Take that! No, you take that! (cue: slap)

times building2

Well now. Please note that almost nothing in the current torrent of debate about the Rod Dreher column has anything to do with the purpose of the original blog article, except that this is a demonstration of how hard this kind of bitter debate is to cover in a newspaper.

Try to imagine writing a story in a newspaper that deals fairly with the voices on both sides of this major-league slap fest.

But there is a factual question here that is central to the work of the blog. The MSM is, consistently, much harsher to the cultural right than to the cultural left. Please check out the media bias studies on this, going back to the classic Los Angeles Times study on abortion coverage. Check out this Oliphant cartoon.

What we have been trying to do is compare the levels of invective in the mainstream news media toward the religious right and the religious/secular left, in the wake of the 11/2 election. That is, after all, what this blog is about — press coverage of religious issues. Also, we are interested in editorial pages, but not as much as we are interested in the news pages. We jumped on The New York Times op-ed freak out theme because this was so symbolic of the general attitudes in that elite newspaper.

But, let me stress, even at the Times where was some fabulous journalism going on out in the main columns. There were outbreaks of information about both sides. There were voices quoted that told us something new about what was happening. Good. Anyone want to note some other exceptionally good stories that we have missed?

But I continue to think that the undercovered side of this debate is the hardcore religious left. Or maybe not. Maybe that is what we are reading on the editorial pages.

Meanwhile, here is a recent letter that cuts very close to the larger news story that remains uncovered. Can anyone imagine a major cultural issue compromise by the religious left? This is just as hard, or harder, than to imagine one on the right. Here is the letter.

Name: Charlie
URL: http://www.anotherthink.com

The truth is that, Patricia Ireland’s apparent unwillingness to compromise notwithstanding, the Democrats could pick off a great number of orthodox conservatives if they came out strongly in favor of a few compromises on abortion, such as a uniform standard for parental notification for minors, a short waiting period, and a serious educational effort aimed at reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, done in a way that is respectful of Catholic views on contraception. In doing these things, Dems would be moving the abortion wars to a more acceptable middle ground, and the radical left like Ireland would have no choice but to continue to support the Democrats — where else would they go? To the Republicans?!

If the Dems could manage to stop insulting people of faith, and could take a few steps towards the center on moral issues like abortion, marriage, the Pledge, embryonic stem cells, Israel, they might be able to claim to be the party that is seeking balance in a pluralistic society, leaving the Republicans to appear to be the party of the extremes. But such compromises would infuriate the hard left, and would probably take more moral courage than the Democrats are able to muster.

As a life-long Democrat who long-ago abandoned my party because of its positions on abortion and other “respect for life” issues, I am still not comfortable with the Republican positions on capital punishment, health care for the poor and other social justice matters. If the Democrats were smarter, they could entice people like me back into the fold.

Now, has anyone seen Charlie’s voice show up in the news pages? Perhaps a Hispanic Charlie? An African-American Charlie? A born-again, Bible Belt Charlie?

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Gasp: Rod Dreher claims that he is "normal"

Dreher_wills_1(Cue: drum roll) Here is something that seems a bit bizarre to contemplate. GetReligion readers, I bring you the journalistic team of Rod Dreher and Alexander Cockburn. It will take a moment to get to the second half of that equation.

Dreher, as many readers will know, is a conservative Catholic on the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News and a friend of this blog. In the photo he is shown with, of all people, the enlightened historian Garry Wills.

In the wake of the post-11/2 earthquake in the mainstream media, Dreher pounded out a personal column trying to explain to other journalists that, out in flyover country, the election was seen as a whisper of sanity, not the revenge of what he called "Shi’ite Baptists and the Taliban Catholics." A liberal friend even
wrote Dreher to compare the Bush victory with the 1933 burning of the Reichstag in Berlin.

Dreher is not the kind of man who hides what he thinks. He says the left, at the moment, is being tempted to engage in the "same hysteria as the McCarthy-era
right-wing paranoids who saw a crypto-commie inside every liberal." There’s more.

