Kathleen Parker: Being Rash is Not Courage

by John Mark Reynolds [author, academic]

Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, appears to generally be a decent sort. Her columns have a punchy writing style I wish I could master, though they have never been particularly “intellectual.” Her only academic appointment appears to be at the Buckley School of Public Speaking . . . possessor of a web site that has provided me minutes of fun.

Who wouldn’t love the lack of irony in the Babbittry that summarized the “schools” mission this way:

Tied tongues unknotted
Stuffed shirts unstuffed
Stage fright banished
Muddled thinking set straight

It looks like a delightful place, but not a platform from which people could afford to be snobs.

Of late however, Parker has gone mad on the topic of religion, Sarah Palin, and the Republican Party. Her comments have been ill informed, bigoted (she stereotypes certain kinds of religious believers), and outrageous (McCain picked Palin because he was sexually attracted to her).

As a result Parker has received some rough email. The bad email is, well, bad. People should not write it, but it does seem to go with the profession Parker has chosen.

I have noticed in my own (limited) reception of email that happy people rarely write . . . but angry people do.

Evidently receiving such email, and being willing to attack most of the people who bought her book, has also gotten her drunk on the pleasant wine of self-approval. Parker is wallowing in her courage. Aristotle would suggest that she is rash.

Courage in the service of ill informed and bigoted comments is just being rash.

Here is her latest column with my comments in italics.

Heresies and Other Truths
November 19, 2008

WASHINGTON — As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

Beginning by referring to God as a gorilla was perhaps not the best way to avoid cranky email.

Second, it appears to me that we are awash in Republican commentary blaming my kind of voter for the defeat of the Republican Party.

The Party is likely not to “overlook” the “problem” of religious voters, but to continue to court them because there are millions of us and we are the base of the party. Democracy, not elite refusal to face facts, is Parker’s problem.

She does not like the Republican base, but sadly we are not going away. Perhaps she should help form a new party and see how that goes? My family has been Republican since Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves and we are not leaving.

The problem for her is that the very research she will eventually cite shows that opposition to government health care (economic conservatism) is even less popular amongst non-Christian, unmarried, nonwhites than conservative social issues. In the case of abortion, the gap is very wide. Becoming liberal on social issues would not help with the core problem!

The country is still overwhelmingly Christian. In fact (though any party should welcome all voters), it is secularists that are outnumbered. To win the Republican Party need only reach out to unmarried, nonwhite (read Hispanic) Christian voters at least as successfully as George W. Bush did in 2004. That is not an impossible dream by any means!

It is the white and married population that has declined. From a Christian perspective, who cares about the racial makeup of the nation? As to marriage, we know it is in trouble, but surely nobody should rejoice in that. In fact, after this echo boom ends, who will have the children? My guess is that married Christians (of all races) will do the majority of that work.

The Republican Party must lose its “all white” makeup (please God!) to keep winning, but need not appeal to secularists to do so. If it could attract the voters who are not white but like Christian positions on social issues, then the Republican Party would win.

I’m bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh.

The stereotyping begins . . . the millions of evangelicals in the US, one quarter of the population, whatever their academic qualifications, are now dismissed as the “oogedy-boogedy” branch of the GOP.

Most of you, gentle readers, are (according to Parker) scary and right-wing.

I am perfectly willing to debate the intellectual foundations of conservatism, the United States constitution, and Western civilization with Parker. I will do so on her home turf or mine . . . on radio, live, or in print.

Can I suggest the Hugh Hewitt show as a good venue?

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we’re setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

Parker asserts smart people in the Party agree with Parker in private. How do we know this is true? Parker tells us so.

Of course, it could be that a certain kind of bigot has felt free to make generalizations (all “those people” are stupid) in front of Parker because it was obvious she shared their bigoted opinions. Other thoughtful people (like honors graduates of my University) saw her coming and avoided mentioning ideas that would get them in trouble in front of her.

