Mel Gibson's Troubles = A Weakened Religious Right? Oh, That's Rich!
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 10:47:22 AM EST
In his most recent  New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich declared über-traditionalist Catholic movie star Mel Gibson's fall from grace to be "good news" -- suggesting that  as goes one downwardly spiraling Hollywood star, so goes the Religious Right.Too bad the facts don't support the pundit's pronouncement.
 Rich traces Mel Gibson's journey from  Toast of the Religious Right to toast:  beginning with the 2004 release of his anti-Semitic overtoned film The Passion of the Christ, through his anti-Jewish, expletive punctuated tirade during his 2006 DUI arrest; the divorce from his wife; to the recent ugly break-up with his most recent girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva.

Rich then goes on to describe Gibson as a metaphor for the Religious Right in decline:

The cultural wave that crested with "The Passion" was far bigger than Gibson. He was simply a symptom and beneficiary of a moment when the old religious right and its political and media shills were riding high. In 2010, the American ayatollahs' ranks have been depleted by death (Falwell), retirement (James Dobson) and rent boys (too many to name). What remains of that old guard is stigmatized by its identification with poisonous crusades, from the potentially lethal antihomosexuality laws in Uganda to the rehabilitation campaign for the "born-again" serial killer David Berkowitz ("Son of Sam") in America.

As well as:

Conservative America's new signature movement, the Tea Party, has its own extremes, but it shuns culture-war battles. It even remained mum when a federal judge in Massachusetts struck down the anti-same-sex marriage Defense of Marriage Act this month. As the conservative commentator Kyle Smith recently wrote in The New York Post, the "demise of Reagan-era groups like the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority is just as important" as the rise of the Tea Party. "The morality armies have failed to inspire their children to join the crusade," he concluded, and not unhappily. The right, too, is subject to generational turnover.

"Shuns the culture war battles"? Perhaps Frank Rich should go back to film reviews.

As has been reported by Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action, the Tea Party movement is very much into continuing the culture wars. In fact, the two conservative movements have found candidates who appeal to both, such as Republican US Senate candidate, Sharon Angle of Nevada and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Rich could also turn on Fox News and discover many leaders of that Old Time Religious Right being hosted by their newest media advocate, Glenn Beck. (Or for that matter, by the once and future Religious Right presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.)

Beck - who recently joined Gibson in echoing the allegation of Jewish deicide - made the theme of his July 1, 2010 Fox News cable television show "The State of Religion in America." Among his guests were such Religious Right stalwarts as Ralph Reed, Catholic neocon strategist Robert P. George, Christian Zionist powerhouse John Hagee and Wallbuilders president and Christian historical revisionist, David Barton.   Beck's guest spoke not as defeated warriors but as leaders preparing for the next phase of the culture wars.

Lest anyone think that this was an exception to an otherwise stellar record of sound judgment, unfortunately it is not. Here are a few examples:  While he bemoaned the racism of others, he was a regular call-in guest of  Don Imus.  Throughout the 2000 Presidential Election, he and fellow Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd engaged in a de facto 'war on Gore' that may have done more to put George W. Bush in the White House than either Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby nailed Rich's fatuousness in a 2006 reply to a reader's e-mail:  

Here's my general view: Rich is a completely reliable "blue-state" social liberal. That is, he will always repeat the reliable case about how dumb any "red-state" manifestation is. For that reason, he's generally easy for most liberals to like. But the underlying theme with Rich must always be: "I, Frank Rich, am brighter than all." ("Along with my upper-class Manhattan cohort.") So he had to be smarter and better than Clinton and Gore-although, quite plainly, he isn't-and he reacted with horror any time they did anything that might suggest respect for the "red-state" electorate. When Gore occasionally mentioned his religious faith, for example, this struck Rich as fake and reprehensible, and he offered thunderous complaints about what a phony Gore was-just like Bush. [This also explains the absurd remarks in Rich's recent column about the fact that Gore once owned a rifle. He's kissing up to the NRA!]

For the record, Rich did more than fall for the scripts; in fact, he invented the script on Love Story. And after Gore gave his 9/02 speech on Iraq, Rich trashed him in a deeply dishonest way (see tomorrow). The record here is just horrible.