You love to blame us and the Republican leadership for being "divisive."
Yet it wasn’t our side that cheered when the Massachusetts Supreme Court
overturned the ancient and settled definition of marriage in a single moment,
and we were not the partisans who staged illegal and intentionally provocative
gay wedding ceremonies on the steps of city halls.

Well, last week Middle America was provoked, and provoked right back. What
did you expect?

This may come as a shock to liberals who don’t peer outside their cultural
cocoon, but believing that marriage is something exclusively between one man and
one woman is … normal. In fact, the opposite is radical by any historical or
social measure. It is also not a bizarre and reactionary act to vote for the presidential
candidate who believes it is immoral to allow a form of abortion that sucks the
brains out of partially born babies, instead of the presidential candidate who
voted to keep that kind of thing legal.

At the moment, many on the left (including more than few voices in the media) have decided that moral and cultural conservatives are not just wrong, but downright evil, the spiritual blood brothers of Osama bin Laden.

Dreher says that what this country needs, right now, is some culturally conservative — Democrats. America needs more politicians who care about old-fashioned progressive values.

Frankly, as a social conservative who worries about what GOP stewardship of the
economy is doing to families and communities, I long for the day when the
Democratic Party speaks to the concerns of people like me without derision and
condescension. You need a Harry S. Truman, an old-style populist Democrat in
sincere touch with small-town values.

Unfortunately for you — and for America — if Harry S. Truman were alive
today, y’all wouldn’t give him the time of day. For that matter, if the 1971
version of Teddy Kennedy walked in the door, those pro-life convictions would
end his career as a Democrat before it got started. Think about

As you might imagine, Dreher has been receiving some email. As you might imagine, his claim that many liberals have demonized cultural conservatives struck a nerve. Here is a sample.

Let’s clear up a few obvious errors in your screed: it is nativist
know-nothing self-righteous christians who  herald America’s dark ages.  Not
Christians of any sort, as in folks who walk the Christ talk with integrity and
meekness, but nominal christians such as yourself who wrap the cross in a flag
and use it as a spear to impale those who disagree with you or threaten your
peace of mind with, oh my, thinking.  … And do I think in your America Jews and other non-Christians will have
their religious and civil liberties curtailed?  I am quite certain of it. 
Why?   Because you are part of a belief system that condemns non-believers and
dissenters to hell.

All of this sounds rather like the thesis of an earlier Dreher piece in Touchstone magazine entitled "The Godless Party." In it, Dreher called attention to what sociologists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio of Baruch College in the City University of New York call the new "anti-fundamentalist voters." More than anything else, these voters are motivated by a stunning antipathy toward traditional religious believers.

Apparently, the Bolce and De Maio data even reached the desk of one major journalistic voice on the candid left. Check out this reference from Alexander Cockburn on the role of "moral values" in the election. We can debate his reference to America being a "Christian nation." He said it, not me. I happen to disagree. Here’s Cockburn.

… this brings us to the well-known fact (greeted with amazement
on Wednesday morning by the pundits) that the United States is a Christian
nation. Tocqueville noticed this some time ago, and anyone driving today down
any county road or state highway will see a lot of churches, still well ahead of
casinos which are facilities also predicated on a relationship with Providence.
The 2002 edition of the University of Chicago’s regular surveys reported that
the adult population of the homeland is 53 per cent Protestant, 25 per cent
Catholic, 3 per cent Christians of some other stripe, 3 per cent other
religions, 2 per cent Jewish and 14 per cent holding "no religion". Of the
Christians, 25 per cent go to church once a week or more.

Even though the highest reading on any chart of Intolerance is that nourished towards Christians by secular liberals (after all, Christians believe in forgiveness and the possibility of redemption) I suppose we’ll have to put up with much earnest journalism from sensitive liberal writers driving into the Christian heartland to inspect and commune with the natives. I read one patronizing prospectus from a Californian  free-lancer that sounded like an
application by an anthropologist in 1925 for funding to inspect an African tribe.

