A Heretic’s Pilgrimage: My Journey to the 2012 Values Voter Summit


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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216 Responses

  1. Avatar Glyph says:

    Very nice Tod.

    The ‘disparate data streams’ is indeed an issue, but I don’t know that there is any good solution, and in any case, more data streams are generally better if we are trying to use them to triangulate to Truth.

    Not much else to say, other than this was a pleasure to read.Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I applaud and thank you for going and reporting so I don’t have to. I think I would have stormed out after a minute. Possibly less.

    Some thoughts and observations:

    1. There is no contradiction between Evangelical Christianity and their support for Israel. In their worldview, Israel needs to be reborn and the second Temple rebuilt before Christ can return and the events in Revelations can take place. My general thoughts on this as a liberal Jewish supporter of Israel are “With friends like Michelle Bachmann, Israel does not need Hamas.” I also think that the alliance between Jewish neocons and Christian Evangelicals has to be one of the most cynical in political history. I would love to see Bill Kristol’s inner-thoughts on Christian Evangelicals. I imagine it is not pretty or kind.

    2. I think you hit the nail on the head for different language. I have no idea what conservatives mean when they talk about freedom and liberty. Their definition is not anything that I can recognize as a liberal. Also how are they supposed to accomplish all their far reaching social policy ideas with a “small government”?Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to NewDealer says:

      There is a very small group within the evangelical community that supports Israel in order to accelerate the end times. I’ve read an occasional comment like that online, but I’ve never had a conversation like that in person.

      Many evangelicals are excited about the possibility that the end times are near, and they look to the existence of Israel as a sign. But the support for Israel comes out of other impulses. First of all, the freedom to emigrate to Israel was a Reagan-era sticking point with the Soviet Union. To be pro-Israel was to be anti-communist. Secondly, and obviously, to be pro-Israel today is to be at least somewhat unenthused about her neighbors.

      There’s also a strong kinship that evangelicals feel toward Jews. It’s a bit condescending and paternal, but it’s there. They identify with people who are struggling to serve G-d, the same God that they believe in. The evangelical movement was greatly influenced by the Southern pentecostals of the last century, who in turn were influenced by the black churches – and we all know their connection to the Old Testament imagery of an enslaved Israel being set free by God.

      Evangelicals sense that the same people who dislike Israel dislike them. The Jews have always been a thumb in the eye of secular statism, an eternal insistence that faith and the miraculous aren’t going away. I could go on. The point is, New Dealer, that I think you’re badly misreading the evangelical support for Israel.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pinky says:

        How can Jews be a thumb in the eye of secular statism? Almost 80 percent of American Jews are very liberal and pretty secular as things go especially compared to Evangelicals.

        Eric Cantor is an exception, not a rule.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pinky says:

        And I still think the neocons think in their heads about how they are playing the Evangelicals for fools.Report

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to Pinky says:

        I agree with New Dealer, here. The alliance between evangelicals and neocons is a marriage of convenience. End-of-times literature stresses that when Jesus returns, those Jews that don’t convert will be relegated to hell. The only good Jew is one who converts to Christianity. IIRC, Jesus’ return is predicated on the Jews returning to Israel. While I’m sure a lot of evangelicals believe that their friends of the Jews and Israel, their views of the future of the Jewish state diverge wildly from those of Jews and Israelis.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky says:

        ND – I refer to the persistence of Judaism as a reminder of something beyond the state’s power to control. As for what you think neocons think, well, it doesn’t prove anything about what neocons think, does it? And it doesn’t address any of the points I raised. At least you could acknowledge my argument that the evangelical support for Israel is more than one-dimensional.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky says:

        Michelle, as I said and somewhat explained, it’s a lot more complicated than that. There is even a sizable segment of evangelicals who would say that every Jew will attain heaven. So it isn’t like they’re “gaming” Israel. And even if they were, so what? Would it matter to you if I did everything I could to help you and your family under the belief that once you’re happy and healthy, the aliens will harvest you rather than me? Such a belief would guarantee my loyalty, and affect you not at all.Report

        • Avatar Michelle in reply to Pinky says:

          I’m not so sure Evangelicals are really helping Israel with their support. Same for the Neocons.Report

          • Avatar Michelle in reply to Michelle says:

            And I find your alien analogy to be a bit off, since at the end, I’d get harvested and you’d survive. But I will grant you that there’s more nuance to evangelical support and I’m sure they think that their hearts are in the right place.Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to Michelle says:

              No, you wouldn’t, because aliens don’t exist. I’m sure that Israel doesn’t believe in Jesus’s return either. That’s my point. Politics is based on alliances. If I protect you out of love or out of my secret alien harvesting delusion, I’m still protecting you. If you believe that evangelicals are loyal to Israel because they think it will initate Armageddon, you’re acklowledging that they’re profoundly loyal to Israel. Why should the Israelis care why?Report

              • Avatar Michelle in reply to Pinky says:

                They should care because the kind of help such people are likely to provide could well be antithetical to your cause. Obviously, in both the evangelical and alien examples, you wouldn’t want to put much trust in anyone who’s reasons for doing so are based on their needs rather than yours. They’re ultimately loyal not to you but to their own interests, which is why the marriage of convenience analogy is more appropriate. There’s no deep, underlying loyalty there.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Michelle says:

            Agreed. Israel will be helped by people who stand strong against Hamas and Hezbollah and tell other Arabian governments, Israel exists (deal with it) but also people who recognize the plight of the Palestinians.

            Israel needs a working two-state solution. The Settlements need to go away. The hard-right also need to be told that the Palestinians deserve their own state and to deal with it.Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to NewDealer says:

              So, is it your position that the evangelicals can’t be trusted to befriend Israel, or they can be but are aiding Israel in the direction of a bad policy? Those are two different positions.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Pinky says:

        I disagree.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Pinky says:

        Pinky, you make a lot of good points here and this tracks fairly well with my experience with evangelicals as well (I have a few in the family). In addition to the religious aspects, in their minds being ‘pro-Israel’ is being ‘anti-‘ a lot of ‘bad guys’ (Nazis, Soviets, Radical Islamists).

        Israel is still also in their minds, for these reasons and others (some correct, and some now badly out-of-date at best), perceived as the ‘underdog’; and who doesn’t like the underdog?

        What I worry about is not that they necessarily want the eschaton to get here any faster or are taking action with the intent to speed things along – like you, I think that sort of nut is in the minority – but that, by believing that the end is nigh (and that that will be a good thing for them and theirs), they won’t be very motivated to try to *stop* Armageddon, if it looks like it is in fact coming down the pike.

