Monday, February 7, 2011

Know Thy Enemy: A Progressive Reads Ralph Reed- Politically Incorrect

The Good: Articulately expresses the fundamentalist viewpoint on influencing politics
The Bad: Terrible reasoning and debate skills, Footnotes and references are silly, Generally poorly written
The Basics: Ralph Reed's manifesto for the Evangelicals is baffling with logical fallacies and poor debating skills, making one wish Reed could explain why he needs to tell others how to live.

I have been called, on many occasions, a Communist and as far as economic theory goes, I suppose I am. Communists are often laughed at as political idealists who are so out of touch with reality that our beliefs are laughable. I suppose that is what comes from expressing a belief that a system of economics where less than 1% of the population controls the fate and well-being of the other 99% is ultimately unsustainable and the most probable fate of such a system is a significant majority of that 99% will rise up and take what they believe they need to better themselves. As an offshoot of that economic belief, I have a strong belief that the political system that organizes itself around protecting that 1% from the other 99% will suffer greatly when the populous majority overthrows the economic majority. My point here is that I subscribe to a belief in an economic system and political belief that many find laughable.

It is, therefore, something significant for me to say that it was less than 10 pages into Ralph Reed's discourse Politically Incorrect that I found myself laughing out loud at the views expressed therein. Ralph Reed takes the position that if the United States were reorganized under the guidance of the Christian Coalition and other religious (read: Judeo-Christian) fundamentalists, "Government would be small because citizens and private institutions would voluntarily perform many of its functions. We would not need a large, bloated welfare state to take care of us, for we would take care of each other. . . . Through private initiatives and sound public policy, those who were hungry would be fed, those who were thirsty would drink, those who were homeless would be housed, and those who were hurting would be comforted."

Wow. And my views are mocked as "idealistic!"

I've noticed whenever I review a book written by a conservative author, I get a bunch of comments by people who attack my view, as opposed to either writing a review of their own, attacking my review or simply leaving well enough alone. In this review, I would like to emphasize that I am not spreading my viewpoints, but rather commenting on Politically Incorrect and while I detest Ralph Reed and his organization(s), I am thoroughly capable of writing a review without sinking to the level of ad hominem. So, for example, with Ralph Reed's dubious assertion that the United States would have a utopia if only Christians ran everything, his logic is baffling and false.

He begs the question: why can Christians (as defined by Reed and the Christian Coalition) only feed the hungry, house the homeless, and offer counseling if government is small? Reed insists that if government were small, we would not need a bloated welfare state (his words) because private initiatives would take their place. This begs the question, why haven't they? There is certainly no law stopping organizations from any religion from helping the poor, so why have they not transformed society to the way Reed writes they will?

The answers are simple: the book begins with false logic and proceeds throughout with logic that is dubious. Reed frequently defines the Evangelical and Roman Catholic populace in the United States as a disenfranchised population. There are no laws preventing Christians from voting, so their failure at any time to participate in the democratic process is not disenfranchisement it's either protest, laziness or a healthy understanding that in the United States voting ought not to be decided by religious viewpoints but by political goals. Reed belabors the concept that the Religious Right has been kept out of the political process when that is patently untrue, even at the time this book was written.

Moreover, much of the problem with Politically Incorrect is in the way Reed frames his debate. He constantly writes about instances where Christians are persecuted - for example, when prayers are said at government meetings - and he creates in this book the sense that the religion is threatened by the government. The problem with this entire line of reasoning and tactic of debate is that he creates the air of victimization around the Christians when no one is attacking their private right to express their faith.

Reed's desire to see Christians become political is not motivated by hate speech against Christians. It is not motivated by strings of attacks on Christians. It is not motivated by people blowing up churches. No, every example he cites in Politically Incorrect that he hopes to use to motivate people to enlist in the Christian Coalition come from reactions from Evangelicals attempting to assert their will on the general populace or government organizations! In short, all of Reed's examples essentially concede that the government is reacting to Evangelicals trying to tell others how to live their lives be it through marriage, abortion or what can or cannot be taught in school.

