He Found It
The press keeps a straight face for the Howard Dean Tent Revival.
by Michael Spencer
I really can’t blame Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean for talking about religion, even if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s been proven that the public will pay attention to what politicians say about religion in far greater numbers than if the same politician talks about immigration, gas taxes, or nuclear proliferation. It may be “the economy, stupid”, but we can’t look away from politicians yammering about God. Even though the religion of politicians is notoriously uh…pragmatic, the media remains convinced that what Howard Dean says about religion is somehow worth barrels of ink. In other words, it gets attention, and there is hardly any such thing as bad publicity.
Dean started by saying that we needed to quit making political decisions based on issues like the flag, guns, and God. Now he’s announced that he is a believer in Jesus and his faith in God influences all of his public policy, especially anything controversial, like gay marriage or bike paths on church property. I think one is entitled to wonder if Dean is aware of how loopy this sudden press-release of a conversion sounds. Even in a country where John Edwards (the psychic), Benny Hinn, and Oprah Winfrey could lead a prayer meeting together in most churches, Dean’s discovery of religion sounds fabricated.
Don’t expect the media to blow the whistle on this one, because America’s press watchdogs have never left much doubt that they understand less about religion than the five-year-olds at the Unitarian Vacation Church School. Being an ignoramus on religion is a prerequisite to writing about it in any major publication. Every few years, reporters from the coasts venture on safari into the heartland and discover that not only are there people really inside those churches, but they actually BELIEVE that God stuff. So don’t expect anyone to say something obvious, like Dean is pimping for votes. It’s over their heads.
The media believes there are two kinds of populist religion in America: regressive, oppressive, evil fundamentalism, and progressive, politically aware, enlightened liberalism. Anyone who opens his mouth and says, “God bless you” will be analyzed through these two grids, and his statements placed into evidence that he is either Torquemada or Ghandi. The category of “ignorant pandering attention seeker who doesn’t know what he’s talking about” doesn’t really exist in America’s press rooms.
Somewhere along the line, Howard Dean was convinced–I tend to doubt that it was his own idea–that there was in the hearts of millions of independent voters a great, untapped reservoir of goodwill toward the progressive, liberal religious tradition of the mainline churches. These voters, ever leaning toward the possiblity of voting for George Bush because of his consistent courage, evident simplicity, and heart-on-his-sleeve integrity and zeal, nonetheless were not really convinced religous and politcal right-wingers. They could be swayed with an appeal to the progressivism of the American tradition, particularly of the Civil Rights Era. So Howard needed to get religion before it was too late.
So, counter-balancing his previous content of anger, fear, and conspiracy theories, Dean offered up a unique approach to religion in American politics. He announced matter-of-factly that when in the south, he would openly speak about how his religious faith was important to him, and especially about how it led him to support anything that brought justice and government intervention to the causes that mattered. When in the north, Dean said he would only hold press conferences announcing that he would talk about religion in the south.
Along the way, Dean seasoned his religious emphasis with some other interesting personal notes. We learned that he had been brought up Catholic, later abandoned an Episcopal church over the issue of a public bike trail, and then became a non-attending member of the Congregational Church. His children elected to become Jewish. We also learned that Dean’s faith was a crucial part of his crusade for gay marriage in Vermont, a crusade that consisted of Dean signing the legislation in total darkness locked in his office with the press sequestered in a warehouse, pondering what the Governor meant when he said “I’m uncomfortable with it.”
We learned that if God thought homosexuality was a sin, he wouldn’t have made homosexuals. I’ve spent some time contemplating this line of reasoning and it’s very interesting. If God thought stealing was a sin, He wouldn’t have made thieves. If God thought adultery was a sin, he wouldn’t have made Bill Clinton. If God thought lying was a sin, he wouldn’t have made Michael Moore. Once we assume that anything that humans do, they do as a result of God making them that way, we are truly ready for a long overdue group hug.
And of course, we learned that when you know the Bible as well as the Governor does, Job will be your favorite New Testament book. Whether this depends on what region of the country one is in was not revealed.