You're right, in that Rich would score well on an IQ test. But I think there's something unbelievably dumb in the Millionaire Pundit Values I have discussed-and Rich is clearly the reigning poobah of the Manhattan branch of this worthless brigade. His "reasoning" in Sunday's piece is so dumb that it borders on mental dysfunction. (Gore was right about global warming. But he once owned a rifle!) This would be easy for liberals to see-if we weren't inclined in his favor because he takes our side (often embellishing facts) about those worthless red-staters.

When it comes to Frank Rich, liberals and progressives need to take a caveat emptor approach. Meanwhile, the movers and shakers of the Religious Right are going nowhere but to prepare for the next round of battles in their theocratic war on the rest of us.

...they have Frank Rich to do their bidding.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 10:53:13 AM EST

to the real clash of realities being presented by the Washington pundits as if they were oh so perfectly in tune with America because they considered themselves "Centrists". Sniping both sides isn't my idea of a centrist. At, they would describe it as "troll-like tendencies detected".

by trog69 on Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 02:04:20 PM EST
From a 2005 piece in Slate:

As someone who shares Rich's politics and appreciates his bruising style, I find his column to be a strangely unsatisfying experience. For sure, there's a small thrill in watching Rich turn the decaffeinated Times op-ed page into an outlet for liberal id. But it's possible to cheer on Rich's crusades and feel that his column leaves you short. Rarely does he offer much more than illuminating rage. It's the kind of closed-minded liberalism that, at its heart, is the antithesis of liberalism.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jul 26, 2010 at 12:02:10 PM EST

about how Frank Rich is not to be trusted.  I used to be a regular reader of The Daily Howler, and Bob Somerby really opened my eyes about his leading role in the War on Gore.  No doubt Frank Rich scores high on IQ tests, but he scores equally high in intellectual dishonesty.  Too bad so many otherwise intelligent people continue to be taken in.

by Raksha on Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 08:28:46 PM EST

The religious right isn't going away, and they're playing for keeps. Beck is an ideal demagogue for them, but the evangelical Protestants don't trust his Mormon faith.

by khughes1963 on Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 09:51:05 PM EST
I think he, like many New Yorkers, especially most Manhattanites, genuinely has trouble understanding how the religious right wing could even exist, let alone have any power at all.

Here in New York, where so many people of many different religions and of no religion live literally on top of each other, without batting an eyelash, the idea of any one group trying to impose theocracy seems so utterly insane that it's hard for most New Yorkers to imagine it being promoted by anyone with enough intelligence to have any power at all.

Therefore, to many New Yorkers, it seems as if the religious right wing must surely be just a crazy aberration that will be dying any day now, as soon as we all just laugh it off the stage.  In my experience, many New Yorkers will automatically assume that the religious right wing must surely be dead already if it happens not to have won a headline-making victory in the past week.

Also I think a lot of people in general, including a lot of mainstream journalists, just don't understand how political movements work.  They don't understand that a large and thriving movement like the religious right wing isn't dependent on specific big-name leaders and spokespeople.  They don't understand that there's a vast network of local leaders, hence more than enough people to take the place of any big-name leader who dies or is discredited due to a sex scandal.

Also, I think a lot of nonreligious or not-very-religious people don't understand religious subcultures, hence fail to see how a religious subculture can be politically mobilized.

For these reasons, the natural impulse of many New Yorkers is to pronounce the religious right wing to be "dead" any time it suffers any kind of defeat, or any time a major leader like Falwell dies, or any time that the religious right wing just hasn't been featured on national TV for the past few months.

by Diane Vera on Thu Jul 22, 2010 at 07:36:49 AM EST

I've run into this attitude from self styled "progessives" from all parts of the country. It was especially evident in the aftermath of the 2004 election. There was a British newspaper that ran the headline "How Could 59,000,000 Americans be so stupid?" It was picked up as a rallying cry by the Left and combined with some conspiracy theories involving the Diebold voting machines. It was as if collectively the Liberal/Progessive Left was in denial. My answer to this was and still is that those "stupid" people put their man back into the White House and were busily trying to get their socio-religious beliefs encacted into law. How stupid was that?

