Commentary

Boebert Watch: Little Learning and Dangerous Things

Lauren Boebert is soooooo over Democracy
Lauren Boebert is soooooo over Democracy YouTube/Wikimedia
Just in time for Independence Day, U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert is saying the quiet part out loud again. Her latest target: Thomas Jefferson.

Boebert, who handily fended off a primary challenge from Don Coram last week and will face Democrat Adam Frisch in November, isn’t known for watching what she says — or, indeed, for knowing what it is that she’s saying. Her loose-cannon antagonism has made her the darling of those on the far right who define themselves not by how much good they can do in the world, but by how much they can “own the libs.” It’s not a political philosophy that lends itself to intellectualism; rather, it’s often a perfect example of a little learning being a dangerous thing.

The aphorism about "little learning," from the sharp pen of English writer and intellectual Alexander Pope,  doesn’t stop there. “Drink deep,” says Part 2 of Pope’s "Essay on Criticism," because “shallow draughts intoxicate the brain.”

Case in point: Boebert’s recent speech to the Cornerstone Christian Center in Basalt, as reported by The Hill. “The church is supposed to direct the government," she said. "The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it. I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk. That’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter and it means nothing like they say it does.”

That statement earned a round of applause from the churchy audience. Boebert knows how to play to a specific crowd’s existing inclinations, especially if they’re of a darker sort that seeks ratification. That's the reason she was comfortable telling the untrue anti-Islamic elevator tale about fellow representative Ilhan Omar to a crowd sympathetic to white supremacy: because she says the quiet part out loud. Assures them that the selfish, solipsistic thing they might want to believe is okay. In fact, it's more than okay....it's part of a movement.

The heart of the separation of church and state is in the Bill of Rights, of course, derived from the establishment clause that says that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion.”

And Boebert's idea that "the church is supposed to direct the government" is so gob-smackingly incorrect that it defies explanation. That Colorado has a representative who clearly demonstrates an utter lack of understanding as to the differences between a representational democracy and theocracy is both sad and dangerous.

The “stinking letter” to which Boebert referred is from no less than Thomas Jefferson. (Now there’s a debate worth the pay-per-view: Lauren Boebert v. Thomas Jefferson. When self-proclaimed Constitutional constructionists start attacking the actual Founding Fathers, you know they’ve lit out for nutball territory.) The Jefferson letter, which held that America had “built a wall between Church and State,” is something the U.S. government has long respected. Something the Supreme Court has used to uphold rulings in the past.
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Boebert after winning the GOP primary June 28.
But as Boebert is aware, ours is not America’s traditional Supreme Court.

The current court, with the extreme sway of fully a third of its number having been placed there by a corrupt American president who could be facing prison time for his actions while in office, has started its own American Crusades. Striking down Roe v. Wade (despite it being a “matter of settled law,” according to both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh). Ushering religion back into public education. Inviting new examinations of same-sex marriage and even contraception. In doing so, gutting the previous reliance of the court on stare decisis, which gives them free rein to do anything the illegitimate court wants to do in this illegitimate time they have available to them.

And so this is the political reality into which Lauren Boebert bravely talks up the abolition of more closely held American principles to an audience hungry for it. What’s convenient for her is that it doesn’t take much education — only a little learning in some very specific ways — to be a dangerous demagogue. It just takes a soapbox, and the willingness to speak at top volume on things you know very little about.

And yes, it’s extremely tiresome. Rage can’t be sustained; it burns white-hot, then leaves a body depleted. Come November, let's hope that the majority of voters in CD3 recognize just why they’re so exhausted, and who’s been responsible for those shallow draughts of un-American sentiment, all for the purposes of political power.

In short, whom do you believe, Colorado? Thomas Jefferson or Lauren Boebert?
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen