Calling key conservatives

questionsSome solid reporting by The Washington Times‘ Ralph Z. Hallow on how the administration notified key conservatives, both economic and religious, of Bush’s choice to nominate Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court. In referencing conversations with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission chief Richard Land, Hallow shows how Bush wanted to pick someone “who could rally the troops.” Here’s the gist:

Karl Rove called key conservative interest group leaders yesterday morning to give them a heads-up just before the White House made public President Bush’s nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.

Many of the same conservatives had been labeled “sexist” and “elitist” by the White House for their criticisms of Harriet Miers, Mr. Bush’s previous court choice. But all seemed forgiven yesterday as leaders across the Republican spectrum, from economic libertarians to religious conservatives, united in praise of the Alito nomination.

The chance to heal a rift between the president and his conservative supporters brought the personal involvement of Mr. Rove, the political strategist who just days earlier had been the object of press speculation that he might face criminal indictment.

What other unreported conversations have Bush and his aides had with religious leaders? At what point does this become a religious test? Harriet Miers clearly passed some people’s religious test as they found her adequate for the highest court in the land based largely on her personal faith in God and personal integrity.

Those are questions that I believe reporters should start asking more often, and Hallow should have found room for these questions somewhere in his story.

Print Friendly

Again: Who is calling who a “moderate”?

Supreme Court 02This is one of those days when it is hard to be a Godbeat blogger. Where do you begin with the ghosts in the stories about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr.? It is hard to cover the territory, even if you limit yourself to The Washington Post. Let’s try to tiptoe through the minefield. But let me warn you right up front: I remain convinced that the key to this whole story is the old question, “Who gets to control the word ‘moderate?’”

This is a variation on the question I keep asking: If liberals are in favor of the status quo, which used to be called “abortion on demand,” and conservatives support a complete ban on legal abortion, what do the “moderates” want?

Of course, we already know the MSM answer to these questions. Moderates want to maintain the legal status quo and so do liberals. Thus, there are no real liberals. There is no far left on the issue of abortion.

• For example, Michael A. Fletcher was assigned the “fire up the fundraising letters” story, in which activists on the far right and on the far middle gear up to raise money and support. But, behold, right there in the lead is the “L” word. No, not that “L” word, the other one — “liberal.”

Within two hours of President Bush’s nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. for the Supreme Court yesterday, the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way had e-mailed hundreds of thousands of its members, contacted journalists across the country and released a report on Alito’s jurisprudence — all in an effort to derail the nominee.

The conservative Third Branch Conference, meanwhile, spent the hours after the president’s announcement happily planning ways to back Alito. In a conference call with leaders of about 75 right-leaning groups, the organization extolled Alito’s conservative credentials and urged grass-roots support of his nomination.

The word “liberal” shows up again a few lines later and then again and again. In fact, does the word “moderate” appear at all? I didn’t think so.

• But much more traditional language dominates the Charles Lane report with the headline “Alito Leans Right Where O’Connor Swung Left.” That’s a nice headline, by the way, if the issue is abortion (which it is). This report begins with the case everyone is talking about. Note the return of centrist/moderate langauge:

In 1991, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. voted to uphold a Pennsylvania statute that would have required at least some married women to notify their husbands before getting an abortion; a year later, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cast a decisive fifth vote at the Supreme Court to strike it down. …

The record is clear: On some of the most contentious issues that came before the high court, Alito has been to the right of the centrist swing voter he would replace. As a result, legal analysts across the spectrum saw the Alito appointment yesterday as a bid by President Bush to tilt the court, currently evenly divided between left and right, in a conservative direction. O’Connor “has been a moderating voice on critical civil liberties issues ranging from race to religion to reproductive freedom,” said Steven R. Shapiro, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In this case, the centrist position is to defeat a restriction on abortion rights. What would the liberal position be? The story says that the court is, at the moment, perfectly balanced. Is that accurate, if the issue is abortion (which it is)? What would the court look like if it tilted to the left? How could it tilt further to the left on this issue?

By the way, Lane later reports this interesting information:

Alito struck down a New Jersey law that would have banned the procedure known by opponents as “partial-birth” abortion — just as O’Connor did. His ruling, following the one O’Connor voted for, said the statute was unconstitutional because it did not include an exception for cases in which the woman’s health was at risk.

• That important word “center” shows up again in a Dan Balz story on President Bush and the political right. Here we read:

Whether the upcoming battle, which is likely to focus heavily on the divisive issue of abortion, ultimately helps a president whose approval ratings are scraping 40 percent, and whose support among moderates and independents has plummeted even lower, is an open question — and one hotly debated among strategists yesterday. Given the state of his presidency and party, Bush may have had no other choice than to name a Supreme Court candidate who would help to heal the divisions within the GOP coalition, even at the risk of further alienating voters in the center.

Here we go again. In most polls, one small camp of hard-core liberals wants an absolute right to abortion while a similar camp on the right wants to ban abortion altogether. In between is the mushy middle, consisting of people who resist a total ban but want to see abortion limited to one degree or another, depending on how a poll question is worded.

In other words, compromise is in the middle. Restrictions are in the middle.

But, to read Balz literally, the way to reach the center is by defending the legal positions taken by the left. Once again, the key question is this: What would it take to create compromise legislation on abortion, some stance between a complete ban and abortion on demand? If the key to this story is finding and defending the center, what policy is in the center?

• Here is one final example, right there in the headline of a report by Charles Babington: “As Democrats Lead Opposition, GOP Moderates May Control Vote.”

We do not have to read far past the lead to see the dilemma facing reporters and their old-fashioned templates for this story. I am sorry if this is boring, but here goes:

Senate Democrats will lead the opposition to Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s Supreme Court nomination, but a handful of Republican moderates could ultimately decide its outcome, several analysts and lawmakers said yesterday.

The roughly half-dozen GOP senators who support abortion rights are scrutinizing Alito’s dissent in a major 1991 abortion case. If they determine that his judicial record or his answers to questions signal a willingness to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, they will fall under heavy pressure to oppose him, said congressional scholars and analysts.

Again, we have the obvious question: What is the difference — if abortion is the issue (which it is) — between a liberal and a “moderate” Republican? If Roe is preventing compromise and compromise is the policy option that is located between the far right and the far left, how does one get to a “moderate” policy option without overturning Roe or radically redefining it?

I do think that some journalists, when they are making decisions about these kinds of style questions, need to do some more reading on the left and the right. Notice that both of these pundits support abortion rights. But both are seeking, well, moderation.

Print Friendly

Mamma mia, that’s a hot quote!

Hf3Z1ByrtmnCWell, a reporter researching Judge Samuel Alito can’t turn to a much better source than this. Here is the Associated Press report by Gina Holland that is defining the first wave of MSM coverage.

Alito, a Catholic, is opposed to abortion, his 90-year-old mother forthrightly told reporters in New Jersey. As an appeals court judge, he held that states can require women seeking abortions to notify their spouses. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Actually, I would have preferred to hear more from Alito’s mother. Luckily, another AP reporter did land an actual quotation while researching the man who — ALL TOGETHER NOW! Let me HEAR you! — would “become the fifth Catholic on the nine-member court.”

Here are the “Mamma mia!” quotes from the wire-service profile by Maryclaire Dale:

Alito’s mother, Rose, who will turn 91 in December, spent Monday fielding congratulatory telephone calls from her home in Hamilton, N.J., a Trenton suburb. “I’m so excited I can’t even express myself,” she said.

More candid that her son might wish, she said, “I think he was upset that he didn’t get there in the first shot, that Miers got it.” That was a reference to Bush’s choice of Harriet Miers, since withdrawn.

If confirmed, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the Supreme Court. “Of course he’s against abortion,” his mother said, another comment supporters in Washington might wish she’d held back.

This is actually a nice report by Dale, with concise quotes by people on both sides of the judiciary aisle who have had experience working with this man.

Still everyone knows that we are now facing a tsunami of coverage on abortion rights. It is crucial to note — again — that we know what Alito thinks about some restrictions on abortion rights. Note the word restrictions. This is crucial because many Democrats also favor increased restrictions on abortion, even while they do not favor a complete ban on all abortions.

