May 21, 2007
Jerry Falwell: When Bad
Men Pass On
When a man who did very little good and a whole lot of bad
for America dies, how should one react? That's the question I've been
pondering since learning earlier this week of the death of political
activist and evangelist (in that order) Jerry Falwell.
Falwell died Tuesday at the age of 73. He was found in an
office at the school he founded in Virginia, Liberty University, an
institution known for occasionally sending teams to the NCAA tournament,
and also sending woefully under-qualified individuals to the Bush
administration to have roles in the U.S. attorney firing scandal.
As with any largely divisive figure, Falwell's passing has
led to a debate about exactly how honest one may be in judging the
accomplishments of the recently deceased. To a man, the Republican
presidential candidates (even one-time Falwell enemy John McCain)
decided to take the "praise him to the skies" approach, whereas
Christopher Hitchens called the recently deceased "a conscious charlatan
and bully and fraud."
My position on Falwell's passing is that disrespecting the
dead would be wrong. Pretending that Falwell was anything other than the
worst of what American politics has to offer would be even more wrong.
As founder of the Moral Majority in the Reagan era, Falwell
took the Republican Party in the direction of believing that religious
division, marginalizing of everyone but far-right Christian
conservatives, and a complete obliteration of the separation of church
and state, were both the right thing to do and the path to electoral
This is not to say that evangelicals and other religious
conservatives do not have the right to participate in politics, or that
they're not ever right about anything. But what Falwell ushered in was
the idea that all of America, this most religiously pluralistic of
nations, must live under one worldview - a minority, extremist one, at
Even though Falwell, by the new millennium, was succeeded by
James Dobson, another religious leader-turned-political hack, the
presidency of George W. Bush finally brought Falwell's worldview as
close to real-world fruition as is humanly possible. Its catastrophic
failure will hopefully go as far towards discrediting it as Falwell
himself did in the final years of his career.
Falwell's list of hateful and/or bigoted statements is long,
and it is legion. He said the anti-Christ was a Jewish male currently
living on Earth. He pushed a video that implied Bill Clinton had
murdered several associates. He supported segregation in the 1960s, and
apartheid in the 1980s, waiting until much longer than he should have to
renounce both positions. And his hatred of homosexuals was a constant
throughout, long before he became an international laughingstock by
arguing in all seriousness that one of the Teletubbies was gay.
His D'Souza-like post-9/11 rantings, when he and Pat
Robertson blamed the attacks on "the pagans, the abortionists, and the
feminists and the gays and lesbians," were a more hateful statement than
anything any major leftist has ever said about that day. If there's any
justice, that will be Falwell's lasting legacy to the world.
Despite all this, Falwell was for some reason frequently
brought onto TV talk shows until virtually the end of his life. This
happened most egregiously during the Clinton/Lewinsky period, when
Falwell and old rival Larry Flynt were frequently brought onto cable
shows to comment on the action, the way ESPN might invite Larry Bird and
Magic Johnson to discuss the current NBA Finals.
And now, on those same talk shows, we'll get to hear all
about how "the left" has "disrespected" Falwell in his death, as though
the deceased hadn't been a vile, hateful bigot for his entire life.
I am not going to say
that I am glad Jerry Falwell is dead. What I am going to say is, Falwell
spent his entire professional life seeking to create an America in which
Christianity was the law, sex, free expression, and religious pluralism
were curtailed and gays were entirely marginalized. If such an America
ever emerges, I will be glad – very, very glad – that Jerry Falwell
never lived to see it.
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