of all these new warrants, but the number nearly tripled since 1998. Presumably at least some are the result of information captioned from Al-Qaeda in during the war. Indeed, the total increase is considerably larger that the 600 numbers I have speculated as the maximum number of US numbers we could have expected to capture overseas, but FISA appears to have handled them.

At least as spectacular as the rise in number of warrants is the relative increase in number of prosecutions. The article focuses on the rising number of warrants, even as prosecutions have been falling. The author wonders if this means that many of these wiretaps lack merit. Any answer would be speculative, but let us consider. The totals are not limited to Al-Qaeda, but include all national security warrants and prosecutions. At least some presumably are long-term wiretaps of foreign embassies, consulates and diplomats that can never result in prosecution because of diplomatic immunity. And some no doubt involve spies for foreign governments or non-Islamic terrorists, again, probably not much changed since before 9/11. But it seems safe to assume that the increase in warrants and prosecutions mostly involve Islamic terrorism.

Government officials quoted in the article defend wiretaps that do not result in prosecutions. They point out that there are always at least some false leads, and that sometimes when evidence is not sufficient for prosecution, terrorist plots can be thwarted by other means, such as "military or diplomatic pressure," deportation or simply letting potential conspirators know they are being watched. And, although the article does not mention it, terrorist plots, after all, are usually conspiracies with multiple members. Investigating a conspiracy may involve numerous wiretaps but yield only one prosecution of multiple defendants. In short, there is not sufficient evidence, and the FISA Court is not at liberty to release sufficient evidence, to evaluate how many of the wiretaps do or do not have merit.

But the article misses a much more obvious point. To this day, there are far more prosecutions relative to wiretaps than before 9/11. In all of the years listed before the September 11 attacks (including 2001, the year of the attacks), there were at least eight wiretaps to one prosecution. That number fell to almost as many prosecutions as wiretaps in 2002. The ratio has been moving closer to pre-9/11 norms since, but still has not reached them.

Unlike FISA warrants, national security prosecutions are matters of public record. How many of them have been for Islamic terrorism and how many for other offenses? How many prosecutions were of a single defendant and how many for multiple. How immediate was the threat? (The article lists an example of a sailor convicted of passing classified information to a pro-terrorist website. That sounds legitimate, but not an urgent danger. Prosecutions of alleged conspiracies to commit actual terrorist acts have been notoriously dubious. Any many terrorism prosecutions are for fundraising). And what have the dispositions been of these cases? Without this further information, it is not possible to answer more obvious question raised by the article's statistics -- is the government regularly prosecuting terrorism cases that lack merit?

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 11, 2008

So, Should I Admit I Was Wrong?

The Mahdi Army has done it again. In Sadr City, as in Basra, when attacked it has fought long enough to bloody its opponents and then backed down. Both times it has, in effect, agreed to power share with the Iraqi Army in an area it formerly controlled, but in has it agreed to disband or disarm. In both cases the US/Iraqi offensive has yielded a military stalemate, a partial political victory, and the potential for a renewal of hostilities.

When fighting first broke out in Basra, my impulse was to write a warning about the folly of a general offensive against the Mahdi Army. I intended to warn that it would not be limited to Basra; it would include Sadr City, and every major town in southern Iraq. Certainly the US forces would be able to take any one given city, at the price of reducing it to a heap of rubble, but an attempt to subdue all of southern Iraq would be like the height of the war in Anbar Province multiplied three-fold. (Because Shiites make up about 60% of the Iraqi population and Sunni Arabs 20%). But in both cases Muqtada al-Sadr backed down when faced with the prospect of all-out war, whether fearing the outcome, or preferring to live to fight another day (possibly in the October elections).

So, should I acknowledge that I was wrong about the Mahdi Army, that it is really a paper tiger, that there won't be war in the south after all? Maybe. But I have made other baleful prophecies (pre-blogging, alas), that appeared to be dead wrong but ultimately proved right, just later than expected.

When we were just getting started in Iraq, there was discussion that an Iranian-style theocracy was the "worst case scenario," but it unlikely to happen. My thought at the time was that we would be lucky to end up with a theocracy; I could think of much worse things, like a prolonged people's war against the US as occupying power. Potentially theocratic factions joined the negotiating process over Iraq's future, and optimists declared the danger was passed. I wondered myself. Fast forward to today.

An even stronger example was when George Bush announced that Yasser Arafat must go. Arafat, he said, was inhibiting the creation of moderate leadership, and if only he could be removed, a new, freely elected, democratic leader would make peace with Israel. I was scornful. Yes, Arafat was a brute and a thug, but he was not inhibiting the creation of moderate leadership, he was the moderate leadership. His chief rivals were not model democrats eager to make peace with Israel, but Hamas, which thought Arafat was not hawkish enough.

