Thread on irrationality, anger, fear & faith (update)

I hear, since my office is on Capitol Hill, that there is some kind of election going on today. The word on the street is that all kinds of terrified, emotional, angry people are going to march into polling places and destroy the era of hopeful, rational, optimism that has ruled our great land for the past 18 months or so. At least, that’s just what I read in the papers.

Religion is not supposed to be a major factor in the elections this time around, unless there was been a secret meeting in which Tea Party libertarians have conspired with Theocrats and we just haven’t heard about it. Keep NPR turned on today, just in case.

Still, anyone want to bet that, once again, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (paging John Green) or some other respected group will find that two of the top three or so indicators on how people voted as (a) how often they attend worship services and (b) how many children are in the household. This time around, unemployment will almost certainly be factored in there, somewhere. But I do not expect the pew gap to vanish, do you?

So where am I going with this?

It’s time for an open thread of some kind for this election day.

I’ll start it off, offering my own laugh-to-keep-from-crying perspective as a culturally conservative Democrat. Oh, by the way, it is not a good idea — in this age of robotic political telephone campaigning — to have a registered Democrat and a registered Republican living in the same household. The Mattinglys of Ferndale are getting about 30 robot calls a day. Ugh.

Where was I? For many weeks now, the mainstream-news template for election coverage has, of course, been that Americans are afraid and angry and, thus, have become irrational. This powerful template has been in effect so long (Weekly Standard survey here) that I am convinced that most mainstream journalists are now (a) aware of it and (b) beginning to get a bit embarrassed by it.

Don’t be surprised if journalists frantically seek some other kind of framing device tonight. It is getting too easy to lean on the angry, irrational meme.

If that takes place, the turning point may have been the following story from The Politico — a story that does specifically address religion, but is haunted by language that for many implies a clash between reason, logic, science, sanity (paging Jon Stewart) and a caricature of religious faith. The story contains the thought for the day, from President Barack Obama. Why will the Democrats have a rough day? In the end, it all comes down to evolution:

WEST NEWTON, Mass. – President Barack Obama said Americans’ “fear and frustration” is to blame for an intense midterm election cycle that threatens to derail the Democratic agenda.

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” Obama said … in remarks at a small Democratic fundraiser Saturday evening. “And the country’s scared.”

So here are the three questions for this open thread:

* Have you seen any evidence of a new template for coverage, other than the old “angry, irrational voters” model?

* What role has religion played in the mainstream coverage today?

* What language did you hear today that you thought was haunted by religion, even if the reporters and commentators didn’t openly connect what they were saying with moral, religious and cultural issues (since those do not matter in this election)?

I’ll be much more lenient than normal today about allowing comments about the issues themselves, but I WILL INSIST that comments be based on specific items of news coverage. Whenever possible, please offer a URL that points toward a media source.

Now, back to work. What was it that the alleged Father Guido Sarducci said when he gave the fake benediction before the two fake news superstars launched into their non-partisan rally?

UPDATE: Watching CNN off and on, while working on my column. The struggle to find an alternative template is not going well, with a steady stream of references to the public being angry (lost count on that word) and mad. Other interesting turns of phrase, so far, include the public letting loose with a “visceral scream of anger” and being “fundamentally upset” with the direction of the country.

And is it just me, or does CNN have a digital semi-Jaws theme going on when they announce races in which a seat in the U.S. Senate changes hands?

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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.

  • melxiopp

    …it is not a good idea — in this age of robotic political telephone campaigning — to have a registered Democrat and a registered Republican in the same household. We’re getting about 30 robot calls a day.

    You must live in a district with a competitive race or two. This politically registered and divided couple in New York City has gotten literally no robo-calls.

    Then again, we have no home phone (only cell phones) and have blocked all telemarketer calls from those numbers, so maybe we’ve inoculated ourselves.

    I will admit the following: I am still a registered Republican and have voted Republican or libertarian my whole life. But, I voted across the board Democrat this election for the first time. Were it not for abortion and other values-engineering stances of the Democratic Party, I would probably fully switch parties. The underlying Republican ideology of “government is the problem” and deficits are good only if they are in the form of tax cuts (preferably to the rich, even if they just invest their money in the markets and not primarily in businesses that hire workers here) was proven hollow over the past few years – at least for anyone with eyes to see (cf. Greenspan’s admission that he had found “a flaw in the model that I perceived [was] the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”)

  • Dave

    * Have you seen any evidence of a new template for coverage, other than the old “angry, irrational voters” model?

    A Washington Post opinion piece by Eugene Robinson ponders why voters didn’t turn angry and irrational under Bush in like circumstances. He concludes it’s Obama’s race. I would counter-propose that Obama gave people hope for a while and when that evaporated it re-precipitated as anger.

  • Jerry

    I really wish you had covered the recent rally for sanity and the religious aspect of that rally because it’s to me a significant event that has a direct bearing on this elections and future elections. To step back a few days, I was charmed by the headline: Jon Stewart’s media critique annoys the media. That call for civility is being echoed by people of faith such as http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-peter-m-wallace/the-mask-of-civility-slip_b_774979.html

    Of course there will be bad stories, but there are also positive stories that are being missed. So hopefully people will note both kinds of stories. I’d love to read a story that is well-balanced and involves people being civil and, dare I say it, striving to live up to the message of love of the Christ (John 13:34-35).

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JERRY:

    We don’t cover EVENTS. We cover mainstream press coverage OF events that is either wonderful, warped or wrecked.

    Also, I tend not to write about subjects that I am researching for a Scripps column.