PERSONAL NOTE: Please excuse some problems with formatting. TypePad has changed many of its editing functions again and it will take some time to get this worked out.

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Let the eagle bore

Even as disaffected American liberals consider moving to Canada in the wake of the last week’s elections, many Canadian journalists are trying to figure out what the heck happened. Some of the early attempts at deciphering the results are not promising.

Take the Friday edition of CBC Radio’s The Current. The broadcast led off with a parody of Bush "spending" the political capital he’d built up: trading a couple televangelists for a ban on gay marriage and the like; then
there was a clip of John Ashcroft singing "Let the Eagle Soar"; then guest host Catherine Gretzinger introduced listeners to Ester Kaplan, author of With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House.

Kaplan warned that in Bush’s "first administration, we saw tremendous incursions into what has traditionally been the separation of church and state in this country," and that we should expect more of the same in the second go-round.

She nearly despaired that Bush, "running against only the second major party Catholic candidate [What about Al Smith? -- ed. It's so 1920 of you to bring that up.], carved into even the Catholic vote, and that seems to have come on these values issues — the narrow values issues of the Christian right — of abortion and this fight against gay marriage."

The author argued that more moderate Christians have a "values agenda of their own which has to do with valuing life, which has to do with taking care of the poor," but she lamented that they aren’t as good at organizing or articulating this vision as the "Christian right" are at firing up voters and getting them to the polls.

Kaplan reported that "I hear, as I’ve been traveling around lately, a tremendous amount of rage — or maybe depression is a better word — coming from Christians who feel like their religion has been hijacked. It’s very very similar to the kind of language we hear from moderate Muslims that somehow this far right wing within the religion has staked a claim to Christianity that many of them reject."

Fair enough. That’s one point of view of what happened and what comes next. And then Gretzinger turned to a Methodist minister for a rebuttal. The problem is, the minister was Philip Wogaman — Bill Clinton’s former pastor during the presidential years.

Listen to the broadcast. Wogaman clearly catches Gretzinger off guard by agreeing with what has been said thus far. He says that faith can be a good thing for the chief executive to have but we have to wonder, "Is it the kind of faith that is open to others, that embraces diversity, and that seeks justice for the marginalized
people of the world?"

If not — and Wogaman isn’t feeling very charitable toward Bush because of "the narrowness of his values" — then faith can and should work against the president. Wogaman contrasted the narrow way with the accepting way and intoned that Bush is way too crimped for his refined taste.

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Freak out IV: It's Time to Get Religion

I think we can expect the New York Times op-ed page to continue its high-wire routine for quite some time to come, trying to find the balance between fury, denial and insight when it comes to the pew gap. More on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, some of the reporters are going about their business. In particular, Laurie Goodstein and William Yardley offered up a wide-ranging summary of how the GOP soul train targeted believers in a number of different spiritual camps. Honest, that’s what they said. Right there in the Times, under a headline that said, "Bush Benefits From Efforts to Build a Coalition of the Faithful." Here’s a sample:

For the past four years, Mr. Bush has been deliberately assembling the building blocks of a formidable faith coalition. Pastor by pastor, rabbi by rabbi, and often face to face, Mr. Bush has built relationships with a  diverse range of religious leaders.

The payoff came on Tuesday. For all the credit claimed by evangelical Christians, Mr. Bush owes his victory to a formula that includes conservative Catholics, mainline Protestants, Hispanics, Jews and Mormons.

The president’s strategists set out to improve his showing among not just evangelicals, but also Catholics, Jews, Hispanics and African-Americans by appealing to the social conservatives in each of those groups who felt alienated and disrespected by a popular culture that in their minds trivializes religion. In all of those groups, he won more of them over than he did four years ago, although the increase among African-Americans was negligible.

That last line is certainly true. But some have already dug out the statistics showing that some of those new African-American voters for Bush cast their votes in Ohio, in part drawn to the polls by that state’s resolution on the definition of marriage. Location, location, location, as they say. Some of Bush’s best Catholic statistics were in Ohio, too.

