The Decline of the Wasp
I feel a twinge of sorrow for the old WASP establishment as we sail into the winds of the 2012 presidential election. This is the first time that not one WASP — white Anglo-Saxon Protestant — is on either party ticket. 2012 is a watermark on our country's parchment.
Instead, we have two Catholics on the presidential tickets, Vice President Joseph Biden and the Republican Veep nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin congressman is not my cup of tea, shall we say, partly because he bluntly forces his own religion into our politics. That is not the American way.
President Barack Obama, like Abraham Lincoln, attends a Protestant church service now and then, which is reassuring: moderation. Mitt Romney is a devout Mormon. The religion is Christian, but the Mormon book of beliefs and the Latter-Day Saints secretive practices lie outside the walls of Protestant theology. It's a little weird when it comes to confining women in retro roles and sending only young men abroad to be "elder" missionaries.
Heavens, what's a girl to do? Call me out for this, but a requiem for WASP hegemony is called for, don't you think, Ducky? It's been a long run, but I see the dying of the light, sunset straight ahead.
The Supreme Court has no WASPs among nine justices. Catholic men in particular give me pause when it comes to wielding power over the rest of us. Yes, I mean you, "Justice" Antonin Scalia. Catholic men can be the most aggressive enforcers of their private religious beliefs in the public square. Scalia and Ryan are fierce foes of human reproductive rights, determined to chip away at the constitutional right to choose in privacy, enshrined in Roe v. Wade. On the high court, Scalia has zero shame or judicial restraint when it comes to inflicting the boot of his religion on all Americans. Ryan, right across First Street in the Capitol, is taking that fight forward in the legislative branch. It's called the war on women.
When you add in the political power of the American Catholic Bishops, who tried hard to derail Obama's health care reform at the 11th hour because employers are required to make contraception available, then we have a real sea change. Even the religious pilgrims who crossed the ocean seeking freedom knew their invention of a "civil Body Politick" for governing had to stand apart from religion.
WASPs have seen better days since their arc of leadership began moments after the Mayflower landed. WASPs formed the ruling class of this country thereafter. The Massachusetts Bay Colony and Virginia, settled by two different folkways of English Protestants, later contributed the first six presidents of the young American nation. Up in New England, they were hard-working, God-fearing Puritans; down south, they were the carefree slave-owning Cavaliers.
These cultures came to hate each other leading up to the Civil War, but the point is that the colonies were settled by Protestants (except for Catholic Maryland.) The Quaker colony, Pennsylvania, was governed by the English William Penn and populated by a radical Protestant sect the English king was eager to be rid of. Still, the sect, a.k.a. the Society of Friends, remained Protestant.
Protestants established the earliest colleges and churches. The Puritans melted into Congregationalists while a wide swath of Quakers became Episcopalians. In the early 20th century, the wealthy Roosevelt family produced two superb presidents in the crowning example of Protestant noblesse oblige — sending their sons to Harvard and expecting them to give back to society. Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from the script during the Depression by accusing Wall Street barons of greed run amok and was accused of being a social class traitor.
John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic president, broke the mold 50 years ago. Back then, it was scary to have a president who prayed to Rome. Kennedy declared the president would never take orders from the pope and vigorously upheld the sacred separation of church and state.
As WASPs wane, separation between church and state must be underlined on our original parchment. Thomas Jefferson, who hated popery, was its greatest champion. Rocks and fires in the Muslim world remind us anew that religion and politics are a combustible cocktail.
I just figured out why WASPs are on the way out. We deserve it. The Bush dynasty produced two presidents, Yalies who exuded a smug sense of entitlement. The father's worst legacy was Scalia's ally, Clarence Thomas — no thank you note for that, Poppy. The swaggering son, sworn in a century after Teddy Roosevelt, started a couple of wars that crushed the economy.
So much for us. Sail on.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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