Leonard Pitts: Now that's scary

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012

By Leonard Pitts
Bob Morris is scared of Girl Scouts.
If you are waiting for the punch line, sorry, but there isn’t one. Morris, an Indiana state legislator, recently attacked the Scouts in a letter to his colleagues urging them to vote down a nonbinding resolution honoring the group on its centennial. There has never been a safer, more plain vanilla measure in the history of American politics, but Morris felt the need to warn fellow legislators of the organization’s corrupting influence. The Girl Scouts, he wrote, is the “tactical arm” of Planned Parenthood. He called it a “radicalized” group with a homosexual agenda that promotes abortion while seeking “the destruction of traditional American values.”
That’s a lot to lay on little girls whose mission in life seems to be the selling of Thin Mints outside the supermarket. But Morris has what he considers sound reasons for believing them a threat. He says he did “a small amount” of online research that revealed to him the true nature of these terroristic cookie pimps.
And as everyone knows, if you read it on the web, it has to be true, right?
Thus does social conservatism skid through the last barriers of basic intellect, simple decency and common sense, hurtling breakneck off the deep end. Next stop: utter incoherence.
There is, in a sense, nothing new here. Fear has long been the sine qua non of social conservatism, the fundament of an “us against them” ethos that simultaneously binds social conservatives together in common cause and separates them from the rest of the world. Like the mental patient who is emperor of a self-created universe invisible to sane people, they believe themselves the guardians and defenders of a moral North Star from which the rest of the world has deviated — and to which they are determined to return us.
It might be easy enough to write Morris off as a Podunk legislator of no concern to anyone outside his district. But such sanguinity requires the belief that he is an anomaly. He is not. To the contrary, this brand of fraidy-cat politics where “they” are ever out to get you and the sky is forever falling, has become a staple of the Republican Party.
You could look to almost any of the GOP’s recent presidential aspirants as proof, or you could just use Rick Santorum as one-stop shopping. He is the state of the art.
In years past, he called birth control “harmful” and questioned whether it works — something that has been regarded as settled science for decades. Just days ago, he bashed college education as a scheme of “indoctrination” and attacked 49-years-dead John F. Kennedy for a 1960 speech generally regarded as a landmark statement against religious bigotry. Somehow, in Santorum’s fevered mind, it became a statement in support of what it opposed.
But then, social conservatism is where logic fears to tread. It is a worldview driven by fear of the world beyond its racial, gender, religious, cultural and intellectual borders. Historically, it always has been.
Fear the Japanese, they said. They are collaborating with our enemies.
Fear the communists, they said. They are hiding behind every bush.
Fear the gays, they say. They want to recruit our children to their lifestyle.
And now? Fear the Girl Scouts. They are trying to conquer America one cookie at a time.
And you have to wonder: How narrow must a man’s worldview be, how paranoid his outlook, what a bunker his very life, when he is scared of Girl Scouts?
Some of us have argued that social conservatives use fear as a tactic. And there’s likely some truth to that. But one senses little of tactical planning in Morris’ missive. No, the fact is, he believes what he says. Many of them do.
If you want to be scared of something, be scared of that.
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Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. E-mail: lpitts@miamiherald.com.