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Daily Howler: Pseudo-cons claim that 'elites' mock religion. The truth is really quite different
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DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL! Pseudo-cons claim that “elites” mock religion. The truth is really quite different: // link // print // previous // next //

BECAUSE YOU SOMETIMES ASK: Our entire staff will be “in concert” tomorrow night at the Black Rock Center for The [alleged] Arts in Germantown, Maryland. Also appearing: The incomparable Jeff Caldwell, fresh from an appearance on Dennis Miller, a program he says is on CNBC. Yes, we’ll be doing the joke about Bush telling Richard Land that he thought God wanted him to be president. What could the signs have been? Call 301-528-2260 to join in all the fun.

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL: In the wake of the recent election, boo-hooing pseudo-cons keened and wailed about the way “contemptuous” “eastern” “elites” mock traditional “red-state” religion. In fact, the establishment press is far more likely to take a vastly different stance. More than anything else, the mainstream press corps is inclined to avert its eyes from “heartland” religion. This practice is based on cowardly deference to old-time religion, not on the desire to mock it.

Example? In July 2002, Time magazine did the unthinkable; it devoted a cover story to the apocalyptic (and best-selling) Left Behind novels. Early on, Nancy Gibbs laid out some surprising facts about these big-time best-sellers:

GIBBS (7/1/02): [A]mong the best-selling fiction books of our times—right up there with Tom Clancy and Stephen King—is a series about the End Times, written by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, based on the Book of Revelation. That part of the Bible has always held its mysteries, but for millions of people the code was broken in 1995, when LaHaye and Jenkins published Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days. People who haven't read the book and its sequels often haven't even heard of them, yet their success provides new evidence that interest in the End Times is no fringe phenomenon.
According to Gibbs, many Americans hadn’t even heard of these books, although they’re among the best-selling tomes of our times. Meanwhile, Time had conducted a survey to support the Gibbs piece. To steal a phrase from Richard Dawson, here’s what the survey said:
GIBBS (7/1/02): A TIME/CNN poll finds that more than one-third of Americans say they are paying more attention now to how the news might relate to the end of the world, and have talked about what the Bible has to say on the subject. Fully 59% say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack.
If true, those are remarkable facts about the beliefs of the American people—remarkable facts that should be discussed out in the public square. To Time’s credit, the mag devoted 8500 words to this general topic in three separate articles in this July 02 issue. And you probably know what happened next. Time’s report generated no discussion of these matters in the “elitist” mainstream press. Time’s remarkable trinity of articles came and went—left behind, without a trace.

Blubbering pseudo-cons will weep and moan, claiming this shows the mainstream press corps’ “contempt” for that old-time religion. But we would suggest that it shows something different. We would suggest that it reflects a decision made long ago—a decision to avoid discussion of “heartland” religious views, especially views which might seem to be kooky. In our society, the beliefs of every other sector get discussed, dissected and challenged. But when Time presented these remarkable facts, mainstream pundits knew not to notice. Everyone else’s views get critiqued—except those of the “heartland” religious.

Did religious voters tip the Bush-Kerry race? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But as pseudo-con spinners weep and moan about those “contemptuous” “eastern” “elites,” we think the truth should finally be told. Those “contemptuous elitists” avoid discussion of old-time religion much more than they tend to mock it. The evidence of this is overwhelming—and it represents a form of pandering to the “heartland” religious that ought to be left in the dust.

Here’s the good news—Gene Lyons discusses the Left Behind books in the current issue of Harper’s. (Go out and buy it.) The views that lie behind these books are an important part of American culture and politics. The press corps should stop its fawning, screw up its courage, and discuss these important matters in detail, just as they discuss the views of pretty much everyone else.

FLAT EARTH, CURVED TAX: Some months back, Andrew Sullivan called us a “hater” of his column, an assertion that was far from accurate. However, our spirits did soar when Sully returned to the “flat tax” in yesterday’s post. As we’ve said before, the “flat tax” would likely be our choice as number-one sophistry of the past several decades. Since the pleasing proposal may well be back, it’s worth reviewing its logical properties. Here’s part of what Sullivan said:

SULLIVAN (11/10/04): I've long been a huge enthusiast for the [flat tax] reform...[I]t upholds an important liberal principle: that the government should be neutral among its citizens. I don't believe in affirmative action, because it means the government discriminates on the basis of race. I oppose heterosexual-exclusive civil marriage, because it means the government discriminates on the basis of emotional/sexual orientation. And I oppose punitive or “progressive” taxation, because it means the government discriminates on the basis of personal success. If we're all taxed at the same proportionate rate, the successful still pay far more into the public coffers than the unsuccessful. They're just not penalized even further by a higher rate.
But alas! No mainstream pol has ever proposed a tax in which “we’re all taxed at the same proportionate rate.” And no mainstream pol has ever proposed a plan which eliminates “progressive taxation.” Because the “flat tax” seems to be back, let’s make sure we understand how mainstream “flat tax” plans really work.

In 1996, Steve Forbes proposed a “flat tax” plan as part of his surprisingly successful run for the White House. But did Forbes propose a plan in which “we’re all taxed at the same proportionate rate?” Most assuredly, no—he did not. Forbes’ plan did involve a single tax rate for computational purposes—17 percent—but it included hefty personal exemptions. As a result, for a family of four, the first $36,000 of income would have been exempt from taxation. Result? Even under this so-called “flat tax,” families would have paid vastly different proportions of their incomes in taxes. Some families would have paid no tax at all. Wealthier families would have paid up to 17 percent of their income. This is, of course, the same general situation which obtains with our current tax regimen.

Do “flat tax” plans end progressive taxation? In Dick Armey’s unintentionally comical book, The Flat Tax, the Texan insists, again and again, that “the flat tax is progressive.” Neither Forbes nor Armey has ever proposed a tax program like the one Sully describes. We don’t know if President Bush will ever propose a “flat tax” plan. But the discussion is starting again—along with the slippery, spin-rich sophistry which has long driven this impoverished discussion.

No mainstream pol has ever suggested that we “all pay the same proportion of our income,” and we doubt that any mainstream pol ever will. That isn’t the point of the “flat tax” proposal. Can you guess what the point really is?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Leaving aside his egregious post-9/11 trashing of dissenters, we think Sully has done lots of good work in the past few years. But his “flat tax” logic was fractured back in 2000, and it remains fractured today. But then, why not visit our incomparable archives? We first discussed these puzzling matters in THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/18/00 and 1/19/00.

STILL WAITING: ABC seems to love the old, snail-mail ways. It still hasn’t posted its This Week transcript from Sunday. We run to our mail box (Nexis) every day. Every day, we’ve been disappointed.