Imagine If All Atheists Left America

ConversationWithA — January 01, 2009 — Highlighting what would happen if all atheists were to leave America. Details of who would leave, what would change, and a look at other countries with virtually no Atheism.

SOURCES:
Over 10% of American population are atheist:
http://www.atheistempire.com/referenc…

Less than 0.25% of prisoners are atheist:
http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm

Majority of Nobel Prize winners atheist:
The Religiosity and Religious Affiliation of Nobel Prize Winners (Beit-Hallahmi, 1989)

Majority of University professors atheist:
Religion and Spirituality among University Scientists (Ecklund, 2007)

Majority of scientists atheist:
http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Scie…

Atheist Intellectuals:
http://brainz.org/50-most-brilliant-a…
http://www.celebatheists.com/?title=C…

Atheist Celebrities:
http://www.celebatheists.com/?title=M…

Poverty rate lower among atheists:
Society Without God (Zuckerman, 2008)

IQ higher among atheists:
http://www.interfaith.org/2008/06/20/…

Illiteracy rate lower among atheists:
United Nations Human Development Report (2004)

Average Income higher among atheists:
United Nations Human Development Report (2004)

Divorce rate lower among atheists:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr…

Teen pregnancy rate lower among atheists:
http://www.americablog.com/2009/01/re…

Abortions lower among atheists:
Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look (Paul, 2005)

STD infection lower among atheists:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news…

Crime rate lower among atheists:
Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look (Paul, 2005)

Homicide rate lower among atheists:
Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look (Paul, 2005)

Percentage of atheists in the countries mentioned:
http://www.adherents.com

Failure of American Education

I don’t entirely agree with the analysis in the video below, but I agree with the general argument.  I really don’t care if people believe in the supernatural especially if someone is basing their belief on their personal experience.  What I do care about is the massive failure of our education system. 

Even if you teach kids logic and critical thinking skills, they may still belief in the supernatural.  However, there is an intelligent way of thinking about even non-rational experiences and beliefs.  For example, it would be helpful if kids learned the history of philosophy and religion so that they could understand the cultural context of their ideas and belief systems.

http://www.slate.com/id/2243797/

http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm

http://www.harmoniousliving.co.za/News/Spirituality/American-Superstitions-Revealed-by-Survey/

http://social.jrank.org/pages/950/How-Educated-Are-We-Value-High-School-Diploma.html

US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism

“America is conservative in fundamental principles…
But the principles conserved are liberal
and some, indeed, are radical.”
 ~ Gunnar Myrdal

“Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals”
~ Mark Twain

 – – –

There are many polls that show most Americans self-identify with the label of ‘conservative’. I’ll first show you the self-identification data before I share other data which undermines the simplistic interpretation of America being a conservative nation.

But it should be pointed out here at the start that ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are relative terms that exist on a spectrum. So-called ‘conservatives’ from earlier last century (such as Eisenhower) were in many fundamental ways more progressively ‘liberal’ than many so-called liberal politicians today (such as Obama), a topic that gets analyzed in another post of mine (Back to Our Future: David Sirota on the 80s). And what gets called ‘conservative’ nowadays is more radical than it is traditional. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere: What gets called fiscal conservatism doesn’t seem very conservative. The meaning of conservative is to conserve, to maintain social order, to uphold institutions of authority, to resist radical change. Accordingly, what Americans call fiscal conservatism seems radically liberal in essence. Conservatives of the more traditional bent clearly are not the base of the Republican Party. Some have argued that America doesn’t have a truly conservative tradition. In The Liberal Tradition in America, Louis Hartz wrote:

But how then are we to describe these baffling Americans? Were they rationalists or were they traditionalists? The truth is, they were neither, which is perhaps another way of saying that they were both. [ . . . ] the past became a continuous future, and the God of the traditionalists sanctioned the very arrogance of the men who defied Him. [ . . . ] one of the enduring secrets of the American character: a capacity to combine rock-ribbed traditionalism with high inventiveness, ancestor worship with ardent optimism. Most critics have seized upon one or the other of these aspects of the American mind, finding it impossible to conceive how both can go together. That is why the insight of Gunnar Myrdal is a very distinguished one when he writes: “America is … conservative… . But the principles conserved are liberal and some, indeed, are radical.” Radicalism and conservatism have been twisted entirely out of shape by the liberal flow of American history. [ . . . ]  The ironic flaw in American liberalism lies in the fact that we have never had a real conservative tradition.

The contest of ideologies in American society hasn’t been between traditional conservatism and radical liberalism. Rather, it’s been a contest between John Locke’s self-oriented liberalism and Thomas Paine’s social-oriented liberalism, the former often defending class divisions (in defense of the ownership rights of the ownership class) and the latter challenging them.

Anyway, here is the data which many use to confirm their belief about America’s inherent conservatism. 

In 2010, Conservatives Still Outnumber Moderates, Liberals

 Political Ideology -- 2010 Half-Year Update (1992-2010 Trend)

Liberal-Conservative Self-Identification 1972-2008

  ’72 ’74 ’76 ’78 ’80 ’82 ’84 ’86 ’88 ’90 ’92 ’94 ’96 ’98 ’00 ’02 ’04 ’08
Extremely Liberal 1 2 1 2 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 2 2 2 2 3
Liberal 7 11 7 8 6 6 7 6 6 7 8 6 7 7 9 12 9 10
Slightly Liberal 10 8 8 10 9 8 9 11 9 8 10 7 10 9 9 9 8 9
Moderate, Middle of Road 27 26 25 27 20 22 23 28 22 24 23 26 24 28 23 22 25 22
Slightly Conservative 15 12 12 14 13 13 14 15 15 14 15 14 15 15 12 10 12 12
Conservative 10 12 11 11 13 12 13 13 14 10 13 19 15 13 15 21 16 17
Extremely Conservative 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 2 3 3 3 2 3 4 3 3
DK, Haven’t Thought 28 27 33 27 36 36 30 25 30 33 27 24 25 23 27 22 25 25
  















PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 3.1
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

This data makes conservatives think their beliefs and policies are the norm of American society (that they are the ‘Real Americans’) and that therefore liberals are radicals who don’t understand what America stands for. Similarly, conservatives make the allegation that the mainstream media is ‘liberal’, implying that liberals are elitists who are out of touch with the average American. The liberal media allegation is particularly ironic considering that it’s the mainstream media that has failed in challenging the false claim of a conservative majority and failed to report on all of the polling data that disproves this false claim. 

Dispelling the Myth of Conservative America
By Shahdabul Faraz

As expected, Republicans have used these poll results to assert that the American people are, and always will be, unfriendly towards liberal ideology. This is, however, a blatant lie. 

In reality, the country is solidly center-left on the political spectrum. While this does directly contradict the above poll results, one must understand that the word “liberal” has been violently under attack for decades. 

The highly effective, right-wing propaganda machine has successfully demonized the word “liberal” almost out of existence. Instead of defending the word, those on the political left effectively abandoned the term “liberal” and settled on “progressive.” The combination of constant right-wing attacks coupled with a lack of defense from those on the left has unfortunately tarnished the “liberal” brand. As a result, the American people are naturally hesitant to self-identify as being a liberal.

Much of the traditional media has failed to critically analyze this 2009 Gallup poll as well as other similarly misleading ones. Republican politicians have taken advantage of this failure by actively promoting misinformation on air. In an interview with MSNBC airing November of last year, former Representative Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., confidently stated, “[America] is a center-right nation.” Apart from a few prominent liberal commentators, there has been a lackluster effort to counter this falsehood. As a result, the failure of the media has allowed what was once misinformation to become conventional wisdom.

Even without analyzing what these labels mean, it’s obvious that the picture isn’t so simple. Plus, merely looking at the years between 2005 and 2008 hardly gives a large context in which to determine if there is any stable pattern or trend.

Is America really becoming more conservative?
By E.J. Dionne 

First, those Gallup numbers: Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36 percent as moderate, and 20 percent as liberal. “This marks a shift from 2005 through 2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group,” Gallup reported of its study based on combining16 surveys for a sample of 16,321. 

The shift from 2008 is hardly startling. Conservatives were up three points from 2008, moderates down one and liberals down two. On the other hand, the country was ever so slightly less conservative in the most recent third quarter of the year than it was in the second quarter: According to Gallup, the conservatives’ advantage over moderates went from 6 points in the second quarter to 3 points in the recent quarter. It’s not exactly clear which way the trend is running.

Of course these are all small shifts, and that’s the point: We are not going through some ideological revolution.

The complexity begins to show more clearly when comparing to other similar polls about self-identified labels.

In the 2009 Post/ABC News surveys, moderates still lead conservatives. The average for the year: 39 percent moderate, 36 percent conservative, 22 percent liberal. In only one survey did the conservatives “lead” the moderates, by 38 percent to 36 percent. Conservatives will be happy to know that was in the most recent survey.

At Pew, Keeter divided his surveys in half, from January to the end of June and from July to the present. 

In the January to June surveys (involving 10,630 interviews), the Pew numbers were: 37.9 percent moderate, 36.9 percent conservative and 19.7 percent liberal

In the Pew surveys since July, there was a shift (of 1.6 percent) toward the conservatives. The numbers were: 38.5 percent conservative, 35.5 percent moderate and 20.1 percent liberal.

Keeter described the 1.6 percent shift toward “conservative” as “on the borderline of statistical significance” and the movement as “glacial.”

And if you add in a few more choices of labels, the data becomes even more interesting.

It’s important to note that there is a debate over what these ideological labels actually mean to voters. And polls that give respondents the chance of calling themselves “progressive” produce a substantially larger number on the left end of the spectrum, since many who won’t pick the “liberal” label do call themselves “progressive.” A study earlier this year by the Center for American Progress found that when progressive and libertarian were offered as additional options, the country was split almost exactly in half between left and right.

So, even without looking at any specific issues, we can see there is no obvious conservative lean to the American public. I could argue (as I’ve often done) that ‘progressive’ isn’t necessarily left and ‘libertarian’ isn’t necessarily right. But, as far as I can tell, for most people these labels are mostly thought of that way. According to common understanding, left labels and right labels are about equally popular.

Before I get into the deeper analysis, let me show some data that further demonstrates the complexity of the issue. The mainstream perception is that the Democratic Party is the ‘liberal’ party. I disagree with this considering that, based on Pew data (Beyond Red vs Blue), liberals are only about 1/3 of the Democratic Party (with conservatives & moderates each about a 1/3) and about 1/2 of liberals are independents, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend the mainstream perception is correct. Based on those assumptions, how would the following data be interpreted (with higher numbers equaling higher positive feelings which correlates to campaign victories)?

