Pat Robertson’s recent announcement that he was in favor of legalizing marijuana might just seem like the latest absurdist turn in American public life. But if you look deeper, you will see a most cunning political move.
The evangelicals—of whom Robertson is perhaps the most famous and influential leader—have, of course, a problem. Despite their best efforts to derail the hated Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney is making his tortuously slow way toward the Republican presidential nomination. Not Bachmann or Cain or Perry or Gingrich were able to stop him. Rick Santorum is clearly sinking. It is perhaps only a matter of weeks before the Church of Latter-day Saints gets all that much closer to achieving its ultimate goal—in evangelical eyes, anyway—of running the United States of America.
And here comes Robertson’s master-stroke, just in time. It’s one thing for Romney to not drink alcohol. We all know people like that. We’ve grown used to people who drink too much and to people who don’t drink at all. But when, thanks to the exciting new dispensation Robertson envisions, the entire country is watching Pineapple Express and getting high, an abstinent president straight out of Brigadoon will be an intolerable anomaly.
It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Tea Party.”
That’s only the beginning of Robertson’s shrewd little gambit. In the course of advocating legalized pot, he also radically redefined Christianity. In an interview with The New York Times (of all places), Robertson placed special emphasis on the story of Christ turning water into wine. About Christ, he said coyly: “I don’t think he was a teetotaler.”
I have always thought of Jesus as a nice Jewish boy who excelled at anger management. It never occurred to me that he might be a lush. I did know that the Catholic Church’s use of wine to symbolize the blood of Christ in Communion had a tremendous effect on my Irish friends when I was a teenager. But the idea that Christ himself had a drinking problem is, in the current political context, pure genius. It means that an abstinent Mormon couldn’t possibly claim to speak for a Christian America. It means that Santorum’s attempt to join Catholic obsessions to evangelical anxieties now has a new life. It means that if your average Christian male is sloshed as a matter of religious doctrine, there will be fewer—how can I put it—sustained erections, and therefore no need for birth control.
But Robertson’s brilliant sneaky plot goes way beyond Romney. A populace that is thoroughly fried day after day will come to accept what are now only moonbeams in the evangelical imagination: a country with no tax revenue where happily toasted citizens drive on disintegrating roads, past burning buildings into cities and towns with no electricity, running water, or medical care. Awesome. A country where stoned parents happily homeschool their stoned children instead of sending them to college. A country where a handful of mega-rich families rule over a population of hemped and dazed serfs, who spend their days searching through desolate landscapes for munchies and other cool stuff...
It could work the other way, too. Robertson may well have inadvertently disclosed the secret that explains evangelical politics, which is that marijuana has been legal in evangelical communities for a long, long time.