        But I don’t think this is a solvable problem and probably exists in all the eschatological religions.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Glyph says:

          Yeah, I could have gone on listing reasons. The underdog one is valid. Another is Christian guilt over the history of anti-Semitism. There could be a “some of my best friends are non-Christians” element in it too, for some people. That’s why I had a problem with New Dealer’s comment. It wasn’t just a broad brush; the paint was the wrong color, and he paintied over some interesting detail work.

          Would I feel 100% giggly with an evangelical in charge of the US launch codes? I don’t think I’d be worried. GWB was as committed as any evangelical we’re ever likely to have in charge, and I don’t think his Mideast policy was ever affected by end times beliefs.Report

    • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to NewDealer says:

      “I would love to see Bill Kristol’s inner-thoughts on Christian Evangelicals. I imagine it is not pretty or kind.”

      Ditto and likewise on Tim LaHaye on the Jews. Oh wait, we already know that…Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to NewDealer says:

      “There is no contradiction between Evangelical Christianity and their support for Israel. In their worldview, Israel needs to be reborn and the second Temple rebuilt before Christ can return and the events in Revelations can take place.”

      I am well aware of this part of scripture, and the fact that some literalists are waiting for these events to transpire. However, I would have to say that this is not the vibe I got from the people I talked to at the VVS.

      If there was a dominant motivating force behind the support of Israel, I would have to say it was the perception of a common enemy in Islam. I could well be wrong, but I would be curious to go back in time to the early 1990s prior to Desert Storm and talk to these same folks, to see if their passion for protecting Israel was as great then as it is now.Report

  3. I’m only starting to read this post, but this paragraph reminds me of why I’m happy I moved away from the DC area.

    The young, giddy women behind me, however, are bubbling over with teenage energy. They have been given the day off from their Maryland high school to attend the Summit, and they are as excited as can be at the prospect of seeing Paul Ryan and his movie-star good looks in person. They rifle through various celebrity hunks that might theoretically tempt them away from Mitt Romney’s comely backup: Justin Timberlake, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, and some guy named Alex Pettyfer whom I have never heard of until now. Ultimately, though, the girls happily cast aside these bits of Tiger Beat fodder in favor of Wisconsin’s man of the hour. Not that it isn’t close. For a moment it looks like Pettyfer is going to be the consensus choice as Dreamiest Man Alive, until one of the girls makes an impassioned case that while Pettyfer is indeed hot, he is but a Hollywood playboy, whereas Ryan is a political savior, a man of God and a good family man. Pettyfer never stands a chance after that. I find myself wondering if I’ve just caught a first glimpse of the next generation’s Peggy Noonan.

    Hearing these types of conversations on a near-daily basis, just with the names, genders, and political affiliations changing depending on the age, gender/sexual orientation, and political affiliation of the intern/Congressional staffer/ideological non-profit employee standing in line behind me……

    At some point it starts making one’s ears bleed.Report

  4. This is a wonderful piece. I appreciate your open-heartedness, your attention to detail, and your persistent optimism in the face of such a starkly different worldview.

    Thank you for going, for writing this, and for sharing it with us.Report

  5. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    “Who would you rather kiss, Paul Ryan or Justin Bieber?”

    Tough choice. Is neither an option?Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    Good writing; depressing message but it rings of realism.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    This was the essay I’ve been waiting for. Delivered on all the promise and anticipation, and in a voice unique to its author and well-tuned to the human, emotional realities of the subject matter.Report

    • Now that I’ve read the full piece, I can properly second this. Beautiful piece, Tod.

      I suspect that there’s a great follow up post discussing how, even as it has made people on the other side of the globe our neighbors, the digital age has also caused us to live on entirely separate planets from our neighbor.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Your encounter with Franny on the plane home reminds me very much of my friendship with my next-door neighbor. He drinks deeply of the red flavor of Kool-Aid and is convinced to the core of his being that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. He’s worked through the dissonance of Obama’s having attended a church with a radical pastor (“That was for show, so he could run for office”) and denies that Obama is an atheist (“No, Obama isn’t that. He’s Muslim but he hides it.”) The guy’s against same-sex marriage because he thinks it means the public schools will teach his kids that their church is dispensing evil, although he claims to have nothing against gay people and that his attitude towards them is “live and let live.” Okay, so that’s not a dissonance he’s worked through yet. I’ve been able to get him to question the gospel truth that Obama was born in Kenya, or at least to concede that as a practical matter, it isn’t important. When we’re not talking politics, he and I are good friends. We play poker and canasta with our wives, we share beers and liquors, we barbeque for one another, we replace one anothers’ lawn sprinkler heads when they get clipped by the lawn mower, we watch one anothers’ houses and pets while each family is away on vacations, he’s very clear that if anything bad happens he’s on our doorstep with weapons handy ready to come to our aid as if I were his blood brother. A very sweet guy and a good friend whose company I genuinely enjoy, although we are mystified at one anothers’ politics.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I should add — he holds a Master’s degree in engineering. Dude’s smart.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Orange County engineers seem to be very Republican. Bay Area and Seattle engineers not so much.Report

          • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

            political beliefs are about hopes and fears (mostly fears). so long as someone doesn’t get too “9/11 was an inside job” while actually on their job, it’s not actually going to impact much of the rest of their lives.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to dhex says:

              I went to law school with a woman who seems very smart. She attended Princeton as an undergrad and was the head of the environmental law society for a while.

              She is a 9/11 truther and posts about it on every anniversary on facebook. I saw it for the first time this year.

              I must say that I felt a bit disappointed when I saw this.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to NewDealer says:

            I’m in L.A. County — almost Kern. Lots of engineers here work at Edwards AFB and for military contractors. But I take your point nevertheless.

            My point isn’t that it’s so amazing that my neighbor is an engineer or even that he’s smart and well-educated. It’s to provide a complete picture of someone who is at once very different from me in one respect that seems so important, and with whom that difference can be set aside and a very nice friendship has been formed.

            Too often those of us who do not self-identify as VV types think that those who do are unintelligent, uneducated, unkind, and unreasonable. Tod’s piece does a fine job of disabusing this myth. and my own experiences echo that. I also think that simply recognizing that political viewpoints are but one aspect of a whole person is a useful exercise; my neighbor and I have done that and that’s been a good thing.Report

            • Avatar dhex in reply to Burt Likko says:

              it’s only on the internet that most adults are abject jerks to each other on a regular basis because of their beliefs. it’s easier to “other” from a distance.

              side question: what’s a “vv type”? the googles, they do nothing.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

              This is true. There is a guy at my coffeeshop that I have a good relationship with, we talk a bit a few days a week.

