Friday, November 05, 2004

Misperceptions of the right 

Plenty of other people, more eloquent than me, have had their say about Jane Smiley's Slate piece. So I will add only one simple observation about the consistency of Smiley's argument.

Compare the central point of each of the following two paragraphs:

Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.

Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent. American politicians ALWAYS operate by a similar sort of flattery, and so Americans are never induced to question themselves. That's what happened to Jimmy Carter—he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do—they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.
Does anyone else see the contradictions?

First, you've got to do what you're told, abdicate critical thinking, stop questioning.

Then, by some really nifty trick, you have to also "not want to be told what to do."

If the second premise is true, the first cannot be.

But who cares... Let the left think that the entire right is made up of evangelical Bible thumpers and "big capitalists, who have no morals," exploiting "a long American habit of virulent racism." That thinking will only lead them further down the path of defeat, because it utterly fails to understand the American people.

Take a look around the right side of the blogosphere, and you'll get a better picture of what, to me, is the real right. If there's a Bible-thumper among them, I have yet to see it. Now, maybe I have a skewed perspective, growing up in a "blue" state as I have, but evangelical Christians are almost as rare in my Maine town as they are in Boston or New York. From my experience, they just aren't a factor. Religion itself is not a factor.

In fact, among the conservatives I know among my family, friends, and acquaintances, not one, so far as I know, even considered religion in the voting booth. The most outwardly religious member of my extended family is actually a passionate, nearly rabid liberal.

Because of my 11 years in uniform, many of the people I know are in the military. They are also overwhelmingly conservative. They are not, by and large, very religious.

What is my point? That from my point of view as a Catholic military guy from Maine, those Bible-thumpers that so infuriate the left are simply not that big a deal. They're not "The Right." They certainly aren't 58 million strong.

Stephen Stanton got it mostly right when he wrote about South Park Republicans. These are the people I know, not the "Left Behind" crowd.

But whoever the typical Republican is, Jane Smiley and the hordes of lefty writers, bloggers, and activists spewing insults and hatred aren't going to get his or her vote next time around if they keep it up. You can't dump vitriol on 51% of the electorate in 2004 and expect to win some of them over to your side in 2008.
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