So once again we face that question: What is the centrist position on abortion?

If liberals back abortion on demand and conservatives favor a complete ban, what do people in the middle believe about abortion and how might America reach such a centrist position? The even tougher question: Is compromise possible under Roe?

With that in mind, Democrats who want to see the pro-life left and pro-life middle liberated once again to back Democratic candidates may want to read this recent column — “Support Choice, Not Roe” — by that noted Religious Right patriarch Richard Cohen of The Washington Post.

Dr  Strangelove  more Slim Pickens 2I realize that many of you have already seen this piece. Still, for those who have not, Cohen raised many, may eyebrows inside the Beltway way, way up high when he wrote:

The antiabortion movement has made headway. That shift in sentiment is not apparent in polls because they do not measure doubt, only position: for or against. But between one and the other, black or white, is a vast area of gray where up or down, yes or no, fades to questions about circumstance: Why, what month, etc.? Whatever the case, the very basis of the Roe v. Wade decision — the one that grounds abortion rights in the Constitution — strikes many people now as faintly ridiculous. Whatever abortion may be, it cannot simply be a matter of privacy.

Here we go (with the second piece of art offering a tribute to young master Jeremy Lott): Bombs away.

Print Friendly

True or false: Religious Right defeated Miers?

bush jesusRegular readers of GetReligion may recall one of my tenets for MSM coverage of religion, politics and culture: The Religious Right must lose. Or stated the other way, above all else, the Religious Right must not be allowed to win.

It is easy, if you keep that in mind, to understand why the MSM seems so confused right now in the wake of the Harriet Miers nomination and all that came in its wake.

Did the Religious Right back Miers? Yes.

Did the Religious Right oppose Miers? Yes.

Did the old-guard mainstream right (including some who back abortion rights) back Miers? Yes.

Did the old-guard mainstream right (including some who back abortion rights) oppose Miers? Yes.

Now the question everyone is trying to answer, right now: When she withdrew, did the Religious Right win or lose?

Stay with me for one more question. If the Religious Right won this battle, forcing Miers to withdraw, that means that the Religious Right defeated the team of President George W. Bush and Dr. James Dobson (the living symbol of the Religious Right). Correct? Or perhaps, the Religious Right managed to defeat the evil liberal President Bush when information dug out by the MSM convinced Dobson to turn against Miers?

See how confusing this is?

With all of that in mind, you are ready to read a very confusing piece by Kevin Merida in today’s Washington Post titled “Miers, the Rebellion’s Latest Casualty: Why the Right Never Surrenders, Or Declares Victory.”

This piece gets one thing right. Yes, there are people who are conservatives first and Republicans second. But it seems that Merida waved a white flag when it came time to understanding the role that faith and moral issues have played in the modern “conservative movement” (as if there is only one). He also seems to have no idea that there are some moral and cultural conservatives who are not Republicans at all. They are independents or conservative (often Catholic, Hispanic or African-American) Democrats.

It’s all so confusing, which is why Merida tells us:

Democrats certainly have their noisy scrums — the left is either angry at the center for acting like Republicans or the center is blaming the left for election debacles. But the Republican right seems to have a special, disciplined vigilance when it comes to internal warfare. Where else can you find the ironic spectacle of a House speaker being shown the guillotine by the very crew of conservative revolutionaries he created? That was Newt Gingrich’s fate in 1998, forced to resign after leading Republicans to the first House majority in four decades.

After reneging on his read-my-lips pledge of “no new taxes,” then-President George H.W. Bush found himself hissed and hounded by conservatives and ultimately undermined as he went on to lose his 1992 reelection bid. Even the beloved Ronald Reagan got smacked from time to time by his brethren on the right. An all-star lineup of conservatives went after him over his dealings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his support of a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, went so far as to call the Gipper a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” Three decades later, phoning in from the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, Phillips said: “My loyalty is not to any political personality or any political party.”

BushFaithLG

My friends, there is a ghost in there — a great big one.

