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Rachel Maddow Identifies the Religious Right

I was watching Rachel Maddow last night and she commented on the “rejection of religious right” candidates during the last election and gave examples: Alan Keyes and Mike Huckabee.

Now there are a couple of problems with this, some of which could be identified by right wing opponents of Mike Huckabee who don’t think he’s far enough right. This ignores great differences in temperament, considering that Alan Keyes has been involved in trying to challenge President Obama’s eligibility for the office, while Huckabee, well, hasn’t. That’s a substantial difference in my book.

Now I’m sure my right wing friends are right with me thus far, though they may think I should skip watching Rachel Maddow. They’ll generally agree that the left tends to group quite a variety of people under the term “religious right” until the term tends to become meaningless. For example, many people from left of center regard George W. Bush as part of the religious right. Just down the road from me is Crossroads Baptist Church, home of Chuck Baldwin, who thinks Bush is left wing.

But this is not really a problem of left, right, or any other specific position. It’s a problem of distinction that we all tend to have when someone’s positions are far from our own. It’s easier in this day and age of sound bites and short messages to group people quite broadly.

But it happens in the other direction as well. I’d particularly like to look at the words “socialist” and “socialism.” As used in the campaign, they got pretty amusing. John McCain and Barack Obama were proposing tax plans that were only marginally different, and that were both redistributive in nature. Our tax system is thoroughly tied up with redistribution and even when we do tax cuts they often end up like spending because of the way we do them. Now “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need” is certainly an element of socialism. But the difference between Obama and McCain on taxation was not between socialism and capitalism; it was between different mixes of the two.

So why not call all socialists, well, socialists? In my view, because it devalues the term. If “religious right” applies to everyone who is both religious and right of center, then I’m probably a member of the religious right, even if only by a small margin. Yet there’s a large amount of real estate between my position and Huckabee’s, and in turn between Huckabee’s and Keyes’. Similarly, you will note attacks on President Obama’s policies from both left and right. That’s because there’s a substantial difference between his positions and many of those held by various liberal and progressive groups.

When a politician wants to make a point, he or she will try to generalize a label and place someone in as unfavorable a light as quickly as possible. If I were running in an election against an opponent to my left, I might well be labeled part of the “religious right.” In that way my opponent could reap the votes of those who are frightened by Alan Keyes. It would be politically expedient under current circumstances, but not accurate. (Of course, there are many reasons, much better ones, not to vote me into office, and you won’t see me as a candidate, not even if hell freezes over.)

The only solution I see is for us to demand better as citizens and take the time, at a minimum, to look at a list of issues and see with some precision where a candidate stands. And while I am reconciled to the fact that politicians will try to oversimplify an opponent’s position in order to gain advantage, I’m less pleased with commentators who do so. I’m not a fan of media neutrality; I am a fan of media depth.

On those rare occasions when I can find it, that is.

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