My friend Bill just e-mailed me his annoyance at having to turn on the television and see Rick Santorum featured yet again. Hasn’t that man ridden off on top of the trashwagon of history yet? Why are we still listening to his views?
And it’s not on one of these redneck racist radio programs; it’s Bob Schieffer and Face the Nation. American mainstream television. And it’s Rick Santorum telling us we would all be better off if we were allowed to carry guns into airports. No kidding. Georgia just passed a law saying that’s OK, and here we go hauling out the big conservative guns to give the endorsers of that view full hearing.
What is it with the American media that they think people like Santorum should have such a large public forum to spew their poison? To be fair, Bob Schieffer asks some challenging questions. But let’s not miss the point. In the end, the interview comes down to an endorsement of Santorum, who is given ample time to present his views undebated. Not that he shouldn’t be given a hearing, but Santorum isn’t “facing the nation” – he’s preaching to the nation and the interview ends with Schieffer asking if Santorum is running for president again before a very cordial “Thank you so much, Senator. Glad to have you!”
That’s CBS. Last week we were presented with a program on ABC that featured three voices of American conservative religion. One of these was Ralph Reed, a one-time associate of Tom DeLay, one of America's crookedest politicians in a long time. And Jack Abramoff. And check out Reed's history of dealings with the Chocktaw gambling money and the bit with the rooting for the Dixie flag. Reed himself was found in the 90s to have violated federal campaign finance laws and zapped for it. But here he is again, big and bold, telling us all about religion.
A second guest was Russell D. Moore, a leading figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, a church organization that got its start by breaking away from the Baptist Church when the Baptist Church chose to oppose slavery. To be fair to Mr. Moore (and to his church), he admits that the demons got in somehow and “a generation ago most conservative leaders were segregationists,” and today he enthusiastically endorses an African-American as the new head of the Southern Baptists. His conservatism leads him to take some interesting positions, though. In one paper, he argues against egalitarian feminism in favor of a traditional “soft” patriarchy, one in which men are like “God the Father” and not abusive. On this program, he argues that the large falling away from the churches should be seen in a positive light. Christians are now free to be more “authentic.” Not a bad man, in other words, but a conservative one might enjoy debating with – if we could get things on television that get into the nitty-gritty, instead of this silly kind of make-nice with the homophobes and sexists and call it “presenting both sides.”
Wish I could say the same for the number three man, Franklin Graham, one of America’s most retrograde conservatives. He is known for throwing his support behind Bashir, the butcher of Sudan, for speaking out in favor of Putin’s anti-gay pogroms in Russia, for his suggestion that Obama inherited the Islamic sins of his father, Islam being, in his view, a religion of hatred and war, and any number of arch-conservative views, including his support for Rick Santorum.
Not a word on any of this background on these folk on the program. Instead, Martha Raddatz invites the three Republican Christians to present their views on the state of religion in America. Once again, this is a “news” program, at least ostensibly. And once again the interviewers ask what is supposed to pass for challenging questions. Raddatz shuts Graham down when he starts preaching, but very gently. When he evades her question and continues to preach at her, he is not challenged. She simply moves on to the next guy.
The worst part of this entire endurance exercise for me, though, comes when Cokie Roberts steps in as what is bound to be taken, given the context, as the voice of reason. When Franklin gets into his shtick about how gays can be saved by converting to his view of God, Roberts suggests that gays may be sinners, but their homosexuality is not part of their sin. And that appears to be a showstopper. At least her response to Franklin is taken, by the Advocate, America’s go-to publication for news in the LGBT community, as a moment to remember. Oh, look. Cokie Roberts stands up to the homophobes!
And that’s something to celebrate?
Cokie Roberts passes in this country for a centrist. She likes to be known for her middle of the road views. She is the only counterfoil, and that’s a real stretch, to the religious three here. And she takes pains to tell the world that she goes to church every Sunday and is proud of her pope and the “joy” he has brought about. She also assures the audience that while people are falling away from organized religion, they are still very religious, believe in God and pray everyday. There is a murmur of consent all around.
Given her credentials as a Catholic, perhaps I am being too hard on her and not recognizing that she is actually out of step with the hierarchs of her church when she makes this arguably pro-gay statement. But let’s not miss what’s going on here. Three (OK, two and a half) right-wingers on the one hand, and on the other hand, a TV personality known for her ability to straddle the middle, as she did last year in defending the Tea Party.
There are other programs to watch, of course. Mainstream American TV is not our only option.
My friend Bill ended his rant by telling me he chose to turn the TV off altogether and take in some Mozart on a Sunday afternoon.
♫ I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. ♫