And so forth and so on. The Hispanic numbers were significant and, in a matter of days, you can expect and entertainment writer or two, perhaps on the front page of the Times art section, to start calling this the "Passion" vote. It could happen. Wouldn’t that be Rich?

Goodstein and Yardley also noted a small, but again strategic change, in Jewish voting patterns. Note that this breakthrough took place on the orthodox — large or small "o" — side of the religious spectrum.

The Jewish vote is small — 3 percent of the electorate. But after focusing attention on Jews in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Missouri and, when it looked competitive, New Jersey, the president increased his share of the Jewish vote from 19 percent in 2000 to 25 percent this year. Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, found that more than two-thirds of Orthodox Jews voted for the president.

"What this suggests is that the Bush coalition wasn’t just evangelicals," said John C. Green, a professor of political science and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "It included a much larger group of more traditional religious people, many of them outside of the evangelical tradition. What they have in common is that all of these groups tend to hold traditional views on sexual behavior."

And there you have it. We’re back to the 10 Commandments vote, the Americans who are convinced that there are eternal, transcendent moral truths that unite traditional religious believers in a host of different flocks — not just those who preach fiery sermons on street corners in backward Alabama towns with snakes draped around their necks.

Numerous GetReligion.org readers have, in recent days, left comments that there is more to biblical morality than centuries of unbroken doctrine on marriage and family. These readers are correct, of course. There are a sizable number of voters out there who are Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, evangelical and even mainline Protestant who do not want to separate questions such as abortion and the definition of marriage from issues of economic justice, the environment, peace and other "progressive" issues. These voters do not see this as an either-or proposition. They would prefer both-and.

It also must be noted that, shortly before the Democratic Convention, Zogby pollsters said that 43 percent of Democrats wanted to see abortion banned, to one degree or another. One of the reasons that the Kerry campaign bailed out of Missouri was the strong turnout of Democratic voters for the marriage amendment during that state’s primary.

So this vague "values voter" firestorm is hiding a much more complex story. Right now, I think more attention needs to be given to the religious left and, in particular, the compromises that religious liberals and secularists might be willing to make — in any — on these cultural issues.

This will be framed as a matter of the Democratic Party finding "centrists" or "conservatives" to run for president and the senate.

However, I was struck by the headline on the latest column from Nicholas D. Kristof: "Time to Get Religion." Why, we could not have said that better on the mast of this blog. He notes that Democrats are, well, angry at the moment and they will be tempted to lash out.

… (The) risk is that the party will blame others for its failures – or, worse, blame the American people for their stupidity (as London’s Daily Mirror screamed in a Page 1 headline this week: "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?").

As moderates from the heartland, like Tom Daschle, are picked off by the Republicans, the party’s image risks being defined even more by bicoastal, tree-hugging, gun-banning, French-speaking, Bordeau-sipping, Times-toting liberals, whose solution is to veer left and galvanize the base. But firing up the base means turning off swing voters. Gov. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican, told me that each time Michael Moore spoke up for John Kerry, Mr. Kerry’s support in Nebraska took a dive. …

So Democrats need to give a more prominent voice to Middle American, wheat-hugging, gun-shooting, Spanish-speaking, beer-guzzling, Bible-toting centrists. (They can tote The Times, too, in a plain brown wrapper.)

Kristof even says that it is time to consider some compromises with red-county America. However, he does not even mention the hot-button issues on the moral and cultural right. The people on the op-ed page need to calm down and read some of the copy that is flowing out of their own newsroom.

The Times needs to get religion, too. That means getting liberal religion, centrist religion and orthodox religion. The sane voices are out there, if the Times wants to find them.

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An early mentor to John Kerry

A few years ago I served on an advisory board for Forward Movement, an editorial arm of the Episcopal Church that actually publishes tracts (it calls them pamphlets), a daily devotional called Forward Day by Day and a number of books. I disagree with much of what Forward publishes, but I feel an enduring affection for the people behind the imprint.

