Face it, Fred Barnes does get religion

fred barnes cardI know that there are plenty of people out there who consider Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard to be the ultimate scribe for the GOP and the Bush White House. I mean, check out the illustration I attached to this post.

However, I think it’s crucial to realize that Barnes is a cultural, yea, even a religious conservative, before he is a pure GOP loyalist. In fact, he is clearly identified with the cultural wing of the GOP that keeps clashing with the Libertarian wing, a faith-related story that we discuss here at GetReligion from time to time. Plus, as reporters who work in this town know, all of those years that Barnes spent on the political beat at The Washington Star, the Baltimore Sun and, yes, The New Republic created a Rolodex that is rather deep on both sides of the political aisle.

With that in mind, check out this interesting little story by reporter Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one of the most savvy Godbeat veterans in the land. This is a simple advance story, but I think Rodgers knew that some of these quotes pointed to some changes on the U.S. political landscape.

By the way, you’ll note that Barnes totally accepts the pivotal role of the abortion issue in America’s arguments over politics and religion. Sorry ’bout that. This is natural, since Barnes was visiting Rodgers’ turf to speak at a Choose Life Month event.

That cause, Mr. Barnes said, was the single most important factor in creating what became known as the religious right, and its only close rival is the more recent issue of gay marriage. Beyond that, he said, there is great diversity on public policy among theologically conservative Americans.

“Abortion is still the fundamental concern,” he said. “When you talk about foreign policy and the broader domestic issues, you may not have agreement at all.”

In fact, there are many people who oppose abortion who are theologically conservative, but not “politically” conservative. In fact, they may be hardcore liberals, progressives, populists or whatever you want to call them. They would certainly, for example, not agree on the war in Iraq. Right, President Bush? And, meanwhile, we have yet to see what will happen in Congress with those new pro-life Democrats. Barnes bluntly observed that there “weren’t as many pro-life losses as there were Republican losses — only about half as many.”

And there is one more interesting point from Barnes, who may or may not be a GetReligion reader. I don’t know, but this final theme sounds very, very familiar to me. Click here and see if you agree (or maybe Barnes and I simply agree on this point):

[Barnes] believes that conservative Christians have been misrepresented in the mainstream media, in part because journalists often chose to interview activists outside the evangelical mainstream.

“They call on Jerry Falwell, when he is not representative of broad evangelical Christianity,” he said. The public would gain a more accurate picture of evangelicals if it turned to one of its flagship institutions, such as Wheaton College in Illinois, or to pastors such as Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren, he said.

“I have to say that the media has caught on to Rick Warren,” he said. “I thought that John McCain, when he wanted to repair his relationship with the Christian Right, made a mistake when he went down and talked to Jerry Falwell. He would have been much better off talking to Rick Warren.”

And what about that Pat Robertson guy?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    I guess it’s just a coincidence that this post about Barnes is right above the one about the Institute for Religion and Democracy since Barnes is on their Board of Directors. Barnes has been widely criticized for furthering the agenda of the IRD–and his breakaway the Falls Church–in his writing and punditry.

    It’s hard to look at Barnes’ comments on abortion without considering the contexct of the neoconservative agendas of both the IRD and the Weekly Standard.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    How are you defining neoconservative?

    My point is that Barnes is primarily a cultural and religious conservative. That is his first loyalty. That would fit totally, however, with his membership at The Falls Church, which is breaking away from the Episcopal Church in order to remain Anglican. Correct?

  • Michael

    which is breaking away from the Episcopal Church in order to remain Anglican.

    Well, that’s the spin. Many disagree, including many Anglicans.

    He is primarily a cultural and religious conservative, but those views often stray into foreign policy where he clearly falls into the neoconservative camp. He’s the edtor of the Weekly Standard, which practically scripted the war in Iraq. The interesting quesiton is how much his religious/cultural views crossover into his foreign policy views.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Many agree with the Episcopal Church doctrinal innovations, but in the wider Anglican Communion that stance is a clear — but very, very wealthy and powerful — minority. That is not spin, that is statistics and voting at Lambeth (in spite of the fact that the very wealthy and powerful US church has many more bishops at Lambeth than its small size would ordinarily merit).

    Meanwhile, how are you defining necoconservative?

    I agree that Barnes is in that camp on Iraq.

    But that is why I wrote this post. Not that he says that theological conservatives and pro-lifers DO NOT AGREE on foreign policy issues. There is much diversity there, but the right to life is the tie that binds.

    Michael, that was the point of the post.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    You DID note the reference to Iraq in my previous post? You read that part of the post?