Average Feeling Thermometer Toward Parties 1978-2008

  ’78 ’80 ’82 ’84 ’86 ’88 ’90 ’92 ’94 ’96 ’98 ’00 ’02 ’04 ’08
Democratic Party 62 61 63 62 63 61 61 59 54 59 60 59 ** 58 57
Republican Party 55 57 54 58 57 59 55 52 57 53 50 54 ** 54 48
Net Pro Dem. – Pro Rep. 54 52 55 52 53 51 53 54 49 53 55 53 ** 53 55
Both Parties 59 59 58 60 60 60 58 55 56 56 55 56 ** 56 54
‘Parties in General’ ** 55 56 55 57 ** 53 ** 51 52 ** 53 ** ** **

PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 2B.2
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

So, if most Americans are actually conservative and the Democratic Party is actually liberal, then why does the Democratic Party have higher positive ratings than the Republican Party for more than a decade? Either Americans aren’t so conservative or the Democratic Party isn’t so liberal. I’d argue it’s both. 

Now check out this data.

Average Feeling Thermometer Toward Liberals and Conservatives 1964-2008

  ’64 ’66 ’68 ’70 ’72 ’74 ’76 ’78 ’80 ’82 ’84 ’86 ’88 ’90 ’92 ’94 ’96 ’98 ’00 ’02 ’04 ’08
Libs 53 50 51 43 54 54 52 ** 52 46 56 53 52 55 51 50 52 52 54 51 55 55
Cons 57 56 57 53 61 61 59 ** 62 53 60 58 61 60 56 61 60 56 59 58 61 60

PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 3.2
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

If Americans are so conservative, then why do they have a decently positive feeling rating toward what they perceive as ‘liberals’? The positive feelings for liberals hasn’t dropped below 50 in several decades. That ain’t too shabby for a supposedly conservative population.

People are free to self-identify any way they so choose, but labels are meaningless if objective definitions and deeper issues aren’t considered. My point is that other data doesn’t support the conservative interpretation of the ‘conservative’ label (as it’s being used by most Americans). There are many ways to interpret the data as it’s confusing and sometimes seemingly conflicting. Some fair-minded analysts have concluded that Americans aren’t entirely conservative or liberal, rather that it depends on specific issues. I respect such cautious objectivity, but I would point out some relevant factors that demonstrate a specific direction in which the country is leaning.

It’s hard to make sense of which positions are liberal and which conservative. There are both liberal and conservative arguments for and against various aspects of government. Being for government isn’t inherently liberal, but having a more trusting attitude toward government, especially democratic government for and by the people, does seem to be more liberal (as a general principle, liberals are more trusting of almost everything). The issue for conservatives is more about which authority one should submit to (government, church, etc) which isn’t the same as the liberal sense of trust (one major thing liberals distrust is the submitting to any authority without question and for reasons of fear). Confusing though it may be, there are certain issues that seem more fundamentally liberal such as human rights (for all people, inclusive of those who have been traditionally disenfranchised and oppressed throughout history: minorities, immigrants, women, gays, etc). As Robert F. Kennedy stated it in his Day of Affirmation address (1966):

“The essential humanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government must answer — not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion, or a particular race, but to all its people.”

These liberal rights are the rights of the living, quite distinct from the conservative rights of unchanging principle (or even Divine Law); or, to put in American political terms, a living constitution that is increasingly inclusive of all people vs a constitutional originalism where the constitution is treated like the Ten Commandments. A core issue of disagreement between conservatives and liberals (in the US) is whether human rights (i.e., equality) are based on ownership rights (i.e., liberty) or vice versa (those who traditionally have had power and property of course emphasize liberty, often meaning freedom from the demands — ‘mobocracy’ — of those who lack power and property). This has been a divisive issue since the beginning of the country, having played out in the very wording of the Declaration of Independence. As Gunnar Myrdal explained, in An American Dilemma (pp. 8-9):

For practical purposes the main norms of the American Creed as usually pronounced are centered in the belief in equality and in the rights to liberty. In the Declaration of Independence–as in the earlier Virginia Bill of Rights–equality was given the supreme rank and the rights to liberty are posited as derived from equality. This logic was even more clearly expressed in Jefferson’s original formulation of the first of the “self-evident truths”: “All men are created equal and from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and unalienable, among which are the preservation of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The key values of the ideological divide are the basis of the key issues of society and politics. As such, determining the key issues is important in distinguishing liberalism vs conservatism in the American population. Key issues are important because they are the wedge issues that decide elections. What is telling to my mind is that it’s specifically the key issues of American politics that have been strongly moving leftward. I would conclude two things. First, the majority of Americans are definitely not right-leaning in any clear sense and there isn’t any evidence that the center of public opinion is shifting rightward. Second, however one might add up all the various issues, the majority of Americans are progressively liberal or becoming more progressively liberal on many if not most of the key issues. 

A large part of the confusion comes from the fact that a major political shift happened in the middle of last century. This shift altered the way Americans understood politics. At that time, conservatives gained control of the political narrative (which was assisted by the assassination of several popular voices and key figures of progressivism; sadly, conservatism ‘won’ by progressivism being literally killed).

Kennedy’s assassination, so soon after that of Martin Luther King, spread a deep pall of hopelessness over many Americans. [ . . . ] Political scientists who studied national polling data before and after Robert Kennedy’s assassination believed that his chances of winning the election were substantial. “One cannot help but be impressed,” notes one such study, “by the reverberations of Kennedy charisma even in the least likely quarters, such as among Southern whites or among Republicans elsewhere. . . . There is evidence of enough edge . . . to suggest that Robert Kennedy might have won election over Richard Nixon, and perhaps with even greater ease than he would have won his own party’s nomination.”
The Liberal Hour, Mackenzie & Weisbrot

With the last of the great progessive leaders of that era gone, the political narrative shifted. And it’s the political narrative that determines how people perceive the world and how they label themselves.

Some details need to be given to explain the ideological and labeling confusion that followed. Out of this era of assassinations and riots, it was actually the neo-conservatives (not traditional conservatives or Goldwater classical liberals) who captured power. Reagan was the penultimate neocon, former union leader and progressive Democrat who, using his actor’s skills, had become a corporate spokesperson and eventually a Republican politician. Reagan took the progressive language he had learned earlier in his life and put it to use in promoting the neocon narrative (e.g., Morning in America). Conservatism became all about a starry-eyed vision of capitalist progress and the American Dream became a greed-driven ‘meritocracy’ (with the government portrayed as the problem and with the lone businessman portrayed as the agent of moral reform; not what you can do for your country but what you can do for yourself).

With its progressive language usurped by neocons, the remaining progressives had a hard time competing. All of the most charismatically inspiring progressives were dead and so there was no one capable of challenging the neocon rhetoric. So, for the last 40 years, there hasn’t been any major political figures genuinely speaking for the progressive vision… or, at least, few progressive leaders who were charismatic enough to capture the public imagination. On top of that, I’d argue neither has there been any major political figures genuinely speaking for anything vaguely resembling the conservatism of the past. The only ideology that has been able to challenge neo-conservatism is neo-liberalism which is hardly an inspiring alternative. In the process, the Democratic leadership has merely become a watered down version of the Republican neocons. And the mainstream media just parrots the rhetoric from inside the Beltway. Is it surprising that the average American today is apparently clueless about what labels mean?

When words lose their meaning – I do not think ‘conservative’ means what you think it means
By AzBlueMeanie 

The media villagers lazily recite the Gallup polling to assert that America is a center-right country ideologically.

Political scientists, however, know better. The old classifications of liberal, conservative and moderate have long since lost their meaning.The decades long far-right media assault to demonize “liberals” has caused many liberals to defensively identify themseleves as “progressives.” The “liberal” brand of the Democratic Party has been watered down by conservative corporatist Democratic organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, New Democrats, Third Way, Boll Weevils and Blue Dogs, etc. Today’s Democratic Party is not the party of FDR and Truman, or LBJ.

I have said many times that conservatives today “are not your father’s GOP.” Conservatives today are the John Birchers whom Republican conservatives like William F. Buckley kicked out of the GOP for being too extremist, and the theocratic Christian Right whom “the father of movement conservatism,” Arizona’s Sen. Barry Goldwater, rejected as being too extremist. Think about the irony in that for a moment. This is the man who famously said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”

The media villagers collectively suffer from amnesia and cannot recall that the Republican Party once had a liberal wing and many moderates. They have since been purged from the Republican Party by its extemist fringe, but they are still out there in the electorate.

When respondents are given more options from which to identify their political beliefs and, more importantly, when polled on specific issues, a surprising and seemingly contradictory result emerges (only because of media mislabeling). Americans are far more left-of-center in their beliefs on specific issues, even self-identified conservatives. These “liberal” beliefs are in fact the “centrist” or “moderate” position of  large majorities of Americans.

The following are words which express the liberal-minded faith in America’s inevitable progressive direction and the hope that we Americans can live up to our collective potential. This was spoken by Robert F. Kennedy to the Senate and so he was more specifically warning the political elite about would happen if they attempted to thwart rather than embrace this era of social change.

“A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”
~ Robert F. Kennedy

It should be clearly noted that this progressive direction isn’t anything new. I’d argue that the continuing progressive revolution is the central story of America and of post-Enlightenment Western civilization in general.

People seem to have short memories when it comes to history. The labor movement and the creation of the first unions preceded the American revolution. In fact, all of the working class riotings and organizing in Britain and Europe at that time were behind much of the revolutionary fervor in America. It was Paine who first described the progressive vision of a “Free and independent States of America” (i.e., the unified vision of liberty and equality, of individual freedom and collective betterment), and it was Paine who was first inspired by the working class movement in England. The ideal of progress wasn’t just discovered in the 20th century. If the founding generation didn’t care about progressivism (i.e., social progress), they wouldn’t have fought a revolution to create a new kind of democratic republic.

 – – – 

No one should be surprised that America’s progressivism, which began before America was even a country and which inspired the American Revolution, still continues to this day and will continue for as long as the American Dream continues. America was founded on and remains defined by the seeking of improvement, individual and collective. To oppose progressivism is to oppose America and all that America stands for.

– – –

In making my case for a progressively liberal (or liberally progressive) America, I’ll now share data from various sources showing a different interpretation is required to make sense of actual public opinion.

 – – – 


Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority

poll from CNN this week is the latest to show a majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage, with 51 percent saying that marriages between gay and lesbian couples “should be recognized by the law as valid” and 47 percent opposed.

This is the fourth credible poll in the past eight months to show an outright majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage. That represents quite a lot of progress for supporters of same-sex marriage. Prior to last year, there had been just one survey — a Washington Post poll conducted in April 2009 — to show support for gay marriage as the plurality position, and none had shown it with a majority.

As we noted last August, support for gay marriage seems to have been increasing at an accelerated pace over the past couple of years. Below is an update to the graph from last year’s article, which charts the trend from all available public polls on same-sex marriage going back to 1988.