by Frank Frey on Thu Jul 22, 2010 at 06:09:25 PM EST

Your description of urban life and diversity is one of the most important changes that the world is undergoing. Most humans now live in cities. Latinos are the most urbanized American minority group. But in the American suburbs, it is possible to live out a fantasy that the city does not exist at all - which makes any reminders of urban demands and issues an offense, a blot that one might wish to eradicate. Americans have always viewed cities as defective. Palin's mocking of community organizers implies that cities aren't organic or legitimate. In effect, while everywhere else in the world high population density has led people to migrate from rural to urban areas and then raise their children there, America's empty spaces and meteoric postwar prosperity made it possible for Americans to go from rural to urban to suburban in less than a generation, and use the 'burbs to retain a cowboy fantasy of God, guns and greed. Suburban Americans include a mix of archaic and modern ideologies, but tend to select for maximum selfishness and short-sightedness. Not that there aren't selfish people living in New York, but unless they're Wall Street elites, they are aware that their acts have effects on other people and try to adjust to that. In the 'burbs, you can pretend that your actions never harm others, and that urban enemies are unreasonably trying to interfere with your life out of jealousy.

by super390 on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 02:12:44 PM EST
Could we have some proof that your rampant overgeneralizing about the American suburbs has a basis in fact? "Suburban Americans ... tend to select for maximum selfishness and short-sightedness" - please prove this accusation, rather than assuming that your readers must agree with you.

by Rebecca on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 07:02:27 AM EST
Before the rise of the suburbs, America was on a socioeconomic course similar to the rest of the developed world - in fact after 1945 leading Europe and Asia toward what most of us would think of as modern views about personal liberties, the role of government, etc. What changed around 1968 to turn the US into the Vatican of reactionary extremism?-------------- Where did Nixon's "silent majority" live?------------- Where did Reagan's oppressed "good" Americans live?------------ When Cheney said that "the American Way of Life is non-negotiable", he of all people surely didn't mean the Bill of Rights, but Wal-Mart and Home Depot and Hummers.-------------- Check out the video "The End of Suburbia". It's a dysfunctional system, but since it was built on human desire, its lifestyle junkies will not back down in the face of facts; they will double down on the crazy. Or as Glenn Beck ominously put it, "We Surround You."

by super390 on Sun Jul 25, 2010 at 06:38:09 PM EST

I appreciated the article, and agree with the conclusion that the so-called 'religious right' is not going anywhere soon. Living in Mississippi, I can attest that die-hard believers are willing to ignore Beck's Mormonism as long as he continues to feed them the red meat they so desperately need. They'll give him a pass if he will keep bashing Obama. Doctrine is only important to them when they can use it; they'll ignore or minimize doctrine if it gets in the way of their agenda.
They are a body in search of a head, so to speak, but the body can get along without a 'big head' as long as the structure remains in place. Indeed, the lack of a leader seems to rally the troops, reinforces their 'persecution complex'.
Besides, they have Fox News, filled with Theocrats such as Huckabee and Palin.
Excellent article!

by COinMS on Thu Jul 22, 2010 at 08:45:11 AM EST

Let's face it, media does not tend to attract deep or strong intellects, and Rich, alas, is an example. And, of course, his background is in *theatre* (criticism): another field not known for attracting lots of deep thinkers. I had some interactions with Rich years ago, and one sad thing I learned about him is that as well as not being the sharpest tool in the drawer, he is LAZY and does not do what I would think of as the most elementary fact-checking. And that was while he had available to him a "news clerk" whose job it presumably was to do elementary fact-checking.

by Diogenes6 on Thu Jul 22, 2010 at 09:11:08 AM EST
I've met a couple, and the ones I've met were quite complex and intelligent.  I used to think theater was simple, but recent stories and books I've read suggest there may be depths there that outsiders don't grasp.

IMO, there may be a combination of factors- the one I regularly encounter: "But it's a church, it can't be THAT bad!", combined with what Diana mentioned (I've lived here so long that the idea of Americans thinking like she describes seems strange and almost otherworldly), and the disconnect between reporting and reality that was suggested.  It's like some of the people I encounter- the things I and many others have experienced are so outside their own experiences that they think they are aberrations, or that it's a one-time thing.  Thus they dismiss it because they don't understand how powerful it can be.  (Like undertow at the beach, for instance.)  

So dominionism/the theocrats/"Religious Right" aren't covered very much because the reporters have no concept of what is going on.   They may be very intelligent- but still ignorant and since it is so foreign to their own experiences, not considered that important or significant.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 12:12:08 AM EST

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