              He considers himself to be a center-left moderate but clearly has some ideas that border on the not so moderate. He is very much against the Fed (I am not) and once told me how he thinks it is controlled by Rockfellers/Rothchilds. I quickly changed the subject.

              Yet he is also a very smart, educated guy.

              Everyone has their own crazy and illogical beliefs.Report

              • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

                his wacky borderline anti-semitism aside, the belief that a small cabal control the country – or at least unduly influence it – is dang near universal, no? whether they be the hollywood elite or the koch brothers/george soros or the christian dominionists who run the republicans or whatever…Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to dhex says:

                I think I understand the psychological appeal of conspiracy theories.

                But in the end, they don’t stand up to any scrutiny and we people are largely too incompetent to carry them out. Plus they are all so complicated that they would easily and quickly spiral into chaos.

                So they leave me mystified and sighing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        This is similar to my relationship with my assistant teacher, a woman about 20 years my senior. She is very conservative, though I get the sense has moved the needle a bit on a few social issues (it is my impression that one of her sons is gay, which I think it causing her to challenge my previously held beliefs); she is also married to a very, very conservative man.

        We get along great in the classroom. We don’t socialize outside of work, largely because we are just in very different places in our lives, but we have a very good working relationship. We laugh together, are supportive of one another, ask frequently about family and outside goings on, etc. We don’t really talk politics. We talk religion a bit, because we share a faith (Roman Catholicism), even if I’ve long abandoned it (something I’m not sure she fully knows). We’ve danced around the line a few times… she asked if I watched any of the RNC and I talked about the speeches I like. She said who she liked before adding, “I’m not sure who you support or are voting for but I think it’s good to watch. I’ll never watch those liars on the other side though.” I politely nodded and went about my work. She tends to wear her thoughts on her sleeve far more than I do, and not just politically, so I have a much better sense of who she is than she does of me (though she might know or guess more than I realize).

        Again, we have a very good relationship. I don’t know that it’d be as good if she knew more about me on these terms. Not because she is a conservative; she is just a fiery person who is quick to flip on anyone. It is an interesting dynamic, to say the least.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

          I bet, now that she has come to like you, trust you, and respect you as a person and a colleague, that she’d accept you even if she thought you were one of those wild-eyed liberals. That she knows you as a person first is what matters; while a discussion about politics directly would be difficult, other matters probably would not be. If you establish interpersonal respect first, political differences can be relegated to almost the level of acknowledging that the other person roots for a rival sports team.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Oh, yes, I won’t be a caricature to her. Nor she to me. And any change in opinion would be more a function of her volatile personality that her specific ideology. I could see her ascribing any of my viewpoints as “follies of youth” but so goes. I don’t avoid political topics because I’m afraid what she’ll think… I just don’t think work in general, and our work specifically, is the best time and place. If we had dinner together, I wouldn’t be shy about respectfully presenting my views.Report

          • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Burt Likko says:

            “If you establish interpersonal respect first, political differences can be relegated to almost the level of acknowledging that the other person roots for a rival sports team.”

            Burt, I don’t mean this as an attack, but this is basically the definition of privilege. Saying “hey, it’s only politics, we can all be friends” is a luxury available to those who aren’t affected by politics. If Kazzy didn’t feel comfortable bringing his husband to the office Christmas party (hypothetical Kazzy is gay), then it becomes a lot harder to live and let live.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Dan Miller says:

              Oh man… tell me more about this “Hypothetical Kazzy” character!

              I hope he’s charming and handsome and a Super Bowl MVP!


            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Dan Miller says:

              And which flavor of privilege do I suffer from here, Dan?

              White privilege? Male privilege? Heterosexual privilege? Wealth privilege? Social-prestige privilege? High-education privilege? Muddled-political-ideology privilege?

              (And if hypothetical Kazzy is gay, handsome and a Super Bowl MVP, then can hypothetical Burt be his husband?)Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Burt Likko says:

                “Scummy Serie A supporter” privilege.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

                And which flavor of privilege do I suffer from here, Dan?

                Financial privilege? You’ve said previously that neither party is particularly compelling to you because in either way, you’re personal and economic life will continue on without disruption. That places you in the “privileged” place of viewing politics as an academic, or a game played by fans. For other people, politics may be more personal, less academic, and less of a game.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Lots of typos and etc., most egregious being an omission: “academic exercise“.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

                A) If what you’re referring to is entitlement spending, used as a whipping boy on the campaign trail by Republicans and the dramatic reduction of which would (I stipulate) materially diminish the quality of life of already-disadvantaged people, yes, I can understand that those who would be on the receiving end of such a proposed policy change would not see that as a game. But at least from my perspective, I don’t think it’s all that likely that a Romney Administration would be able to effect such a policy to a meaningful extent.

                B) While it may be the case that (as I believe) outcomes of elections matter less than politicians and pundits like to describe, I think it is also the case that politics does affect everyone and is therefore a matter of concern across the citizenry. “Politics” does not necessary equal “elections” in my taxonomy; one is a subset of the other.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I get that Burt. I’m referring to this exchange:

                If you establish interpersonal respect first, political differences can be relegated to almost the level of acknowledging that the other person roots for a rival sports team.

                Burt, I don’t mean this as an attack, but this is basically the definition of privilege.

                And I don’t mean to pick on you in particular here, since I think insofar as the criticism is valid, it applies to lots of commenters here at the LoOG. And the criticism is this: there is a tendency of people who are financially successful to view folks participating in politics as nothing more than Fans of particular Teams.

                I think that’s wrong. For reasons I mentioned above.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                My guess is Dan meant my ability to “pass”. I’m not outwardly objectionable in a way that would have prevented my coworker to know and accept me.Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Kazzy says:

                It’s a mixture of that, and the ability to be yourself and still be accepted as the coworker’s friend. For you and Burt, for instance, it’s axiomatic that you can wear clothes you find acceptable and still be seen as “normal” by society. If you were transgender, for instance, you could still “pass”, but you’d have to repress part of your identity in a way that a straight cisgendered dude would never have to do. That’s privilege.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                My guess is Dan meant my ability to “pass”.

                Well, you are a Super Bowl MVP.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Stillwater seems to refer to economic entitlements unless I completely missed his point.

                But the others who responded, particularly including Mr. Miller to whom I addressed the question, seem to define this “privilege” as having whatever it is about me that might cause my neighbor to dislike me be something that is not superficially obvious in the way that, say, race might be. The ability to “pass.” To use Mr. Miller’s examples from elsewhere, sexual preference or a preference to dress contrary to traditionally-accepted patterns are things that are difficult to conceal and therefore easily create barriers to the forming of friendships.

