Jeffrey Goldberg's article in the June 4 New Yorker got a lot of attention for the nasty things Newt Gingrich said about Karl Rove, as well as for Tom DeLay's recollections of his former twelve-martini lifestyle. But I want to look at a couple of less snicker-worthy parts of the article. First, this sentence from Goldberg:
Few of the men running now for the Republican nomination are likely to embrace George W. Bush's record.
How can Goldberg say this? With the exception of Ron Paul, they all eagerly embrace the war. There's widespread acceptance of warrantless wiretapping and Guantanamo and "enhanced interrogation techniques." And they all love the Bush tax cuts -- even McCain, who once opposed them. The candidates won't embrace Bush's record? They already are embracing it.
This is what I'm worried about -- that the press will look at the GOP candidates and not see what's right in front of their faces: men who support Bushism and would be hard to distinguish from Bush in office. I'm afraid reporters will see what they want to see -- a sea change -- when there's no sea change taking place. And they'll sell their delusion to the voters.
And then there's this passage, in which Goldberg quotes Rove:
"There are two or three societal trends that are driving us in an increasingly deep center-right posture," he said. "One of them is the power of the computer chip. Do you know how many people's principal source of income is eBay? Seven hundred thousand." He went on, "So the power of the computer has made it possible for people to gain greater control over their lives. It's given people a greater chance to run their own business, become a sole proprietor or an entrepreneur. As a result, it has made us more market-oriented, and that equals making you more center-right in your politics." As for spirituality, Rove said, "As baby boomers age and as they're succeeded by the post-baby-boom generation, within both of those generations there's something going on spiritually -- people saying it's not all about materialism, it's not all about the pursuit of material things. If you look at the traditional mainstream denominations, they're flat, but what's growing inside those denominations, and what's growing outside those denominations, is churches that are filling this spiritual need, that are replacing sterility with something vibrant, something that speaks to the heart of the individual, that gives a sense of purpose." Rove believes what he has always believed: that the Christian right and, to a lesser extent, tax- and regulation-averse businessmen will continue to assure Republican victories.
How blinkered and amoral do you have to be to look at these two societal trends and react the way Rove does?
One of these trends is go-it-alone entrepreneurialism (albeit of a rather pathetic sort), while the other is supposedly a rejection of materialistic selfishness as the ultimate focus of life -- but Rove doesn't see a contradiction. To him, both lead to Republicanism, therefore they're both good -- and complementary.
In a way, of course, they probably are complementary -- just not in the way Rove thinks. It's quite possible that people are turning to fired-up non-mainline churches because they're looking for a sense of meaning and connectedness in a society that's full of alienation and isolation, and that offers most people only crap jobs -- which means the best of one's bad economic options might be sitting at home all day holding a virtual yard sale. A person with a soul might look at a society that holds out eBay as a career and then fire and brimstone as solace and find it horrifying -- but if it gets people pulling the GOP lever, Rove's all for it.
UPDATE: It's been pointed out in comments that Digby and Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution looked at Rove's assertions and concluded that his "facts" aren't facts at all. My point above is that there's something deeply wrong with you if you even think both assertions are true and think they're both wonderful things; just being cheerful about that eBay number is sick and twisted, and it's even more so if Digby and Jonathan are right when they say Rove is wrong.
Rove is wrong about eBay -- as Digby and Jonathan note (source), more than 700,000 Americans use eBay as a primary or secondary source of income. But I still think that's a sad turn in the richest country in the world.
Regarding churches, Digby quotes a Barna Group poll titled "Barna's Annual Tracking Study Shows Americans Stay Spiritually Active, But Biblical Views Wane" to demonstrate that conservative religion is in decline. But Barna holds people to a very, very rigid standard -- the study's director, for instance, says,
Millions of Americans say they are personally committed to Jesus Christ, but they believe he sinned while on earth. Many believers claim to trust what the Bible teaches, but they reject the notion of a real spiritual adversary or they feel that faith-sharing activities are optional. Millions feel personally committed to God, but they are renegotiating the definition of that deity.
So Barna's willing to toss out people you and I would consider part of the religious right, just because they don't live up to Barna's exacting standards about, say, the nature of the Devil or need to evangelize.
Rove, I believe, is invoking statistics such as these:
...total membership in the seven largest mainline Protestant denominations -- United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian Church (USA), Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches -- fell a total of 7.4% from 1995 to 2004, based on tallies reported to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
Meanwhile, the total membership count for Roman Catholics, the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention, Pentecostal Assemblies of God and proselytizing Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reported to the Yearbook is up nearly 11.4% for the same period.
Similar statistics are the foundation of the most recent book by Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy. I believe them, and they worry me. Phillips, in any event, is no right-wing spinmeister.