DATE: 1/26/2005 01:02:00 PM
Vox Blogoli Redux - Hugh Hewitt has posted the entire article by Jonathan Rauch on his website, along with a letter from Mr. Rauch. In his letter, the author admits that his sentence regarding abortion clinics and conservatives was "careless" and offered an explanation for it that makes sense.
So, is the article a slur on religious conservatives, as the excerpt posted yesterday suggests? To be honest, not really, and I apologize to Mr. Rauch for my earlier characterization of it and to the Atlantic, the magazine in which it is printed.
A good deal of the article is statistics and studies showing that although America's politics may be split down the middle, there is amazing conformity of opinion on many issues, including gun control, the death penalty and the importance of religion in everyday life. Rauch gives a good overview of why politics seems to have grown less pragmatic and more ideological - the death of the strong party system in the United States put the power to select candidates in the hands of the voters and the candidates themselves.
Rauch's thesis is that American politics has grown more divided because those who run for office tend to be ideologues who have strong opinions on issues. The new system of picking candidates has helped lead to the formation of a professional political class, described as "those who want the jobs badly enough to dedicate themselves to winning and holding them." The days of the citizen politician, it seems, are behind us.
What I would like to have seen more of in the article is an explanation of why the idealogues formed. What cultural changes in the United States led to the cultural divide in the first place? What radicalized large segments of the population and started the process that has led to the politically 50/50 country?
I agree with Rauch that the division between the parties does present voters with clear choices on issues. I also agree that the choices are sometimes too clear-cut - voters with more libertarian leanings may feel left out of the political process, for example. Where I disagree with Rauch is his statement that "the Republican party has acquired its distinctively tart right-wing flavor largely because it has absorbed - in fact to a significant extent has organizationally merged with - the religious right."
While the characterization of right wing politics as "tart" without a similar description of those on the left may be unfair, I think this statement still doesn't completely describe the complexities of religious belief and how those beliefs lead to political action or inaction on the part of religious people. I recommend that Rauch start looking into the Christian subculture within American society and the differences in political opinion that exist within what is too often seen by the media as a homogenous group.
In the months leading up to, and after, the election, Christianity Today magazine published letters from devout people who supported John Kerry. My own political opinions are not uniformly in line with those of the Republican party platform, or the president. I am a Republican, for many of the reasons expressed in Rauch's article - I feel the Democrat party has become somewhat hostile to those of religious faith because it has become defined by its extremists.
In this way, I feel the article is still somewhat unfair to religious conservatives and the diversity of political opinion that exists within the church, but is not a slander of them.