I have no doubt that a certain wing of the Republican Party doesn’t like social conservatives. I have no doubt they try to “use us” and now are discovering that we don’t want to be used and that they find that irritating. I have no reason to believe that they are smarter than any other part of the party . . . though we do know that they have been cynical manipulators.

If that is the intelligentsia of the party, which I doubt, it is no wonder we lost.

Again: I challenge Parker to debate the intellectual merit of her ideas.

The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it. But they need those votes!

So it has been for the Grand Old Party since the 1980s or so, as it has become increasingly beholden to an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners.

Short break as writer ties blindfold and smokes her last cigarette.

The bad news for Parker is that if we are really the way she thinks we are then we are unlikely to allow her a last cigarette (No smoking!), but the good news is that we will (using her same assumptions) be too decrepit (due to advanced age) to fire the gun.

The even better news is that we not the monsters of her imagination, she can smoke in peace with no fear of firing squad.

Parker evidently does not know that the Republican Party was based on Evangelical votes from the time of Mr. Lincoln. She might want to read this book to discover it. Evidently Parker believes Evangelical, numerically mainstream, Christianity used to be “relegated” to street corners . . . which must make it hard for her to understand the pious campaign and presidential platitudes of figures such as William McKinley.

Of course, Ronald Reagan (note her reference to the 1980’s) is the Republican she is attacking for bringing us from our “street corners” to power.

Which is to say, the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.

Parker repeats that we are stupid . . . though she has yet to give evidence supporting this claim. Evidently if she keeps making it, then it will be true.

Evidently as recently as 2004 the “non-base constituents” were not irritated. About seven percent of the voting public changed its mind about Republicans. On a day on when every traditional-marriage proposition won, Parker asserts that the seven percent changed their mind because of things like . . . well, gay marriage and voted for Senator Obama . . . who favors traditional marriage.

Instead of being the fault of an unpopular war and an economic decline, the loss of John McCain was the fault of the one group of voters that remained faithful to the Party.

If only John McCain (!) had been less beholden to the religious right, he would have won!

I would like Parker to prove this.

Here’s the deal, ‘pubbies: Howard Dean was right.

It isn’t that culture doesn’t matter. It does. But preaching to the choir produces no converts. And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party — and conservatism with it — eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs.

Religious conservatives become defensive at any suggestion that they’ve had something to do with the GOP’s erosion. And, though the recent Democratic sweep can be attributed in large part to a referendum on Bush and the failing economy, three long-term trends identified by Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz have been devastating to the Republican Party: increasing racial diversity, declining marriage rates and changes in religious beliefs.

Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is largely comprised of white, married Christians. Anyone watching the two conventions last summer can’t have missed the stark differences: One party was brimming with energy, youth and diversity; the other felt like an annual Depends sales meeting.

As I know all too well from my own life, Parker is right that aging cannot be done away with by simply looking at the world through a cheering soft focus lens.

Parker may need new friends as the people I hang out with need diapers, but for their burgeoning families!

In fact, conservative Christians have plenty of kids, but the educational system is at war with our values. That is a real problem, but evidently it easier to blame the parents than to begin the hard work of getting conservative ideas into public schools and universities.

I would love to see a more diverse Republican Party . . .but getting rid of social conservative positions (on marriage and abortion) is not the way to do it. Having talked to Compton voters . . . I can promise Parker that the only thing that attracts them to the Republican Party are the social issues. It is economic conservatism that turns them off . . .

As for young adults. . . abortion was popular with a generation of young adults in the 1970s. Happy predictions were made by abortion advocates that once the “old folks” died off that abortion would cease to be controversial. Republicans like Gerald R. Ford saw the future and kept the party pro-choice.

How did that work out Parker?

With the exception of Miss Alaska, of course.

Even Sarah Palin has blamed Bush policies for the GOP loss. She’s not entirely wrong, but she’s also part of the problem. Her recent conjecture about whether to run for president in 2012 (does anyone really doubt she will?) speaks for itself:

“I’m like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is. … And if there is an open door in (20)12 or four years later, and if it’s something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I’ll plow through that door.”