Marijuana Legalization: Poll Suggests Public Support Growing

Data compiled by the Pew Research Center and drawn primarily from the General Social Survey has found a consistent trend towards supporting legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but no poll so far has shown a majority in favor.

In a poll released Tuesday by CNN, 41 percent of American adults said they favored legalizing marijuana, while 56 percent opposed. Another poll, conducted early last month by the Pew Research Center, found 45 percent of adults supporting legalization and 50 percent against it.

[ . . . ] Demographic trends show that the movement to embrace legalization will likely continue: Both recent polls reveal younger respondents as the most likely supporters. In the Pew poll, the majority of 18-29 year olds (54 percent favor/42 percent oppose) and a slim plurality of 30-49 year olds (49 percent support/47 percent oppose) said marijuana use should be legal. In the new CNN poll, about as many respondents under 50 said they supported legalizing marijuana (49 percent) as opposed it (50 percent).

New Poll Confirms Country is Clearly Progressive
Cenk Uygur 

When asked what’s the first thing they would do to balance the budget, Americans had an unmistakably clear answer — raise taxes on the rich. It came in number one by a mile, with a whopping 61 percent.

If that wasn’t progressive enough, cutting defense spending came in number two, with 20 percent.

And if all of that wasn’t clear enough, when asked about cutting Medicare, only 4 percent were in favor of it. Only 3 percent wanted to cut Social Security as a way to balance the budget.

I thought the country was center-right? That’s what all of the pundits tell us 24/7 on television. What happened now? Do those answers look center-right to you? They look decidedly center-left to anyone with a pulse.

[ . . . ] Well, apparently the American people disagree with Washington’s priorities. If the Democrats, Republicans and the president persist in trying to cut Social Security in the face of these numbers, then we will know that we have lost our democracy altogether. That the people in power couldn’t give a damn what we want. That the take over of the American government by the corporations, the rich and the powerful is complete.

America: A Center-Left Nation

The idea that America is a center‐right country whose citizens are skeptical of, if not hostile toward, progressive candidates and policies has long been a staple of political commentary. There would be nothing problematic in journalists’ relying on this notion if actual evidence existed to support it. The truth, however, is that in most policy areas, it is progressive ideas that enjoy majority support. At a time when Democrats control not only the White House and both houses of Congress but a majority of governorships and state legislatures, as well, the picture of America as a center‐right country has become particularly hard to sustain.  

The term “center‐right” itself is based on questionable premises. It comes from the notion that combining the “right” ‐‐ self‐described conservatives ‐‐ with the “center” ‐‐ self‐described moderates (or in a partisan context, Republicans with independents) ‐‐ creates the center‐right majority of the country. But on issue after issue, and in growing percentages over time, nominal independents or moderates increasingly mirror the opinions of nominal Democrats or liberals. The majority is center‐left; it is the right that is isolated. 

[ . . . ] It is one of the most fundamental ideological divides between the left and the right: Conservatives purport to believe that government should be as small as possible and favor market‐oriented solutions to social problems; progressives, on the other hand, see government playing a more vital role in meeting basic social needs, including infrastructure, economic security, education, and health care. As the most recent National Election Study (NES) data demonstrate, clear majorities of the public recognize the importance of a well‐run and well‐funded government to their lives and to the security and prosperity of the country, and, indeed, want it to do more.  

On all three of the following measures, the public has moved in a more progressive direction. The number saying the government should be doing more things increased by 9 points from the 2004 study, the number saying government has gotten bigger because the problems have gotten bigger increased by 3 points, and the number saying we need a strong government to handle today’s economic problems increased by 5 points.

The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America Is a Myth

When asked for evidence, advocates of the idea that America is a conservative country will often cite the fact that polls show more people labeling themselves as “conservative” than “liberal.” This is certainly true, as data from the NES show:

Yet there are a number of reasons to conclude that the data on self-labeling tells us relatively little about the actual ideological positioning of the public. First, as political scientists have understood for more than 40 years, most Americans simply don’t think in ideological terms. To take one example, the national election studies has asked respondents in the past, “Would you say that either one of the parties is more conservative than the other at the national level?” The number answering “the republicans” seldom exceeded 60 percent when the question was asked in the past; after a 12-year hiatus, the nes asked the question again in 2004, when two-thirds of the public, an all-time high, gave the correct answer. This means that, at a time when the parties are more ideologically distinct than ever, one-third of the public can’t name correctly which party is more conservative. If this bare minimum of knowledge is unavailable to such a large proportion of the population, it is fair to say that their self-placement on ideological scales will not be a particularly reliable gauge of their actual beliefs on issues.

Is One Party More Conservative 1960-2008 (source)

  60 62 64 66 68 70 72 74 76 78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96 98 00 02 04 08
Yes
Dems
11 ** 14 ** 9 16 15 ** 17 ** ** ** 15 ** 12 18 12 ** ** ** ** ** 17 16
Yes
Reps
61 ** 59 ** 63 51 57 ** 54 ** ** ** 53 ** 57 44 57 ** ** ** ** ** 68 67
No
Both
Same
Don’t
Know
28 ** 27 ** 28 33 28 ** 29 ** ** ** 32 ** 31 38 31 ** ** ** ** ** 15 17

         

PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 2B.5
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

There is an understandable assumption within Washington that if survey respondents answer the ideological self-placement question by choosing “liberal” or “conservative,” then their positions on issues roughly correlate with those of the Democratic and republican parties, respectively; and that if they choose “moderate,” then their issue positions are midway between those of the two parties. But in fact, this is not the case. According to the NES, 56 percent of those who call themselves moderates associate with the Democratic Party, while only 31 percent associate with the republican Party. As one of the authors of this study wrote previously:

“And it isn’t just party identification; on issue after issue, moderates have opinions almost exactly mirroring those of liberals. In the NES survey, 4 percent of liberals say we should increase spending on Social Security, as do 8 percent of moderates—while only 47 percent of conservatives agree. Eighty-eight percent of liberals and 84 percent of moderates say federal funding on education should be increased, compared to only 58 percent of conservatives. Seventy-three percent of liberals and percent of moderates want more spending for child care—but only 8 percent of conservatives agree. Sixty-two percent of liberals and 57 percent of moderates want to spend more on aid to the poor, compared to only 9 percent of conservatives.”5 

Another reason people don’t use the liberal label is that the term “liberal” has been victim of a relentless conservative marketing campaign that has succeeded at vilifying liberals and liberalism. The consequence is that only strong liberals are willing to identify as such. But many people who hold liberal issue positions call themselves moderates, or even conservatives. As Christopher ellis wrote in a recent study of ideological labeling, “[M]any conservatives are not very conservative”:

“…nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservatives are notconservative on at least one issue dimension [size and scope of government, or abortion and homosexuality], and considerably more than half hold liberal preferences on the dominant dimension of conflict over the size and scope of government. Simply put, many conservatives are not very conservative”54 

When people do use ideological labels, they often apply them inconsistently. In 1967, Hadley Cantril and lloyd Free famously observed that Americans were “ideological conservatives” but “operational liberals.”55 They didn’t like the idea of government, but they liked what government does and can do.

As all the data presented in this report make clear, whatever Americans choose to call themselves, on issue after issue—economic issues, social issues, security issues, and more—majorities of the public find themselves on the progressive side. And on many of the most contentious “culture war” issues, the public has been growing more progressive year after year. Much of the news media seems not to have noticed. But the facts are too clear to ignore.

Poll: 70 Percent of “Tea Party Supporters” Oppose Medicare Cuts

(data from a McClatchy-Marist poll)

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Progressivism Goes Mainstream
New research on ideology refutes the conservative myth that America is a “center right” nation.
By John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira

How do we make sense of all this righteous anger? Are conservatives tapping into a deep-seated aversion to progressive government among the electorate? Hardly. Not unlike the characters in Rand’s various fantasies of libertarian anarchy, conservatives today are living in an alternative universe. And the sooner they wake up to this reality the better off they will be.

The 2008 presidential election not only solidified partisan shifts to the Democratic Party, it also marked a significant transformation in the ideological and electoral landscape of America. In two major studies of American beliefs and demographic trends–the State of American Political Ideology, 2009 and New Progressive America, both conducted by the Progressive Studies Program at the Center for American Progress–we found that the president’s agenda reflects deep and growing consensus among the American public about the priorities and values that should guide our government and society. Not surprisingly, conservatives are the ones who are out of line with the values of most Americans.

Interactive Map: A New Progressive America

New Progressive America

Between 1988 and 2008, the minority share of voters in presidential elections has risen by 11 percentage points, while the share of increasingly progressive white college graduate voters has risen by four points. But the share of white-working class voters, who have remained conservative in their orientation, has plummeted by 15 points.

[ . . . ] These trends will continue. The United States will be majority-minority by 2042. By 2050, the country will be 54 percent minority as Hispanics double from 15 percent to 30 percent of the population, Asians increase from 5 percent to 9 percent and African Americans move from 14 percent to 15 percent.

Other demographic trends accentuate progressives’ advantage. The Millennial Generation—those born between1978 and 2000—gave Obama a stunning 66 percent-to-32 percent margin in 2008. This generation is adding 4.5 million adults to the voting pool every year. Or consider professionals, who are now the most progressive occupational group and increase that support with every election. Fast-growth segments among women like singles and the college-educated favor progressives over conservatives by large margins. And even as progressives improve their performance among the traditional faithful, the growth of religious diversity—especially rapid increases among the unaffiliated—favors progressives. By the election of 2016, it is likely that the United States will no longer be a majority white Christian nation.

Geographical trends are equally as stunning. Progressive gains since 1988 have been heavily concentrated in not just the urbanized cores of large metropolitan areas, but also the growing suburbs around them. Even in exurbia, progressives have made big gains. Progressive gains were only minimal in the smallest metropolitan areas and in small town rural America and only in the most isolated, least populated rural counties did progressives actually lose ground.

[ . . . ] As the country is growing and changing, so are the American people’s views on what government can and should do. This is shaping a new progressive agenda to go with the new demography and the new geography, starting with the likely diminution in the culture wars that have bedeviled American politics for so long. While cultural disagreements remain, their political influence is being undermined by the rise of the Millennial Generation, increasing religious and family diversity and the decline of the culturally conservative white working class. Culture wars issues, which so conspicuously failed to move many voters in the last couple of elections, will lose even more force in years to come.


