If you’re not reading Jeff Jarvis’ “Buzz Machine” at least once a day you’re missing out on the most insightful commentary of both the new and old media in the blogosphere. Jarvis has emerged as a spokesman of sorts for the new media appearing often on MSNBC’s “Connected” to discuss blogs and blogging.
That’s why it pains me to have to give Mr. Jarvis something of a well-deserved fisking for his outrageous post entitled “Jumping the Shark for Jesus.”
It could have been called “The Christians are coming! The Christians are coming!”
I gather from reading Mr. Jarvis that he considers himself in the political mainstream and I’d be hard pressed to disagree with him. His positions on most issues tend toward moderate conservatism on fiscal and security issues with a healthy dose of libertarianism on social issues. This makes him no different than Glenn Reynolds, Bill Ardolino, Jeff Goldstein, and another half dozen or so of the larger blogs around.
Come to think of it, it makes him not much different than me.
But Mr. Jarvis’ over heated rhetorical smash against Christian conservatives claiming that “(t)he religious right is separating itself from the rest of America,” and “(t)he theocrats may have finally gone too far too often,” is, to put it mildly, bunkum. It’s the same load of horse manure I’ve heard for 25 years from both liberals and mildly religious Republicans who express a deep, underlying distrust of people who believe a lot of things that the libertarian’s secular outlook on life won’t allow them to accept.
Being something of an atheist, I can sympathize with Mr. Jarvis and his libertarian brethren about expressing a healthy skepticism when it comes to analyzing the motives and motivation of the “fundies” as the DU moonbats call them. But I cannot accept the notion that either their beliefs or their political activism represents a threat to the republic or any of its institutions.
Mr. Jarvis first takes the media to task for aiding and abetting this mythical assault on our liberties:
They have been aided and abetted—- but ultimately undermined—by a media that bought their PR and presented the loud voices of a few as the voice of the nation marching to the right and up to the altar. But the overdose of overdoing it that we’re seeing on TV these last few weeks may just be the catalyst that causes a backlash, that reminds us that we are a secular nation of churchgoers and that we value separation of church and state over either church or state: That is our mainstream.
Wha? Who? WTF? Where in the wide, wide, world of sports did Mr. Jarvis get the idea that the media is portraying the Schiavo coverage in such a favorable light for the religious right? Perhaps he’s watching Pat Robertson’s 700 Club or the Reverend Benny Hinn’s This is Your Day. Even a cursory look at CNN and MSNBC’s coverage would reveal a constant drumbeat of misinformation on the facts of the case including the idea that Mrs. Schiavo is “brain dead” (false. Her EEG is not flat lined)) and that she requires “life support” to exist (also false. 30,000 Americans are living today with feeding tubes and are in no danger of being euthanized). Where Mr. Jarvis gets the idea that Randall Terry and other “loud voices (Terry’s voice being particularly grating) are the voice of the nation is beyond me.
Just as an aside, liberals from Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson to a coalition of liberal bloggers (Liberals for Terri) are also supporting Mrs. Schiavo’s right to live. Are the end times near? Are we seeing some kind of mass conversion before Jesus drops the big one? Not hardly. And neither is the religious right’s viewpoint receiving anything but the usual condescending dismissiveness it always gets from the MSM.
Not only is Mr. Jarvis concerned about the activism of the Christians on the Schiavo matter, he’s got a litany of complaints against fundamentalist influence in a wide variety of areas:
It’s also about the FCC and censorship, where we have a few, a very few religious nannies trying to tell the rest of us what we cannot hear and see…
Of course, it’s about abortion as well: Every time I drive my kids to their orthodontist, I pass what must be a clinic and see protesters standing outside not just protesting but trying to shock with their images and words. They don’t appear to be merely protesting or just angry; they look extreme….
And it’s about sex: At the same time they oppose abortion, the religious right opposes sex education beyond pushing abstinence with young people; in the age of AIDS, that’s doubly dangerous…
Taking Mr. Jarvis’ complaints one at a time, I would have to grudgingly agree with him on interference in letting us watch as much sex and violence on TV as we wish. Being a typical American adult male, I very much enjoy watching stuff blowing up and seeing as much skin as possible on TV. And the fact that American parents seem to have permanently lost the TV remote control somewhere between or underneath the cushions of the rec room couch doesn’t excuse the religious right from trying to alter my viewing habits to conform to some kind of empty headed “moral standard.” That being said, perhaps it wouldn’t be too much to ask over the air broadcast networks to refrain from blowing too many things up and showing naked male buttocks until after 9:00 pm eastern.
Secondly, Mr. Jarvis seems shocked that anti-abortion protesters are, well, protesting. This is news? Mr. Jarvis’ major complaint seems to be that they “look extreme.” I’m sure Mr. Jarvis has heard and seen Eleanore Smeal at a NOW rally or listened to Andrea Dworkin rant and rave on one of her many C-Span appearances. This is what extremists do. This is how they look. But to say that Ms. Smeal and Ms. Dworkin represent the mainstream of American feminism would be absurd. Neither do the radical anti-abortionists represent less radical groups like the Catholic church or the National Pro Life Action Council. To condemn so many for the actions of so few is intellectually lazy.
