Remember when David Brooks wrote this?
Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.
Inviting these two bozos onto "Meet the Press" to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.
This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous.
Brooks wanted you to believe that you must be an ill-informed latte-swilling coastal secularist if you think all the famous quick-with-a-soundbite evangelicals really influence the way rock-ribbed normal Americans think.
Here's the reality, from yesterday's long Washington Post article about the Alito battle:
As the [Alito] hearings played out in Washington, [Democratic senator Ben] Nelson [of Nebraska] was startled to see quarter-page ads in the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star sponsored by the conservative group Focus on the Family. "Will Sen. Ben Nelson listen to Ted Kennedy or the people of Nebraska?" asked the ads, which showed head shots of Nelson alongside the Massachusetts liberal.
Facing a tough 2006 midterm race in the conservative state, Nelson was furious and complained to the group's president, James Dobson. He assured Dobson that so far nothing had emerged that would prevent him from voting for Alito -- and suggested that Dobson thank him publicly at the right time. On Jan. 21, four days after Nelson announced his support for Alito, the group ran new ads: "Thank you Sen. Ben Nelson ... for listening to the voice of Nebraskans."
Maybe Nelson's just being craven -- he's a moderate Democrat, so obviously I don't want to rule that out -- but he certainly thinks full-page ads from James Dobson, run in papers read by his constituents and not by coast-dwellers, could have an influence on his political future.
Brooks wrote what he wrote because he wants you to believe his sainted Middle Americans have too much common sense to fall for mountebanks. Apparently, one of the mountebanks disagreed in this case, and was willing to dip into his cash reserves for those full-page ads. Brooks may be a big brainiac, but I give Dobson the edge for low cunning; I bet he knew exactly what he was doing. I bet he's the one who's right about this.