Now, Dean’s sudden lurch toward religiosity was so awkward and intentional that the blogosphere took notice, writing columns wondering if the doctor was taking his own prescriptions. But the usual press sycophants never blinked, even as Evangelicals, not hearing anything recognizable at a Billy Graham crusade or a TBN fund raiser, alternately ignored and ridiculed Dean’s appropriation of Jesus as chairperson of his southern campaign committee. Note to the press: keep your eye on the people who ought to know if the man is genuine. They’re sleeping or laughing.
In all of this, little revealing or shocking has surfaced. We will see if Governor Dean is right that millions of pro-Oprah Americans are looking for a way to avoid voting for President Bush. I am almost certain that Dean is wrong, and that once he has exhausted the NPR Democrats, the College Democrats, the Black Democrats and the angry, tin-foil-hat-wearing Art Bell fans, he will find no significant numbers of independent voters looking to buy his Vermont-as-America November ’04 vacation.
What we will discover is that liberal Democrats are, as usual, completely hypocritical on the subject of religion. If President Bush calls a press conference and announces that God is his inspiration for his political policies, and that in particular, he believes he knows what Jesus wants him to do on issues of national importance, the Democratic, liberal establishment will become a Tasmanian Devil of over-reaction. Bush will be Bin Laden. Republicans who support him are the Taliban. The sympathetic Christians will play the role of theocratic zealots. Liberal message boards will light up with dire predictions of The Handmaiden’s Tale come to pass.
But when President Clinton preached in Black churches, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. When he carried a Bible to church every Sunday and waved it for the cameras, no one could question Clinton’s evangelical sincerity. When he spoke of his indiscretions before the National Prayer breakfast, it was better than the Prodigal Son. When he brought in three ministers to help him keep his marriage, integrity, and pants up, it was considered a hallmark of his deep spiritual commitment.
We won’t even talk about the constant congratulatory fawn-fest that is Jimmy Carter, who qualifies as the only Southern Baptist most liberals would ever be photgraphed with.
The reason, of course, is that liberal Christian politicians are dedicated to the intrusive, big government, liberal policies that liberals love. They stand for progressive policies like lots of abortion, lots of taxes, and lots of discrimination based on skin color, at least in universities. Whichever and whatever religious veneer supports the true religion of liberal progressivism is always assumed to be the good Word pouring from the mouth of the Almighty, no matter how far south of scripture it actually flies.
But liberal Democrats believe that Republican Christians are racist capitalists planning to pollute the air and water, then retire to an all white country club in Vale while mammoth corporations turn the world into something like the machine city in the Matrix. Muhahahaha!! Whatever religion they profess–even if it is Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse feeding hungry Muslims or President Bush sobering up after a conversation with Billy Graham–is really just a front for oppressing the poor and paving paradise to put up a parking lot.
The media doesn’t understand religion but it understands politics, so Dean’s ham-handed religious pronouncements will be played and printed with dignity and seriousness. Meanwhile, when President Bush says, “God Bless America,” The DNC sends out a 12-page talking-point memo on the separation of church and state.
Hypocrisy? John Derbyshire said it well: Can you imagine what the press would have said if Dan Quayle had said Job was his favorite New Testament book? AFTER saying he knew the Bible well?
The fact is the left-leaning press is under the gun. They have to find a way to take Howard Dean seriously. All the evidence that Dean makes George Bush look more and more like George Washington every day isn’t easy to handle. That the Democrats are going to nominate Dean–a man no American off of drugs really wants to be near the nuclear codes–rather than Joe Lieberman or Richard Gephardt is distressing. I almost have sympathy for Kerry, Gephardt, and company as they watch the little tea pot blowing steam every week, to the increasing applause of the chattering class. I know the girls all look prettier at closing time, but is it really that late?
Perhaps Democrats have simply decided that ’04 is already in the tank for their side, and Dean is the ideal man to take the fall. Has there ever been a candidate more suited to lose a major election? Has anyone ever had “scapegoat” tattooed more prominently on his backside? I think not. Howard Dean and his Deaniacs are going to lose the election, take the total blame, and clear the way for the triumphant ascension of Hillary Rodham Clinton to challenge some poor Republican for the White House in ’08.
I’m not worried about Dean, however. I know his faith will get him through, no matter what happens. As long as he settles south of the Mason-Dixon line.