Against the Grain: Kerry and Evil

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger has figured out that the barbaric beheadings by “Islamic” terrorist groups “could pose a political problem for John Kerry.” Henninger used his column “Wonder Land” in the Journal’s Friday edition (6/25) to try and reap some partisan advantage for the ultra-right out of the recent murders of Nicholas Berg, Paul M. Johnson and Kim Sun Il.

His article, besides being grossly distasteful, shows the extreme lengths the ultras have to resort to in order to justify Bush’s war mongering policies. In this case, Henninger maintains that conservatives have a monopoly on the belief in “evil” and liberals like Kerry don’t.

His argument goes this way. The beheadings are “evil.” Bush has called the “Islamic” militants the “evildoers” and uses the concept of “evil” in his thinking and his speeches. John Kerry doesn’t talk about “evil” therefore liberals either don’t believe in “evil” or “don’t wish to allow the idea of evil to be explicit in our politics.”

Having come to this conclusion, Henninger contends that the American people will wonder which of the residential candidates has the “moral fiber” to stand up to the “evildoers.” Its a slam-dunk that its Bush!

The liberals, i.e., the Democrats, Henninger maintains, don’t believe immutable evil. They believe it is possible to enlighten evildoers - that they can be shown the errors of their ways and change their behavior. Henninger implies this is a political (if not a moral) problem for John Kerry.

Henninger is off base on several issues, not the least of which is Theological. If Bush is a Christian and doesn’t subscribe to the view Henninger foists off on Kerry, he would be rejecting a central belief of his own religion - the principle of redemption.

Who is Henninger to decide what is evil and what isn’t. Using the concept of “evil” in political discourse just muddies the water and leads to emotional shouting matches not reasonable discussions on which policies the nation should follow.

For example, I am sure we would all agree, across the board, that the acts of terrorist beheading are “evil.” But many might also think it is “evil” to drop cluster bombs deliberately in residential areas of cities where the majority of people killed are innocent women and children and that a government that does this is made up of “evildoers.” Some may even think mass killings such as just described are even “more evil” than isolated individual acts of terrorism - evil as they be.

And what about abortion? Is that evil? Henninger seems to think so. “But as with abortion,” he writes, “it is in Mr. Kerry’s interest to suppress explicit moral references in politics.” So abortion is a moral issue not a legal or constitutional issue. Granted that people have different moral concepts, especially in a multicultural pluralistic bourgeois democracy such as the United States, the question is do we really want to decide these moral issues in the political arena.

The answer is a resounding “NO”! People’s moral choices are personal and private. The ultra-right thinks there are absolutes - just as the “Islamic” radicals are evil-doers so are people supporting abortion rights, or who are against any other “moral” belief held by the true believers.

That is not democracy. That is, in its own way, the same kind of mental lock-down exhibited by the so-called “Islamic” fundamentalists whom also like to toss around the E word. So the question is not is there “evil” or not. The question is do we want this essentially faith based religious concept to be a central issue in our political debates and elections. No rational person could wish for this and if Henninger is correct and John Kerry doesn’t want to use the ultra-right religious lingo of the Bushites, then John Kerry is correct.

Personally, after reading Henninger’s article, I think using the deaths of the three recent victims of terrorism for partisan political purposes is itself a tad evil.

--Tom Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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