Late in the summer I received a courtesy copy of John Walker: A Man for the 21st Century, which Forward planned to distribute more broadly than its usual offerings. Then I remembered a feature story by Evan Thomas in the Aug. 2 Newsweek. In the story, Thomas mentioned an angle that was mostly neglected during the campaign: Kerry’s years at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Concord, N.H., and his admiration for a priest named John Walker:

Kerry could not complain to his parents ("I just didn’t"), but he was fortunate in finding a mentor in John Walker, the school’s first black teacher (and later the Episcopal Bishop of Washington). Walker entertained Kerry and other social unfortunates . . . with Harry Belafonte on the record player and encouraged them to read Ralph Waldo Emerson (who wrote in his landmark essay "Self Reliance," "What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think").

The book is by Robert Harrison, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Washington. It does not mention Walker’s friendship with Kerry, and it touches only a few times on Walker’s time at St. Paul’s:

He was always teaching, stretching, persuading, gently chiding or encouraging, calling forth the Church to do its slow but vital work of "binding up the wounded, and, without drumbeat or fanfare, offering its life for the lives of the people." He "opened privileged eyes to a world filled with inequality," according to a friend from his St. Paul’s days, but always with a "kind, gentle, loving manner." He was closer than a Father to students from that school, changing their lives in ways both "quiet and deep." He was a comforting presence, leaving anyone he met with the feeling that he liked them, as one student wrote, "no matter who I was, what color I was, or what I did."

Kerry’s failed bid for the White House deprives Forward of an extended marketing opportunity, but perhaps this noble book can still find an audience among students of the Episcopal Church in the late 20th century (Walker died in 1989.)

John Walker: A Man for the 21st Century is available from Amazon or directly from Forward Movement.

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Freak out III: The power of small, vulnerable minorities

2004countymap3Under normal conditions, I am not a big-time reader of the business sections in American newspapers. Most of the time, they focus 99 percent of their ink on people who own businesses, instead of covering the people who work in them, are affected by their actions or who purchase goods and services from them. It’s a corporate thing. In a way, it’s like the old religion pages in newspapers that only covered what was going on in religious denominations and bureaucracies. Where are the people?

Anyway, I digress.

Being stuck in an airport for a few hours tends to send me deeper into a newspaper and, thus, I wandered into the business pages of the New York Times on Thursday, while traveling to Nashville to take part in the fall National College Media Convention. And lo, I discovered that the wave of pew-gap coverage had swept all the way back into the column called the Economic Scene. I urge you to check this one out, because Virginia Postrel — author of "’The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture and Consciousness" — may have written the most level-headed piece in the newspaper that day. As a rule, I don’t like question leads, but this one is fascinating:

Have religious issues become more important in politics because too few Americans go to church? That is the surprising suggestion of a new working paper by the Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser and two doctoral students, Jesse M. Shapiro and Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto. …

The paper starts with a puzzle: In a majoritarian system like ours, political economists generally predict that candidates will converge toward the center of the spectrum, so as to attract as many votes as possible. This is the "median voter theory." But it doesn’t seem to describe what’s happened in American politics. On divisive religious issues like abortion, the two parties aren’t hugging the center. They’re abandoning it.

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that this is true — in part, because it is hard to compromise on moral issues. This is the political version of the old via media theological approach found in Anglicanism. One side says "Jesus is Lord." The other side says "Jesus is not Lord." The via media compromise is "Jesus is occasionally Lord." This is not a victory for the traditionalists. It is for the progressives. Or let’s try it with a social issue: "Sex outside of marriage is sin." The other side says "Sex outside of marriage is not sin." The via media is "Sex outside of marriage is occasionally sin."

Now, the cases I just cited are theological, not political. But the same thing is happening on political/moral issues such as abortion and the redefinition of legal terms such as "marriage," "fidelity" and "monogamy" in public life and institutions. Only in this case, the activists on the left are being just as hard-nosed as those on the right. Truth is, the Massachusetts Supreme Court just re-elected George W. Bush.

Postrel gets it. Once again, she returns to the Harvard publication:

While most people know that the Republican Party has taken an increasingly strong anti-abortion position, the authors note that the Democratic Party has simultaneously moved in the opposite direction.

