Columnists > Judgment Calls

Slipping away

How politics trumps conviction that is not based on truth

Issue: "1st-grade murder," March 11, 2000

My favorite of the Sesame Street Bert and Ernie capers: Bert has just baked cookies, and has momentarily stepped away. The feckless Ernie just then comes ambling by, whistling as he goes, until arrested by the aroma of the aforementioned cookies. He reads the sign, clearly marked: "Do not touch. For birthday party. Bert."

Ernie is a righteous puppet and a loyal friend. If "good buddy Bert" says nix to the cookies, that's good enough for him. On the other hand ... My, there are so many of the little delicacies piled on that platter! It's hard to imagine that just one would be missed-a subject worth contemplating, at any rate, as the pumpkin-colored mannequin palms a sample, to know its qualities close up.

Just then the sugared disc drops from the hand and is all in shards ... Nothing for it now but to devour the untidy mishap. Wouldn't do to have his oblong-faced friend see the mess ... Ah, epiphany! What scrumptiousness is this, what unexpected crispiness! And see how the pyramid of confections has not suffered its form to be dented in the least degree. Surely Bert would not deny him another taste. Surely, he would, indeed, urge it upon him if he were here.

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And so it goes until the last cookie is devoured in 20 minutes' time, the once inviolable convictions of an erstwhile noble puppet left crumbled, inexplicably, like so many crumbs on a plate.

He spoke well who once said that all we need to learn in life is learned in kindergarten. Fast forward now from playground jinks to high-stakes political jinks. The giant crumbling sounds you hear are the "immovable objects" of pro-life conviction in collision with the "irresistible force" of desire for the White House. The craving for "cookies" has already claimed many a victim, most recently Al Gore, in his famous evolution from staunch defender of the personhood of fetuses in 1984 to staunch defender of a woman's right to abort.

"A little yeast works through the lump," of course, and as we speak a movement is afoot to soften the official language of the Republican Party platform before the convention in Philadelphia this summer (you know, like Ernie was "softened") to make it more amenable to pro-choice sentiment within the party. There is already in place an appendix to this effect (the first nibble of cookie), but now there's talk of going "all the way."

The wonder is that it's taken as long as it has. (What's just a few moments in puppet time, apparently, takes longer in human time, perhaps because the self-deception is more sophisticated.) The Republican Party is an unstable compound, after all, of pro-lifers and what the 16th-century French called "politiques," patrons of a cause whose convictions are more pragmatic than deeply religious.

What we are learning is that "conviction" is, in the end, no match for political necessity when it is not moored in the belief in absolute truth. When external pressure is applied, the uneasy amalgam of pro-lifers by Christian conviction and pro-lifers by cultural conviction will come apart as surely as the clay and iron feet noted in chapter 2 of the Old Testament book of Daniel. The pro-lifers of "conviction," where "conviction" becomes synonymous with "opinion," will jettison their principles late, but jettison them they will. Every man has his price.

Henry of Bourbon, king of Navarre, was the champion of the Huguenots. Like a coat of many colors (except successively rather than simultaneously), he used religious coloration as a kind of political protective adaptation in the game of survival of the fittest. It was at his wedding that Catherine de Medici disposed of many Protestants in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Henry escaped by temporarily changing his religion.

Truce after truce ensued, when Henry, a Protestant once again, gained the throne of France on the death of Henry III. But Catholics were suspicious, and the ever versatile Henry (now IV), sensing that the majority of his subjects were still Catholics, and that the Huguenots were not only a minority but after 30 years of civil strife an increasingly unpopular minority (see any parallels?), reversed his convictions once more. "Paris is well worth a Mass," he is said to have remarked.

Indeed. And a Republican platform too, perhaps. Time will tell. In the meanwhile, a postscript to this cautionary tale for those who have ears to hear: It did not fare well for our fair-weather friend. In 1610 Henry IV was assassinated by a crazed fanatic who believed him a menace to the Catholic church. "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:30).

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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