VICTORIA - It’s tempting to make fun of Pat Robertson and his assassination fantasies, to write him off as a nutty novelty act on the American political-religious scene.
Robertson made the news again with his proposal - on his popular television show - that the U.S. should just go ahead and kill Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The democratically elected Chavez is a bad guy, Robertson said, and America needs Venezuela’s oil. Invasions cost too much, so George Bush should just send some folks off to kill Chavez.
Robertson recanted in an elaborate two-step. First he denied saying Chavez should be assassinated, a doomed effort since people could watch the videotape of him saying just that. Then Robertson acknowledged calling for the killing, and said he was wrong. He was just frustrated that the U.S. wasn’t taking the Chavez threat seriously, Robertson said, accusing Chavez of a brace of offences, including making common cause with Carlos the Jackal, a surprise since the terrorist has been a French prison for a decade.
It’s the latest in a long line of weird and creepy statements from Robertson, who is apparently in personal touch with his own cranky God. He has a long list of enemies, from liberals to pro-lifers to Supreme Court justices who are more dangerous to America than “a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."
Gays and their friends are on God’s hit list, Robertson says. When Disney World wouldn’t cancel a Gay Pride Month, he predicted some serious smiting. "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes. It'll bring about terrorist bombs. It'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor," he told his TV audience.
It all sounds looney, in a hateful kind of way, the rantings you would expect from a disgruntled lonely guy down in the local coffee shop.
But about 860,000 Americans tune in each day to The 700 Club, Robertson’s flagship TV show, more than CNN attracts in prime time. Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network has more than 1,000 employees, and its news talk shows get the top politicians in Washington as regular guests. (The 700 Club is broadcast in Canada on the Miracle Channel.)
And despite Robertson’s nutty comments, he has political influence as a leader of the evangelical right. George Bush meets with Robertson, who takes credit for a major push to help Bush in both his election wins.
Robertson’s influence, some contend, is fading. But the White House’s cautious reaction to the ‘lets-kill-Chavez’ comments show an eagerness to keep him and his supporters on good terms. A State Department spokesman said the comments were "inappropriate," but didn’t say they were wrong, or stupid, or unhelpful. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield said the Pentagon doesn’t do assassinations, but he wouldn’t criticize the comments. "He's a private citizen,” Rumsfield said.”Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."
But most of those private citizens don’t have access to the president, or a national TV audience.
It’s all helpful to Chavez, who has already claimed the U.S. wants him dead because of his leftist policies and alliance with Fidel Castro.
And in a small way, it’s probably unhelpful to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. Many Canadians worry about the influence of social conservatives and the religious right on the party. This affair shows how large that influence has become in the U.S.
But mostly it’s another reminder of how dangerous people can be when they believe they have a direct and certain line to God. Osama Bin Laden finds justification for blowing up civilians, something the Koran forbids. Robertson finds grounds for killing leaders of other countries. Their certainty that they are right makes them dangerous.
Faith is a wonderful and powerful thing. It naturally shapes the way people live their lives.
But when it’s used to justify compelling others to live the same way, it becomes a menace, as Robertson has again shown.
Footnote: Robertson’s retreat was half-hearted. OK, he says, it was wrong to advocate assassination. But he went on to note German protestants found it acceptable to try and kill Hitler. “There are many who disagree with my comments, and I respect their opinions,” Robertson concluded. “There are others who think that stopping a dictator is the appropriate course of action.”