Politics at its most insipid

POLITICS AT ITS MOST INSIPID…. Once in a while, the political process is so hopelessly insane, one wonders how the system ever functions at all.

Let’s briefly recap a story we’ve been following. Earlier this week, the American Center for Law and Justice, a right-wing legal group formed by TV preacher Pat Robertson, said the stimulus bill includes a provision that would prohibit “religious groups and organizations from using” buildings on college campuses. Soon after, religious right groups and right-wing blogs were up in arms, demanding that lawmakers fix the “anti-Christian” language of the bill. Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network helped get the word out to the far-right base about the nefarious measure.

But there was one small problem: there was no such measure. The ACLJ doesn’t know how to read legislation, and didn’t realize that the standard language in the bill simply blocks spending for on-campus buildings that are used primarily for religion (like a chapel, for example). This same language has been part of education spending bills for 46 years. It’s just the law, and it’s never been controversial.

And if it were just some random yahoos screaming about a non-existent threat, this would merely be annoying. But right-wing whining about the imaginary attack came to the attention of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who actually tried to remove the legal language from the bill. Consider just how truly ridiculous his remarks were on the Senate floor yesterday:

This is a provision “that would make sure students could never talk openly and honestly about their faith … what this means is that students can’t meet together in their dorms if that dorm has been repaired with federal money and have a prayer group or a Bible study. They can’t get together in their student centers. They can’t have a commencement service where a speaker talks about their personal faith.” … Student groups would be banned and “classes on world religions and religious history, academic studies of religious texts could be banned … Someone is so hostile to religion that they are willing to stand in the schoolhouse door, like the infamous George Wallace, to deny people of faith from entering into any campus building renovated by this bill. This cannot stand!”

Please remember, every sentence — literally, every single sentence — in that paragraph is wrong. Indeed, everything DeMint said was the polar opposite of reality, driven entirely by a reading-comprehension mistake made by someone at Pat Robertson’s legal group.

So, after DeMint’s demonstrably ridiculous speech, the Senate had to vote on whether to strip the bill of the completely innocuous provision that merely re-states current law. Believe it or not, 43 senators actually voted for this transparent nonsense. There are 43 senators who tried to change the stimulus bill because a TV preacher’s lawyer got confused and lied about what’s in the bill.

And just to top this off, among the 43 were four Democrats — Evan Bayh, Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, and Ben Nelson — plus Joe Lieberman.

It’s the political process at its most insipid.