Looks like I wasn’t the only one puzzled, bemused, and frustrated by Frank Rich’s column —”The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off“— in Sunday’s New York Times.
But then what’s new about that? Why was this Sunday different from any other Sunday?
Truth to tell, it was only different in degree rather than in kind. But then, Mr. Rich’s job description is to attract attention and provoke controversy — and he does his job very well.
Sunday’s thesis was that the current economic collapse has allowed President Obama to accomplish in a couple of months what it took FDR several years to achieve following the Great Depression: The eradication of religion from, and the erasure of its baleful influence on, American public life.
On today’s Daily Beast, Lee Siegel calls out Mr. Rich on his phony historiography and his convenient ideology.
Imagine that you’ve been bravely pounding your breast for the past eight years over the religious right’s brutal domination of American public life, and suddenly, 50 days into a new administration, you realize that the religious right has disappeared.
Just five years ago, in a typical outburst of alarm, Frank Rich saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion, came back home, and hysterically worried in a column that “America is 82 percent Christian, and 60 percent of the population believes the Bible is historical fact. (The Jewish population is 2 percent.)” These terrifying statistics, combined with the fatal catalyst of Gibson’s blockbuster, actually made Rich “feel less secure as a Jew in America than ever before.”
But now Rich has some great news: Everything has changed! It’s safe to be a Jew in Manhattan once again.
Mr. Siegel isn’t having any of it. Neither the idea that religion was driven from American life between the 1920s and the 1950s; nor that we’re in for at least another forty years’ renaissance after the intervening Dark Ages when the Catholics and the Christers were in charge.
Rich exemplifies the smug liberal belief that behind every conservative belief is a nihilistic opportunism. In this view, all it takes to dispel the gloom of religious sentiment in public life is a burst of happy rationalist sunlight. The enemy is deluded; we are authentic and real. Rich and his ilk refuse to entertain the idea that along with the usual political gamesmanship, there is such a thing as decent and principled opposition to issues like abortion and stem-cell research. They refuse to accept the fact that the “culture wars” are anchored in competing outlooks on life.
For Rich, trends are an all-or-nothing proposition. He cannot accept the idea that at a time of economic crisis, economics will be uppermost in people’s minds, but that this does not mean that the same people will abandon values and beliefs embedded their hearts and minds. No, for Rich, economic issues are in, cultural issues are out. Everything changes in an instant. Limbaugh is a buffoon, and the GOP is a mess.
Cultural “trends” come and go, the news cycle spins and dries and spins again—but cultural attitudes are, if not forever, stubborn and persistent. So is the power of belief, even–imagine!—among people we don’t agree with, or even like.