In the short run, I appeared to be wrong. The Americans and Israelis were about to conjure up a moderate after all, Mahmud Abbas. He started moving into Arafat's place; he showed himself willing to make a deal with Israel. Then Arafat died and negotiations proceeded. I was prepared to acknowledge myself wrong. And then the negotiations broke down. And Hamas won the election. And they are regularly bombarding Israel with rockets. And Arafat looks a whole lot better by comparison.

So maybe I was wrong and the Mahdi Army is overrated and with crumble without all-out war. Or maybe it is just lying low and biding its time. And maybe some day it will decide we have pushed too far and that its survival is at stake. And maybe whoever pushes that far will come to regret that decision.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Klan and Fascism (Again)

(Sigh!) I just can't let the topic of whether the Ku Klux Klan was fascist go! This post expand on my previous post on the subject. In particular, my discussion of the "fascist negations" was overly brief and superficial, so here is a more detailed discussion (addressing the Reconstruction Klan only).

Anti-Communist. This is an obvious anachronism in the context of the original Reconstruction Klan. Communism was not at issue. However, if one substitutes for opposition to Communism, opposition to radicals who threaten to overturn the social order, this description fits perfectly. The only difference was that the danger was from Radical Republicans instead of Communists.

Anti-liberal. This one is harder to answer and depends on how one defines liberalism. Contrary to Jonah Goldberg, I do not believe that fascist anti-liberalism means only opposition to classical liberalism, i.e., limited government and free market economics. Liberalism is not so much an ideology or political program as a state of mind, and it is really that state of mind that fascism opposes more than any specific ideological platform. In evaluating anti-liberalism, therefore, I believe it is fair to evaluate what it meant to be "liberal" in any particular historical or social context and see if a purportedly fascist organization opposed what its peers would have seen as "liberal."

The Klan was obviously anti-liberal if one defines liberalism as believing in universal human rights that apply to all races and believing that slavery violates such rights. And certainly contemporary Europeans equated liberalism with opposition to slavery and gross racism. But the Klan was not opposed to many other things that contemporary Europeans saw as liberal, such as elective government, universal (white) male suffrage, and trial by jury.

And ante-bellum American definitions of liberalism are a different matter altogether. Elective government, trial by jury and (to a lesser extent) universal white male suffrage were accepted by all Americans, liberal or conservative. The abolitionist movement grew largely out of the dying embers of the Federalists, the conservative party, while Jeffersonian and Jacksonian liberals did their best to avoid the subject. To be liberal in an ante-bellum American context generally meant favoring free trade, distrusting banks, and, above all, supporting state's rights and local autonomy and opposing a strong central government. In that sense, the Klan could very well have seen itself as a movement of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democrats resisting an oppressive federal government.

On the other hand, the assumption that liberal = states rights = the southern party was becoming increasingly dubious in the 1850's. Among the great spokesmen for the south, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democrats were giving way to Calhounian (if there is such a word) aristocrats. State's rights began looking less and less like local democracy and more an more like a barrier to keep dangerous ideas out. The Democratic Party began looking less and less like the party of the common man and more and more like the party of Southern domination. Southern aristocrats who once proclaimed themselves champions of the common man because they favored cheap to free land in the West came out against the Homestead Act. Southerners who claimed to favor limited federal power made an exception for fugitive slave laws and slave codes in the Territories. In short, the South started looking less and less liberal in the late ante-bellum period.

The Ku Klux Klan may very well have seen themselves as Jeffersonian and Jacksonian liberals, but that claim would not have withstood serious scrutiny by any contemporary, European or American. The Klan was objectively illiberal, but may have subjectively have seen itself quite differently.

Anti-conservative. This was a non-issue. In the South in the aftermath of the Civil War, conservatism in the sense of maintaining the status quo of power did not exist. The old order (slavery) had been decisively overturned, and everyone knew it was never coming back. No new order had yet arisen to take its place. So the Klan could not either favor or oppose maintainnig the status quo of power because there was no status quo of power. What they favored was creating a new order as near as possible to the old one.

In short, I would give the Klan a full point as anti-radical. I would give it half to one point as anti-liberal. And since conservatism was not an option, it does not count. So the Klan gets between one and a half out of two and two out of two for the (three) fascist negations.

I stand by my old contention that the Klan was generally fascistic in its methods, except that it did not have a strong charismatic leader, but did not have any of classic fasicism's more ambitious goals of remaking society.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Obama and Wright: Legitimate But Not Disqualifying

I cannot fully agree with either Obama's supporters, who dismiss his membership in Reverend Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church as insignificant, nor with his critics, who consider it so far out of line as to disqualify him as President.

