That Old-Time Religion

Walking bravely into the “moral values” debate, Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler writes, “In the wake of the recent election, boo-hooing pseudo-cons keened and wailed about the way ‘contemptuous’ ‘eastern’ ‘elites’ mock traditional ‘red-state’ religion,” But, in fact, Somerby argues, the motivation isn’t arrogance, it’s nervousness:

In fact, the establishment press is far more likely to take a vastly different stance. More than anything else, the mainstream press corps is inclined to avert its eyes from “heartland” religion. This practice is based on cowardly deference to old-time religion, not on the desire to mock it.

To bolster his argument, Somerby harkens back to a 2002 cover story in Time magazine on the “apocalyptic (and best-selling) Left Behind novels,” by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, based on the Book of Revelation. To bolster its premise that the themes of the series resonate with many Americans, Time commissioned a poll. “Fully 59 percent [of respondents] say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack,” wrote Time’s Nancy Gibbs.

That polling data and the Gibbs piece were quickly forgotten, says Somerby, and there’s a reason:

It reflects a decision made long ago — a decision to avoid discussion of “heartland religious views, especially views which might seem to be kooky. In our society, the beliefs of every other sector get discussed, dissected and challenged. But when Time presented these remarkable facts, mainstream pundits knew not to notice. Everyone else’s views get critiqued — except those of the “heartland religious.”

Somerby concludes with this advice: “The press corps should stop its fawning, screw up its courage, and discuss these important matters in detail, just as they discuss the views of pretty much everyone else.”

TalkLeft isn’t reticent on the subject, posting a contragulatory letter to George W. Bush from Bob Jones III, the president of Bob Jones University, who is hardly reticent, either. “Don’t equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil,” Jones tells the president. “You owe the liberals nothing.”

The ongoing debate over Sen. Arlen Specter’s qualifications to head the Senate Judiciary Committee is on the mind of John J. Miller at The Corner. Responding to the news that Specter will be meeting with conservatives on Monday in New York for an off-the-record hand-holding session (if that’s physically possible), Miller poses an agenda item:

Here is a question those NYC wingers should ask Arlen Specter — and one that Specter should at any rate be forced to answer in public: “You follow the Supreme Court closely, and are obviously familiar with the opinions of the Justices. You are familiar enough with the opinions of Justice Thomas to have announced, in your memoirs, ‘disappointment’ with his performance on the High Court. In an interview with National Review last year, you refused to say whether you would support Justice Thomas for Chief Justice, if he were nominated for the position. Which of his rulings have disappointed you so much that you refuse to announce right now that you would support his nomination?”

Given the branding of John Kerry by some conservatives as an effete, elitist East Coast wine-sniffer, one question we’re pretty certain Specter won’t be asked:

“Chablis, or Chardonnay?”

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.