The great New York Times freak out

Judging from today's reactions to the election, the deep thinkers at the former paper of record need to get a grip. I'm the lead-off hitter -- LeBlanc and Mattingly come by later in the day to bat cleanup -- but the shrillarity of Gary Wills' and Maureen Dowd's slow curve-ball should be enough for at least a lazy double.

Take Dowd's tirade: She mocks Senator Kerry's well-delivered call for national unity because President Bush "got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule."

Dowd accused the president of running "a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq -- drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals, or 'values voters,' as they call themselves, to the polls by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage."

The bitter asides were a bit much, even by Dowd's standards. Between Dick Cheney's first and last names she inserted the following: "Oh, lordy, is this cuckoo clock still vice president?" Of his post election speech, she opined that only Cheney could "make 'to serve and to guard' sound like 'to rape and to pillage.'"

Then she launched into some of the new conservative senators. She scored some points against Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint before lapsing into lazy Timesian cultural prejudices to damn John Thune, "an anti-abortion Christian conservative - or 'servant leader,' as he was hailed in a campaign ad - who supports constitutional amendments banning flag burning and gay marriage."

But you know it's a bad day for the Gray Lady when Dowd sounds almost reasonable by comparison with historian Garry Wills. In a column titled "The Day the Enlightenment Went Out," Wills worried that Dark Days are ahead in a nation where people believe "more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution."

For about the millionth time, Wills trotted out the Scopes trial of 1925. The gist of his reason for doing this is: Remember those fundamentalists, who skulked away after we mocked them for enforcing a law against teaching evolution in public schools? Theyyyyyy're baaaaaack.

Where Dowd uses the term "jihad" half-jokingly, Wills is dead serious. He intones that the "secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate." In fact, we have come to resemble those European nations "less than we do our putative enemies."

"Where else," Wills asks, as he works up a head of steam, "do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity?" Answer: "We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed."

Wills warned darkly that Bush's "helpers are also his keepers" and predicted that the "moral zealots" will "give some cause for dismay even to nonfundamentalist Republicans."

"Jihads," you see, "are scary things."

Look, I'm hardly a stickler for the narrowest possible use of the English language. And I have once or twice referred to a political movement that I disagree with as a "jihad," but never seriously. So I offer the following advice to NYT editorial page editor Gail Collins:

There was no holy war. There was an election and your side did badly. Sorry about that. That's how democracy goes sometimes. The candidates appealed to voters on a number of issues, including the war, the economy, and "values" issues, and the values issues seem to have made the difference.

That does not make this election illegitimate, or a jihad, or a referendum on the Enlightenment. American Christians are not fundamentalist Muslims and they aren't going to turn the nation into a theocratic state. Publishing pieces that seriously argue this only make your op-ed page look silly.

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