                I get that some things about oneself that might cause others to dislike one are not immediately obvious and can be concealed, at least for a time, while other interpersonal bonds are formed stronger than the dislike of the characteristic at issue. Totally, I get that. And I get that some kinds of personal traits are more easily overlooked in our culture than others, and the examples Mr. Miller chose — displaying romantic affection for a same-sex partner, wearing clothing traditionally associated with the other sex — are among those that raise social barriers quickly and strongly. I’m not saying that’s all right with me.

                But I’m still not buying the idea that the ability to get to know someone else as a person before discussing politics is a privilege. Not every difference between people creates a relationship of privilege versus subordination. Most people are X, and my neighbor is X, but I am ~X. We need to know more than this in order to establish the existence of one of us being privileged to one another.

                At minimum, we need a powerful prevailing culture favoring X over ~X, resulting in some sort of identifiable advantage (social, legal, or economic, typically) to X as opposed to ~X. And I’d add further that the nature of the advantage is not rationally related to the nature of the difference between X and ~X, and even further that the difference between X and ~X ought to be something functionally immutable about oneself. And finally, isn’t it innate in the nature of a privilege that the holder of the privilege be somehow blinded to it, that someone who is X would insist that being ~X is irrelevant to the advantage that being X truly does convey?

                The argument here is that where X is “harboring political opinions that are socially conservative,” because the difference between X and ~X is not immediately obvious, that is itself a privilege.

                Being white as opposed to black conveys privilege. Race isn’t an issue when white Burt tries to make friends with his white neighbor. What’s more, white Burt gets to think that hypothetically black Burt would have been able to forge a friendship with his white neighbor just like real-life white Burt actually did. Only upon some rather uncomfortable and subtle reflection will white Burt even realize that the reality of hypothetically black Burt’s efforts to form a friendship would probably not be so simple and pleasant as that, albeit not through any conscious, overtly invidious bigotry on the part of anyone involved but maybe because of softer subconscious biases or cultural disparities appurtenant to the disparities in race. That’s privilege.

                How about being Muslim in a mostly Christian society? Can Muslims and Christians be friends? Obviously, they can. So if X is “nominal if not actual adherence to Christianity,” and ~X is “nominal if not actual adherence to Islam,” it might even be the case that we’re looking at a privilege — but the fact that it’s not immediately obvious to you that I am Muslim is does not reflect the existence of some sort of privilege that I hold.

                What I mentioned above was that I forged a friendship with my socially conservative neighbor in part by not raising the issue of political opinions until other bonds of friendship were in place, at which time our differences of opinion didn’t seem so important to either of us.

                I don’t think that’s a privilege, at least not as I understand the term and as I have defined it here. As a threshold matter, it is not clear to me at all that the prevailing culture powerfully favors those who have socially conservative political views over their more socially liberal counterparts. At somewhere like the Value Voters Summit, sure. But there’s a filtering process going on there. Out in generalized society, not so much.

                It’s not clear to me at all that social conservatives enjoy social, legal, or economic advantages as compared to social liberals. It appears to me that they are on equal footing on those terms, with the possible exception that those whose opinions conform to the locally prevailing majority’s may enjoy greater political power. More about that in the next paragraph.

                Whatever advantage that might be, no one’s explained to me how that’s irrationally related to the disparity in political opinion. Social conservatives get elected to office where social liberals do not, and therefore enjoy greater political power? That’s democracy, not privilege. Political power going to those who espouse views congruent with the majority is not an irrational linkage of benefit and characteristic, it’s the majority getting what it wants out of democracy and the minority having to go back and try again next cycle.

                So sorry folks, I’m not seeing it. My ability to not broadcast my politics immediately upon meeting someone who might have different opinions than me does not confer a “privilege.”Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Burt Likko says:

                First off, please feel free to call me Dan–“Mr. Miller” is way too formal for a comment section, plus otherwise I’d have to escalate to “Mr. Likko, Esq.” 😉

                Secondly, what I was referring to as privilege was in the context of your relationship with your neighbor. You can raise the topic of, e.g., your personal life, knowing that your neighbor won’t be offended by it (and by raise I mean mention casually–things like, “Oh, me and my wife went to see that movie last week”). If your neighbor is a values voter type, then a gay man can’t have that conversation–he would have to hide the existence of his husband. There’s no need to bring the rest of society into it–even if you live in a gay-friendly locale, you have a privileged interaction with your values-voting neighbor (even if you don’t agree with him on politics!) that isn’t available to someone in a different circumstance.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Dan Miller says:

                Fair enough! And please don’t ever use the “Esq.” (with me) even if you want to assume a posture of formality and politness for whatever reason (and I do so for, of course, only good reasons). I’ve always found the “Esq.” just a bit pretentious. If you see me using it, you’ll know I’m poking fun at my brother and sister attorneys’ egos.

                To get back to the point under discussion, what I thought was under discussion wasn’t hypothetically gay Burt, but rather the not-really-all-that-hypothetical Burt who holds political opinions contrary to Value Voter Neighbor’s. Is your claim that not-really-all-that-hypothetical Burt enjoys a privilege a function of a) real-life Burt’s ability to avoid discussion of his non-VV opinions, or b) real-life Burt’s heterosexuality? One of those things conveys a privilege, as I see it, but the other does not.

                I thought we were discussing a), but it sounds like you were aiming at b).Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                My guess it that it’s B). Part of the reason you and your neighbor were able to develop the relationship you did is because neither of you immediately presented as something the other was averse to. Now, some of that would be hard to classify as “privilege”. If your neighbor flew a Confederate battle flag or a “God Hates F–s” sign on his front lawn, my hunch is it’d be harder for you to see him as the man you described than if you learned of those beliefs afterwards. Not having those things flying isn’t a privilege.

                But if he had major issues with gay folks and he saw you moving in with your husband, but you were otherwise the same man, this likely would have compromised his ability to form that relationship with you. Here, being straight, or at least being able to pass as straight, serves you.

                Some of the maintenance guys at might work have made it pretty well none of their disdain for homosexuals. When I first began working there, as a male in early childhood who wore loud shirts and the occasional bow tie, I rarely got more than a gruff “hello” from them. I don’t know if they actually thought I was gay or not, but I clearly seemed to represent a type of person they weren’t really interested in getting to know better. Then one night, about a month into my tenure, one of them happened by my room and we struck up a conversation about football. We went for about 20 minutes, having a real good talk. He was way into it, in large part because elementary schools aren’t exactly filled with hardcore football fans. But there was also this look on his face like, “You? You can diagnose a zone blitz??? YOU?!?!” every time I said something knowledgeable. Since then, we’ve had a much stronger relationship.

