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Top 10 Letters

The religion gap, "The Two Towers," Gary Carter, and more.

11:00 PM, Jan 12, 2003
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THE DAILY STANDARD welcomes letters to the editor. Letters will be edited for length and clarity and must include the writer's name, city, and state.

*1*

In the midst of the breathtaking success of the Air Force's GPS in guiding everything from rental cars to smart bombs, we should not forget that in the 1970s and 1980s the system was assailed by some in Congress as useless because it supposedly would not work in a nuclear conflict (Christian Lowe, Smarter Bombs). Let us not forget that the "peace" movement opposed GPS because it supposedly would be useful in a nuclear conflict. And let us not forget that those dumb congressmen and stupid protestors sure sound a lot like the people who oppose a missile defense system today.

--Robert Eleazer, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret)

*2*

I have no doubt the report on the religion gap is accurate as far as it goes, but--at least according to Claudia Winkler's summary--it overlooks an even more important aspect of the secular/fundamentalist schism: the bitter antagonism within the conservative community between Christian fundamentalists and conservatives who are agnostic or secular-minded, or who practice Zen Buddhism, paganism, or traditional American-Aboriginal spirituality, or who merely hold spiritual convictions that are non-traditional in Western civilization (The Party of Unbelievers).

At least in Washington, where fewer than 28 percent of the state's families regularly attend church or temple, the fundamentalists have demonstrated again and again a vicious intolerance of any viewpoint save their own.

Indeed, the incipient and unreported clash between secular or non-traditionally spiritual conservatives and the Christian fundamentalist clique that dominates the Washington state GOP was the underlying reason for Sen. Slade Gorton's tragic loss in 2000--the loss that ultimately gave the Democrats the Senate.

Senator Gorton lost by about 1,000 votes. He refused to repudiate the fundamentalists, and some 25,000 voters--many times what it would have taken to defeat Maria Cantwell--fled to the Libertarian camp in disgust.

That this sort of division poses a profound danger to the long-term growth-prospects of a national GOP majority should be obvious. What is not obvious is the desperately needed strategy to re-unify the conservative community.

--Loren Bliss

*3*

There may well be more to religion gap than first meets the eye: demographics. In simplest terms, in modern industrial nations, religious people tend to have more children than non-religious people. (One estimate that I ran into was 2.5 children per religious couple versus 1.7 children per non-religious couple. The former constitute an expanding population. The latter will dwindle unless they choose to have more children per capita.) While immigration and relocation obviously swell population numbers in states--Florida being the prime example--fecundity remains the most important growth factor. The red-state populations, being more religious, have more offspring than their blue-state counterparts. This will have a significant impact in the next decade. The 2010 census will probably require the shift of a number of blue congressional seats to red states, thus strengthening the Republican position in the House of Representatives.

The impact within the blue states should be more complex. Hispanics will increase in influence in the Democratic party (assuming they remain attached to that party in their current numbers). Being religious, they will continue to produce children at greater than the replacement rate (about 2.1 children per couple). In congressional elections, Catholics are no longer a Democratic constituency--at least to the extent that they were a generation ago. In any event, blue-state Catholics appear to have a lower birth rate than red-state Catholics, although those numbers probably need to be analyzed more thoroughly. In sum, it appears that a generation from now the core constituencies of the Democratic party will be blacks and Hispanics, with the latter predominating in numbers. Blue states will thus become more overtly black and Hispanic in their governments, although such states will retain large enclaves of red-state-type voters electing Republicans to the House.

Should this all come to pass--a Republican party almost entirely composed of whites and Asians and a Democratic party predominantly black and Hispanic--the Republicans would appear to be positioned to control the House for decades to come. But it would come at a grievous cost. On the face of it, there would appear to be little need for the cross-constituency coalition building that has been a mainstay of practical legislative politics for the past two generations. Blacks and Hispanics would likely find themselves more spectators than participants in the political process, a recipe for radicalization. There are surely alternative, more preferable outcomes than the foregoing. However, I do not hold out too much hope for them.

--Edmund J. Gannon

*4*

As someone born less than a mile from Wrigley Field, I have rabid anti-Mets feelings practically hard-wired into my DNA (David Skinner, You're a Good Man, Gary Carter). Nevertheless, even though I grew up watching the Cubs during the age of Sandberg, Sutcliffe, and Durham in the mid-80s, the one Mets player who I fondly remember was Gary Carter.

It may be unfashionable nowadays, but I always respect and admire great athletes who are also outstanding role models, and Gary Carter is certainly a class act and a great athlete who richly deserves to be honored in Cooperstown.