State of American Political Ideology, 2009
A National Study of Values and Beliefs
By John Halpin and Karl Agne

The growing progressive movement in the United States finds itself at a historic and propitious crossroads. With large Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress and an ambitious new president who campaigned and won election on promises of bold changes—both serving a citizenry that is deeply frustrated with the status quo and desperate for new leadership at all levels of our society—the potential for true progressive governance is greater than at any point in decades. Driven by a rising generation of young 18- to 29-year-old “Millennial” generation voters whose vast numbers and unique worldview have already made a significant impact at the ballot box, our country is embracing many core progressive values and shows a real commitment to a progressive vision of government, international affairs, and economic and political policies that could transform the country in a way that has not been seen since FDR and the New Deal.

The 2008 presidential election not only solidified demographic and partisan shifts toward the Democratic Party but also marked a significant turn in the ideological landscape of the electorate. After nearly three decades of public acceptance of the Reagan-Bush model of conservatism—limited government, tax cuts, traditional values, and military strength— a broad and deep cross-section of the American public now holds markedly progressive attitudes about government and society.

Public Opinion Snapshot: The Weakness of Conservative Opposition to Health Care Reform
By Ruy Teixeira

In recent polls, more of the public opposes than favors the health care reform bills in Congress. Conservatives would have you believe that the opposition plurality in these polls is a result of public distaste for a big government takeover of our health care system. Not so. In a December CNN poll, a total of 55 percent either favored the Senate health reform bill outright (42 percent) or opposed it at this point because its approach to health care isn’t liberal enough (13 percent). Just 39 percent said they opposed the bill because its approach to health care was too liberal.

NBC/WSJ poll: Voters deficit-worried but wary of cuts
By Mark Murray

As politicians in Washington — and across the country — seek to cut spending to reduce their budget deficits, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that the American public is divided about how far they should go.

In the poll, eight in 10 respondents say they are concerned about the growing federal deficit and the national debt, but more than 60 percent — including key swing-voter groups — are concerned that major cuts from Congress could impact their lives and their families.

What’s more, while Americans find some budget cuts acceptable, they are adamantly opposed to cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and K-12 education.

And although a combined 22 percent of poll-takers name the deficit/government spending as the top issue the federal government should address, 37 percent believe job creation/economic growth is the No. 1 issue.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, says these results are a “cautionary sign” for a Republican Party pursuing deep budget cuts.

He points out that the Americans who are most concerned about spending cuts are core Republicans and Tea Party supporters, not independents and swing voters.

“It may be hard to understand why a person might jump off a cliff, unless you understand they’re being chased by a tiger,” he said. “That tiger is the Tea Party.”

Public Proposes Federal Budget Dramatically Different Than House or White House

Full report(PDF)
American Public Shows How it Would Cut the Budget Deficit

An innovative study has found that when a representative sample of the American public was presented the federal budget, they proposed changes far different from those the Obama administration or the Republican-led House have proposed.

The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. However, the public also favored more spending on job training, education, and pollution control than did either the administration or the House. On average the public made a net reduction of $146 billion–far more than either the administration or the House called for.

While there were some partisan differences in the magnitude of spending changes, in two out of three cases average Republicans, Democrats and independents agreed on which items should be cut or increased.

The public also showed readiness to increase taxes by an average of $292 billion–again, far more than either the administration or the House.

“Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget,” comments Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), which conducted the study.

American Public Shows How it Would Cut the Budget Deficit

Full report(PDF)
Questionnaire with Findings, Methodology (PDF)

Through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, on average, respondents cut the discretionary budget deficit projected for 2015 by seventy percent. Six in ten solved the problem of the projected Social Security shortfall through adjustments in payroll taxes, premiums, and benefits. The projected Medicare shortfall was also dramatically reduced.

The Political Ideology of the Millennial Generation
A National Study of Political Values and Beliefs Among 18- to 29-Year-Old Adults
By John Halpin and Karl Agne

Of all the storylines emerging from the historic 2008 elections perhaps none has more impact on the future of our country than the rise of the Millennial Generation. These young 18- to 29-year-old Americans born between 1978 and 2000 represent the largest and most diverse generation in American history. Last year, their record turnout and overwhelming support for Barack Obama—as well as Democrats up and down the ballot— delivered a decisive victory and signaled a turning point in our country’s political history.

What is most important about these voters is not their current predilection for Democratic candidates, however, but rather the deeply held progressive beliefs underlying their voting preferences. The progressive beliefs of these young adult voters could recast the core ideological battles that have defined our country’s post-Vietnam political discourse.

The presidency of George W. Bush marked the formative political experience for many of these younger Americans, and the results are not good for conservatives looking to gain support among this critical segment of the electorate. The combined effect of Bush’s social policies, the war in Iraq, his tax cuts, and the collapse of the economy clearly had a strongly negative impact on the ideological views of Millennial voters. Younger Americans today express broad and deep support for a progressive worldview on government, society, and world affairs and are ambivalent to outright hostile to many core elements of the conservative worldview.

Case in point: Of the 21 values and beliefs garnering majority support in our recently completed national study of political values and beliefs among young adults, only four can be classified as conservative.

Think Again: Why We’re Liberals: The Polls Speak
By Eric Alterman and George Zornick

The November 2004 National Election Study—which tries to eliminate the “moderate” option—found that 35 percent of those questioned call themselves liberal, compared to 55 percent who identify as conservative. A Pew poll at roughly the same time found 19 percent liberal and 39 percent conservative, with the balance preferring “moderate.” Then a Democracy Corps poll in January 2006 found 19 percent calling themselves liberal versus 36 percent conservative.

These numbers are practically indistinguishable from the average for the past 30 years (20 percent liberal, 33 percent conservative, 47 percent moderate). And yet when “moderates” were questioned by pollsters for Louis Harris and Associates in 2005, they turned out to share pretty much the same beliefs as self-described liberals—they just couldn’t bring themselves to embrace the hated label.

In fact, due primarily to the hijacking of the Republican Party by a coterie of extremist conservatives on issue after issue, a powerful supermajority of more than 60 percent of Americans questioned in these surveys almost always espouse the “liberal” alternatives. And most Americans’ answers, believe it or not, frequently fall to the left of those espoused by many liberal politicians.

[ . . . ] And yet the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in Washington, D.C., in conducting an extensive set of opinion polls over the past few decades, has demonstrated a decided trend toward increasingly “liberal” positions, by almost any definition.

To offer just a few examples of this liberal-in-all-but-name attitude regarding economic and welfare policy, according to the 2006 survey released in March 2007, roughly 70 percent of respondents believe that the government has a responsibility “to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves”—up from 61 percent in 2002. The number saying that the government should guarantee “every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep” has increased by a similar margin over the past five years (from 63 percent to 69 percent).

Two-thirds of the public (66 percent)—including a majority of those who say they would prefer a smaller government (57 percent)—favor government-funded health insurance for all citizens. Most people also believe that the nation’s corporations are too powerful and fail to strike a fair balance between profits and the public interest. In addition, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say corporate profits are too high, about the same number who say that “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person” (68 percent).

When it comes to the environment, a large majority (83 percent) support stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment, while 69 percent agree that “we should put more emphasis on fuel conservation than on developing new oil supplies,” and fully 60 percent of people questioned say they would “be willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment.”

Regarding so-called social issues, only 28 percent of respondents agree that school boards should have the right to fire teachers who are known to be homosexual, while 66 percent disagree. A 56 percent majority opposes making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, while 35 percent favor this position.

These findings reinforce previous polls like that in 2004 by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University, which asked voters whether “the federal government should fund sex education programs that have ‘abstaining from sexual activity’ as their only purpose” or if “the money should be used to fund more comprehensive sex education programs that include information on how to obtain and use condoms and other contraceptives.” The condom/contraceptive option won the day by a margin of 67 percent to 30 percent. Unsurprisingly, a similar number (65 percent) said they worried that refusing to provide teens with good information about contraception might lead to unsafe sex, while only 28 percent were more concerned that such information might encourage teens to have sex.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Americans even tend to side with liberals rather than conservatives in their attitudes toward religion. According to a 2006 study sponsored by the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative of the Center for American Progress and conducted by the firm Financial Dynamism, 67 percent of voters believe that religious freedom is a “critical” part of their image of America, compared to less than three in 10 who believe the Judeo-Christian faith specifically is critical to this image. Only 20 percent of American voters approve of leaders using the political system to turn religious beliefs into action.

In terms of the role that religious and moral teachings should play in public debate about key issues, American voters do not focus on the issues of abortion, gay marriage, and the kind of topics that so exercise conservative Christian leaders. They would prefer to see their churches lead on issues such as alleviating “poverty and hunger” (75 percent), “homelessness” (61 percent), “government corruption” (58 percent), “terrorism” (56 percent), “the environment” (54 percent), and “health care” (52 percent).

Americans specifically reject the conservative Christian desire to suppress science in the service of religious dogma. Eighty percent of those questioned agree that “faith and science can and should coexist. We can respect our belief in God and our commitment to the dignity of every human life by using our scientific knowledge to help those who are sick or vulnerable.” The same overwhelming number endorses the view that “stem cell research can be a force for moral good rather than a moral failing.”

Liberal and Conservative Trends in the United States Since World War II
By Tom W. Smith

Overall, the post-World War II period has been a time of liberal advance. Liberal trends outnumbered conservative trends by over two-to-one (Duncan, Schuman, and Duncan, 1973; Hamby, 1985; Hoge, 1974; Hoge, Luna, and Miller, 1981; Willits, Bealer, and Crider, 1977). Liberal gains were strongest on such topics as race relations and women’s rights that concerned equal rights for all (Gusfeld, 1981; Rokeach and Ball-Rokeach, 1988; Smith and Sheatsley, 1984) and on abortion, civil liberties, and sexual morality that dealt with individual choice (Caplow et al., 1983; Hoge, Luna, and Miller, 1984; McClosky and Brill, 1983; Mueller, 1988). Topics dealing with material concerns and government regulation were mixed in their trends. Responses to calls for more government action were also quite mixed, with the number of trends in opposition to more government edging out trends in favor of more government. In addition, this role of government dimension had little relationship to liberalism/conservatism. Finally, crime was the one topic that consistently showed little or no liberal growth.

Liberal movement slowed appreciably in the mid-1970s and a number of trends, especially in the areas of abortion, civil liberties, crime, and spending and taxes, slowed, stalled, or even, in a few cases, reversed. But the hosannas from the right and wailing from the left over a conservative tide and the Reagan Revolution (Smith, 1982 and 1985a) are both overreactions. On average, liberal momentum and advance ended on the liberal plateau of the mid-1970s, but no general conservative advance occurred.

Government is Good

If we are asked about this issue in the abstract, 45% of us say we want “a smaller government providing fewer services,” and 42% say that we want “a bigger government providing more services”5 – a pretty even split. But then when people are asked about specific policy areas, much larger numbers of people say they support expanded government services. For example, almost three quarters of Americans say they want to see more federal involvement in ensuring access to affordable health care, providing a decent standard of living for the elderly, and making sure that food and medicines are safe. And over 60% want more government involvement in reducing poverty, ensuring clean air and water, and setting minimum educational standards for school. These are hardly the answers of a people who want drastically smaller government.

