The great New York Times freak out

Jesusland Judging from today’s reactions to the election, the deep thinkers at the former paper of record need to get a grip. I’m the lead-off hitter — LeBlanc and Mattingly come by later in the day to bat cleanup — but the shrillarity of Gary Wills’ and Maureen Dowd’s slow curve-ball should be enough for at least a lazy double.

Take Dowd’s tirade: She mocks Senator Kerry’s well-delivered call for national unity because President Bush "got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule."

Dowd accused the president of running "a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq — drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals, or ‘values voters,’ as they call themselves, to the polls by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage."

The bitter asides were a bit much, even by Dowd’s standards. Between Dick Cheney’s first and last names she inserted the following: "Oh, lordy, is this cuckoo clock still vice president?" Of his post election speech, she opined that only Cheney could "make ‘to serve and to guard’ sound like ‘to rape and to pillage.’"

Then she launched into some of the new conservative senators. She scored some points against Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint before lapsing into lazy Timesian cultural prejudices to damn John Thune, "an anti-abortion Christian conservative – or ‘servant leader,’ as he was hailed in a campaign ad – who supports constitutional amendments banning flag burning and gay marriage."

But you know it’s a bad day for the Gray Lady when Dowd sounds almost reasonable by comparison with historian Garry Wills. In a column titled "The Day the Enlightenment Went Out," Wills worried that Dark Days are ahead in a nation where people believe "more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution."

For about the millionth time, Wills trotted out the Scopes trial of 1925. The gist of his reason for doing this is: Remember those fundamentalists, who skulked away after we mocked them for enforcing a law against teaching evolution in public schools? Theyyyyyy’re baaaaaack.

Where Dowd uses the term "jihad" half-jokingly, Wills is dead serious. He intones that the "secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate." In fact, we have come to resemble those European nations "less than we do our putative enemies."

"Where else," Wills asks, as he works up a head of steam, "do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity?" Answer: "We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed."

Wills warned darkly that Bush’s "helpers are also his keepers" and predicted that the "moral zealots" will "give some cause for dismay even to nonfundamentalist Republicans."

"Jihads," you see, "are scary things."

Look, I’m hardly a stickler for the narrowest possible use of the English language. And I have once or twice referred to a political movement that I disagree with as a "jihad," but never seriously. So I offer the following advice to NYT editorial page editor Gail Collins:

There was no holy war. There was an election and your side did badly. Sorry about that. That’s how democracy goes sometimes. The candidates appealed to voters on a number of issues, including the war, the economy, and "values" issues, and the values issues seem to have made the difference.

That does not make this election illegitimate, or a jihad, or a referendum on the Enlightenment. American Christians are not fundamentalist Muslims and they aren’t going to turn the nation into a theocratic state. Publishing pieces that seriously argue this only make your op-ed page look silly.

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  • dw

    There was no holy war.

    Then what the hell is this culture war we’ve been engaged in the last 30 years?

    Tuesday was the liberals’ 9/11 moment. They’d foisted their values and their versions of morality on a group they didn’t pay any attention to, all the while openly ridiculing and poo-pooing their mores and their issues and their problems. On Tuesday, 4 million people stepped up and delivered a blow against their oppressor.

    Look at what the liberals in the media and on the street are saying. It is akin to what you heard in the days after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

    The Democrats have to respond and try to understand the anger that’s out there. Bombing CBN headquarters and invading Alabama to free it from its ruthless governor with ties to the religious right… those aren’t options. The Dems have to stop ignoring their own intolerance and actually listen to what Christians have to say.

    This is the biggest battle in the culture war, and it’s pretty obvious who lost.

  • amm

    Jeremy, how do you account for Bush’s own usage of a language of cultural warfare? Jim Towey took the stand after Bush at a faith-based summit this spring and declared that America is in the midst of a “culture war”. His words. And Bush told a group of Christian media players that his job as Prez was to make “cultures change”. His words too.

    Evangelicals and traditionalists use the language of warfare (battle, fight, etc.) to energize believers who feel that their values/mores are under assault. This isn’t a new strategy. And now Dems and liberals are the embattled ones.