First to the critics. They compare Wright's church to a white supremacist church, something like the Aryan Nations that should completely disqualify any member from consideration as President. This is taking things a bit far. Trinity United is an affiliate of the United Church of Christ, a predominantly white denomination. It focuses on black issues, just as other ethnic churches may focus on the issues of their own ethnic group, but admits white members and performs interracial marriages. Anger at the United States for racial and imperial sins is well a well-established tradition in black churches, by no means limited to Rev. Wright. In short, Trinity United Church is by no means the black equivalent of a white supremacist church; it is well within the mainstream of liberal or black Christianity.

Conservatives may well reply that if a pastor who believes that the United States deserved 9-11, that Louis Farrakhan is a great man, or that the CIA developed AIDS to kill black people is a mainstream liberal Christian, that is more a condemnation of liberal churches than a defense of Wright. Maybe so. But conservative churches, particularly the white Evangelical churches that form one of the Republican Party's major constituencies should not be too quick to claim superiority. Many of them hold equally nutty views. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, figures whose rings any Republican President must kiss, agreed with Rev. Wright that the US deserved 9-11 -- only it was God's punishment for tolerating gays and not having prayer in school. Reverend John Hagee, whose endorsement John McCain eagerly sought, said that God sent Hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans because the city held gay pride parade the week before. And then there is the Armageddon Lobby, an important constituency all Republicans must court, consisting of white Evangelical millenarian churches that believe that the end of the world is near and that a Christian President should start wars in the Middle East in hopes that one will escalate into Armageddon. I am not suggesting that all white Evangelicals hold these views, only that they are within the mainstream of conservative Christianity. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

But I also think it is absurd for Obama's supporters to argue that because Obama's membership in Wright's congregation is weaker association than Republicans who seek the endorsement of Robertson or Hagee and consult with them as advisers. Nonsense! When Republicans seek the endorsement and guidance of Robertson or Hagee, they are simply pandering to line up the white Evangelical vote. Everyone, including the Evangelicals being pandered to, know it. Let anyone who doubts this consider, which would alarm you more, McCain seeking Hagee's endorsement, or McCain belonging to Hagee's church? The former is the usual dishonest pandering all politicians do; the latter would mean he shares Hagee's nutty views.

So, the next question is, if I agree that membership in a church whose pastor holds dangerously extreme views is more alarming than merely seeking endorsement from such a church, why doesn't Obama's membership in Wright's church disqualify him from the Presidency? I would offer two answers.

First, in any church there is a difference between its basic articles of faith and the personal beliefs of the pastor. Clearly it is a basic article of faith in Trinity Universal Church that black people, in the US and in Africa, have been oppressed and ill-treated (a view for which there is much historical support) and that it is a Christian duty of members to seek solidarity and uplife of the black race. Belief that the US deserved 9-11, that Louis Farrakhan was a great man, or that the CIA developed AIDS would fit in the category of a pastor's personal views. Likewise, it is clearly a basic article of faith in Hagee's Cornerstone Church that homosexuality is a serious sin (a view with much scriptural support). Belief that nearly every misfortune the United States suffers was caused by our toleration of gays is an example of the pastor's personal views. In either case I would want assurance that a candidate did not share the pastor's more extreme views. But in neither case would I consider those views essential to church membership.

Armegeddon theology is a different matter. A member of a millenarian church may quibble with the pastor over which current events best fulfill which Biblical prophecies. But the basic belief that the end of the world is at hand, that it will begin with a war in the Middle East, and that Christians should rejoice at the prospect are basic articles of faith central to Robertson's or Hagee's churches. No candidate could disavow them and remain a church member in good standing.

All of which leads to my second point. Not all nutty religious views are equally alarming. How alarming the belief is just as relevant an issue as how close a candidate is to that belief. A member of a black liberation church can be expected to focus on black issues, both in the US and in Africa. A member of sexually conservative church can be expected to oppose gay rights. A non-member of a millenarian church who nonetheless has the endorsement of the Armegeddon Lobby can be expected to pursue a warlike policy in the Middle East. People may quite legitimately oppose any of these policies, but surely an enthusiasm for war is more dangerous than than the others. Favoring Armegeddon is more alarming than believing that Louis Farrakhan is a great leader, that the CIA created AIDS, that all natural disasters are the result of homosexuality, or that the US deserved 9-11 for any reason. As a matter of fact, if one were to imagine the most disqualifying belief possible in a Presidential candidate, it would be hard to beat wanting the world to end.