The future of the conservative movement has been a topic of particular interest here at NewsReal: Where should we compromise, and where should we draw the line? How do we best advance our ideas? What has the Right done wrong? Last night, Sean Hannity interviewed former beauty queen Carrie Prejean, and unfortunately demonstrated a lesson many conservatives have yet to learn: be wary of right-wing hero worship.
Prejean, of course, gained fame during the 2009 Miss USA Pageant, when the ever-insufferable Perez Hilton asked for her position on same-sex marriage, and she dared to give the same answer as President Barack Obama. Of course, the Left figured Prejean actually meant it, so she had to be destroyed in the court of public opinion. Conservatives rallied to her defense, and rightly so: belief in traditional marriage is a legitimate opinion, not an act of bigotry, and deserves better than demonization – especially when given by someone who never asked to wade into the controversy, but merely answered a question honestly.
However, the Right’s response went well beyond that – though Prejean lost her crown (due to disputed reasons that may or may not include her political views), she became a right-wing heroine, complete with a gig with a major Christian PR firm, a scholarship offer from Liberty University, numerous Fox News appearances, a speaking slot at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit, and a book deal. With so much invested into Prejean as a representative of traditional values, revelations of topless photos, not-so-Christian emails, and a sexually-explicit video she once made for a boyfriend cannot help but embarrass those who rushed to embrace her.
Last night Hannity asked Prejean about the nude video, which she admitted was a mistake from her youth, but stressed that Christians aren’t perfect:
Prejean: And I’m 22 years old. People forget about that.
Hannity, agreeing: We go back into my teenage years, and when I was in my early twenties, if anyone looks at those moments when they’re young, you’d never want this to become public.
I understand that young people make mistakes. People change. I don’t think Carrie Prejean should be branded with a scarlet letter and cast out of society, nor do I want conservatives to begin a witch hunt for everyone with a troubled past. Christianity is a religion of humility and redemption, after all, and if Prejean’s experiences make her an effective spokeswoman for that message, more power to her. But casual sex is a very real problem in American culture, and using youth as an excuse for bad behavior is exactly the wrong message to send the next generation (indeed, her only advice to young girls in love is, “be careful; nothing is private anymore” – not “respect yourself,” not “sex has consequences,” not abstinence).
Moreover, there’s a very big difference between welcoming somebody into the conservative family and putting that person on a pedestal, and there’s a very good reason we generally don’t lionize our youngest (with a few notable exceptions, such as the incredible Lila Rose). Hero-worship is dangerous: at best, we risk setting expectations no human being can possibly live up to. At worst, we invest so much emotional capital in an individual that we are tempted to ignore or excuse his failings or misdeeds, and when the object of our worship is someone we don’t even truly know, the dangers increase exponentially.
I don’t know what really happened behind the scenes of Miss USA 2009, and for all I know, Carrie Prejean’s book contains a heartfelt message that our culture needs. But while she may deserve the benefit of the doubt as to what’s in her heart, that’s a far cry from entitlement to adoration and accolades as a champion of conservatism.