    Yes, back into Leibowitz territory, calling to a very logical expert on that subject.

  • Thomas

    That would be Capitol Hill, not Capital Hill. … in the interest of accuracy.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Thomas:

    Thank you. I doooooo hate typos.

  • Jerry

    Terry, yes I know that’s what you cover. But over and over the stories you choose are disproportionally selected. More often than not, I can guess the author of a post based on the subject headline, at least for Mollie and often for you. Also, most often a Jewish-related post is authored by Brad. And that forms the basis of my comment. Sarah and Bobby often keep me guessing which I like. Maybe that’s bias on my part, but it’s my impression:-)

    Also, the “you” I was referring to was the you of all the bloggers here not you personally. I assume, perhaps incorrectly?, that you all read each other’s posts.

  • Jerry

    Terry, you are a better man than I am. I’m not going to have cable news on tonight at all for health and sanity reasons. My election returns are coming from the NYTimes 538 blog http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/live-blogging-election-night/ which is straight-forward horse race coverage as well as a sanity check against all the polling that has been done.

    I’m also occasionally searching for religion election in Google news to see if anything pops up. So far, all that I’ve noted comes from Common Dreams which quotes Marco Rubio calling “statism” the “fastest-growing religion in America.” which is, of course, a classically secular usage of the word religion.

  • Passing By

    Rubio, the new senator fro Florida gave a acceptance speech that began with God, then moved to his children and the future and then some fairly standard Republican prescriptions for moving toward that future. The religion was out there and gave context to the prescriptions.

    Rand Paul, on the other hand, gave a lecture on free enterprise and government getting out of the way. About 3 times he said that something to the effect that we could do whatever we set out minds to, or words to that effect. In other words, the man expressed a purely pelagian ideology. Perhaps his background at a Baptist University is what set me thinking of religion. Technically, his comments were purely secular, of course.
    :-)

  • Bill

    From Dave #2

    Eugene Robinson ponders why voters didn’t turn angry and irrational under Bush in like circumstances. He concludes it’s Obama’s race. I would counter-propose that Obama gave people hope for a while and when that evaporated it re-precipitated as anger.

    Two years ago, wasn’t the thumping the Republicans took in large part a result of anger at Bush? In Pat Buchanan’s words, “Obama rode Bush’s coattails into the Oval Office.”

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Here’s the link to the Eugene Robinson column that Dave mentioned above. A key quote:

    Bush was vilified by critics while he was in office but not with the suggestion that somehow the government had been seized or usurped – that it had fallen into hands that were not those of “the American people.” Yet this is the Tea Party suggestion about Obama.

    Robinson’s claim simply isn’t accurate. There were plenty of Bush critics who claimed the Republicans had “usurped” the government – here’s one prominent example that happened to become the highest grossing documentary in US history.

  • Lamaur

    Two years ago, wasn’t the thumping the Republicans took in large part a result of anger at Bush? In Pat Buchanan’s words, “Obama rode Bush’s coattails into the Oval Office.”

    Two years ago as well as four years ago, I believe. ’06 had corruption and Katrina as the predominant issues, but I recall was a concern too.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Here’s the text of Rand Paul’s victory speech. Here’s the bit that Passing By is probably referring to:

    America will remain great if and when we understand — if and when we understand — that government cannot create prosperity. We have to understand that it comes from ourselves, it does not come from government. We are the creators of that prosperity. Until we understand that, we cannot truly protect and defend our liberties.

    I have great confidence in the American system. We must believe in ourselves and not believe that somehow some benevolent leader in a distant capital will take care of us, will save us from ourselves. We must once again believe in ourselves.

    Strong emphasis on individualism and not much mention of God, but don’t forget that Baptists have a long tradition of supporting the separation of church and state. I don’t know what Paul’s personal theology is, but separating “God talk” from “government talk” would not be out of line with historical Baptist practice.

  • Jerry

    I just read a post-election call for a spiritually oriented, idealistic progressive response to this year’s election from Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/10-commandments-to-revive_b_777961.html

    10 Commandments to Revive Progressives After the November Defeat

    2. Challenge the elitism in the Left.

    3. Challenge the religo-phobia in the Left. As long as the progressive world seems to be aligned with those who think that anyone who believes in God must be either stupid or at a lower stage of psychological development, we will get nowhere with an American public sincerely committed to a spiritual worldview. Allow yourself to explore the various spiritual progressive communities and movements that currently exist.

    4. Do not demean those who disagree with us. Act as though every person, no matter what their politics, is created in the image of God or deserves fundamental respect, and only challenge their ideas and policies, but without attributing bad motives to them.

    5. Take time every day to rejoice in the grandeur and awesome mystery of the universe — and remember that the world is filled with loving people who would be there with us if they knew that we took love as seriously as we take critique.

    8. Build outside the Democratic Party a separate political party that talks about love, kindness, generosity, and The Caring Society — Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth

  • Jon in the Nati

    I don’t know what Paul’s personal theology is, but separating “God talk” from “government talk” would not be out of line with historical Baptist practice.

    He was baptized in the Episcopal church, and is now a Presbyterian (PCUSA); his wife is a deacon in their church.

    His father was Episcopalian, and is now a Baptist; two of his uncles are ministers of some stripe or other.

  • Passing By

    We must believe in ourselves

    Yep, that’s it.

    I heard this in close proximity to Senator-elect Rubio’s visionary speech that also had the advantage of solid theology. Perhaps that’s why I noticed Paul’s implicit pelagianism.