Death of the Religious Right: Greatly Exaggerated (Again)
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 03:35:02 PM EST
To borrow from Mark Twain's wry observation on reading his famously premature obituary: The news of the death of the religious right has been greatly exaggerated.

I would go so far as to say that death of the religious right has been similarly exaggerated more times recently than the Bush administration has declared that the surge is working.  (But then, who's counting?)

The most recent, and one of the most rediculous such claims comes from Bill Press, professional liberal pundit, writing at World Net Daily, the large news and opinion internet magazine -- of the religious right.  The column is a such masterpiece of bogus analysis about this subject I had to (very briefly) consider whether it was a parody.  If it is -- the joke is on me. But he seems dead earnest, so I'll bite.

Let's take a look at some of his main points.

No matter who becomes the next president of the United States, the American people have already won a great victory - with the total disintegration of the once all-powerful religious right.

Of course, he has no evidence to support this breathless asssertion. What's more, he does not say how this alleged victory was won. I mean, if we won a great victory against a once "all-powerful" foe, you'd think some of us might have some idea how it happened. Or at least, Press, who made claim might give us a clue. But, no.

And by staying united, the religious right has been able ever since to exercise its veto power over Republican candidates

He cites not a single example.

And while it is certainly true that the religious right has been powerful in many states (and in many states remains so), it has never been unified in GOP presidential politics -- except when there was no contest; specifically when Reagan and George W.Bush were renominated without opposition. In 2000 for example, the movement was divided among Bush, Quayle, Gary Bauer, Lamar Alexander and Steve Forbes.  

Unable to find one candidate who fits the bill of being both true-blue on the issues and electable, America's ayatollahs have divided their loyalties.

Right. But the religious right's inabiltiy to find a unity candidate is a problem of the field, not the religious right. Meanwhile, the leading contenders actively solicit their support. That they make different choices is no surprise. That is what has always happened. (Dole vs. Buchanan vs. Lamar Alexander (among others) in 1996 for another example.)

Press continues: some cases, they've even declared war against each other.

But he does not cite a single example. And I am unaware of any religious right leaders at war with one another -- at least not any more than normally. Never unified, the leaders of the religious right have often publicly disagreed on many issues as well as candidates.

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee, the only ordained Baptist minister in the race, is almost totally ignored by his fellow Christians because, even though Huckabee scores 100 percent on the issues, they don't think he has a snowball's chance in hell of winning. Huckabee's only evangelical endorsement comes from Tim LaHaye, co-author of the "Left Behind" novels - which may be the appropriate title for Huckabee's campaign.

Well, I have been keeping an informal tally and by my count, Huckabee has at least, in addition to LaHaye these: three past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention; Rev. Don Wildmon, head of the American Family Association; Rev. Rick Scarborough head of Vision America; Dr. Wiley Drake immediate past 2nd vice president of the SBC (and prominent political activist); and televangelists Ken Copeland and James Robison. That's a pretty respectable list of religious right and evangelical leaders. And I am sure that the list is actually much longer.

Press goes on to repeat his main, still unsupported assertion, repeatedly: "The religious right is dead. It will never again exercise the political clout it once had"; "the demise of the religious right;" and then a few sentences later, he refers to "the dying influence of Christian conservatives"  So which is it: "Dead" or "dying"?  

This is what is passing for informed opinion folks.

And of course, Bill Press is far from alone in making such unfounded, albeit perennially fashionable assertions.

Another remarkable example is progressive evangelical and Democratic Party advisor, Jim Wallis -- whose similar claims  I detailed earlier this year.

In October 2000, just prior to the election, Wallis, writing at Beliefnet, declared in an article headlined "The Rise and Fall of the Religious Right" that "the influence of the religious right is in steady decline." His evidence? That George W. Bush had declined to appear at the [Christian] Coalition's annual conference, and that the Coalition had other organizational difficulties. A short time later, the world got to see how radically wrong Wallis was.

Last February, in the wake of the 2006 elections, Wallis struck again: In an essay in Time magazine, the author of the popular book God's Politics: Why the Religious Right is Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, declares: The Religious Right's Era Is Over.

And what evidence does he have for this remarkably sunny assertion?

Well, none.

Wallis claims:

We have now entered the post-Religious Right era. Though religion has had a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that will make needed social change more possible.

As usual, Wallis speaks movingly of his desire for a "revival," to address the social concerns that most progressives would share. But he presents no evidence that the religious right is in any way out of the picture. Really. Absolutely none.

I wrote at the time, and remember, this was Feburary:

This is the kind of wishful thinking that has too often guided progressives and Democrats. But the religious right remains one of the most powerful political forces in the United States. And its leaders and leading organizations are being being actively courted by most, if not all of the Republican candidates for president. (It should go without saying that this would not be the case if the religious right were unimportant.) The religious right continues to play a major role in the politics of the national Republican Party, and dominates many state parties.

I do not know why Wallis makes wildly unsupported and demonstrably false declarations with such apparent frequency. But I am quite certain that smart, well-informed political strategies are more likely to be effective than those guided by ignorance and unfounded assertions.

our liberal punditocracy, with few exceptions, is totally useless.  This is just one more sad example, written by someone who should know better.  No matter what happens, and how many times history repeats itself, these people just never seem to learn.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 06:50:22 PM EST

...and extends to a wider realm of writers and journalists, who have fed the flood of books and articles on the religious right that have come out in the last few years and pass off their shallow and poorly informed analysis, based on apparent assumptions that the religious right is a simple and transparent affair, on an unsuspecting public.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 10:07:05 PM EST

That there are just as many on the left who live in a reality of their own making as there are on the right. I must admit, while I've never personally been able to ignore reality, I often wish I had that ability. And who's to say living in a fantasy world won't work for you. Unreality has certainly worked out well for our President. I only wish I could say as much for the country.

by Dave on Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 08:26:51 PM EST

I think this detracts from DK's credibility, like the UFO thing.  Rats.

thx, Fred.

by Don Niederfrank on Wed Nov 28, 2007 at 03:06:15 PM EST

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