Table 1: Public Attitudes Toward Spending on Government Programs8

Should Spend More Spending About Right Should Spend Less Don’t Know or No Answer
Protecting the environment 59.8% 27.9% 7.7% 4.6%
Protecting the nation’s health 66.8% 25.0% 5.6% 2.6%
Halting the rising crime rate 60.9% 28.4% 9.3% 3.0%
Dealing with drug addiction 58.2% 27.9% 9.3% 4.6%
Improving the education system 69.7% 22.1% 6.3% 1.9%
Social Security 55.7% 31.9% 6.3% 6.1%
Solving urban problems 45.5% 29.8% 12.1% 12.5%
The military, arms, and defense 17.5% 46.3% 30.3% 5.9%
Highways and bridges 38.2% 47.1% 9.6% 5.1%
Welfare 16.0% 36.1% 43.3% 4.6%
Parks and recreation 34.0% 55.2% 6.1% 4.7%
Mass transit 31.7% 47.3% 9.4% 11.5%

In Search of Ideologues in America

Figure

Figure

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If you want to look at the public opinions on certain issues, check out some of my other posts:

Gun Violence & Regulation (Data, Analysis, Rhetoric)

Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life

Culture Wars Continuing

Ralph Brauer: Revolutions & Liberal America

I just yesterday discovered the work of Ralph Brauer.  I came across his book The Strange Death of Liberal America in Google books while doing a websearch about the religious right.  I found the passage rather insightful.  His view on American history makes even more sense when put in the context of Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning.

Below are some writings from Brauer.  The first is the beginning of an article.  The second is the aforementioned passage from his book.

A Call For a Third Revolution of Liberal America

By Ralph Brauer

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The third revolution
The history of Liberal America can be seen as encompassing two revolutions. The first centered on rights, as the notion of what Tom Paine termed “the rights of man” extended to include the propertyless, people of color and women. In the United States that revolution was in part derailed by the rollback of Reconstruction when the country essentially bought the South’s idea of segregation. A similar rollback has been under way since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in what I have referred to as the Second Reconstruction.

The Second Revolution focused on economic justice, embodied in this nation and other democracies as governmental programs designed to keep the playing field level for all people. Unfortunately the Second Revolution stalled out for much the same reasons as the first: the country as a whole had little stomach for pushing this to its conclusion. Most people, for example have probably never heard of the Economic Bill of Rights proposed by Franklin Roosevelt shortly before his death.

Part of the genius of Martin Luther King lay in his recognition of the connection between the First and Second revolutions, but his pleas were thwarted in Chicago and Memphis. Like many African American leaders during the Second Reconstruction, King was murdered while those who sought to pick up the banner were marginalized and/or ineffective.

Curiously the last half of the twentieth century played out much like the last half of the nineteenth as the revolution of economic justice went through the same counterrevolution as did the First Reconstruction.

In the case of both revolutions there was a very narrow window during which the cause might have managed to maneuver enough to fully realize its ideals. In both cases America flinched when it might have pressed the advantage. But African American congressmen and state office holders were driven from office in the rollback of the First Revolution and Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and others were murdered or sent packing in the rollback of the Second.

 

The Strange Death of Liberal America
By Ralph Brauer

pp 32-36

Three of the four partners of the Counterrevolutionary coalition had fallen into place.  The first were the corporate fundamentalists who detested any government regulation of business.  The second were the former Dixiecrats who fought for state’s rights.  The intersection between the Dixiecrats and the corporate fundamentalists sought to pull back the government’s role in leveling the social and economic playing field.   The intersection between the Religious Right and other Counterrevolutionary members involved a crusade that has come to be called the “Social Agenda.”  Although the fundamentalists’ position on such issues such as abortion has received much media and political attention, the linchpin has been education.

If Strom Thurmond personifies the first stage of the Counterrevolution, Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition Executive Director, personifies the second, for like Thurmond he has that Forrest Gump quality of being at critical crossroads.  Looking like a frat boy whose too-well-groomed apearance and smirking smile suggest he has played more than his share of pranks, Reed’s early career is characterized by questionable actions.  Nina J. Easton, author of Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade notes he was fired from the University of Georgia student paper for plagiarism.  He then worked with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist to take over the national college Republicans.  Later he built Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition into a major force in the Republican Party.  In the 2000 election he served as an advisor to George W. Bush.  He even managed to get himself hired by Enron.  After somehow landing on his feet after that fiasco, Reed became head of the Georgia GOP, running for the lieutenant governorship in 2006.  Reed illustrates the abilities — even necessity — of key Republican operatives to move seamlessly between three worlds of politics, religion, and business.  In fact these operatives probably do not see the three arenas as distinct, but part of one divine mission.

What helped consummate the marriage Land spoke of was one major cornerstone of Liberal America: education.  The Religious Right has been dissatisfied with public schools for some time because by law America’s classrooms have been nondenomenational.  The fundamentalists became especially incensed as courts and legislatures ruled against school prayer and the IRS moved to revoke tax exemptionfor religious schools that served as covers for segregation the way bed sheets covered Klansmen.  As public schools invested in programs such as diversity, fundamentalist Christians bailed out of the system, forming private religious academies or seeking to remove programs that did not agree with their theology.  Finally, Darwin again entered the picture as fundamentalists agitated against the teaching of evolution while advocating what they called “intelligent design.”

In Political Agendas for Education: From the Christian Coalition to the Green Party, author Joel Spring zeroes in on a statement in which Ralph Reed acknowledges, “More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right.”  Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the new GOP coalition, agrees with Reed’s analysis, noting that the Religious Right was born in response to two decisions by the Carter administration: the IRS ruling and the belief that the FCC planned to regulate Christian radio stations (although imaginary, it was widely believed).

Thus began the second phase of the Counterrevolution, built around a series of Devil’s bargains that made their coalition the equivalent of the New Deal coalition of Franklin Roosevelt.  The Counterrevolution’s road to power was paved by two crucial decisions that played a major role in creatign the Era of Bad Feelings.  The first came from the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case revolving around reforms initiated after Watergate designed to lessen the impact money on the electoral process.  Those reforms resulted in making the election of 1976 one of the few in which both candidates spent identical amounts.  The Buckley decision upheld the Watergate reforms with one notable exception: the Court ruled that individuals and groups not affiliated with the official campaign had no spending limits.

The GOP pounced on this loophole.  In the 1984 campaign when Ronald Reagan faced Walter Mondale, Republican Political Action Committees (PACs) spent almost four times the amount of their Democratic coutnerparts: $15.8 million to $4.2 million.  In 1988, independent expenditures amounted to $13.7 for the Republicans and $2.8 for the Democrats.  A Brown University study summed up the effect of the changes: “Since the GOP historically had a stronger base among big businesses and wealthy individuals, independent expenditures advantaged Republicans more than Democrats.”

This came as Sunday morning religious programs became serious business, turning preachers into instant conglomerates with tentacles reaching into every part of the media and, along with this, money for political organizing.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, to give them their due, were doing nothing that had not been done before by the liked of John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould.  Only this time the money lay in churches with an ideology to advance, particularly the remodeling of the American public education system.  Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, no slouch himself when it comes to raising PAC money, detailed the considerable clout of the Religious Right in a 1998 article, toting up the coffers of various religious organizations and then favorably comparing them with such heavyweights as the Chamber of Commerce.  He admirably pointed out, “The Christian Coalition has one million donors, 1.5 million activists, and 2000 local chapters that distributed 66 million voter guides in the 1996 election cycle.  Since 1990 the Christian Coalition has trained 52,300 community activists, 18,000 in 1996 alone.  The 1997 budget was $17 million dollars.”  Much of this considerable war chest came from the efforts of Ralph Reed.

A second decision that became equally important for the Counterrevolution was the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  First enacted in 1949, the FCC ruling looked into the future and decided that because they operated in the public interest, the mass media should present all sides of controversial questions.  The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in the 1969 Red Lion case, still generally considered as one of the Court’s landmark decisions.

Red Lion  not only involves the Religous Right but also foretells exactly what would happen with repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  The case began when the Reverend Billy James Hargis, the Jerry Falwell of his day, accused the author of a book on Barry Goldwater of being a communist.  The author sued under the Fairness Doctrine and the Court found in his favor.  In its decision the Court said the Fairness Doctrine serves to “enhance rather than abridge the freedoms of speechand press protected by the First Amendment.”  It also noted that “when a personal attack has been made on a figure involved in a public issue” the doctrine requires that “the individual attacked himself be offered an opportunity to respond.”

In 1987, an FCC packed with commissioners appointed by Ronald Reagan voted to repeal the Fairness Doctrine.  When Congress tried to overrule the decision by passing a law extending the doctrine, Reagan vetoed it.  Just as the Buckley decision opened the door to single-issue PACS, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door wide for ideologues like Robertson.

On stage stepped a key actor in the next phase of the Republican Counterrevolution, Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich helped engineer the GOP take over of the House of Representatives in 1994 by making great use of Ralph Reed and his allies.  At the center of the takeover lay the Contract with America, a Gingrich inspiration laying out his party’s agenda.  The preamble makes no bones about what the takeover would bring, stating, this “historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with public’s money.  It can be the beginning of a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.”  The second sentence spells out the next phase of the Counterrevolution: linking distaste for big government with the agenda of Jerry Falwell and the fundamentalists.

Manifestoes have always served as the core of radical movements composed of true believers convinced they have the answer to every problem.  Nothing signifies this better than a sentence from the opening of the Contract with America, which puts a religious cast on everything after: “Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act ‘with fairness in the right, as God gives us to see right.'”  In other words, the zealots of the Counterrevolution evoked the secular saint Abraham Lincoln, linked him to God and themselves.  History is full of people who believe they are acting in God’s name and their record is hardly one that would inspire confidence in the Contract with America.

Pew Political Typology Test

I just took a political typology test designed by the Pew Research Center.  I could’ve answered some of the questions quite differently depending on interpretation which would’ve given me different results.

In response to question 25, I agreed (but not strongly) that “I worry the government is getting too involved in the issue of morality”.  My actual worry is that the debate about morality is defined and controlled by a narrow special interest group (the moral minority).  To me, issues of morality include issues of war, civil rights, poverty, health care, workers unions, regulatory agencies, and environmentalism.  Actually, I consider all of politics a moral issue and so if anything I worry that the government has become disconnected from any authentic moral sense.  In an idealistic world where the very concept of ‘morality’ wasn’t warped to the extreme right, I’d have instead agreed strongly with “The government should do more to protect morality in society”.

