Pat Robertson is not someone I want to defend.
I think he's dangerous. I think he's quite probably evil. He could be nuts.
He's certainly offensive. For example, Robertson's remarks after 9/11 in which he blamed the attacks on US liberals were monumentally creepy. Or his suggestion that we ought to have a a religious test for judicial office.
But I don't think Robertson is stupid. And I suspect he may be sincere in his religious beliefs, if not always in his political tactics.1
And in last week's Robertson flap, much as it pains me to say so, I think Robertson kindasorta had a point.
Robertson was recently flamed around the blogosphere for his televised remark on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that judges are a bigger threat to the USA than terrorists. The cudgels came out: what about 9/11, deaths, tragedy, how could he? And yet. And yet.
Are 'the terrorists' really a threat to America? Unless there's evidence they have a nuclear bomb or a fast-mutating virus, I don't think so. 'Terrorists' (a very mixed lot) do threaten many Americans but the only threat to the nation comes from the threat to our fundamental values posed by the over-reaction to the perceived threat. Thus, if 'the terrorists' are no direct threat to our basic institutions it follows that if judges are even a small threat, they're a bigger threat than terrorists.
And who, understanding the simplest principles of threat analysis could deny that the people with the power to decide cases like Dred Scott or Bush v. Gore are a greater threat to the Nation, to national institutions, than any bin Laden? OK, it's a little weird that for Robertson the issues that demonstrate the fearsome power of the judiciary are … wait for it … their power to remove school prayer and “sanction pornography.”
Despite this great oddness on the details, I think that that Robertson's fundamental point, that the terrorists are just a particularly nasty form of modern pirate — geo-political fleas — while the judiciary has enormous power to reshape our domestic institutions, is basically correct. And that's why the Senate's advice and consent role should be taken so seriously.
1 I narrowly missed my chance to put this presumed sincerity to the test. When he was running for President in the '80s, Robertson came and spoke at Yale. I queued to ask him a question, but they cut off the questions when I was next on deck. Had I been called on, I had planned to ask Robertson whether Christians had a duty to evangelize members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons were some of Robertson's big supporters that year, but my reading of his theology suggested that he did not see them as true Christians any more than he would Catholics, which is to say pretty much not at all. It followed that there was a duty to minister to them. But saying so out loud would have really hurt Robertson with a big part of his base. I was betting the theologian would win over the politician.