                My hunch is that if we had had that football conversation much later in my tenure, and if all they knew about me was what presented as something they didn’t much care for, it would have been harder to develop the relationship we have now. He and I will never see eye to eye politically, not that we really ever talk about it, but there is a mutual respect there. It is a bit frustrating, because I feel I am deserving of this respect regardless of my knowledge of football. But it is what it is, at the end of the day.Report

              • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Burt Likko says:

                ” If your neighbor flew a Confederate battle flag ”

                The last surviving member of Lynyrd Skynyrd recently defended the Confederate flag (“It’s a symbol of the South”, who cares what it symbolizes). I had defended them in re “Sweet Home Alabama” –no longer.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Dan Miller says:

              No, that’s wrong.
              It’s a luxury available to those who are not outwardly seen as a representative of their politics/other objectionable thing.

              I can sit and have apeaceable lunch with an Anti-Semitic. Well, if any of y’all will trust that I can hold my sharp tongue.Report

  8. Avatar bookdragon says:

    This is a marvelous piece. I’ve met several Frannies and know how you feel. Sometimes you have no idea until you’ve gotten to know them fairly well and then you’re left with this dual reality feeling – this nice old lady thinks someone as despicable as Pat Robertson is God’s messenger. I could deal with it if I thought she was a simpleton, a patsy, but she’s not that dumb, just deluded.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I find myself wondering if I’ve just caught a first glimpse of the next generation’s Peggy Noonan.

    It would be irresponsible not to speculate.Report

  10. Avatar greginak says:

    Great piece. Nothing really surprised me based on the many live and intertoob conversations i’ve had with VV’s and conservatives, but still well told.

    Just to strike up a conversation instead of all of us just telling Tod how good this was, i think the reality of the different data streams slightly misses the issue. It’s true we are often operating from different data, but that is very much a choice. If you only want to hear data from “your side” you are actively trying to avoid being challenged or dealing with the ideas of others. Of course that is what most people want in general, but its still a choice.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to greginak says:

      True enough, but there’s a trust factor here that you’re ignoring. Neither the Left nor the Right truly trusts the ghastly MSM (sometimes with good reason), which is itself increasingly vacuous and geared towards appealing to “centrist” values rather than truth itself. I suspect that you’ll find many of these folks make a point to read at least one or two news sources that they view as “liberal” (and many liberals surely keep an eye on at least one or two news sources that they view as “right-wing”), if only “to know what the other side is saying.” Even as they are aware of these sources, they have a difficult time believing them when they are at odds with the sources they trust, sources which after all are known to share their values.

      There is no news source that everyone trusts anymore, but everyone now has the ability to easily seek out a source that they do trust, regardless of whether the majority of other people do not trust that source. Tod’s exasperation and frustration is well-warranted.Report

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Good point.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I trust fishgrease.Report

      • Avatar Plinko in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I think the character of the apprehension about the MSM differs greatly between the right and left in important ways. Most of my hard left-leaning friends will link approvingly to articles from such outlets all the time – they seem to believe that the MSM are doing some good things but are held back from telling the whole story by their corporate paymasters. The right seems to distrust everything that comes out of the MSM entirely.Report

      • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        ” Neither the Left nor the Right truly trusts the ghastly MSM (sometimes with good reason), which is itself increasingly vacuous and geared towards appealing to “centrist” values rather than truth itself. ”

        I don’t know if I can go for that. I see a LOT more drivel (and pout-and-out lies) from the Right posted as truth than I do from the Left, even on NPR. (Sometimes I think NPR is worse than CNN!) From “Al Gore claims to have invented the internet” to “death panels” to whatever is the latest fauxtroversy, they seem all too happy to throw in “Some say…”

        Edward R Marrow and Walter Cronkite spin in their graves.Report

        • Personally, I would agree. But that’s because I trust roughly the same sources as you enough to believe them on most things and distrust roughly the same sources as you to have my bs trigger set on “Hair” when it comes to those sources.Report

          • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            But I used to trust NPR. I stopped when just a little research showed that what they were saying wasn’t true (ie, “the facts have a liberal bias”). If my filters were such that I would believe whatever came from NPR, wouldn’t I still be trusting them?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to greginak says:

      This is a telling point, Greg. Is that a reciprocal obligation?

      I’m going to say to a VV, “You need to get data from sources you’re not comfortable with so you have a complete set of facts to base your decisions off of,” with the expectation that this means she will tune in to NPR and set her browser to CNN or even MSNBC, listen to Rachel Maddow’s opinion pieces, and watch Frontline.

      Isn’t it fair, then, for the VV to say to me, “I will, but you need to watch some Fox News and CNBC, listen to some Laura Ingraham, read some Ann Coulter, and flip your browser over to Powerline. Once we’ve both listened to one another’s sources, then we can talk to each other and we’ll both have all the available information.”Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Burt Likko says:

        There’s a danger of falling into the trap of false equivalence, though.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Burt…yes. Although i draw a line at Ann Coulter.
        I’ll add that what people often want from the data they intake is just enough to support what they already believe. Unless you are willing to challenge or think through what you want to happen, where you get your data from isn’t likely to matter that much.

        Mark- Yes. Its hard not to see at least part of the push to tear down certain media sources is to avoid having to deal with info people don’t want. Both sides distrust the MSM to a greater or lesser degree, but just try to get people to agree on why.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to greginak says:

          Of all those right-winger sources, Greg, I’d defend Ms. Coulter with the most vigor. Yes, I find her rhetoric abrasive and driven to emotionally-provocative extremes by a cynical desire to sell rather than to persuade; she is in the business of selling red meat and not nuance.

          But she’s not an intellectual slouch by any means — Michigan Law doesn’t just hand out top honors to anyone and her non-journalistic professional work, while obviously political, qualifies her to stand above the crowd on certain topics, including in Constitutional law, a topic of particular interest to me. When she chooses to deploy her academic, professional, and intellectual abilities in a sober fashion, she is a formidable adversary. I don’t like her or enjoy her public persona (maybe she’s absolutely charming in person; I’ll probably never know). But I’ve seen enough good arguments with good law behind them to have developed some respect for her as a lawyer and a commentator.Report

      • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “I will, but you need to watch some Fox News and CNBC, listen to some Laura Ingraham, read some Ann Coulter, and flip your browser over to Powerline.”

        I’ve done that. I know what these sources think and why (they say) they think it. Now what?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

      This is what I thought as I read the piece. At what point can we objectively label these people as willfully ignorant?Report

      • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        I don’t know. I think it’s largely a matter of how disposed one is toward the truth. That’s a loaded criterion, I admit, but someone with a disposition toward truth probably won’t respond to conflicting evidentiary claim with “well, it must be a conspiracy.”