My test answers gave me the result of Liberal, but the test was rather general.  My liberal sensibilities were emphasized in my answers because I just spent the last day reading about conservative/corporate media bias.  I’m rather mixed up in my beliefs.  I’m libertarian in mistrusting the government, but I’m liberal in that I trust the government more than I trust big business.  I believe the government has potential for good if big business is kept out of it.  And I believe capitalism has potential for good if the government can fairly regulate.  But I’m too cynical to actually believe much good will come of any of it.  So, I’m a rather disgruntled liberal who feels equally (or maybe more) disgruntled about the even more disgruntled far right (which apparently would be labelled as Disaffected).

The Disaffecteds are so cynical that they end up voting against their own self-interests.  They’re poor and they love to complain about poverty (especially of the even more poverty-stricken minorities and immigrants), but they mistrust everyone who isn’t like them including the government and it’s programs to help the poor.  So, they wallow in their poverty and whine about the failure of the government.  They’re mostly uneducated, rural Republicans who have no interest in politics beyond how they perceive it might influence their employment.  They’re against immigrants and environmentlaism simply because they believe they will take away their jobs.

Compared to the Disaffecteds, I’m a rather optimistic Liberal.  I’m proud to be a Liberal.  According to the results, Liberals are the most highly educated of any political type.  Also: “Liberals are second only to Enterprisers in following news about government and public affairs most of the time (60%). Liberals’ use of the internet to get news is the highest among all groups (37%).”  Since I live in a town that is the most highly educated per capita in the US, it’s highly likely that I’m surrounded by Liberals.  If we could only make everyone one in America highly educated, then this would be a truly liberal country.

LIBERALS

PAST TYPOLOGY COUNTERPART: Liberal Democrats/Seculars/60’s Democrats

17% OF GENERAL POPULATION

19% OF REGISTERED VOTERS

PARTY ID: 59% Democrat; 40% Independent/No Preference, 1% Republican (92% Dem/Lean Dem)

BASIC DESCRIPTION: This group has nearly doubled in proportion since 1999. Liberal Democrats now comprise the largest share of Democrats. They are the most opposed to an assertive foreign policy, the most secular, and take the most liberal views on social issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and censorship. They differ from other Democratic groups in that they are strongly pro-environment and pro-immigration.

DEFINING VALUES: Strongest preference for diplomacy over use of military force. Pro-choice, supportive of gay marriage and strongly favor environmental protection. Low participation in religious activities. Most sympathetic of any group to immigrants as well as labor unions, and most opposed to the anti-terrorism Patriot Act.

Key Beliefs: GeneralPopulation Liberals
Relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism 51% 90%
I worry the government is getting too involved in the issue of morality 51% 88%
Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost 60% 89%
Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently 52% 80%

WHO THEY ARE: Most (62%) identify themselves as liberal. Predominantly white (83%), most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more), and youngest group after Bystanders. Least religious group in typology: 43% report they seldom or never attend religious services; nearly a quarter (22%) are seculars. More than one-third never married (36%). Largest group residing in urban areas (42%) and in the western half the country (34%). Wealthiest Democratic group (41% earn at least $75,000).

LIFESTYLE NOTES: Largest group to have been born (or whose parents were born) outside of the U.S. or Canada (20%). Least likely to have a gun in the home (23%) or attend bible study or prayer group meetings (13%).

2004 ELECTION: Bush 2%, Kerry 81%

MEDIA USE: Liberals are second only to Enterprisers in following news about government and public affairs most of the time (60%). Liberals’ use of the internet to get news is the highest among all groups (37%).

US: Politics, Religion & Civil Rights

U.S. prison population headed for first decline in decades

The United States soon may see its prison population drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other.

The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies that sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets now have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them.

That is truly good news.  We imprison more of our population than any country in the world at high costs and we spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined.  During these decades of wasteful federal spending supported by conservatives, healthcare reform has been floundering during this same period of time.  Helping people is socialism, but killing and imprisoning people is good traditional American values.

Gun Owners, Unfiltered

The National Rifle Association has long fulminated in the gun control debate in Washington like the Great Oz in the Emerald City. Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz’s curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.

I’m not a gun owner, but I am a supporter of the right to own a gun.  I guess I’m a moderate as described in this article, but what is interesting is that most gun owners are moderate about gun controls.  I suspect this would prove true in other areas as well.  For exaple, like many people, I’m moderate about the issue of abortion, but the moderate voices never get heard.  Instead, issues like this get portrayed in black and white terms.  But gun controls and abortion are complex issues with many factors.

Most Americans aren’t for absolute control or absolute lack of gun control.  Most Americans aren’t for absolute freedom of abortion or absolute denial of abortion.  When Glenn Beck’s can portray his extremist views as populist by saying “we surround them”, then you know the media has failed.  People have come to think of the extremes as the norm, and moderates are either ignored (as the NRA apparently has with its own members) or portrayed as liberals (pronunced “libruls”), socialists, or some other ugly word.

Let me try to explain how extremism had come to hold such power over the American psyche.

Some consider the NRA to be the most powerful special interest group in the US.  For various reasons, the NRA has become associated with the far religious right.  Earlier in last century, the GOP was the party of civil rights and it’s true that gun ownership is a civil rights issue, but the civil rights I’m talking about is that of the civil rights movement.  I’ve heard that Martin Luthr King jr was a Republican and African-Americans in the past seem to have had been strong supporters of the GOP, but this changed in the middle of last century when desegregation became a major issue.  Southerners began worrying about their way of life and around this constellated several issues.  There was the increasing popularity of the NRA and at the same time the KKK was losing power, but the far religious right in general was opposed to desegregation.  Evangelicals, before this time, were intentionally non-political.  However, many white Southerners had formed private schools to escape the desegregated public schools and in response the federal government had taken away the tax exemption for private schools that continued to be racially segregated.

This far right movement led to several results.  The evangelical conservatives have had disproportionate influence on Washington politics with presidential candidates courting them and a number of presidents with openly avowed allegiance to the religious right.  Nixon had associations with evangelical leaders, Reagan used evangelism and race issues to win the presidency, and of course Bush jr was a born again.  It was through the religious right that the GOP has dominated Washington for so many decades.  And, in that time, what policies were instated?  What were the results?

American politicians have supported Israel because according to evangelical theology the Jews have to rebuild the temple before Jesus can return.  The culture wars, based on issues of race and poverty, has become a wedge issue and a major campaigning strategy.  Politicians were forced to accept to support ‘tough on crime’ policies which led to the ever-increasing prison population.  The War on Drugs was started with an emphasis on drugs used by poor minorities.  Communism became identified with Godlessness and so the religious right became identified with the ‘American way’.  The religious fueled Cold War led to more wars started than during any other time in US history.  The US became a highly militarized society and began it’s mission of spreading democracy (i.e., nation-building).  And all of this led to Republican administrations having budget deficits.

The NRA, by itself, seems like a harmless organization.  But the problem is that it’s a special interest group that is part of a larger movement that has succeeded in manipulating public policies.  And as the polls show this special interest group doesn’t even accurately represent its own members.

Heaven and Nature

On a slightly different but related note, this article is about the popularity of pantheism in American culture.  The author doesn’t mention it, but imagine this has its roots in the Founding Fathers preference of deism over theism (which relates to the Enlightenment ideals of democracy).

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

I think this also relates to the issue of evangelism.  Many people don’t realize that a large percentage of evangelicals are liberals and evangelism was part of a great mix of religious fervor in the 1800s (having it’s roots in the Protestant Reformation and the Anabaptist movement).  Everything from Mormonism to New Thought Christianity came out of this period, and religious communes such as the Shakers became popular in the era of Civil War unease.  People, both liberal and conservative, were looking for a truly American sense of religion… and the Europeans too were having their own version of collective soul-searching (because the Industrial Age in general was disruptive of traditional ways of life).

I suspect that pantheism has a direct link to the evangelical faith in a God who is very close to humanity and also the idea of being filled by the Holy Spirit.  Evangelism and New Age spirituality are twin siblings.  However, the religious right had seemed to have one the battle in this sibling rivalry for liberal religiosity had seemed to have been purged from the Democratic party in response to the extreme religiosity of the GOP.  Ever since, the religious right has defined the terms for all religious and moral debate which has allowed them to set the terms for most of the political debate as well.

However, certain things shifted the balance.  Joseph Campbell and George Lucas helped to popularize liberal and secular sense of the spiritual (pantheism), but it also invited liberals to be more openly spiritual and even religious (eventually leading to the likes of Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle).  But this had started back in the 1800s with the newly translated ancient texts.  And this was kicked into high gear with the discovery and popularization of the Gnostic texts which really hit the mainstream around the time of Campbell’s popularity.  These Gnostic texts led to a revival of liberals reclaiming Christianity which has been slow but steady, and which prepared the way for someone like Obama to use religious language to win the presidency (something only Republicans were able to do).

One interesting thing about liberal religion/spirituality is the emphasis on pacifism.  That also goes back to the 1800s.  It was the time of the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln (by a racist white Southerner).  It was the beginning of the racial issues and culture wars that have bred so much violence.  Many people were tired of all of the violence in the late 1800s and so joined pacifist communes such as the Shakers, pacifist communities such as the Amish, and pacifist groups such as the Quakers.  The list of pacifist Christian groups in America is very long which is odd when you consider how Christian messages of violence too often dominate our media.

This pacifist tradition has always been strong.  America didn’t start off as a militarized society.  The Founding Fathers formed America in order to defend themselves against oppressive violence.  When they had established the government, they were specifically clear about not wanting a standing army.

So, America has seen some massive shifts in its public policies and in its public opinions.  The dominance of the GOP began in reaction to the civil rights movement in the 1950s.  The civil rights movement began with the anti-slavery movement of the 1800s.  The anti-slavery movement began because none of the Founding Fathers were able or willing to make slavery illegal at the inception of our country.  A slow shift that has finally resulted in a black president.  Still, racial conflict and the culture wars are just as strong, just as divisive.  Mexicans (known by the codeword ‘illegal aliens’) are the new hated minority, but at the same time both blacks and hispanics will outnumber the whites in the near future.  Also, as the prison population decreases, this will mean more minorities out in the general public and more minorities with power to influence politics.

It makes me wonder where it’s all leading.

JFK: Assassination of a Nation’s Soul

Here is an awesome JFK quote from Matt Cardin’s In serving his vision of truth, the artist best serves his nation:

These may be my favorite words ever spoken by an American President. They come from a speech delivered by John F. Kennedy on October 26, 1963 — less than a month before his death — at Amherst College, in honor of the late Robert Frost. The speech was published the following February in The Atlantic under the title “Poetry and Power,” while the nation was still in shock and mourning.

John F Kennedy

[A]rt establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet, in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeigh once remarked of poets, “There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.”

