exercises in compound storytelling

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah (part one): march against Bablyon

Max Blumenthal's 2009 book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party is another one of those "who are these people?" books that attempts to explain who's who and what's what in the Christian Right. It appears to have been written for a TIME Magazine-reading audience, possibly with connections inside the Beltway, since it starts with selections from the TIME list of the 25 most influential Evangelicals and peppers the summary with political reference points: the John Birch Society, the Communist Party, the ACLU, etc.

So far I've just gotten through Part One, for which Blumenthal chooses as an epigram Jeremiah 50:21-22 (march and destroy, etc.). I still have no idea where Blumenthal is going: in the introduction he suggests that he will be explaining the relationship between the Christian Right and the misbehavior of Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Larry Craig, etc. and its commitment to authoritarian government, but by the end of Part One he's just given biographical information on a handful of politically influential Christians:
And when he makes the turn into Part Two he's still talking about Dobson, connecting Dobson's advocacy of corporal punishment (spanking, plus some sort of trapezius nerve pinch) with his political action against pornography.

I hesitate to say that this is a bad book; Blumenthal is telling a particular story to a particular audience, and it's probably unreasonable to expect him to get details right when he's talking about things that are peripheral to his story or that his audience already believes or doesn't care about: he frames generally accepted terms he doesn't like in scare quotes: e.g. "pro-life," misapplies terms (the Presbyterian Church in America is not ultraconservative; they're a conservative branch of a mainline denomination), gets basic facts wrong (John Wesley wasn't a Calvinist), and tends to quote single sources as authoritative without adequate justification.

I suspect it's fair to say that Blumenthal isn't interested in putting the Christian Right in whatever form into historical perspective; he's looking to sell books to people who already fear and hate the Christian Right. And that's a double shame: first because the rise of the Christian Right is poorly understood by people who disagree with them, and second because Blumenthal's sloppiness and high rhetorical tone doesn't help anyone's understanding.

There are multiple perspectives on the Christian Right as a religious and political movement, and most of the things written about it look at it from one and only one of these perspectives:
  • A grass-roots political movement
  • The continuation of some interrupted political story
  • A foreign imposition of an antidemocratic authoritarian political system
  • A deviant but uniquely American religious phenomenon
  • A story of blind faith and political naivete becoming politically savvy
  • A conspiracy of a cabal of shady characters 
Blumenthal seems to be taking the third perspective, putting him in the same category with John Dean and Joe Conason, writing Beltway books for a Beltway audience concerned with Beltway values.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments: