Yesterday I put forward my analysis of the extraordinary propaganda blitz and its implications. In doing so, I said that no prominent Republicans have come forward to back Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana currently under attack. This is not true, and I've updated the post. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker has expressed support in one way or another.
Good for them. The RFRA in Indiana is a good law in itself. But that's now beside the point, because the campaign against it has made it into a proxy battle over a wide range of issues. The well-orchestrated attack is heavy on denunciation. Tim Cook says the Indiana law is a “license to discriminate,” which means those of us who support it favor exactly that. We're paving the way for bigotry! The implication is that we're unfit to be citizens of the United States.
The same goes for Governor Cuomo and Governor Malloy's announcements banning “non-essential travel” to Indiana. An official state boycott? That's unprecedented. What could justify such an action other than the judgment that something of unprecedented wickedness has occurred?
No, actually, state actions against other states is not unprecedented. It happened in 1860 and is called the Civil War. This is not an encouraging precedent. And it is hardly a gentle, inclusive message to those of us who think the Indiana law is a good idea.
There's more. The CEOs of Levis and the Gap, Art Peck and Chip Bergh, released a statement saying the Indiana law will give religious conservatives free reign. This “perpetuates discrimination” and fosters “a culture of intolerance.” The implication is that conservative Christians who think marriage is between a man and a woman are moral cretins who can't be trusted in the public square. We must be closely monitored and supervised.
In short, the proponents of gay rights—for this is the only issue that the left sees at stake in the Indiana law—have amped up the culture war rhetoric to a remarkable degree, using a language of pure denunciation. This has been backed up by countless threats of economic sanctions. The wicked will be punished! It's been quite a show of force. Shock and awe.
In this context, a failure by Republican leaders to support Pence and the Indiana law, as well as the Arkansas law (Governor Asa Hutchinson is now backing away from it) has a symbolic importance. It tacitly concedes our public culture to the voices of denunciation and threat.
Supporting Pence and pushing back against Hutchinson's anxious retreat has the opposite meaning. It says, in so many words, that the extreme culture war rhetoric being used against the Indiana law represents a partisan misuse of our common public culture of tolerance and respect for our neighbors. Sadly, that's exactly what has been happening during the last few days.
I'm grateful so many Republican leaders have said the right thing in the present moment.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
Image adapted from Flickr.