So I will ask one more question, a question that we may or may not know the answer to in a day or so when the tricky President Bush selects another nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. The question is: Is President Bush a cultural conservative or not?

This is a question I have been asking since 2000, when I wrote the following paragraphs. They come from an essay that I wrote in the middle of election day, before the real craziness began. I wrote this for Salon, but the editors turned it down. I guess it was the wrong kind of diversity.

The essay ended up running (wait for it) in World magazine. I guess Marvin Olasky was more open-minded. The headline was “A sad Democrat votes.”

Let me be candid. I didn’t vote for George W. Bush because I am convinced that he is genuinely pro-life. I have no idea whether he will, in fact, spend any of his precious political poker chips, when push comes to shove, to try to stop abortions or to help the women who are ensnared in crisis pregnancies in a society that mainly wishes they would go away.

I also think Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney are going to march to a basically libertarian drum when it comes to other cultural issues. I think they will be in the middle of the road, watching the polling data, when it comes to sexuality. They aren’t going to stomp on gays and lesbians, even though there will be howls from the Lifestyle Left if any efforts are made to withhold the government’s blessings from active support of their causes in the arts, education, and law. I think the Religious Right can prepare to be disappointed, along with the Lifestyle Left.

And I think Mr. Bush’s court appointees will be much like his picks in Texas — country-club conservatives who come out of the mainstream of American law schools. They’ll probably split 50-50 on the divisive moral issues, just like the folks selected by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

So is Bush a cultural conservative or a company man from the country club? Can the MSM admit that this is the ghost haunting the headlines?

Print Friendly

Face it, the Miers nomination is …

Toast btIn a city that is already buzzing with gossip, it takes a really hot story to crank the chatter up another notch. Well, the latest Washington Post twist in the saga of Harriet Miers and God certainly did that. Here’s the bottom line in reporter Jo Becker’s fine story (which deserved much better headlines): Bush’s legal sidekick, while serving as president of the Texas Bar Association, told elite female audiences that she backed what is essentially a libertarian position on abortion.

That will be very hard to spin in Colorado Springs. Thus, Becker reports:

Activists on both sides of the abortion debate said that Miers’s speech … appears to contradict a position she took just four years earlier, when she was running for the Dallas City Council. Then, she told activists at the Texans for Life Coalition she personally believed that abortion was murder and filled out a questionnaire for an antiabortion group in which she checked a box pledging to “actively support” a constitutional amendment banning abortions except to save a woman’s life.

Former NARAL Pro-Choice America president Kate Michelman said the right to self-determination is at the heart of the case law granting a woman’s right to an abortion.

“If you take what she said at face value, you would conclude that she recognizes the right of a woman to choose an abortion as a matter of self-determination,” Michelman said. “She seems to be a woman who over time is pulled in different directions, as many of us are, as she searched for answers.”

Journalists will want to note that the website package includes links to the two key speech texts, both in PDF, here and here. I would imagine that many, many copies of these texts are being printed out in several Christian right offices today, and we can expect MSM stories tomorrow on reactions from all of the usual zip codes.

Unless, of course, somebody you know where leaks you know what about you know who.

Print Friendly

Rome and the death penalty, again

execution tableSome of you will recall that we recently had a lively thread here at GetReligion on “cafeteria Catholicism” and Rome’s teachings on the death penalty.

The key point: Many journalists have asked why the Vatican keeps flirting with Eucharistic discipline for Catholic politicians who have openly rejected the church’s teachings on abortion, but has not threatened to take action against those who favor — to one degree or another — the death penalty.

The question looming behind the headlines is this: Why is Rome leaning toward the GOP, by ranking abortion above the death penalty?

Now, please understand that one of my goals as a journalist is to find liberal religious voices who make liberals sweat and conservatives who do the same for those in their own camp. I am prejudiced in favor of candor, as well.

In that spirit, let me point readers toward a column by a conservative Catholic leader, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, titled “What does the Church teach on the death penalty?”

I realize that this archbishop’s pro-Vatican stance will turn some readers off.

