GetReligion is one of those blogs that I don’t often, well, “get.” According to their statement of purpose, the folks at GetReligion seem intent on discussing how religion is reported and supplementing and/or correcting that reporting when it goes off the rails (as it often does). Mr. Mattingly describes it thus:
And that is what we hope to do with this blog. It is an experiment by [Doug] LeBlanc and myself and, we hope, our journalist friends and new readers. We want to slow down and try to pinpoint and name some of these ghosts.
But I don’t want to sound like we see this as a strictly negative operation. There are many fine writers out there — some believe the number is rising — who are doing an amazing job of taking religion news into the mainstream pages of news, entertainment, business and even sports. We want to highlight the good as well as raise some questions about coverage that we believe has some holes in it.
Well, I suppose. There is certainly a rich feast out there for anyone who sets himself the task of assessing the misrepresentations of religion (or the failure to represent it at all); one could camp out, so to speak, in front of Andrew Sullivan’s blog and have your quota of ridiculous, ill-informed media reports on a smattering of topics pertaining to religion before lunch. I won’t go into GR’s apparent assumptions about balance (journalism should be balanced) and objectivity (it exists) just now, since that would take me far afield from my present point, which is simply to ask this: what in the world E.J. Dionne’s tap-dancing on what he imagines to be the grave of “the Right” has to do with the stated purpose of their blog? Where are the “ghosts” in this bit of hum-drum punditry? Anyone?
This column has only the loosest of loose connections with any religious topic that I can see. Confronting the news of conservatism’s supposed imminent demise, Mr. Pulliam writes:
Note to Sam Brownback: this does not mean you’re a lost candidate in 2008. Same to any other “conservative” political candidate like Sen. George Allan [sic], R-Va., or Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Journalists need to note the Dionne Development. Big-tent conservatism originally construed by Goldwater, furthered by Ronald Reagan and altered by George W. Bush, is suffering and could be dead, but individual candidates are free to create their own coalitions and mold the party as they see fit.
For instance, we know McCain is reaching out to the values voters and we know former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is making a decent effort. Will other “conservative” candidates believe it is necessary to reach out to the “values voters? Or have values voters been tossed out with Bush and the remains of conservatism. I have my doubts.
Er, well, okay. I don’t know who told Mr. Pulliam that Barry “Extremism in the cause of liberty is no vice” Goldwater “construed” big-tent conservatism, since his campaign was a glorious two-finger salute to the complacency and compromise of the big-tent “me-too” Republicanism of its day (and, fans of big-tent politics will note, his campaign went down in flames). But leave that aside for the moment. Even granting that Brownback has been tagged as the poster boy for so-called “theoconservatism” (I really hate that term!) and acknowledging that “values voters” is normally a euphemism for Christian social conservatives (which, as it happens, has irritated George Will), what precisely does Dionne’s article have to do with religion? For that matter, what do any of the foibles and internal splits mentioned in the article have to do with religion?
Consider the premiere issue that signalled to Dionne that the vultures were circling the carcass of conservatism: a bill to raise the minimum wage and cut estate taxes. For Dionne, the allegedly hard-core laissez-faire GOP choked down mandating a rise in the minimum wage for cynical electoral reasons (note: individual Republicans may object to minimum wage hikes on the principle of non-interference with markets, but the party objects to them because of successful lobbying by business interests), which he thinks presages a breakdown on the Right. Well, sort of–it is a symptom of the massive unpopularity of the GOP across the country, against which their Congressmen in vulnerable districts need some kind of protection in the form of a government-subsidised bribe.
Of course, this is an electoral breakdown brought on by massive betrayals, poor leadership and general incompetence, rather like the perfect storm of outrage and resentment that crushed Dobleve’s father’s chances of re-election in 1992 (and yet, in official GOP mythology, the salad days of conservatism were still to come). It does not necessarily portend intellectual incoherence or a slide into irrelevance, assuming we grant that the “conservative movement” of today has much in the way of serious intellectual activity at all. And still there is no sign of religion coming into view.
To sum up the other areas of disagreement Dionne notes, they are Iraq, immigration, spending and…stem-cell research. Well, at least here with this last one we have something that obliquely touches on the concerns of religious voters, and yet it is something that goes completely unmentioned in Mr. Pulliam’s post. There are other problems with the post, which I go into a bit more below, but at this point I am still puzzled as to what this has to do with religion or the express goals of GetReligion.
Separately, if I might add another point of dissent, Dionne’s article was also not particularly “insightful”: he pointed at well-known, longstanding public fissures in Republican politics and the broader ”conservative movement” (though his range of vision, in time and political leanings, does not extend beyond the distant shores of Bill Buckley and George Will when it comes to Iraq) and said, “Ooh, lookey at the fissures! Conservatism is in trouble with a capital T!” This is only what every thinking conservative with a column or blog has been saying for the last five years, and “the movement” has been pronounced dead, defunct, or worthless on more occasions in these years than I care to remember.
In conservatism’s funeral games, there have been a great many competitors for its armour and spoils, most of which started breaking out several years before the current Iraq fatigue of former hawks or any of the other internal divisions Dionne mentions reached crisis levels. Arguably, the children have been squabbling over their future inheritance for 25 years ever since the dying old man of conservatism came into some fortune. Some of the old man’s step-children wanted to sell off huge chunks of the old man’s country estate and buy a posh place in the city where they could mingle with the beautiful people, cavort with strumpets and become ‘respectable’ in the eyes of people who still really hate them (but who still prefer these parvenus to their more rustic step-brothers), while the old man’s own flesh and blood thought it was fairly impious to abandon the old homestead for a mess of pottage and some superficial acceptance in fashionable society. It calls forth that old question: how will you keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen D.C.?
If the existence of intense disagreement and feuding proved that “the Right” was finished and conservatism dead, it would have been dead and buried for a very long time. What the supposed death of conservatism (essentially defined in Dionne’s article as nothing more profound than the House That Buckley Built) that Dionne describes represents is not the death of conservatism, but the collapse of the house of cards the ruling GOP constructed on the already demolished ruins of serious conservatism.
The fraud of “big-government conservatism” had existed for years before Barnes gave it a name and announced that Republicans did not have to engage in an elaborate double-game of pretending to want to reduce government while accelerating its growth at record pace: they could proudly abandon whatever principles they once pretended to hold and call it “prudence.” All of which is interesting for those of us with an interest in the inside baseball talk of political junkies and the dealers who get them their fixes (a metaphor that would make blogs a little like meth labs), but none of which has very much to do with religion or the coverage of religion. So what gives here? Why have a specific mission for your blog if you are going to comment on the same mish-mash of political chatter that everyone else focuses on?