Elephant in this evangelical analysis

Republican_LogoWhen I was an intern at the Ventura County Star, an editor taught me to avoid writing ledes that require weak modifiers like “may.” The same goes for headlines that end with a question mark. It’s a cheap trick designed to imply a big story that really isn’t there — though I will admit I use it often when blogging.

So what to expect from this story in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times: “Will scandals inspire evangelicals to stray from Republican Party?

How about very little you haven’t heard before.

A series of sex-related scandals over the last few years has undercut the party’s assertions of moral authority and, worse, may serve to reinforce the doubts that many evangelical voters have traditionally harbored about the unholiness of the political realm.

“If we place our hope in a political party or a politician, we’ll be let down,” said Brandt Waggoner, 25, a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., who said he spoke for many young evangelicals. “My hope is in God and not in the government.”

A sudden and overwhelming shift of Christian conservatives from the GOP to the more secular-minded Democratic Party appears unlikely. As Laura Olson, an expert on religion and politics at South Carolina’s Clemson University, put it: “The Republican Party is still going to be, at a minimum, the lesser of two evils.”

The Times reporter than goes on to say, in what amounts to the story’s nut graph, that “in politics, subtraction can be just as important as addition.” But really, the story has already died by the time we get to Olson’s quote, which appears in the fourth paragraph.

The article bounces all over the place — noting that while Mark Sanford and Mark Foley and Larry Craig are the Republican’s cross to bear, well Democrats have John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer and, of course, Bill Clinton — and offers a lot of conjecture without a lick of statistics. No mention of exit poll data from the last three presidential elections; no comment from The Barna Group, whose entire operation focuses on distilling evangelical patterns and behaviors into spreadsheets; not even a quote from John Green of the Pew Forum.

The article’s subhead had suggested that even if the recent spate of sex scandals didn’t disenfranchise some GOP voters they could at least “reinforce some Christian conservatives’ doubts about politics in general.” Well, I sure hope so. Too many Americans are too quick to accept the publicly professed beliefs of polticians who make a living pandering to whatever interest will make them popular.

But aside from Waggoner, “who said he spoke for many young evangelicals,” the story provides no such evidence of that either.

And why would it matter if evangelicals split from the Republican Party? The Times reporter briefly mentions their significance to the GOP since the late ’70s, but he doesn’t break down the breadth of conservative “religious voters.” Believe it or not, they’re not all evangelicals; many aren’t even — stop the presses! — Christians.

Unlike many stories that have focused on evangelicals since George Bush was re-elected in 2004, the flaw of this article wasn’t that the reporter seemed to have never met an evangelical in his life, but that too much effort was made to slip a story into the paper that offered nothing new to the reader.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    As far as I can tell most of the time an individual Republican gets into serious trouble, the MSM harps away at the fact the person is a Republican and the word Republican is everpresent in the coverage. But if it is a Democrat it seems the word “Democrat” seems to almost disappear. Does that mean the MSM thinks average Dems are all OK with their leaders and elected officials being customers of high priced call girls or all OK on leading Dems hitting on much younger female employees.

  • http://aishahhils.com A’ishah Meghan Hils

    Deacon Bresnahan, my guess would be that more is made out of it because many Republicans build their political careers on a rhetoric of family values, whereas, at least in my limited experience (I don’t support either party), I don’t see Democrats who preach family values so much as a political platform. What exactly family values are is rarely elucidated by anyone, as far as I know.

    Speaking for myself, politics is a dishonest profession. Outside of just politicians – take Sarah Palin’s daughter’s situation, for example – people are human and teenagers have unprotected sex and mistakes happen, and it’s sad that they are held up to such high standards. Looking at the Sanford and Spitzer and other scandals, though, I think the issue lies more with the fact that politicians – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, whatever – make a living out of spinning things and often obscuring or lying about the facts. That’s how they got elected in the first place. Adultery is absurdly commonplace in America to begin with, and these men have the power and the money to do it big time and feed whatever sexual desires they have.

    And it’s sad that these days, a man’s cheating on his wife only matters – or especially matters – depending on what he does, who he does it with, and how he does it. Infidelity is infidelity, no matter who you are. So if you are a construction worker who cheats on your wife…that means you are capable of lying and probably not a particularly good husband or father, yet your boss doesn’t automatically assume you have lied about everything and fire you. Is this a bad thing? If you are a politician who cheats on your wife…that means you are capable of lying and probably not a particularly good husband or father, yet not only your mistress but also your spouse and children’s lives are treated as carrion by media vultures, AND you deserve to be fired. In Sanford’s case, he actually used state resources in the process and obscured it, so that SHOULD affect what happens to him, but in many other people’s cases…infidelity may mean they are bad spouses and parents, but they are good liars, and that’s probably how they ended up in office to begin with.

    Back to the issue of the media…sorry for the ramble. I think this article suffers from a malaise affecting about 99.8% of the rest of mainstream media, which is the old “make them think you’ve written something groundbreaking but just give a different quote by a different source then waffle back and forth and say it is but it isn’t so you can cover your behind and not actually say that any progress has been made on the subject” trick. To the media’s credit, politicians seem to be quite adept at this one, too.

  • Bern

    I too belong to no party (why do they call them “parties” anyway???) and I agree that the Republicans set themselves up to be the bigger hypocrites when they get caught. There’s no sense blaming the MSM for that. Reap as you sow . . . This story does quote a couple of other experts but is short on numbers, that could be gotten easily. Lazy.

  • http://jettboy.blogspot.com Jettboy

    “I too belong to no party (why do they call them “parties” anyway???) and I agree that the Republicans set themselves up to be the bigger hypocrites when they get caught”

    Bigger than Al Gore and the Envirotards? Bigger than Tax and Spend liberals who can’t or won’t pay their taxes? Bigger than socialists who have more money than a third world country? Sorry, but that doesn’t cut the mustard. Liberals have their “morals,” such as they are, but refuse to call them such so they can’t be accused of hypocrisy.

  • Julia

    I don’t get why failing to live up to your own standards makes you a hypocrite. People with standards mess up more BECAUSE they have standards and others don’t. People who have standards don’t usually claim that they perfectly adhere to them. We have no perfect people on earth.

    Saul Alinsky rule #4: make a big deal out of your enemy not living up to his/her own standards.

    That’s where that political tactic comes from.