        I want to be careful here and balance two conflicting tendencies. One, I wish to shy away from the “but both sides do it, so it’s a wash” line of thinking and from the “they’re more dispositionally dishonest and I and mine are more dispositionally honest.” Perhaps one way to resolve these tendencies is, as Tod (and Burt) seems(-) to suggest, getting to know the whole person and recognizing one’s own blind spots and prior epistemological commitments.Report

  11. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    The engineering of it is the part I find so flabbergasting.Report

  12. Avatar Kazzy says:


    As many have said, this is an outstanding piece. I’ve been eagerly awaiting it and it is officially the longest piece I’ve been able to get through in one sitting in a long time (I don’t have ADHD and won’t pretend to, but my attention span is shit).

    I myself am suffering some pains to accept the great deal of optimism and benefit-of-the-doubtism you offer. These people are *not* smart. Being full of wrong information is not a mark of intelligence. And is even more troubling when it seems to be deliberately sought after. And while these people might have been polite and civil, I have trouble to accept them as “kind” when they support policies aimed at marginalizing, denying the humanity of, or even killing people I consider friends and family. There is nothing kind about that.

    These folks may be genuine and passionate and loving parents to their (straight) children. And I am sure there are many issues with which their position is equally valid and legitimate as my own. But there are a number where they are dead wrong, where they deliberately embrace falsehoods and rejection truth, and where they allow hatred to serve as a prime motivator.

    It is the right that often decries moral and cultural relativism. But it seems that offering these folks legitimacy on these issues is just that.Report

    • Avatar MBunge in reply to Kazzy says:

      “These people are *not* smart.”

      They’re not really stupid, though, and neither could you classify them as ill informed. They are people who have both embraced and been enveloped by a political/ideological/religious movement that cloaks itself in Americanism but has more than a passing resemblance to communism. If you doubt that, consider this. Look at all the idolatry that has been directed at entrepreneurs in this campaign season and think of the phrase “vanguard of the proletariat”.


      • Avatar Michelle in reply to MBunge says:

        Per Mike, I’d agree that a lot of these folks aren’t either stupid or willfully ignorant, but they’re convinced that something has gone deeply and seriously wrong with this country and conservative ideology offers a reasonable explanation as to where and why things have gone wrong.

        Moreover, while change is a constant, the pace and complexity of change over the last few decades has been daunting, leaving a lot of people (even myself on occasion) overwhelmed and uncertain. Hence, all the nonsense about taking the country back. While this slogan is yet another bromide, it expresses genuine anxiety about the demographic, cultural, and technological changes that have rocked our world over the last several decades. I’m in my fifties and this ain’t the place I grew up in. Imagine how it feels for someone in their seventies.Report

    • Avatar Plinko in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think you’re going wrong here in impugning their intelligence, Kazzy. I think Tod is quite right that a lot of the VV attendees are bright people. I suspect that the gulf lies largely in the gap between what you’re searching for and what they’re searching for.

      It seems, not only from Tod’s piece but what I know of my friends and acquaintances who are VV-types, is that they’re not searching for truth because theyr’e already convinced it’s known. They’re searching for how to align themselves best to it. Insofar as you and I and almost everyone else that visits this site pretty much either rejects their Truth outright or has serious qualms about their appreciation of it, we necessarily see their pursuit as foolish and misguided, but believing them to be out and out dumb is a mistake.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Kazzy says:

      You’re conflating intelligence, knowledge, rationality and decency here.

      Because you can do all of this:

      But there are a number where they are dead wrong, where they deliberately embrace falsehoods and rejection truth, and where they allow hatred to serve as a prime motivator.

      And still be intelligent. That’s the mistake it sounds like the American Atheists made. Being intelligent is no protection from believing ridiculous things, in some ways it makes things worse because you can rationalise more easily and you’re used to being right when everyone around you disagrees. But wrong or not, smart people are good at winning arguments, so be careful when challenging them to an impromptu debate.Report

  13. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    In your opinion, would these folks have been as polite and kind to you if you’d been wearing women’s clothing, or walking arm-in-arm with a male partner?Report

  14. Avatar Michelle says:

    Great piece, Tod. On some level, it confirms what I already suspected about how conservatives and liberals, for lack of better terms, view reality through two very different lenses. It seems that there’s increasingly little overlap between the two, rendering the search for common ground ever more problematic.

    I see it within my own family as my parents have moved ever further into the Fox News universe, convinced that the rest of the media is hopelessly liberal and distorts the facts, whereas Fox offers them a bigger dose of truth. While you’d never catch them at a Values Voter Summit–we are Jews after all and they find the hyper-moralizing of folks like Santorum and Bachman a bit distasteful–they rushed out to see Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016 and have urged me to do likewise because “it will open my eyes.” (Somehow, having read enough of D’Souza, I doubt it.) They subscribe to National Review and to whatever rag Limbaugh publishes, and even defended Limbaugh’s statements about Sandra Fluke. Gaah!

    It’s a chasm that cannot be bridged as I don’t see most of the sources from which they get their information from to be credible, and vice versa. So, we agree not to talk about politics because to venture too far down that road mostly results in screaming matches. Until the circles can show a bit more overlap, what’s the point?

    And on that pessimistic note, once again, great article.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Michelle says:

      Wow your parents sound to be the opposite of mine.

      I come from a long-line of New York liberal and Democratic Jews. My mom moved out to the Bay Area (after wanting to live in Northern Cal for 40 years) and she loves how liberal everyone is out here. She gushes about how she likes having friends that are more liberal than she is. My dad and brothers are also not Republican. My grandparents were ardent New Dealers* and at least one of my great-grandparents voted for Eugene Victor Debs.

      I am kind of curious about the 20-25 percent of American Jews who vote Republican. Do they find frustrating to be a minority within a minority? What do they think of how most American Jews are still very proud Democratic Party supporters and liberals?

      *My mom tells me two stories about this. One involves my grandfather being very upset at Adlai Stevenson losing and losing twice! The other is that both my maternal grandparents were very upset when Nassau County renamed Salisbury Park to Eisenhower Park. Nassau County was very Republican then and my mom reported that the rename left my parents feeling isolated and alienated as Democrats.Report

  15. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    As much as I enjoyed this piece, I do have to echo the question from Dan Miller.

    More importantly, I suppose, how would you be able to handle their politeness and condescension if you were one of the people they have that “wayward sibling” attitude towards?

    Personally, I’d be inclined to punch them in the face, no matter how much they smiled and how often they said “bless your heart”.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Do you have to punch them? Couldn’t you just tell them to GFT? 😉

      More seriously Nob, while this is a human impulse, it’s at root the same impulse that causes people to riot when their prophet has been insulted.