In 1976, the Democratic platform said, "We fully recognize the religious and ethical nature of the concerns which many Americans have on the subject of abortion," while terming a constitutional amendment overturning Roe v. Wade merely "undesirable." In this year’s platform, by contrast, Democrats declared that they "stand proudly" for a woman’s right to an abortion, "regardless of her ability to pay."

Actually, the 2004 Democratic platform goes much further than that — stripping away a conscience clause that gave pro-life Democrats a shred of political dignity. Do you think the Democrats wish they had those votes now?

Postrel’s essay is hard to edit, so I will not try. She notes that some religious voters are struggling with the decision of whether they can vote at all, because picking a flawed candidate forces them to compromise on these — for them — life-and-death issues.

And what if the leaders of both the religious left and the religious right felt increasingly vulnerable? The rising profile of the gay-rights movement, and its strategic clout in blue-county elite culture, increases attacks on its views, as well as its power. Ditto for the leaders of the religious right, even though their numbers are apparently quite large — especially in red-county America. What if the realization that you are a minority actually undercut your ability to compromise?

And what if you had few political options? Perhaps the religious left and the anti-religious left face the same dilemma as the religious right. Where do they go? What are their options in the voting booth, other than deciding to stay at home? How will Dr. James Dobson dance with the Terminator? Could Hollywood embrace an old-fashioned Democrat, one who was conservative on cultural issues and progressive on economics?

Once again, this has journalistic implications. How do the cells of progressive journalists in places such as Atlanta, Dallas and the rest of red-county America sell newspapers to people whose lives they do not understand and whose views they do not respect? (Yes, this post features an early version of the 2004 map.)

Maybe journalists have become a small, vulnerable, endangered neo-religious group who have lost the ability to compromise — which would mean doing old-fashioned journalism that tries to deal fairly and accurately with the views of people on both sides of tough political and cultural issues.

Audiophile postscript: The theme song of our three posts on The New York Times’ post-election coverage, “Le Freak,” is available as an iTunes download.

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Freak out II: Invoking the Founders

FoundersLike Garry Wills, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman expresses concern that George W. Bush and “Christian fundamentalists” (those increasingly inseparable and undefined words) are ultimately opposed to the Founding Fathers:

But what troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies than I do — they favor a whole different kind of America. We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.

Is it a country that does not intrude into people’s sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body? Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn’t trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us — instead of dividing us from one another and from the world

Such a neat trick, framing your questions in a way that forces others to respond with a Scroogelike “No” or to explain how their view has been misrepresented. The same style of rhetorical questions can express the views of Christians who are cultural conservatives:

Is it a country that preserves its historic definition of marriage, just as it did in rejecting polygamy? Is it a country that protects human life? Is it a country that cherishes religious freedom, including free-speech rights? Is it a country that recognizes the importance of both religion and science?

Friedman makes a humorous point about our current cultural divisions:

This was not an election. This was station identification. I’d bet anything that if the election ballots hadn’t had the names Bush and Kerry on them but simply asked instead, “Do you watch Fox TV or read The New York Times?” the Electoral College would have broken the exact same way.

If it’s any comfort, it’s actually possible for a Christian to be conservative, vote for Bush and prefer MSNBC and The Atlantic to Fox News Channel and The New York Times.

Friedman makes his strongest point, I think, in this paragraph:

My problem with the Christian fundamentalists supporting Mr. Bush is not their spiritual energy or the fact that I am of a different faith. It is the way in which he and they have used that religious energy to promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad. I respect that moral energy, but wish that Democrats could find a way to tap it for different ends.

I think Friedman misconstrues conservative Christians if he believes their goal is to “promote divisions and intolerance.” But I agree with his wish that Democrats would find a way to tap spiritual and moral energy for their ends (Jim Wallis and Sojourners did their part to help the Democrats this year, but to little avail). That would make for a more competitive campaign, and rewarding discussion, in the next presidential campaign.

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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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