Lots of ranch, very little church

nuclearexplosion3Lots and lots of old-fashioned, independent, pragmatic, go-your-own-way ranch values. Very little time in a church pew.

No, I am not trying to describe the late Ronald Reagan, although that side of his life might be a good subject to talk about at the moment. It was Reagan, after all, who really hit it off with the Western lady who has, many argue, been running the United States of America for several decades.

We're talking about Sandra Day O'Connor, of course, and the faith-based earthquake that rocked Washington, D.C., today. Read your share of the breaking news coverage -- paying special attention to which social and political groups are sweating the most -- and tell me if you can find a more relevant paragraph than the following, taken from a July 4, 2004, Washington Post story by reporter Charles Lane. The story ran with the headline "Courting O'Connor: Why the chief justice isn't the Chief Justice."

The ranch O'Connor grew up on was not the kind of place where people took high-minded stands on matters of politics or economics, it seems.

Nor was religious doctrine a major element of the Day family's life. "It certainly was not as big a feature as it was in many other families," Alan Day recalled in an interview. Nominal Episcopalians, the Days would sometimes attend the closer Methodist church on the rare occasions when they had time to make the three-hour round trip. In her book, O'Connor described asking D.A. why they did not attend church, and whether he believed in God. D.A.'s answer: "It is an amazing, complex, but orderly universe. And we are only specks in it. There is surely something -- a God if you will -- who created all of this. And we don't have to go to church to appreciate it. It is all around us. This is our church."

Once again, folks, as you tear into the coverage in the days ahead you are going to have to remember that there are many different kinds of conservatives and the press gets along better with some of them than others. Remember that left-right discussion the other day? We are about to hear moral conservatives called "radical conservatives," even if they are Democrats, and Libertarian conservatives are going to be called "moderates," even if they are total wingnuts on everything else. There will be no "liberals" anywhere, although there will be religious "progressives" all over the place.

The split inside the soul of the Republican Party is about to be wedged wide open.

The folks at Religion News Service are on the case already. Look for legions of reporters chasing this angle in the days ahead. Here is the crunch section:

The recent Senate fight over lower-level judicial nominees only reinforced how much conservatives want to see an end to "activist judges" whom they accuse of making law, not interpreting it. In many ways, the courts -- and especially the Supreme Court -- have become ground zero for every issue on the conservatives' agenda.

Leaders of the Christian right say now is when they expect a return on their investment in re-electing President Bush to a second term. They vowed to hold him to his promise to nominate someone in the mold of conservative Justices Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia. "We have full confidence that he will carry out that pledge," said James Dobson, founder of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Focus on the Family, who left no hint of wiggle room.

In fact, many conservatives said they were happy to see O'Connor go, pointing to her critical vote in Supreme Court majorities that upheld abortion, decriminalized gay sex and ruled on numerous church-state issues.

What a great time for me to go on vacation up in the North Carolina mountains, where I don't even have a telephone line! Have fun, friends and neighbors. This is a big one. Is the word "Armageddon" too strong? Watch on the cable-news shouting matches tonight and see how long it takes for that word to surface.

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