      If the other side is *only* condescending; if literal stonings have been replaced by metaphorical ones attempted by vote, and accompanied by politeness, however superficial you feel it may be – then I think there’s more to be gained from rising above the desire to punch someone, and instead being the better person.

      So smile back, and calmly explain that their way of thinking will turn to dust, inevitably.Report

  16. Avatar Pinky says:

    This article is very well-written. I’m glad you’ve gotten over some of your preconceptions of the attendees, but I’m struck by something: of your list of 17 regular speakers, two of them are Mormon and at least five are Catholic. Are you sure this crowd was monolithically evangelical?

    But the bigger problem I see is that you attended a rally of people who are drawn together on precisely the issues you’re likely to have a problem with them on, and found that it was difficult to relate to them in that environment. These aren’t the typical “values voters”; they’re the kind of people who’d travel across the country to meet with other social conservatives to talk about social conservatism. You noted that you get along with them fine on an airplane. You probably even get along with them fine when they’re talking fiscal issues. You might even agree with them on some social policies. But you’re definitely not going to agree with them when they’re talking about the ideology that informs their social and fiscal thinking.

    Maybe that’s the great lesson of American politics. We don’t ever bridge the gaps between what different factions think. We succeed when we find policies that multiple factions support.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Pinky says:

      Certainly Rev. Wright wouldn’t feel terribly welcome there. And he’s an evangelical after all.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Pinky says:

      “Are you sure this crowd was monolithically evangelical?”

      No, nor do I claim this. I just said that almost everyone I met with was an evangelical Christian. Those few that weren’t were from other types of Protestant that I do not consider evangelical. No one I met with was Catholic, Mormon or Jewish – although, as with people of color, there were some on stage speaking.Report

  17. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Kamal Saleem told the crowd of his life as a Muslim terrorist bigwig who once fought to destroy America. When he wasn’t out slaughtering innocent Christians, he hobnobbed with the likes of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi. He came to the United States to commit acts of terror, entering the country by way of our porous Mexican border. Before he could commit such atrocities, however, God appeared to him and convinced him to devote his life to Jesus and America.

    There’s a Christian comedian of some renown called “Mike Warnke”. He had one heck of a testimony. He was a priest in the church of Satan before he turned his life around, so it is said. As it turns out, it looks like there’s significant evidence that he wasn’t.

    Awesome testimony, though.Report

  18. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Very well done. I really enjoyed reading this in draft some days ago, and I’m happy to see it in public.

    One question: How much of this story is about different sources of information, and how much of it is about different self-constructed identities? If I were to set out to make myself a left-liberal, I’d probably start reading Mother Jones and The Nation more than I do. I’d then have different sources of information, and — arguably, at least — with different inputs, the output might change. Are ideological identities the product of specific inputs, or the product of decisions to consume those inputs? The chicken or the egg?Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Ha. Ha. Ha.
      … so if the guy running dailykos is setting out to sculpt liberal thought, and doing so by inviting different folks to headline — is he winning?
      Can you trace the differences? Are there any differences in liberal thought in the past 10 years or so?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        Are there any differences in liberal thought in the past 10 years or so?

        There certainly seems to be a change in attitude about drones.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yeah lots of people had deep thoughts about drones, not in sci fi movies, ten years ago.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            Targeted assassination, then.

            Remember that youtube that got out there that showed a handful of furtive people furtively moving around and interacting with a furtive van? There was a journalist with them, if I recall correctly.

            Remember that?

            If you do (you might not), could you explain to me the difference between the outrage over that and, say, the drones? I’m not getting it.

            Are we little more than older and wiser now?Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

              Part of the outrage over that video was, if I recall, the cavalier attitude of the helicopter crew as they talked about what they were doing over the radio. Also, the fact that they were shooting an unarmed journalist. If I remember correctly, some of the guys on the ground were actually armed, and they were in the middle of a war zone. I hate war, but that wasn’t quite the same as targeted assassinations in some country where we don’t even have a troop presence, with people who may or may not have anything to do with anything (we just have to trust the government when they tell us they do).

              That said, I didn’t hear much of an uproar over the weekly “who gets to die this week?” meetings.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kim says:

        I don’t think liberal’s discomfort with drones or kill lists has declined so much as they have more faith that Obama will use some restraint, and feel Romney would handle things with less restraint. It’s a lesser of two evils thing.

        I’d point out that dailykos runs post after post after post, some written by the club, some by the official voices, denouncing drones and taking Obama to task for failing at liberal causes. It’s the old Democratic circular firing squad, and they make fun of that, too.

        But there are differences in liberal thought; much less attention paid to environmental concerns; don’t hear much about climate change, much more attention and comprehension of military matters. And believe it or not, a lot of concern about federal debt. But you also have to look at that outside the political season to see it; partisan cheering crowds it out, and that’s the time conservatives are most likely to look.

        So offer me the balance; what changes in conservative thought am I missing by only reading now, in election season, when I go to the pages of The American Conservative or The Weekly Standard?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      “I really enjoyed reading this in draft some days ago, and I’m happy to see it in public.”

      I’m always tempted to read drafts I see. Is that kosher? I sort of assumed it wasn’t. I mean, I don’t mind if anyone peaked at mine, but I don’t feel comfortable doing it to others without express permission. Thoughts?Report

    • This is an excellent point, Jason. And I think my response would be that these two are both so intertwined that it isn’t really a question of one vs. the other.Report

  19. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    Space awesome, Tod.

    One area where I have some disagreement is that most of the evangelicals I know don’t consider themselves at all powerful. Like other political demographics, they see themselves as betrayed by the national party and outnumbered by heathens. The only way they can ensure representation is to be active and organize; hence events like the Values Voters Summit.Report

    • that most of the evangelicals I know don’t consider themselves at all powerful. Like other political demographics, they see themselves as betrayed by the national party and outnumbered by heathens.

      That’s pretty much my experience, too. When I read that part of Tod’s piece, I just mentally elided it, but now I see it more clearly that I’ve read your comment.

      I do wonder, though, if part of what Tod meant had something to do with a sense of righteousness prevailing in the end, therefore making compromise unnecessary? Just a guess on my part, though.Report

      • What I had meant was that, in a land of democratically held elections, the people I spoke with believe that they are the (very large) majority.

        My impression is that they believe that money and media keeps them from having absolute power, and nothing else; however, this played out differently for different people that I spoke with. For example, when we discussed their obvious loss in the 2008 POTUS election, some people said that too many people who were like minded were simply “tricked” into voting for the liberal candidate by the media. Others said they thought that the government and the media doctored the results to make it look like Obama won, even though he lost. Others seemed to think that they used to be the minority back in 2008, but Obama’s election had made the vast majority of Americans realize that secular government and liberalism were wrong all along. So there was no uniform reason to explain their large majority, but there was a uniform belief that such a majority exists.