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man — the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope.”

 – – –

I was just listening to the actual speech that JFK gave that day at Amherst College (also, here is the poem spoken by Robert Frost along with the poem he was going to speak).  I’m not someone who cries easily or often, but listening to JFK brought tears to my eyes.  I’m a Gen-Xer born more than a decade after JFK’s assassination and more important born after Nixon’s demoralizing presidency.  With the CIA’s illegal activities abroad and the FBI’s attack on civil rights through COINTELPRO, everything that was good about America seemed long gone.  Gen-Xers are cynical for a very good reason.  Between the assassinations of JFK (15 yrs after Ghandi’s assassination) and MLK (and RFK on top of that), it feels like the soul of America (the hope of liberal idealism in the entire world) itself had been assassinated. 

The Wikipedia article on the reaction to the JFK assassination:

Around the world, there was a stunned reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

The first hour after the shooting, before his death was announced, was a time of great confusion. Taking place during the Cold War, it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the U.S., and whether Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.

The news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car.[citation needed] Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early.[1] Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having “killed the President”.[citation needed]

The event left a lasting impression on many Americans. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor before it and the September 11, 2001 attacks after it, asking “Where were you when you heard about Kennedy’s assassination” would become a common topic of discussion.

The reaction

In the United States, the assassination dissolved differences among all people as they were brought together in one common theme: shock and sorrow after the assassination. It was seen in statements by the former presidents and members of Congress, etc. The news was so shocking and hit with such impact, it was later reported that 99% of the U.S. population knew about his murder within three hours afterwards, an amazing speed of a news item before round-the-clock cable television networks.

Around the world

After the assassination, many world leaders expressed shock and sorrow, some going on television and radio to address their countrymen. In countries around the world, state premiers and governors and mayors also issued messages expressing shock over the assassination. Governments ordered flags to half-staff and days of mourning. Many of them wondered if the new president, Lyndon Johnson, would carry on Kennedy’s policies or not.

In many countries radio and television networks, after breaking the news, either went off the air except for funeral music or broke schedules to carry uninterrupted news of the assassination, and if Kennedy had made a visit to that country, recalled that visit in detail. In several nations, monarchs ordered the royal family into days of mourning. The government of Iraq declared three days of national mourning.

At U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, switchboards lit up and were flooded with phone calls. At many of them, shocked personnel often let telephones go unanswered. They also opened up books of condolences for people to sign. In Europe, the assassination tempered Cold War sentiment, as people on both sides expressed shock and sorrow.

News of the assassination reached Asia during the early morning hours of November 23, 1963, because of the time difference, as people there were sleeping. In Japan, the news became the first television broadcast from the United States to Japan via the Relay 1 satellite instead of a prerecorded message from Kennedy to the Japanese people.

Unofficial mourning

Hastily organized memorial services for Kennedy were held throughout the world, allowing many to express their grief. Governments lowered flags to half-staff and declared days of mourning, and church bells tolled. A day of national mourning and sorrow was declared in the U.S. for Monday, November 25, the day of the state funeral. Many other countries did the same. Throughout the United States, many states declared the day of the funeral a legal holiday.

There has hardly been any kind of positive international response to a US president since that time… that is until Barack Obama.  I’m not saying that Obam is the new JFK, but it sure has been a long while since America has genuinely believed in its own idealism… believed it to the extent that the rest of the world was actually convinced.  (The only killed political leader that has touched the world’s heart since JFK is Princess Diana.)

And out of the ashes JFK’s assassination was born the white supremacy evangelical right.  It saddens me to my bones.  Look at what America has become: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  Should I kill myself now or hold onto the hope that America can actually live up to its own idealism?

President Kennedy wasn’t perfect, but it was we Americans who failed him.  That is how I feel.  In listening to JFK shortly before his death, all I can say is, “I’m sorry” (and repeat those words again and again and again).  I feel that somehow I personally failed his dream (and MLK’s dream… not to mention Gandhi’s dream… and John Lennon’s dream… please, let the list end here).  and it feels like America (and the world) has been in a downward descent ever since… with the cynical vision of the Republican party ruling America.  It’s completely understandable that the conspiracy theorists disbelieve the official story (for example, watch these videos and feel the outrage at the deepest level of your heart and soul).  How could a fluke, a random event assassinate the very soul of America (the supposedly greatest nation in the world)?

Let me just say that I take the increase of death threats against Obama very seriously!

In the conclusion of the Wikipedia article about MLK’s assassination:

In 2004, Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted:

The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. …I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.[46][47]
Has anybody here, seen my old friend John –
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good, they die young
But I just looked around and he’s gone.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, commenced an era of political showmanship symbolized by the Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan.
 
The last great speech of the last great politician…
 
 
God save us all!
 

United States Ranking in the World

At worldbank.org, I checked out a map.

The United States ranks low on “Political Stability”, but ranks high on most other indicators.  There are, however, a few countries that rank high on all indicators.  I heard one person argue on a forum that they thought this was because these countries were socially liberal, but it could also be connected to their being more Northern countries.

On “Voice and Accountability”, the countries that had higher ranking than the United States:

  • Canada
  • Greenland
  • Iceland
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Finland

The countries that had equal ranking with the United States:

  • Costa Rica
  • Chile
  • Uruguay
  • Japan
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia

Moral Decline in US?

http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20091106/OPINION05/911060304/Trends-show-moral-decline

A quick websearch gave some data showing a high correlation between self-claimed church attendance and belief in bibilical literalism. And 1/3 of Americans claim to take the Bible literally.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/27682/onethird-americans-believe-bible-literally-true.aspx

But that is all in the context that apparently around half of the people claiming to attend church are lying and the fact that Americans know very little about what is actually in the Bible.

http://reasonweekly.com/reasonweekly-originals/are-americans-faking-religiosity

So, “literalism” as used here is a highly subjective term. Going by an ABC poll, Americans are more likely to consider certain parts of the Bible literal than other parts.

http://abcnews.go.com/images/pdf/947a1ViewsoftheBible.pdf

Replying to dezzy037:

Regardless of how many of us feel about religion. It is true that the morality of this nation is declining. And history HAS shown that this leads to the destruction of nations, empires, world powers, etc.

Prove your claim of declining morality with cited data. The data I’ve seen shows no general trend of declining morality. Some factors associated with morality are improving and some are declining, but there is no overall pattern.

And prove a causal (not mere correlation) that history HAS shown this leads to destruction. Of course, when a culture is in decline, morality would be in decline by definition. That doesn’t prove causation nor does it explain the specific causal relationship.

Take the Roman Empire as an example. As Roman culture became increasingly Christianized, it also was growing weaker from within despite Christians having absolute control. When Rome was sacked, it was ruled by Christians and the German tribes who sacked it were also Christians. 

– – –

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/morality-religion-and-science/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/glenn-becks-anti-atheist-rant/

Let me share specific statistics.  From the Wikipedia article on Crime in the United States:

Since 1964, the U.S. crime rate has increased by as much as 350%, and over 11 million crimes were reported in the year 2007 alone.[10] Crime in the United States has fluctuated considerably over the course of the last half-century, rising significantly in the late 1960s and 1970s, peaking in the 1980s and then decreasing considerably in the 1990s.  

So, almost in direct correspondence crime rates increased massively right after “In God We Trust” became our national motto, and it was declared as such right in the middle of the Baby Boom.  The Baby Boomers grew up bottle fed on this post-war patriotic religiosity.  How did it affect them?  From the Wikipedia article on Baby Boom Generation:

In 1993, Time magazine reported on the religious affiliations of baby boomers, stating that about 42% of baby boomers were dropouts from formal religion, a third had never strayed from church, and one-fourth of boomers were returning to religious practice. The boomers returning to religion were “usually less tied to tradition and less dependable as church members than the loyalists. They are also more liberal, which deepens rifts over issues like abortion and homosexuality.”[9]  

Now, compare that to Generation X that followed.  Generation X grew up with less overt religiosity.  As older GenXers were coming into positions of power during the 90s, they began influencing society and they helped the technological boom.  What else happened?  Crime began to decrease for the first time since “In God We Trust” became our national motto.  Our national allegiance to God led to almost a half century of sky-rocketing crime.  There is no correlation between religious moralizing done by conservative Christians and actual moral behavior.  From religioustolerance.org:

There is consensus that the overall U.S. divorce rate had a brief spurt after WW2, followed by a decline, then started rising in the 1960s and even more quickly in the 1970s, then leveled off [in the] 1980s and [has since] declined slightly.”   

Those are general statistics and there are many factors to consider.  Still, like crime, divorce rates increased after “In God We Trust” became our national motto.  

The slogan: “The family that prays together, stays together” is well known. There has been much anecdotal evidence that has led to “unsubstantiated claims that the divorce rate for Christians who attended church regularly, pray together or who meet other conditions is only 1 or 2 percent. 8 Emphasis ours]. Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family said that for “…born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together…” experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages — or 0.00256 percent. 9A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. The survey found:

  11% of the adult population is currently divorced.
  25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.
  Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.

George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, commented: “While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages. 

According to Divorce Magazine, divorce rates peaked in 1981 and are presently at the lowest they’ve been in a long time.  Not only are divorce rates the highest following the post-war patriotic religiosity but highest amongst conservative Christians who preach family values.  More from religioustolerance.org:

Barna’s results verified findings of earlier polls: that conservative Protestant Christians, on average, have the highest divorce rate, while mainline Christians have a much lower rate. They found some new information as well: that atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all.  George Barna commented that the results raise “questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families.” The data challenge “the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage.“ Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said:

“In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. …Just being born again is not a rabbit’s foot.” 

Hughes claim that 90% of divorces among born-again couples occur after they have been “saved.”

Furthermore, atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all!

Age group % have been divorced
Baby boomers (33 to 52 years of age) 34%
Builders (53 to 72 years of age) 37%
Seniors (above 72 years of age) 18%

 Many seniors were married in the late 40’s or early 50’s at a time when divorce rates were much lower than they are today.

People specifically married prior to the Congressional declaration of “In God We Trust” have the lowest divorce rates and it has only begun to decrease again in recent years.What about teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases?  From the Wikipedia article on Teen pregnancy:

In the United States the topic of sex education is the subject of much contentious debate. Some schools provide “abstinence-only” education and virginity pledges are increasingly popular. A 2004 study by Yale and Columbia Universities found that fully 88 percent of those who pledge abstinence have premarital sex anyway.[57] 

The conservative Christian belief in teaching abstinence and nothing but abstinence is a complete failure, just as much of a failure as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.  Schools with abstinence only programs have the highest rates of pregnancy and STDs.  Of course, some of this is caused by the sexual revolution and sexuality in the media, but my point is that it was the patriotic religiosity that preceeded the sexual revolution and contributed to the social atmosphere that led to the it.  But how does this compare to other countries?  From the Wikipedia article on Adolescent sexuality in the United States:

Every year, an estimated 1 in 4 sexually active teens contracts an STD,[9] and teen pregnancy is 2 to 10 times more prevalent in the United States than in other similarly developed countries.[10] 

The United States is the most conservatively religious industrial nation and yet has one of the highest rates of certain immoral behaviors.  Obviously, righteous moralizing is far from helpful.