So, while he belabors the Scopes Trial (it is mentioned at least four times in this book, which was published in 1994!), Reed blindly expects the reader to agree with him without questioning the basic logic of his arguments. He objects to evolution being taught without Creationism being taught as well. The logical fallacy here is that there is not a single argument in the book to show that church schools are being influenced by the government. That is to say, Creationism is - by definition - a religious doctrine, taught in a secular society at a Church. Reed would have a case if the government was not allowing Creationism to be taught in church, he loses his argument when he asks for religious doctrine to be taught at public schools. It's pretty simple; public schools are founded on secular ideas, if you as a parent want your child taught another way, your options are to home school (which Reed encourages), send children to private schools (which Reed encourages), and/or to simply send your child to another religious school to supplement their secular education (which does not, in this text, occur to Reed). I suppose this means that Reed believes public school teachers are so good at their jobs that they are so convincing on such things as creation of the Universe, that church schools cannot compete to even express their own ideas coherently.

In the end, Politically Incorrect is a mess of ideas that presume the reader places the same value on certain hot-button issues as Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition. He assumes the reader essentially distrusts the government and sees it as too big. He proudly recalls the efforts he and his legions used to thwart the Clinton Health Care plan. Why? It had taxpayer funded abortions. Now, twelve years later (when I originally considered this book), I think it is germane to ask the question; how many people would rather have health care that allows them to see a doctor, get prescription drugs and provide for the basic health and well-being of you and your family even if it means that some people on the same plan might use it to get abortions?

In an investigation of a handful of Reed's citations, it is interesting to note that he cites other people's editorials when making citations of facts. Moreover, some of his sources are dubious, including one in one of the latter chapters that claims that 78% of African-Americans support the death penalty. Reed often cites sources for generalized quotes, but fails to cite some of his very specific numbers on other things. So, he will create a paragraph where he cites statistics on a viewpoint with source material footnoted, then make a statement on how the Christian Coalition can change things citing numbers (like population, percentage of people supporting something, or generalized statistics like on crime or schooling) which have no apparent basis but Reed's word.

Ralph Reed's logic is essentially that he and his followers know the right way for us to act and therefore we ought to cede our decisions to them. In his worldview, as expressed in Politically Incorrect, the Christian Coalition has a responsibility to prevent others from marrying, divorcing and/or having abortions. He views himself as a master of society, instead of truly understanding what freedom means.

On Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Odo once noted that with freedom of choice comes the freedom for people to make the wrong choice ("The Collaborator"). As Wanda Sykes said recently in one of her standup routines, "If you don't like gay marriage, don't marry a gay guy!" Similarly, Reed fails to make the argument for why anyone who is pregnant ought to be forced to see an unwanted child to term so it could be offered up for adoption. He never addresses the question of why the Christian Coalition cannot simply let abortion doctors and patients make their own decision and let him and his people be disgusted by it. If you're against abortion, don't have one. No one forces anyone to have one!

Instead, throughout Politically Incorrect, Reed makes sweeping statements about society and how Christians need to be involved in politics. Which brings me to my earlier point; Christians are involved in politics. Americans object only to them trying to tell others how to live and act based on legislation based on their faith as opposed to accepting others and understanding that not everyone is going to be Christian. Or Jewish. Or even have a religion.

Too bad there's no philosophy out there that teaches loving other people like you want to be loved. If there is, Ralph Reed's Politically Incorrect does not illustrate that he knows of such a philosophy. Or it illustrates that he certainly does not love himself.

For other political volumes, please visit my reviews of:
Keeping Faith - Jimmy Carter
Godless: The Church Of Liberalism - Ann Coulter
Letters To A Young Conservative - Dinesh D'Souza


For other book reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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