  • Michael

    I understand the point of your post, I’m just pointing out that Fred Barnes is at the intersection of culture war neoconservative movement, that includes Weigel, Neuhaus, et al. Given that there had been a lengthy discussion of IRD, which Barnes has a long connection, just seemed ironic.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I am still waiting for your definition of neoconservative.

    Fred Barnes is a conservative mainline Protestant.

    The IRD is an organization for conservative mainline Protestants. Does his work with the group shock you?

    BTW, I think there would be a lot more unity in the IRD on basic issues of Christian doctrine than there would be on Iraq and foreign policy. Don’t confuse the Standard with the IRD.

    Still waiting on that neoconservative definition.

  • Tere Wilson+

    Terry (and Mollie) –
    Another great story. You certainly have become my favorite journalist over the past few years because of your cogency and your take on things, especially Anglican.

    My only quibble in this particular story is that the “lead” of a story is never spelled “lede” as it was repeatedly in the story.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Michael

    Neoncons like strong, hands-off, government when it comes to domestic policy. They tend to be active opponents to the alleged “counterculture” but approve of the welfare state more than other conservatives. Usually very strong social conservatives, with a belief in tradition, democracy, and moral superiority.

    In foreign policy, they tend to be hyper-patriotic and opposed to things like the U.S. Every black and white, good and evil, with a commitment to democracy building at all costs.

    Think Weigel and Neuhaus.

    “I think there would be a lot more unity in the IRD on basic issues of Christian doctrine than there would be on Iraq and foreign policy. Don’t confuse the Standard with the IRD.”

    Unquestionably. But also don’t forget that the IRD really became powerful in furthering Reagan’s Latin American doctrine by destabilizing liberation theology Catholics in places like El Salvador. While the current “democracy” focus is in funding and supporting disagreement inside the mainline U.S. denominations, the ghost of neoconservative foreign policy haunts everything.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    So backing JP II’s stance on liberation theology was NeoCon?

    Also, there are libertarian Neocons and these cultural conservative Neocons, too? That does not make any sense to me.

    I think Barnes would say that there is a Neocon stance on foreign issues, but not on domestic.

    And he would say that there is a cultural conservative stance on moral issues, but not on foreign (other than, perhaps, a general backing of human rights, religious liberty, etc.).

    No unity on strategeries, for sure.

  • Michael

    He’s obviously free to say that. That doesn’t mean that his activism and writing doesn’t place him in the neoconservative camp or that it’s unfair to critique his work at the IRD in the context of his editorship of the Weekly Standard.

  • http://wwrtc.blogspot.com Art Deco

    Neoncons like strong, hands-off, government when it comes to domestic policy. They tend to be active opponents to the alleged “counterculture” but approve of the welfare state more than other conservatives. Usually very strong social conservatives, with a belief in tradition, democracy, and moral superiority.

    The term was coined by Peter Steinfels in 1979 to denominate a coterie of liberals rendered heterodox and disaffected by the controversies of the previous fifteen years, some of whom were academics and some of whom were journalists or editors. Norman Podhoretz wrote an article about fifteen years ago in which he argued that continued use of the term was likely to breed confusion as the publications and persons with which it had been associated no longer reflected a distinct tendency within right-of-center thought. Most of those to whom Peter Steinfels was referring are now dead or quite elderly. The very youngest cohort to whom the could be properly applied might be that of Elliot Abrams, former president of Campus A.D.A. and former Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (in the Reagan Administration). Mr. Abrams is 58.

    In foreign policy, they tend to be hyper-patriotic and opposed to things like the U.S. Every black and white, good and evil, with a commitment to democracy building at all costs.

    By what criteria might one distinguins a ‘hyper-patriot’ from an ordinary patriot, and why would one apply the former descriptor to Charles Krauthammer?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    From wikipedia:
    Lede (pronounced lÄ“d) is a traditional spelling, from the archaic English[1], used to avoid confusion with the printing press type formerly made from lead, or the typographical term “leading”.

  • Obadiahslope

    “Lead” is used by Australian and English journalists and so is correct. “Lede” is used by Americans who don’t play cricket, mistake liberalism for Anglicanism and can’t spell.

  • Dave G

    That Barnes would support R. Warren is no surprise. Fox News seems to almost have a love affair with Warren and his purpose driven ministry, and Barnes is linked to that. In some ways, Warren represents a new movement in Evangelical Christianity comparable to the well-documented movement of the neo-cons.

  • Discman

    This is why Barnes’ Bush biography, “Rebel In Chief,” widely dismissed as pro-Bush propoganda, is the best book about the current administration. Barnes actually understands how Bush thinks. Most journalists can’t wrap their minds around religion, particularly Bush’s Methodist Evangelicalism.


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