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The Mainstream Media

Ronald Radosh

A few not to be missed articles or blogs have appeared in the past few days. The first is by the conservative New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat. Most people, especially those who still buy the print edition, see his regular featured column. But fewer people read his blog, which appears only on the paper’s website, and for that, one usually has to search to find. Two days ago, Douthat wrote& about the myth spread by many Democrats and liberals: that conservatives and Republicans want to institute a theocracy in America.

As Douthat points out,

[A] spate of recent articles have linked the Republican presidential candidates to scary-sounding political theologies like “Dominionism” and “Christian Reconstructionism,” and used these links to suggest that Christian extremism is once more on the march.

He wisely notes that

when candidates wear their religion on their sleeve, especially, the press has every right to ask how that faith relates to their political agenda.

But he goes on to caution the media that reporters and writers should not assume that

the most radical figure in a particular community is always the most important one, or the most extreme passage in a particular writer’s work always defines his real-world influence.

Because a column is limited in words, he did not present any examples, aside from referring to outgoing executive editor Bill Keller’s recent article in the paper’s magazine section, as well as the piece by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker. But he was not able to cite and comment in detail on what in particular was wrong with either of their presentations. Addressing the usual double standard when journalists write about beloved figures on the Left, and how they write about those on the Right, he comments:

If you didn’t spend the Jeremiah Wright controversy searching works of black liberation theology for inflammatory evidence of what Obama “really” believed, you probably shouldn’t obsess over the supposed links between Rick Perry and R. J. Rushdoony, the Christian Reconstructionist guru.

Now, on his informal blog, Douthat expands at length in a way he could not in his column. In particular, he dissects Lizza’s highly influential article. One has to realize that the attitude Lizza expresses towards a strong, avowed Christian candidate like Michele Bachmann is going to be picked up and cited by scores of readers, as well as the MSM, as proof that Bachmann is beholden to truly dangerous religious zealots.

First, Douthat acknowledges that Lizza was correct to ask Bachmann to talk to him about influences on her that led to her current outlook and especially to her political beliefs. This is fair ground. After all, many of us did the same when we urged journalists not to ignore the influences on Barack Obama of liberation theology and his own pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Clearly, in Bachmann’s case, as Douthat writes, there is a connection “between her ideological perspective and the particular cluster of evangelical institutions where most of her political education took place.”

But, he adds, Lizza also spent a lot of space linking her — without real evidence — to Francis Schaeffer, a 1970s evangelical activist, theologian, and scholar. Lizza’s point was to create a link between Bachmann and what is called “Dominionism,” the new boogey-man of the Left, which is supposed to take over the nation if someone like Bachmann or Rick Perry become our president.

What Douthat does is tear apart the bulk of Lizza’s conspiracy theorizing, showing that he even gets Schaeffer entirely wrong. As he writes, those beliefs “are a long way from the claim that Christians ‘alone’ are ‘mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.’ Likewise, it seems rather strange to depict a writer who goes out of his way to critique the Constantinian settlement as a supporter of Christian ‘dominion’ over public life.” Schaeffer was accused by Lizza, for example, of wanting to propose the “violent overthrow” of the U.S. government if the current abortion laws were not overturned. Douthat points out that Schaeffer actually “insisted that ‘the distinction between force and violence is crucial,’ warning Christians considering civil disobedience to remember ‘that overreaction can too easily become the ugly horror of sheer violence.’”

Unlike Lizza, Douthat’s blog gives his readers Schaeffer’s actual views to consider, not a parody of them. The man was closer in thought to Thoreau or Martin Luther King, Jr., than to any advocate of armed terrorism. He notes that most New Yorker readers take Lizza’s article at face value, and since they know nothing about evangelical thought, believe most of what he says. If Bachmann’s mentors are shown to be essentially nutty zealots, then she too must be the same.

He shows that Lizza incorrectly tied her and Schaeffer to a Christian Reconstructionist named R.J. Rushdoony, who really does favor a Christian theocracy, although even Schaeffer dismissed him as an advocate of “bad theology and bad politics alike.” Douthat concludes with this important piece of advice:

Schaeffer’s major contribution to American public life wasn’t any sort of sinister “dominionist” master plan, but rather a much more defensible blueprint for Christian political action: He argued that Christian values were under assault in contemporary American life, that the idea of secular “neutrality” was something of a sham, and that believers had an obligation to be 1) engaged with the culture rather than bunkered against it, and 2) engaged politically on issues (abortion, especially) where fundamental moral truths were at stake. One can dislike this blueprint and disagree with its premises, but its perspective on American politics is no more illiberal than the perspective of, say, the civil rights movement. And the fact that Schaeffer influenced a prominent evangelical politician like Bachmann isn’t nearly as surprising, strange or scary as Lizza’s piece often makes it sound.

The message, then, is simple: Beware of liberal journalists who exaggerate in order to paint candidates with whom they disapprove as religious zealots and moral imbeciles. Their goal is to assure Barack Obama’s re-election, and they will stop at nothing to achieve it.

The second article to which I want to call readers’ attention is that at The American Thinker by Jack Cashill, author of the much discussed thesis that Barack Obama did not write Dreams From My Father, but that the real author was really Bill Ayers.

Now, Cashill provides new evidence, in the form of a previously unseen letter sent by Barack Obama when he was editor of The Harvard Law Review, in response to a post in a local law school newspaper from Jim Chen, now dean at the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. Chen had opposed the Harvard Law School’s policy of affirmative action.

Cashill notes two major finds in the Obama letter. First, our current president admits that he was an affirmative action admission. One must ask: is this one of the reasons the public has not seen the president’s college records?

Second, Cashill proves by his discussion of the grammar used by Obama in the letter that at that time in his life, Obama did not know how to write. Cashill notes the following:

“Since the merits of the Law Review’s selection policy has been the subject of commentary for the last three issues,” wrote Obama, “I’d like to take the time to clarify exactly how our selection process works.” If Obama were as smart as a fifth-grader, he would know, of course, that “merits … have.” Were there such a thing as a literary Darwin Award, Obama could have won it on this on one sentence alone. He had vindicated Chen in his first ten words.

Although the letter is fewer than a thousand words long, Obama repeats the subject-predicate error at least two more times. In one sentence, he seemingly cannot make up his mind as to which verb option is correct so he tries both: “Approximately half of this first batch is chosen … the other half are selected … “

He then goes on to reproduce one unintelligible paragraph:

Another distinctive Obama flaw is to allow a string of words to float in space. Please note the unanchored phrase in italics at the end of this sentence:

“No editors on the Review will ever know whether any given editor was selected on the basis of grades, writing competition, or affirmative action, and no editors who were selected with affirmative action in mind.” Huh?

The point is simple. Four years later, he completed his book, which has been widely proclaimed to be one of the most well-written presidential memoirs our country has ever seen. Clearly, Barack Obama had a ghost writer, or a great deal of unacknowledged help. Cashill has argued — with circumstantial evidence that will not substitute for many as direct proof — that Bill Ayers was the memoir’s real author. Others may argue in the future that someone else, not Ayers, worked with our current president on the book.

In any case, since Obama has taken full credit and many people voted for him because of the impression they had of Obama from the memoir, the question of authorship is a legitimate issue. Perhaps we will never find out the actual answer. At least, as the folks at Powerline point out, Obama’s letter “reflects a substantial gap between Obama’s office and his abilities.”

Both subjects of my blog today make it more than clear: we can no longer trust a great deal that appears in the mainstream media.

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