But Chaput has been saluted in some camps on the Catholic left because he has openly supported the stance taken by the late Pope John Paul II (as opposed to the stance that many insist the pope took on this issue). Thus, reporters have often quoted this statement from another Chaput column in the Denver Catholic Register last March.

… (The) deeper problem — the death penalty itself — remains with us. Here’s a simple fact: If the defendant in a murder trial is financially well off and white, he has a much lower chance of receiving the death penalty than if he’s poor or a person of color. In some states, the inability to hire a private attorney can amount to a death sentence. …

Experience shows that, quite apart from the serious flaws built into the death penalty in too many states, capital punishment simply doesn’t work as a deterrent. Nor does it heal or redress any wounds, because only forgiveness can do that. It does succeed though in answering violence with violence — a violence wrapped in the piety of state approval, which implicates all of us as citizens in the taking of more lives.

Having read that column, those who favor and oppose the death penalty are ready to read what Chaput has to say in his current column. Neither side will cheer. Hopefully, those on both sides will read carefully. By the way, it does not appear that this Chaput column has drawn any coverage in the Colorado media. It should.13 1 Electric chair

People really need to read the whole thing, whether they agree with Chaput (and Rome) or not. Nevertheless, here is a key passage:

Catholic teaching on euthanasia, the death penalty, war, genocide and abortion are rooted in the same concern for the sanctity of the human person. But these different issues do not all have the same gravity or moral content. They are not equivalent.

War can sometimes be legitimate as a form of self-defense. The same can apply, in extraordinary circumstances, to the death penalty. But euthanasia is always an inexcusable attack on the weak. Genocide is always the premeditated murder of entire groups of people. And abortion is always a deliberate assault on a defenseless and innocent unborn child. It can never be justified. It is always — and intrinsically — gravely wrong.

What Catholic teaching on the death penalty does involve is this: a call to set aside unnecessary violence, including violence by the state, in the name of human dignity and building a culture of life.

Yes, there are no quote marks around the phrase “culture of life.”

Yes, the archbishop ends by calling for the United States to end the death penalty.

But reporters must read the Catholic documents on these various issues — especially the teachings on abortion and public life — before we head into the next round of news coverage of Catholics, Communion and the ballot box. The goal is to cover the debates — inside the church and outside — as accurately as possible.

Print Friendly

Dobson, Miers and Ted Olsen (once again)

He’s baaaaaaaccccckkkkk. Meaning Ted Olsen over at the Christianity Today blog. He collected several hundred HHGR links (OK, OK, I didn’t count them all) so you don’t have to. Now, I call that servant leadership. Greater love hath no blogger …

Also, note that the Air Force is being asked to ban religious conversions at the academy, in the name of free speech and religious liberty of course. Forget all about the United Nations and that Universal Declaration of Human Rights thing (especially Article 18). Some forms of free speech are more equal than others.

Print Friendly

Coven and state clash, yet again

ALTAR2Maybe it’s just my church-state studies background, but this case about Wicca and public prayer strikes me as a major story and a sign of things to come. We may have heard the last of a witch named Cynthia Simpson at the U.S. Supreme Court, but the splintering of the old Judeo-Christian (and now Islamic) civil religion will continue. Here’s the lead from the Richmond Times-Dispatch story, the only MSM coverage that really mattered.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal yesterday from the Wiccan priestess who was excluded from giving the opening prayer at meetings of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors. Cynthia Simpson, who calls herself a witch as do others of the Wiccan faith, sued because the county limits its list of clergy invited to pray at meetings to those of Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions.

And I loved this final detail:

Simpson is now studying for a master’s degree in divinity at a Pennsylvania seminary and hopes to be ordained in the Unitarian Universalist Church. She said that church’s beliefs are compatible with the Wiccan faith, which is based on unity with the Earth and the idea that humanity and all things are part of the deity.

A note to newcomers on the religion beat — I heard about this case (more than once, in fact) through journalists operating on the Baptist left. If you care about religious liberties issues, it pays to read Associated Baptist Press on the left and Baptist Press on the right.

Print Friendly


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X