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January 11, 2006

Alito Watch: Consecrating the Room

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At first, I thought this was an old SNL sketch.

This series captured two anti-abortion activists praying and "anointing the doors" to the Senate hearing room where the Alito confirmation hearings were to take place.  On first pass, I simply dismissed this display — recorded last Thursday in the Hart Senate Office Building — as a ridiculous stunt.  Ultimately though, the images stuck with me for a couple reasons.

First, ever since the Schiavo drama, I’ve been more conscious of the way religious activists tends to disregard or push the limits of physical barriers and boundaries (Curb Appeal – link).  In this case, these guys had no qualms about literally taking their fanatical case to the doors of the Alito hearing.  To be honest, I’m not sure what the policy is regarding political display and demonstration inside the halls of Congress.  One should not be fooled, however, that this is a simple or innocent action when the prearranged participation of the press and at least the tacit cooperation of Capitol security was required.  (Otherwise, these guys would be out on the sidewalk, fighting for attention just like everybody else.)

The other point here (although not a new one, of course) is the way the
religious right shamelessly exploits religious symbolism for political
gain.

The play here is a psychological one exploiting a reflexive
tendency to associate religious garments, objects, and physical
language and gesture with noble, even pious intention.  As well, the
simple visage of the minister already comes more than pre-packaged with
the connotation of authority.  With that kind of loading, the jump
involved in "reading" these guys as political activists or protesters
is relegated, at least cognitively, to a second pass — if it occurs at
all.

I should add that even an inherently critical viewer can be
warded off by the semblance of sanctity — especially in the light of
even more visceral God inspiring/God fearing associations.  If SNL’s
"Father Guido" and Dana Carvey’s "Church Lady" made great hay in mining
that territory, it probably also explains my initial impulse simply to
write this off as parody.

(images: Scott Applewhite/A.P.  Jan. 5, 2006.  Washington  Via YahooNews)

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