Cain and Abel, Abel and Cain

I'm saving the best (Got News?) for last. But first, let's cover culture war news from the Values Voter Summit held in D.C. And right off the bat I wanna say (yeah, that's how we talk in Philly -- you gotta problem with that?) that I'm ambivalent about any journalist who uses that term as a descriptor rather than the title of the Family Research Values conference. The term implies that conservative activists are the only ones with values, or that those on the left are value-free, or that voters who fell into the middle of the spectrum don't take their values to the voting booth. In general, the reporters below tend to be clear that this is a term of choice, not of reality.

A few tidbits from the Summit: if you are looking to 2012 and the Presidential candidates, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was first choice of the approximately 600 delegates who voted (Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty made a strong showing among the more marquee names). Former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin chose to welcome her son home from Iraq rather than attend (sounds like a good move to me, but somehow this became controversial). Former Miss California Carrie Prejean gave a speech (which got sympathetic treatment in the Los Angeles Times) that had some delegates in tears.

So why does it matter that fewer than 2,000 voters came to a meeting in Washington, D.C.? For a few reasons. Folks who show up at such meetings tend to be highly engaged. Politicians recognize their importance by courting them. And activists, in the hyperdemocratic environment aided by the Internet and the turmoil in the mainstream press, are more adept than ever at getting the message out to the faithful and adulterous alike.

But some in the mainstream press did consider the Summit worth a mention. Among them was New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney.

Some of the issues with Nagourney's article are highlighted by this high-snark-factor piece from the (we don't need to know that Nagourney is gay anymore than we need to know that conservative analyst Juan Williams is black -- and targeting his "special pleading"? -- schoolyard stuff). Conservatives could only be "nearly politically wiped out" if a liberal Great Awakening had occurred last year, sweeping away the right, and it didn't. Poster John Hinderaker also takes on this statement by Nagourney:

Many Republicans have been arguing that the party's focus on social issues is a mistake at a time when voters are concerned about the economic downturn and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the emphasis at the summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, was still decidedly on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. The crowd rose to its feet to applaud Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California who caused a furor by denouncing same-sex marriage at the Miss USA contest, as she declared that "God chose me" to make the case she made

The blogger points out that, at a "Value Voters" meeting, attendants are predictably going to have a high level of interest in social issues, however much other groups are concerned about economic ones. I'm not sure I'd agree with Hinderaker that the focus on social issues in the Republican party is purely Nagourney's, however -- sedate as they might be, Summit attendees have 'values' that represent those of a large U.S. minority and in some cases cross party lines -- particularly with some of the moderates and independents who voted for Democrats in last year's election.

The main problems I have with Nagourney's piece (but he does cover politics, after all) is that an overarching narrative (conservatives!! back from the dead!! (perhaps) ) takes over, mowing down any potential distinctions between attendees. And although one can assume that faith is a driver for many attendees, there's almost no mention of it.

At 'the vote blog' of the website, the writers are also guilty of making sweeping generalizations (i.e., that the "tea parties' and social conservatives are just two faces of the same group). But they do at least seem to get some of the religious tensions in the social conservative movement.

Many younger evangelicals -- the type quite likely to be seen tea-partying or at this weekend's conservative summit-- apparently have a noticeably different set of values than their elders. For example, 44 percent favor a larger government offering more services -- nearly twice the percentage of older evangelicals. They're also more likely -- 52 percent to 34 percent -- to approve of same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Possibly. How do these guys know that the tea parties are either driven by evangelicals or that the younger ones were protesting last week? Some protesters aren't religious -- and not all the religious ones are evangelicals. But the bloggers link to a Washington Post OnFaith "Guest Voices" commentary that is by far one of the better pieces of analysis of "Value Voters Summit" values that I've seen. If you want to read something worthwhile and you don't have much time, this commentary, written before the fact, by Public Religion Research's Robert P. Jones is excellent because it reveals some of the internal fault lines, and the theological/doctrinal issues that drive many conservatives. That's exactly what's missing from the stories I've read.

By far the most revealing piece was columnist David Gibson's dissection of a survey on religious activists. The beginning sums up the thrust of his theme -- that activists on both sides are much more alike than they would ever care to admit.

If you've ever stood in a pet shop and watched Siamese fighting fish attack their reflection in a glass tank, then you know what it's like to read a fascinating new survey of more than 3,000 religious activists on the left and the right.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Activists on both ends of the spectrum have strong theological beliefs. They are generally better-off than most citizens in America, older, better-educated, mostly white. In other words, if the word has much meaning anymore, they are "elite." If you were splitting hairs, you might argue that conservative activists are a bit more "elite" by virtue of income, but it's pretty much a wash.

But one thing the conservatives and "progressives" have in common -- they are convinced that they are right, and most invested in having you believe it, too.

The next time you are reading a story about these activists, it might help to remember that in many respects they are more alike than different. Kudos to Gibson for highlighting this survey, and a big hole in news coverage in general -- much more invested in conflict than in sometimes disturbing similarities.

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