Who is a liberal? Yin and yang at GOP convention

It's political convention time again and, once again, it is time to offer kudos to two of the best sites in terms of the religious language and symbolism of this media event. As with the Democrats, the yin and the yang of Republican God-talk is being served up by Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman and Christianity Today blog maestro Ted Olsen. Yesterday, Olsen offered up a lively contrast of the activities of the various "non-partisan" groups on the religious left and the religious right. (Another AP Stylebook aside: Why does it look strange to leave "religious right" lower case, yet "religious left" looks strange upper case?) The headline on this blog report was a classic: "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Ad Hominem Attacks."

Don't miss the coverage of the Family Research Council fortune cookies being handed out in New York. And there is this especially concise commentary on President Bill Clinton's non-partisan sermon at Manhattan's cathedral of the lifestyle left, Riverside Church:

Kevin Madden, spokesman for the Bush campaign, told the New York Daily News, "It's astonishing that anyone would use a church pulpit to launch a baseless attack containing nothing but false accusations."

Oh, come on. Bill Clinton accuses Republicans of only following nine of the Ten Commandments and of bearing false witness, and the best response you can come up with is that he's misusing a pulpit?

On the other side of the aisle, sort of, Waldman has really come out of the blocks smoking in his convention blog. Some of the commentary is especially interesting in light of our recent discussions here at GetReligion.org on the meaning of religious labels such as "fundamentalist." Apparently, these kinds of issues are hotly discussed among the members of God's Own Party. Check out this anecdote from the almost-Libertarian front lines:

Went to a party thrown by the estimable conservative magazine National Review. Spoke to a woman wearing an "I Only Sleep with Republicans" button.

"Hey, I thought Republicans advocated abstinence before marriage," I said.

"That's conservative Republicans," she said.

Who says they don't have a big tent?

There's more. Political conventions are, these days, about as spontaneous as discussions of the morality of abortion in a meeting of the Political Science department at the University of California at Berkeley. In other words, most of the speeches and texts are carved in stone long before the spotlights are turned on.

But perhaps it is hard to make some of the Republican Party's religious voices seek the soft, non-offensive hymns of the party elite. Many of our readers would be interested in the online dialogue that is taking place between Waldman and Dr. Marvin Olasky of World magazine about the policy implications of George W. Bush being "twice born," while John Kerry has only been "born once." This is one of those cases where the views of the two men should be read -- instead of turned into quickie headlines.

And here is another choice Waldman anecdote from the pre-prime time podium action at the convention.

When I read the prepared text of the speech by Mississippi congressional candidate Clinton LeSueur, I saw the line "The foundation of this great nation is faith," and thought there was nothing controversial in that. Chris Suellentrop at Slate listened to the actual speech, in which LeSueur declared instead: "The very foundation of this country is Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ."

Go ahead, Cosmo and company, serve up your favorite one-liners about Thomas Jefferson.

Actually, I haven't been paying that much attention to the convention for reasons that are obvious for anyone who can tune in the Weather Channel. Does anyone know how to put up metal hurricane shutters?

What I have seen so far has -- surprise! -- raised more questions for me about the way the mainstream media use certain loaded words. This time around, I am wondering what the word "moderate" means when applied to members of the Republican Party who are pro-abortion rights. As they march to the platform, commentators are noting that their presence is an attempt by the GOP to reach out beyond its "conservative" base and reach "moderate" voters.

I am confused and want to ask this question. If abortion on demand is the "moderate" position, what is the "liberal" position? For years, polls seem to indicate that the public is divided three ways on this most painful of issues. On one side is a camp of people who do not want to limit abortion in any way, even when dealing with the partial-birth procedure that some Democrats have compared with legal infanticide. On the right are the conservatives -- fundamentalists, even -- who want an outright ban with few, if any, exceptions. In between is the great muddy middle in the electorate that favors some legal restrictions.

But in public media, "moderate" means pro-abortion-rights -- period. Those who favor any legal limits are "conservatives."

Help me out here. Who are the "liberals"? What is the "liberal" position on abortion? Has anyone seen this perfectly honorable political term used lately, in the context of political issues linked to a debate about morality and culture?

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