Third, what the religious right is railing against is not sex education per se as much as how it is taught. While this may sound like sophistry, a perusal of some public school sex ed manuals would be an eye opener for Mr. Jarvis. Most 5th grade manuals come complete with descriptions and pictures of not just garden variety sex (that I see no harm in exposing children of that age to) but also homosexuality, trans gender issues, masturbation, oral and anal sex, as well as the necessary instruction in various birth control methods. When the parents of Christian children ask that in addition to teaching children “how to” the instructors include a “just say no” element to their teaching, are they really saying no to sex? Or are they trying to give a moral framework for their children that will empower them rather than allow peer pressure to dictate their actions? Again, I think that Mr. Jarvis has exaggerated wildly any threat to our liberties the fundamentalists pose.
Then Mr. Jarvis gets to the crux of his beef: Christians promoting a moral way of life:
It’s about some people telling the rest of us how we should live—and this comes from the people most resent being told how to live. It’s self-righteous and shrill. And I’m betting all that is turning off more people than it is converting them. That is jumping the shark culturally.
Some Americans have been trying to tell the rest of America how to live and what to believe since the founding of the republic. Why all of a sudden is this so “self righteous and shrill?” Christian fundamentalists do not have a corner on either commodity. One need only replay the Democratic convention to see “self righteous and shrill” in the flesh. But to say that this is somehow “jumping the shark culturally” presupposes that people listen to what the Christians have to say any more than they listen to say, the secular humanists railed against by the Christian right.
The fact is that the Christian right has been successfully marginalized by the media and the culture already. Frankly, I don’t see how much lower their stock can fall as it relates to the mainstream view of their activities. Yes their influence in some circles of the Republican party is all out of proportion to their numbers. But it doesn’t approach the influence that Moveon.Org and the moonbats have on the mainstream of the Democratic party. That being said, a good politician like Rudy Guiliani can finesse the activists in much the same way that Reagan did in 1980; pay lip service to the agenda while maneuvering towards the middle. Hillary Clinton seems to have the same idea. This article talks about another lurch to the right for the almost certain Democratic Presidential nominee in ‘08.
Finally, Mr. Jarvis jumps the shark a little himself with this blurb about the press:
I hope there will be impact on the press: The press repeated again and again, 24 hours a day, that we are divided on this issue but, in fact, we are not: Most people backed Terri Schaivo’s husband’s efforts to do what he believed she wanted. (Hear On The Media this week on this.) A vast majority of people objected to Congress’ intervention. But the press got that wrong in its running commentary, just as they get wrong the notion that we are a nation of red vs. blue extremes when, in fact, we are the nation of the vast mainstream, a mainstream of individuals who all hold their own beliefs. Just as the Congress should looks at this episode and the polls and realize they blew it, so should the press.
First, with regards to these polls, here’s the question asked by an ABC push poll about the Schiavo matter:
“As you may know, a woman in Florida named Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible. Her parents and her husband disagree on whether or not she should be kept on life support. In cases like this who do you think should have final say, (the parents) or (the spouse)?”
Again, the misleading “on life support” draws an inaccurate picture of Ms. Schiavo’s condition. John Hawkins asks the right questions about this poll:
Furthermore, how many Americans know that Michael Schiavo, who pretends to be a devoted husband on TV, has been with another woman for a decade and has had two children by her? Are they aware that he used funds specifically marked for Terri’s rehabilitation to try to have her feeding tube pulled in court? Has the public been alerted that Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET? Have they been told that there are multiple nurses who’ve testified that Michael Schiavo denied his wife rehabilitation & at least one who says he openly wished for her death and prevented them from giving her sustenance without a feeding tube?
All this indeed may not change Mrs. Schiavo’s prognosis, but would it change the answer people gave to the pollster if they knew that all of this information is in the public record either in the form of sworn affidavits or court records? My guess is that the American people would see who, in fact, had Mrs. Schiavo’s interests at heart and who didn’t.
As far as people opposing Congressional action, the fact that the Democratic party was split on the matter may reveal an underlying acceptance of the necessity of the action. I also thought the intervention by Congress distasteful, but thought it necessary. I frankly didn’t see the question asked by pollsters to determine the nation’s attitude but depending on the wording of it, I very well may have answered in the negative. But to see Mr. Jarvis and the libertarian wing of the Republican party explode in righteous indignation on this issue makes me think they’ve been looking for an excuse to start a fight with the religious right all along. I hardly think the republic will fall as a result of the passage of a bi-partisan bill to change the jurisdiction of a court case from state to federal court.
The Schiavo case has revealed fault lines not between religious conservatives and mainstream conservatives in the Republican party but between libertarians like Mr. Jarvis and the political mainstream who seek to use their congressional majorities to govern. Governing a republic of nearly 300 million people by necessity means making deals with various devils both in the budget and social sphere.
Not recognizing that fact kept the Republicans in the political wilderness for 50 years.
WELCOME INSTAPUNDIT READERS! Welcome to the House. Is Paul Krugman really insane?
Dean Esmay of the excellent blog Dean’s World takes me to task for misidentifying Mr. Jarvis’ politics. While I knew Jeff was no Republican, I was unaware that he’s pretty much identified as a moderate Democrat from the ever-shrinking-soon-to-be-called-something-else Joe Leiberman wing of the party.
I regret leaving the impression that Mr. Jarvis was a libertarian or a moderate Republican