“The Secular Party Emerges”

Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News writes in Touchstone magazine:

“The bias of the news media against religious conservatives is by this point a dog-bites-man story of the first degree. Everybody knows that pro-life marchers and churches who resist gay “marriage” aren’t going to get a fair shake from the newspaper, and we’ve gotten used to that. But the importance of this phenomenon is both broader and deeper than individual stories. In a media-driven society, the press sets the terms of public debate, and in so doing establishes the narrative that will inescapably influence the way society thinks about and acts on issues and challenges.

Anti-religious media bias has profound implications for the future of American politics, or so say social scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio in “Our Secularist Democratic Party,” an important article published in a recent issue of The Public Interest. The Baruch College researchers say that the parochialism of journalists is blinding them to one of the biggest stories in American politics: how the Democratic Party has become a stronghold of fervent secularists, and how secularism “is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditional outlook.”

Among political journalists, the dominant paradigm—what you might call the “official story”—holds that religious conservatives bullied their way onto the American political scene with the election of Ronald Reagan, and rudely brought into the political arena the culture war that had been raging since the 1960s. That’s exactly wrong, say the authors, who attribute the “true origins of this conflict” to “the increased prominence of secularists within the Democratic Party, and the party’s resulting antagonism toward traditional values.”

Until relatively recently, both major parties were of similar mind on issues of personal morality. Then came the 1972 Democratic Convention, at which secularists—defined as agnostics, atheists, and those who seldom or never attend religious services—seized control of the party and nominated George McGovern. Prior to that year, neither party had many secularists among its delegates. According to a comprehensive study of survey data from the Democratic delegates, the party was badly split between religious and moral traditionalists on one side, and secularists on the other. They fought over moral issues: abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality, the traditional family. What the authors call a “secularist putsch” triumphed, giving us what Richard Nixon mocked as the party of “acid, amnesty, and abortion,” and instigating—with help from the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973—the long march of religious and moral conservatives to the GOP, which became the party of traditionalists by default. “What was first an intra-party culture war among Democratic elites became by the 1980s an inter-party culture war.”

Survey data from the 1992 national conventions show how thoroughly polarized the parties had by that time become around religious orientation. Only 20 percent of white Democratic delegates (N.B., this secular-religious antagonism is a white voter phenomenon, the authors say) went to religious services at least once a month, while over three times that number of white Republican delegates did. A fascinating set of statistics emerged when questioners polled each party’s delegates on their views of various subgroups among the other party’s activists. Both Democrats and Republicans were “significantly more negative toward groups associated with the newer religious and cultural division in the electorate than toward groups associated with older political cleavages based on class, race, ethnicity, party or ideology.” That is, Republican delegates felt much warmer toward union leaders, mainline liberals, blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats than toward feminists, environmentalists, and pro-abortion activists. For their part, the Democrats were more favorably disposed to big-business types, the rich, political conservatives and Republicans than toward pro-lifers and conservative Christians. Of the 18 groups covered by the survey, Christian fundamentalists came in as the most despised, with over half the Democratic delegates giving them the absolute minimum score possible. Put another way, Republican delegates thought more highly of those who favor the legalized killing of unborn children than their Democratic counterparts thought of people who believe in a literal interpretation of Scripture.”

For the entire article, read The Godless Party.