THE VOICE OF REASON
Quinn

AMERICA'S GREAT CULTURAL DIVIDE

In the aftermath of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren's interrogation of our country's two leading Presidential contenders, does anyone really have to guess how the mainstream media are evaluating the event? If you have any questions about it, read Sally Quinn's piece, "Worlds Apart," which appeared in the Washington Post on August 18.

For those who may not know of her, Quinn, pictured below, is the wife of Benjamin Bradlee, vice president at large and former executive editor of the Washington Post. She grew up in Washington D.C. Her father was Lt. General William Wilson Quinn and her mother Sara Bette Williams, a descendant of William Williams, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Quinn graduated from prestigious Smith College. I mention these entries on her resumé in order to underscore the fact that she is a certifiable member of America's "cultural elite."

She views McCain as one whose worldview is not "realistic," "thoughtful," "nuanced," or "honest." He, after all, believes that "our biggest enemy is radical Islamist terrorists," that "America is a beacon, a shining city on a hill," that "our values are simply Judeo-Christian," and that "life begins at conception." Everyone knows, should they not, that these are intellectually immature, if not downright juvenile, notions?

Quinn portrays Obama's worldview as the polar opposite of McCain's. The Democrat also happens to be "authentic." His is a richly and complexly textured "multicultural" world. His responses to Warren's questions were not calculated, like McCain's, to give Saddleback listeners a false sense of confidence. While McCain superficially "played to the audience," Obama "talked directly to Rick Warren as though they were having a real conversation."

Quinn concludes her impression of the event by contending that "the one sure winner" of the outing was Rick Warren, who moved evangelicals from "cartoon caricature" to credibility at one fell swoop.  Yet she reveals her suspicion that the deck was unfairly stacked against Obama: "Now, can we have more of these events in Catholic churches, mosques, synagogues and ethical society meeting halls? Or would that be too much Obama's world?"

For a pundit who holds herself out as one who treasures "thoughtful" and "nuanced" commentary upon issues, Quinn's seems curiously devoid of both characteristics. She casts her own political reflections in the starkest black and white, without the slightest hint of subtlety. There is little evidence in her thought-processes of the creative role that doubt can play in the discovery of new truth. Who can read what she has written about the candidates and fail to grasp her inflated sense of "certainty"? Can it be that, beneath her façade of liberal insight, there is little more than another run-of-the-mill leftist ideologue, who is just as much the absolutist as the "right-wing fundamentalists" to whom she condescends?  Rigid, doctrinaire thought is no more the province of the right than of the left, as her piece demonstrates.

The broader point is that McCain's views have nothing to do with his being unintelligent or less than thoughtful. Secular progressives ("SPs") label them such, because they do not fit neatly into the SP box.

When McCain states, for example, that life begins at conception, there is nothing shallow about the proposition. The conceptus is living, and it is human; therefore, it is eminently plausible to maintain that it constitutes a form of "human life."  "What else," one might ask, "could it be?" McCain's thinking on the subject is crisp and demonstrates logical vitality, even for those who may disagree with him.

But the best that SPs seem able to do with the subject of abortion is to emphasize that, because there are many shades of opinion regarding it, a pro-choice stance is the only one that makes sense. If there is logic here, where is it? There are controversies that rage on many issues, but from this fact are we entitled to infer that all points-of-view are true? Hardly. Relativism, implied by the SP's rendering of the pro-choice position, leads to untenable moral positions – not only on abortion, but also on polygamy, genocide, and every other moral abomination. If truth is relative, then one cannot be discriminating about what or whose "truth" is deserving of approval, right?

The fraternal twin of relativism is multiculturalism. When an SP applauds Obama's "multicultural" view of the world, we must ask ourselves what precisely this means. If the term describes a world comprised of multiple cultures, neither McCain nor anybody else will question it. If the term signifies that peoples from various cultures are represented in America, who can disagree? But if the contention is, as I suspect, that this nation is culturally pluralistic, with no standard according to which assimilation of immigrants should take place, then I beg to differ. Multiculturalism, defined in this way, amounts to the contention that American culture is nothing special and should be freely compromised to accommodate all other peoples.  Shades of the Tower of Babel. 

What about McCain's America as a place "where our values are simply Judeo-Christian"? Few things about our country these days are simple, especially the broad range of values represented by its citizenry. But the country's culture has always, in the words of Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington, been "Anglo-Protestant" in its broadest parameters.  William Williams, it is interesting to note, proposed modifying the Constitution's Preamble to spell out the country's belief in God. His proposal was never enacted, because Anglo-Protestant ideas were so much a part of popular understanding that giving additional expression to them was considered superfluous. But should we now strip such values from America's public life to promote a secular mindset or, perhaps, demote them to a rank with all others so as to genuflect to the fetish of diversity? I dare say that most Americans would disagree with each of these options.

Cultural elites in our country continue to sing the same old SP song to us with its secular, liberal, relativist, and multicultural verses. Some of us feel less than enlightened, even insulted, by such twitter, not to say by the sense of arrogance with which it is scored.  Who then would assert that a fool cannot possess a distinguished pedigree, or that a media darling's reflections are worth the time it takes to read them?

August 22, 2008