Let’s do pray that God shows Alaska’s governor the door.

Evidently praying about what one does, as most Americans do, is a problem. Or is it talking about it? Is Parker suggesting that Christians should get in the closet recently vacated by homosexuals?

Meanwhile, it isn’t necessary to evict the Creator from the public square, surrender Judeo-Christian values or diminish the value of faith in America. Belief in something greater than oneself has much to recommend it, including most of the world’s architectural treasures, our universities and even our founding documents.

Thank God for that! Evidently we can glory in what we have done, but must quit trying to do anything else . . . because the “numbers” are against us. This argument would have served the Roman Empire well . . . but is dubious on moral grounds. Think Russia in 1917 when the “young people” were all gaga about some of the worst ideas ever. Trends come and go, but Parker can be sure that the Church (exploding numerically in those parts of the world demographically youngest) will be around. Eventually young Korean missionaries will bring our nation back to its senses!

But, like it or not, we are a diverse nation, no longer predominantly white and Christian. The change Barack Obama promised has already occurred, which is why he won.

Obama who campaigned hard to win Christian votes shows that campaigning for Christian votes is a bad idea?

In fact, Christians remain the overwhelming majority of the population. Christians are someplace between seventy and eighty percent of the population. That is not everyone, but it is pretty “predominant.” Most non-White Americans are Christian and a greater percentage of African-Americans are evangelical than white Americans.

Parker should check out the number of non-Christian Hispanic voters. She will discover that Christianity is not why Republicans are failing to attract Hispanic voters.

Senator Obama won, in part, because he appealed directly to religious voters, but mostly because any Democrat was likely (very likely) to win this year.

Among Jewish voters, 78 percent went for Obama.

Parker uses stats in a meaningless manner. Is there anything new in Jewish voters going in this way to Democrats?

Sixty-six percent of under-30 voters did likewise. Forty-five percent of voters ages 18-29 are Democrats compared to just 26 percent Republican; in 2000, party affiliation was split almost evenly.

News to Parker: in 2000 the Republican Party was also perceived as Christian. What changed the minds of young voters? Could it have been that they came to view the face of the Party as George Bush?

The young will get older, of course. Most eventually will marry, and some will become their parents. But nonwhites won’t get whiter. And the nonreligious won’t get religion through external conversion. It doesn’t work that way.

Actually conversion does work that way . . . millions of people globally are converted every year. Try Augustine. Read C.S. Lewis. Most young people are religious, though the largest cohort ever is not. That secular cohort should not be overestimated, however. It is 1/4 of the young. Revivals of religion have occurred before in American history . . . the younger Adams grew up in a different world than the first John Adams as a result.

Perhaps Parker has not heard of Finney, Moody, Graham and other minor figures who saw millions comes to internal religious faith through “external conversion.”

We are not losing the young because of religion.

“Nonwhites” (her term) are more religious (and Christian) than whites.

Religion does not always “decline” numerically. . . as Parker should know.

Given those facts, the future of the GOP looks dim and dimmer if it stays the present course. Either the Republican Party needs a new base — or the nation may need a new party.

Can Parker suggest what is different about this column than the same arguments that were made following every recent Republican electoral defeat, including 1992 and 1996?

But come one . . . it should not be hard for an elite thinker to defeat a representative of the street corner wing of the Party in a debate about ideas! Let’s have one! ExileStreet

copyright 2008 John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Biola University.His personal website can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.com and his blog can be found at http://scriptoriumdaily.com.

One Response to “Kathleen Parker: Being Rash is Not Courage”

  1. Lara Says:

    Thanks for a well written article. I no longer understand ms. parker or her loathing of christians. I do not consider my self religous but I respect the rights of others. I do not consider anyone who disagrees with me to be stupid. Ms. Parker has taken her discourse into the gutter and does not seem to realize that she is pasionatley bigoted and is spewing hate. She has become a very nasty person.

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