The GOP's "personal responsibility" lie: How the Kim Davis saga reveals the core of Republican hypocrisy

One of the Republican Party's biggest obsessions has been revealed for a lot of B.S.

By Bob Cesca

Published September 6, 2015 9:59AM (EDT)

  (AP/Reuters/Rogelio V. Solis/Charlie Neibergall/Gerald Herbert/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/Reuters/Rogelio V. Solis/Charlie Neibergall/Gerald Herbert/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Republican Party platform references the phrase "personal responsibility" no fewer than four times. It's kind of a thing for the GOP, and it's been that way for as long as I can remember. If anyone mentions the social safety net, the Republican counterpoint invariably includes that particular phrase: If we talk about birth control, we're lectured about personal responsibility. If anyone mentions healthcare: "personal responsibility." Paying for retirement? Personal responsibility.

Here's perhaps the most memorable George W. Bush campaign ad from the 2000 election:

BUSH: I believe we need to encourage personal responsibility so people are accountable for their actions. And I believe in government that is responsible to the people.

You know what? I kinda agree! But the salient question this week is whether the Republican Party of 2015 agrees with the former president. And does Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis agree with George W. Bush?

For now, it looks as if Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Fox News Channel agree that Davis, an elected government worker, should keep her job despite refusing to perform her professional obligations, and should face no legal repercussions for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after being judicially compelled to do so. But Davis isn't self-employed. She doesn't get to revise her own job description on-the-fly. Only her employers retain that discretion, and her employers happen to be the people of Rowan County, Kentucky.

Huckabee and the others believe she shouldn't be held personally responsible -- accountable for her actions, as President Bush said in 2000 -- for her actions in defiance of the Supreme Court; in defiance of her job description; and especially in defiance of a U.S. District Court judge who happened to have been appointed by the Texan in the video above. If the GOP was truly concerned with personal responsibility, they'd support Davis's posture against same-sex marriage but accept the fact that she's justifiably being held accountable for her actions. More than that, they'd encourage her to resign her post. Davis' GOP supporters are doing exactly none of that.

There's a meme circulating Facebook at the moment questioning whether Muslims working at a department of motor vehicles can refuse to issue driver's licenses to women. The obvious point being that the GOP appears to be getting behind the idea that both public and private sector workers can refuse to do their jobs with impunity as long as they can recite a biblical verse to back it up. It appear as if they do, but only when it comes to same-sex marriage or contraception. I refuse to believe the GOP would support a military officer who refused to be deployed to a combat zone because of a self-professed Ten Commandments-based objection to killing.

But the Republican position on Davis appears to set a precedent for circumstances exactly like that. Religion, therefore, is literally a get-out-of-jail-free card. What if a citizen refuses to pay taxes because a portion of the revenue goes to defense contractors or to infrastructure projects in states represented by "sinful" members of Congress like, say, David Vitter?

What about moral objections? If that's the case, Chelsea Manning should be set free for morally objecting to the use of deadly force by the U.S. military in Iraq. Clearly, her personal morality led her to break the law and the military code of conduct by leaking classified information to Wikileaks. Davis' religious objections, likewise, are no less defiant of the rule of law than Manning's. Certainly the crimes are vastly different, but defying the law is defying the law. What if Manning cited Christian dogma to justify her actions? There's simply no chance in hell that Erick Erickson and Mike Huckabee would rush to her side offering prayers or, in Erickson's case, predictions of civil war.

The only personal responsibility the Republicans appear to be concerned with any more is divine responsibility. In this Davis matter, as well as with objections over contraception and other reproductive services, the GOP appears to be sanctioning the ideal that no one should be held accountable for refusing to live up to their earthy responsibilities -- only their responsibilities to a 2,000-year-old book and an invisible man in the clouds who may or may not actually exist. As long as the latter is achieved, the former can be waived.

Let's make a deal. If Davis is personally engaging in the so-called sinful act of same-sex marriage simply by issuing marriage licenses as part of her job, fine. Maybe we'll concede that point when the GOP agrees that gun manufacturers and gun store clerks should be held legally, morally and religiously accountable if they sell a firearms used in criminal activity.

But nope. Not only will the Republicans continue to waive Davis' personal responsibility in this case, she'll likely be invited to speak at next year's Republican convention.

Kim Davis Attorney: Jailing Kim Davis Won't Solve Problem

Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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