In one of the early (now archived) posts in this blog, I lamented the fact that during the last couple of decades, Republicans seem to have successfully framed the political “left” as universally “secular,” as in “the Religious Right and the Secular Left.” It’s a very neat dichotomy, keeping with the simplistic either-or-isms supplied by the Bush White House and conservative Republicans in order to reduce the amount of time citizens spend thinking for themselves. It also fits nicely into the “two Americas” paradigm pundits are using to frame the upcoming election. And it renders a whole spectrum of religious thought and political activity completely invisible.
I realize, though, that we can’t give Republicans all the credit for creating this illusion. The press likes the storyline. It’s easy to write about. It doesn’t require much journalism, since they can simply refer to GOP talking points. It has built-in tension and conflict, with identifiable good guys and bad guys (the good guys being the God-fearing, church-going families of the Right). As just one example of the media’s deep commitment to this story, see the new Nicholas Kristoff editorial, “Hug An Evangelical,” in which he pleads for more civility toward the right from the “secular left.” Acknowledging the existence of a body of religious people whose politics are well left of the “religious right” muddies up the story.
Journalists of this “so-called Liberal Media” (to borrow a phrase from Eric Alterman’s blog and his terrific book What Liberal Media?) showed us how skillfully and influentially they can spin a narrative when they turned on Al Gore in 2000 (see the last few chapters of the aforementioned What Liberal Media? for Alterman’s analysis of the press’ role in the outcome of the election; I don’t have my copy, so I can’t refer to specific pages). Now we’re starting to see how they’re going to rewrite John Kerry: by relentlessly pursuing his “flip flops” while giving the President a virtual pass, challenging the validity of his Vietnam medals (in order to level the playing field with an incumbent who avoided service?), and – particularly relevant to this discussion – by spinning his deeply held Catholicism as a renegade practice, at odds with church leaders. Amy Sullivan has been tracking this particular storyline, here and here, and will probably continue to pursue it.
Meanwhile, I continue to hope and pray that progressive Christians shows up at the polls in droves this November, and that we turn out to be a pretty interesting story afterall.