The percentage of teenagers who report they are currently sexually active has also been dropping since 1991. In 1997, only 37% of females and 33% of males who reported ever having had sexual intercourse said that they had sex in the past 3 months.[28] By 2005, the overall percentage of teenagers reporting that they were currently sexually active was down to 33.9%.[1] 

So, the generations following the Boomers were raised with less traditional Christian values.  Atheism, agnosticism, and “religious nones” have been increasing with the post-Boomer generations.  Directly correlated with this are the rates of decreasing extra-marital sexual behavior among teens.  The ironic fact is that, even though abstinence had recently been increasing, abstinence only sex education has been far from proven effective.  From the Wikipedia article on Abstinence-only sex education:

Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association,[16] the American Medical Association,[17] the National Association of School Psychologists,[18] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[19] the American College Health Association,[19] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[20] and the American Public Health Association,[21] which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.The AMA “urges schools to implement comprehensive… sexuality education programs that… include an integrated strategy for making condoms available to students and for providing both factual information and skill-building related to reproductive biology, sexual abstinence, sexual responsibility, contraceptives including condoms, alternatives in birth control, and other issues aimed at prevention of pregnancy and sexual transmission of diseases… [and] opposes the sole use of abstinence-only education…”[17]The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated successful outcomes with regard to delayed initiation of sexual activity or use of safer sex practices… Programs that encourage abstinence as the best option for adolescents, but offer a discussion of HIV prevention and contraception as the best approach for adolescents who are sexually active, have been shown to delay the initiation of sexual activity and increase the proportion of sexually active adolescents who reported using birth control.”[20]On August 4, 2007, the British Medical Journal published an editorial concluding that there is “no evidence” that abstinence-only sex education programs “reduce risky sexual behaviours, incidence of sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy” in “high income countries”.[22]A comprehensive review of 115 program evaluations published in November 2007 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of sex education programs focusing on both abstinence and contraception had a positive effect on teen sexual behavior. The same study found no strong evidence that abstinence-only programs delayed the initiation of sex, hastened the return to abstinence, or reduced the number of sexual partners.[23][24] According to the study author:

“Even though there does not exist strong evidence that any particular abstinence program is effective at delaying sex or reducing sexual behavior, one should not conclude that all abstinence programs are ineffective. After all, programs are diverse, fewer than 10 rigorous studies of these programs have been carried out, and studies of two programs have provided modestly encouraging results. In sum, studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination.” 

Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States, is a notable critic of abstinence-only sex education. She was among the interviewees Penn & Teller included in their Bullshit! episode on the subject.[25]Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that abstinence-only sex education leads to the opposite of the intended results by spreading ignorance regarding sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use of contraceptives to prevent both infections and pregnancy.[26]

These are just trends and it’s hard to know which correlations may or may not imply causation.  The data isn’t always clear and much more study is needed to understand which programs work best, but my basic point remains true.  Simply put, religious moral claims have no basis in real-world scientifically proven facts.  From the Wikipedia article on Sex education:

Abstinence-only sex education tells teenagers that they should be sexually abstinent until marriage and does not provide information about contraception. In the Kaiser study, 34% of high-school principals said their school’s main message was abstinence-only.The difference between these two approaches, and their impact on teen behavior, remains a controversial subject. In the U.S., teenage birth rates had been dropping since 1991, but a 2007 report showed 3% increase from 2005 to 2006.[28] From 1991 to 2005, the percentage of teens reporting that they had ever had sex or were currently sexually active showed small declines.[29] However, the U.S. still has the highest teen birth rate and one of the highest rates of STIs among teens in the industrialized world.[30] Public opinion polls conducted over the years have found that the vast majority of Americans favor broader sex education programs over those that teach only abstinence, although abstinence educators recently published poll data with the opposite conclusion.[31][32][33]Proponents of comprehensive sex education, which include the American Psychological Association,[34] the American Medical Association,[35] the National Association of School Psychologists,[36] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[37] the American Public Health Association,[38] the Society for Adolescent Medicine[39] and the American College Health Association,[39] argue that sexual behavior after puberty is a given, and it is therefore crucial to provide information about the risks and how they can be minimized; they also claim that denying teens such factual information leads to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.On the other hand, proponents of abstinence-only sex education object to curricula that fail to teach their standard of moral behavior; they maintain that a morality based on sex only within the bounds of marriage is “healthy and constructive” and that value-free knowledge of the body may lead to immoral, unhealthy, and harmful practices. Within the last decade, the federal government has encouraged abstinence-only education by steering over a billion dollars to such programs.[40][…] In a meta-analysis, DiCenso et al. have compared comprehensive sex education programs with abstinence-only programs.[49] Their review of several studies shows that abstinence-only programs did not reduce the likelihood of pregnancy of women who participated in the programs, but rather increased it.

The most significant fact here is that there is evidence that abstinence-only sex education may lead to increased teen sexual activity.  The facts speak for themselves. 

– – –

http://www.wired.com/culture/education/magazine/17-09/st_sinmaps?mbid=wir_newsltr

http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_are_religious_societies_healthier.html

http://www.holysmoke.org/hs00/prison.htm

http://www.skepticfiles.org/american/prison.htm

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/erbe/2009/09/18/too-much-religion-leads-to-high-teen-pregnancy-rates.html

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article571206.ece

http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity_and_intelligence

http://www.humanreligions.info/intelligence.html

http://hypnosis.home.netcom.com/iq_vs_religiosity.htm

America: Christian Nation?

http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

Various studies in recent years have cast a grave doubt on the 40% value.

Public opinion polls generally do not report real opinions and events. They report only the information that the individuals choose to tell the pollsters. Quite often, their answers will be distorted by a phenomenon called “social desirability bias.” Pollees answer questions according to what they think they should be doing, rather than what they are doing. For example, a poll by Barna Research showed that 17% of American adults say that they tithe — i.e. they give 10 to 13% of their income to their church. Only 3% actually do. 9

The gap between what they do and what they say they do is closer in the case of religious attendance. It is “only” about 2 to 1.

[…]

If this study by Presser and Stinson is accurate, it would indicate a substantial drop in actual church attendance from the mid 1960s to the mid 1990s. Since the reported attendance has remained stuck at the magical 40% figure for decades, one might conclude that the rate of exaggeration of church attendance is increasing. Also, it would appear that polls are to be mistrusted. Nobody really knows what the percentage attendance is. To obtain accurate data, pollsters will have to abandon the comfortable task of polling opinion by phone and camp out in church, synagogue, and mosque parking lots so that they can count noses.

[…]

Tom Flynn, writing for the Free Inquiry magazine wrote:

“Some pollsters have refined their survey instruments after the 1993 Hadaway paper. Gallup changed its questions, but continued to report weekly churchgoing at over 40%. Yet when the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) redesigned its mammoth General Social Survey (GSS), church attendance figures declined sharply. For many years GSS data had supported Gallup’s; the redesigned 1996 GSS reported that only between 29 and 30.5% of Americans attended church in the last week, a figure similar to Presser and Stinson’s.”

“Hadaway, Marler, and Chaves wonder, “To what extent do these findings challenge the conventional wisdom that Americans are a very religious people?” At the least, they would seem to reinforce the claim that despite the rhetoric, active religious participation remains a minority interest in American life.” 2

 […]

The director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, Robert Wuthnow, said that the terrorists’ attacks have not changed the basic makeup of the U.S.:

  • About one in four of American adults is devoutly religious;
  • one in four is secular, and
  • the remaining half is mildly interested about religion.

 – – –

http://reasonweekly.com/reasonweekly-originals/are-americans-faking-religiosity

Church attendance as established by surveys is one of the main factors alleged to illustrate the depth of religious feeling in America. Depending on which poll you consult, between 33 percent and 43 percent of Americans claim to attend church weekly. Using the low end of that range, we get a figure of around a hundred million people. Even cursory crack research, however, reveals that this might not be true, for the simple reason that there might not be enough seats in all churches in America to hold nearly as many people.

[…]

According to a study conducted for the Catholic Biblical Federation in 2008, 93 percent of Americans have at least one copy of the Bible at home. Twenty-seven percent of Americans surveyed believe that the Bible is “the actual word of God, which must be taken literally, word for word,” and 78 percent view its contents as true. Almost half of American respondents agree–either somewhat or completely–with the statement “The Bible should be studied at school,” and 56 percent have given a Bible as a gift at least once. In addition, a Harris poll conducted the same year showed that Americans overwhelmingly name the Bible as their favorite book.

One might deduct from these numbers that the Americans’ knowledge of the Bible is at least somewhat satisfactory. Nobody could like the Bible, let alone maintain that its contents are true, give it as a gift, or recommend that it be taught in schools, without possessing at least an elementary awareness of its teachings. In order to agree that the Bible contains the unerring pronouncements of God, which are to be taken literally, word for word, from beginning to end, one must necessarily be acquainted with what these pronouncements are.

Not so. According to polls, a mere half of Americans are able to name a single Gospel, and a majority are unfamiliar with the fact that Genesis is the first book of the Bible. Thomas, according to 22 percent of Americans, wrote one of the books, and Sodom and Gomorrah were married, if we are to listen to half of American high school seniors.

While a majority of Americans maintain that they use the ten biblical commandments as a life guide, 60 percent are unable to name more than four. Among adult and teen believers, “God helps those who help themselves” is the most widely-known verse in the Bible; only 38 percent of respondents correctly said that this was not a Bible quotation, while 42 percent thought it was, and 20 percent did not hazard a guess.

Sixteen percent of American Christians believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born in Jerusalem, 8 percent in Nazareth, 6 percent abstained from responding, while the rest got it right. Twelve percent also attribute to Jesus the writing of a book of the Bible.

America seems to not be the solid bastion of Christianity that many claim it is or wish it were. In large numbers, Americans from all walks of life shun church and reduce their Bibles to the status of objects of decoration, while they maintain, perhaps in a bout of wishful thinking, that God, churches and religion rule their lives. People who believe Joan of Arc to have been Noah’s wife, as one in 10 Americans do, can not be said to have even a fleeting interest in their scripture. Americans are indeed religious; just how religious is a question that still needs investigating. In private, religious apathy piles thick behind the screen of public piety, and the famously robust American religiosity–taken for granted by many–seems to become a delusion of biblical proportions.