    Using the language of warfare to describe cultural conflicts is pretty lame–and denigrates the real tragedy of ACTUAL war. But both sides do it all the time. And in recent history, it has been the conservative Christians who have really perfected the language of warfare to promote their cause. Let’s give credit where credit is due, shall we?

  • amm

    Funny, I just read my email and my daily briefing from Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council is titled:


    It’s a memo about Arlen Specter and supreme court justices.

    Like I said, these guys deploy the words of war like no others….

  • C. Wingate

    Surely the conservatives are going to trot about a lot of hyperbolic rhetoric about seizing the day (haven’t heard “mandate” yet, though). But the sound I’m hearing from the rest of the country is one giant hangover. We get the most bitterly fought election since, um, the last one and what do we get? Infinitesimal change. Well, um, yeah, no gay marriages too. Conservative belief in the possibility of radical change is wishful thinking.

  • Jeremy Lott

    >Jeremy may be too young to remember that…

    Let’s not start with the age thing again. Once was cute; twice gets tiresome.

    Republicans tend to use the “culture war” as a metaphor for a non-violent political struggle (see Ayelish’s example above).

    Invoking jihad — as Wills clearly did; comparing American “fundamentalists” to jihadis, and not just metaphorically — is a whole different fish.

  • Jeff the Baptist

    You could at least give Matthew Yglesias a link. You are using his graphic for this post.

  • Jeremy Lott

    This is one of those quasi-ananymous graphics that make the rounds via e-mail. Yglesias is one of dozens to post it.

  • Tioedong

    Your map is wrong.

    Much of MidWestern Canada belongs in “jesusland”…

  • David

    Not being a journalist (but a fan of this site), I’d like to see the press make a distinction between “stem cell research” and “embryonic stem cell research.” As best I can tell, it is only the latter that conservatives oppose. The blog I’m commenting on also fails to make that distinction: “. . . . suffocating stem cell research . . . .”

  • David Wozney

    Is the “Jesus” of this so-called “Jesusland” the Jesus of the Jefferson Bible (also called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels”)?

  • Rob

    If Wills were truly a historian of note, then he would have entitled his screed: “The Day the Scottish Enlightenment was Reborn in the New World”.

    You see, Enlightenment thinkers split into several schools. Most continental European Enlightenment thinkers followed Rousseau into collectivism, then socialism, then mass beheadings delivered by the trusty guillotine, then facism, and finally communism. Don’t forget to sprinkle in a dash of genocide now and again.

    But the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, whose august number included Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and David Hume, found their way to the New World in the hearts and minds of America’s Founding Fathers.

    The Scottish Enlightenment was heavily leavened with common sense, as Smith, Burke, and Hume all rejected Rousseau’s notion that human nature can be refashioned by a ruthless intellectual elite to the end of fashioning a collectivist utopia. The Scot’s utopia was individual liberty secured by limited government and civil rights.

    Thank God America rejected the inhuman arrogance of Wills and Rousseau and embraced the Scottish Enlightenment on November 2, 2004.

  • Gary

    This is just one more way in which the left attempts to divide people. If it wasn’t enough to try to divide the rich from the poor (as if many or most rich people aren’t liberal), black from white, Latino from non-Latino, men from women, etc., now we have them trying to divide evangelical Christians from other religious people.

    Can’t you just hear it? “It’s not the religious people that are bad, it’s just those evangelical so-called Christians.” I hear clear echoes of the idea that we of the so-called “religious right” aren’t really Christians. What would be funny if it weren’t so sad is that they’d strongly reject (say) non-Muslims deciding who is and who isn’t really a Muslim, or non-Buddhists deciding who is or is not a Buddhist. Here we have people who are self-professed agnostics deciding who is and is not really a Christian.

    They also completely ignore the fact that a large number of Jews supported President Bush (in particular) and his moral/social agenda (in general). Again, if they can divide the Christians from the Jews, all the better.

    I want to say: Sorry, but the few years you spent way back when in Sunday School, CCD, or Temple School don’t make you an expert on who is or is not a follower of these religions.

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