--Mihir Shah

*5*

Claudia Winkler makes a few odd leaps to reach her conclusion about the "unbelievers" that dominate the Democratic party.

Coincidentally, the Pew Research center also defines "secular" as "atheist, agnostic, or rarely attends church," which makes it convenient for comparisons. According to the 2002 Pew Research Center Poll, secularists are 20 percent Republican, 20 percent Democrat, and 49 percent independent.

Three percent of all respondents identified as atheist or agnostic; the rest responded as belonging to a religion. Forty-four percent of all respondents said that they attend church a few times a year or less.

What can be concluded from the Pew numbers?

(1) Almost all secularists believe in God.

(2) Nearly half of the people polled in the last Pew Research Center survey on religion qualify as secularists by Bolce and De Maio's standards ("few times a year").

(3) Secularists are not primarily identified with either party.

Yes, the culture wars exist, and yes, the Democratic party is home to those seeking to secularize public life. But it's absurd to characterize this "gap" as having much, if anything, to do with atheists and agnostics. There just aren't enough of them to be players in this game, even if it is assumed that all of them share the same goals.

The "culture war" isn't driven by unbelievers, who are wrongly given first and second billing in the "secularist" credits. It's a religious clash, and the big player in the game is Christianity--America's majority religion. The Democratic party is not the "Party of Unbelievers." It's the Other Party of Christianity.

Speaking as a Republican agnostic, I object to being drawn into this dispute, much less having the entire dispute blamed on our miniscule percentage of the population. Non-believers have to deal with a 54 percent unfavorable rating and the fact that George W. Bush will never appoint us to the federal bench. Isn't that enough? We'll continue fighting the occasional Supreme Court case and sulk, marginalized, on the sidelines. Let us know what happens when y'all are done arguing about which party God belongs to.

--Michele Kerr

*6*

If George W. has learned one important political lesson from his father, it may be not to rest on your laurels during the good times (Fred Barnes, Taxing Issues). This juncture in his presidency is eerily similar to his father's in 1991: troop buildups in the Middle East combined with a high approval rating.

His father forgot to look forward to the natural economic downturns which occur after a military exercise, and therefore was late to instigate any real domestic economic plan. George H.W.'s incentives actually did more to help the first years of the Clinton era than they did his own. George W. is obviously taking steps to reconcile early.

--Chris Stringfield

*7*

Jeff Greenfield moderated a panel discussion at the PBS annual meeting from San Francisco, televised on C-SPAN (Terry Eastland, Wants and Needs). The liberal panelists didn't seem to understand why their really great programs aren't of sufficient interest to the American people. Why, asked Ray Suarez, don't Americans flock to a really great program on politics in Venezuela?

How, wondered Gwen Ifill, can they get Americans away from the things we find really important, like cleaning out our garages, in order to listen to the really important news presented to us by PBS? And Bill Moyers thinks he had a really good idea to increase the number of PBS viewers--a multi-part series on the history of labor!

They just can't seem to comprehend that the relative lack of interest in PBS is because many of us simple-minded Americans reject the overall view of the world expressed on PBS.

--Roger Frantz

*8*

Jonathan V. Last is exactly right about the bad judgment of the Academy voters in bypassing "Fellowship of the Ring" last year in favor of the vastly overrated "A Beautiful Mind" (A Pre-Pre-Oscar Malaise). I too suspect the same type of snub will occur this year with Best Picture going to the vastly overrated "Chicago." But oddly enough this year there actually are two films worthy of the highest award. In addition to "The Two Towers" there is the splendid "About Schmidt." Were it to win, I would call the voters unusually discerning, and look for a LOTR compensatory victory next year with the final installment. In any event, I hope Last will not boycott "About Schmidt" should it win, for it is a genuine masterpiece in its own right.

--Stanley H. Nemeth

*9*

Tsk, tsk! Jonathan V. Last has accused Hollywood of patriotism. This is almost certain to hurt their feelings.

--Callie Baillie

*10*

I only hope that the Academy listens to Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh's pleas and allows Andy Serkis to be considered for Best Supporting Actor. Without him, Gollum could never have lived--and live he did, magnificently, creepily, and ultimately heartbreakingly.

No, Jackson won't get the Best Director nod, despite the magnificent speech by the great Christopher Lee. There will be a handful of technical/costume/makeup awards, and that will be all. We should all be used to this slighting by now, but I refuse to go gently into that (not so) good night.

Where's a good wizard when you need one?

--Kelly Hill