The members of the Religious Right--as they are oxymoronically called--are a bunch of geniuses. You probably think that because you're reading this in a leftist commie rag, and because I am a bleeding heart liberal, that I'm kidding. I am not.

I could support my claim based solely on the fact that the Religious Right managed to get a lying, cheating, military service-evading, cocaine-snorting warmonger elected to the presidency--twice. But if you're one of those pesky, college-educated agnostics who insists upon thinking for yourself and needs a slew of evidence to back something up, then look no further. To prove the brilliance of the Bush administration, simply observe how they're carrying out their anti-abortion agenda.

Gone are the days when politicians sought out aggressive legislation to further their bigoted, Jesus-y plans to stifle a woman's right to choose. Now, all the merchandise is brought in through the back door--the Right has started tying their policies to things we all believe in, so that their ulterior motives get lost in the shadows of public perception.

Take, for example, the Scott Peterson trial: A very bad man kills his sweet, innocent, vulnerable, pregnant wife and their future Nobel Prize-winning fetus. Everyone thinks this is wrong--even people on death row. So the administration takes this opportunity to impose a major piece of anti-abortion legislation under the auspices of protecting beautiful, expectant women everywhere (by "everywhere" I mean "in the U.S."). Their angle: "Shame on Scott Peterson! We believe killing pregnant ladies is bad--even worse than killing regular ladies--so it's our duty, as compassionate conservatives, to make sure that he's punished severely for his crime. In order to do that, though, we need the public's support in passing a law named after his dead wife and dead fetus, which states that he can be tried on two counts of murder instead of just one."

In one fell swoop, George W. Bush makes himself a hero in the eyes of the unsuspecting, ignorant masses who never listen to NPR--and at the same time, he establishes a legal precedent that the value of a fetus is equivalent to that of any fully developed person. It is not unthinkable that down the line, this precedent will be interpreted (by a Bush-appointed Supreme Court Justice) to mean that any termination of a fetus--including cases of abortion after rape--would be considered homicide.

By so doing, the Republicans have created a law around reproductive rights without engaging in the nationwide discussion over the inherent rightness or wrongness of abortion. They sidestepped the discourse by waging a small sneak-attack--and thusly turned their personal and religious beliefs into law.

Another example is the Terri Schiavo case, which polarized this country as only George W. Bush has been able to do. The Left sided with her husband, who fought for her right to die, while the Right sided with her parents, who--like all good parents should--tried to keep their baby from dying, even if it meant keeping her in a state that would prevent her from truly living. Though there were as many people on one side of the fence as the other, the Republicans once again latched onto an irrefutable platform: Human life is sacred! Don't be mean to handicapped people! Kicking puppies is wrong! Instead of calling Terri Shiavo a spade, they used her as a pawn to establish a thriving "culture of life"--which once again brilliantly bolsters their anti-abortion agenda.



Negative associations aside, the phrase "culture of life" sounds appealing enough. It conjures up images of black people, white people, straights, queers, Muslims, even Frenchmen all walking down the street, high-fiving each other about how awesome it is to be alive and to be seen as equal under the law. It suggests a future when we'll pull out of Iraq, crime and poverty rates will go down, and the evening news will feature stories about people making something of themselves instead of blowing each other up. It implies something we can all rally around.

Unfortunately, this isn't the culture of life that Republicans have in mind. Theirs is a specious construct designed not to grant value to all races, religions, genders, and sexual identities, but rather to establish that all life (and by "all life" I mean "all American life") is worth living--no matter how miserably--whether as un unwanted clump of cells in someone's womb or as a vegetable hooked up to machines for decades on end. How we are living is unimportant; that we are living is all that matters. Not only do we have a right to life, we have an obligation--and anyone who disagrees with that should be killed.

Save for axe murderers and nihilists, no one disagrees with the fact that life is sacred. Women who've had abortions believe this as much as anyone. They believe that their life is sacred. And, more importantly, they believe that their quality of life is sacred. The Right has completely ignored the practical matter of quality of life, focusing instead on the abstract notion of life. They've used this simplistic concept to work their dirty brilliant magic in the press and, now, in legislation.

Imagine a government whose priority was to spend more money--not just on its citizens' living, but on their living well. This, to me, is the real culture of life: One where we celebrate life by giving people their best shot at it, instead of perfunctorily forcing it down their throats no matter the circumstance. The current administration, on the other hand, has chosen to direct its funds toward abstinence programs (which, according to some sources, are up to three times less effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies than safer-sex programs) and anti-abortion efforts--ensuring that, in the future, there will be more people walking around with a poorer quality of life (and this isn't even taking into account the current administration's dismantling of a huge portion of the country's social services).

The irony in all of this, of course, is that while the folks on the Right wave their hands and flap their gums about their divine "culture of life," the fact that the "culture of life" already has a sizeable body count is being swept under the rug.

At press time, the Department of Defense listed 1583 U.S. troops as having lost their lives fighting for oil since Bush was elected four years ago. And approximately 18,000 innocent Iraqis have been killed at the hands of our military--whose job it is, ostensibly, to keep our country safe so we may further cultivate our "culture of life" and protect the rest of the world from evil.


I still maintain that the tactics of the Bush administration are brilliant. After all, these are politicians who have managed to convince millions of voters of their crusade to protect the sacredness of life while simultaneously dropping bombs on other countries, inspiring their followers to blow up abortion clinics, sentencing people to death, and praying with all their hearts and souls that if a young girl is raped by her uncle, she should be forced to carry his fetus to term (even if Jesus refuses to pay her medical bills).

The only thing that would be better is if the Right brought their policies out from the shadows and into the light so we could see for ourselves what they were up to. The likelihood of this, of course, is about as good as George W. Bush being able to pronounce the word "nuclear." Instead, maybe the solution is to take a cue from our unscrupulous counterparts: Maybe it's okay to work our own dirty magic in the interest of turning the country around. We could, for instance, tie universal health coverage and other social reforms to a campaign against torturing the elderly.

Whatever we do, though, it's no longer reasonable to dismiss the Right as some wacko bunch of Bible beaters. They're very organized, they're well-funded, and they know what they're doing. We progressives have always taken the self-righteous path--the one that says the good guys will win in the end no matter what, and that the only way to fight lies is with the truth. But this, in case you haven't noticed, isn't working. The Right has defined its own rules for the game--and it's time for our side, at the very least, to get on the field and play.