        And actually, I see that here at the League as well. If there is a conservative that comments here that has said anything over the past 6 months other than Romney is going to win in one of the biggest landslides ever come November, with absolute certainty, despite… well, everything, I have’t seen them.Report

        • Thanks for the response, now I know where you’re coming from.

          My database for my claim tends to dispute what you say. However, my database is, well, twenty years ago or so (with a few more current exceptions), so what you saw might very well be how it is, at least for the VV’s.

          I actually suspect–again, based on nothing but my gut instinct–that many of the vv’s believe some combination of “we’re in the majority because we’re right and therefore Barack Obama is countermanding the will of the majority” and “we’re an oppressed minority in this dominant secular world.” However, this is just my suspicion.Report

        • Avatar Michelle in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          To me, Tod, what you seem to be saying (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) is that even though these people think they’re in the majority, they still think that they’re victims of the liberal media, the government, or whoever is the bad guy in the latest conservative conspiracy theory. Thus, if Romney loses in November, they’ll have a ready-made explanation for how the election was somehow stolen from him. I’m sure today’s poll deniers will be tomorrow’s explainers of the various reasons why Obama really didn’t win.

          While I find such abject denial of reality to be scary, a whole industry has grown up to support these folks in their delusions and sense of victimhood. I’m sure Rush Limbaugh and his ilk laugh all the way to the bank.Report

  20. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    I know it makes me uncharitable but I say you go with the instinct that you were so shamed by.

    Like the 911 truthers they are too far down the rabbit hole. Unlike the truthers they ave their hands on real political and social power. People who attend these meetings and the organizations they support are why we have so many homeless gay kids, murdered gay and trans people. They don’t deserve a pass because they seem like nice people in person.

    Frankly given what I know about people I am more likely to be surprised when someone doesn’t have some irrational conspiracy they believe in. It seems like an error that is built into the structure of the human mind.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

      I only believe in rational conspiracies. 😉
      Why not? Even the Illuminati -exist-.
      Even the Knights Templar -exist-.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Kim says:

        I would put the odds that I believe in some sort of crazy conspiracy theory as pretty high.

        The problem is that I likely think it isn’t crazy.

        The good news is I think I have avoided most of the popular ones.

        Ones I don’t believe:
        911 truthism
        Any of the anti-Obama ones
        Anti-vaccine nonsense
        Anything that relies on large scale scientific fraud going on.
        Anything that would get made fun of on a skeptics message board.

        Overall I think the best way to get me to start believing in one is to include the following as villains:
        Fox News
        Conservatives elites
        Religious elites
        Alternative medicine advocates or practitioners

        Mostly because my tribal self-identification is skeptical/liberal. So to look in-tribe to me you have to seem like you are being scientific or rational. Relying on faith, intuition, or traditional authority marks you as out-tribe to me. As does anything republican or conservative.

        In writing this I think I realized a conspiracy theory that I actually believe in:
        Senatorial and congressional republicans have intentionally tries to hurt the economy to hurt Obama’s chance of re-election. As I am caught up in it I think it is rational. But it might not be I could be yet another victim of tribal us-vs-them thinking. And if I am it would take quite a bit of effort to shake it out of me. Worse even if you did I would be prone to falling back into it later.

        So yes people while awesome are also just another animal and our brains are not evolved to find the truth but to function in a tribe.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

          *snort* I’m both. Faith is a part of me, as is being skeptical.
          Thing is? When I need conspiracy theories, there are an abundance of real facts
          to choose from.

          Who killed JFK?
          Who killed the DC Madam?

          I don’t think the Republicans were intentionally trying to hurt the economy to hurt Obama’s chances of reelection. Nah. Maybe because their voodoo priests told them so… (O’Neil called them economic terrorists, and he’s Bush’s Treasury Sec).Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Kim says:

            Lee Harvey Oswold killed JFK.
            The DC madam killed the DC madam.

            Those are easy for me. Kennedy is especially easy as it is a conspiracy theory long considered debunked by skeptics so I have cultural support in rejecting it. DC madam is easy too since I really have a sour disposition towards secret murder conspiracies and it is really small potatoes at the end of the day.

            Believing that a deeply cynical political party would obstruct policies simply because they would help their opposition doesn’t seem crazy. It could be horribly wrong but at the end of the day I am mostly accusing the republicans of being organized and caring more about power than the country. Heck they could even believe that the economic damage they inflict is less in the long run compared to having Obama get a second term.Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Kim says:

            Absolutely their are people of faith who are skeptical.

            I mentioned it as appealing to faith or even referencing it is a good way to make me less likely to think something is true.

            For example in a religious community signalling your faith in a shared religion makes you see more trust worthy. But for a non-believing outsider it has the exact opposite effect.Report

      • Avatar James B Franks in reply to Kim says:

        Just play the Secret World and learn the truth!


  21. Avatar Morat20 says:

    In my long ago High School days, my physics teacher spoke, at length, about the value of a ‘bullshit detector’. And he had a video tape, entirely of ridiculous scientific claims taken from late night news or talk shows.

    Really the sort of thing Randy made a sizeable career demolishing, and that Snopes is pretty good for as well these days. And this was all in the early 90s, so it was magic batteries and cold fusion and other ridiculous claims.

    And what he did what that tape, and a large handful of physics (and a few math problems — it was my first experience with the Monty Hall problem. And my first experience with the fact that, indeed, some people will never ever EVER get the Monty Hall problem, even if they can work the math) was trying to turn on his student’s “bullshit detectors”.

    Which, I might add, I’ve come to believe is a critical life skill. I wish more people learned how to turn theirs on.Report

    • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Morat20 says:

      ” some people will never ever EVER get the Monty Hall problem, even if they can work the math”

      ME!!! (I think a lot of that came from the fact that I first saw it from Marylin vos Savant, who is clearly math-illiterate.)

      I also believe that Bush, Rice, et al were guilty of criminal malfeasance and misfeasance, to the point of aiding and abetting, but not of having a direct hand in the 9/11 bombings.

      I don’t know whether the two are related or not..Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jeff No-Last-Name says:

        Probability is a confusing subject. The Monty Hall problem only has the customary solution with the right preconditions, which are left unstated 90% of the time it’s discussed.
        (Hint: suppose Monty only offers you another room when you’ve guessed right?)Report

  22. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Low information voters abound on both ends of the political spectrum.
    Do stoopid people outnumber smart people?
    By an order of magnitude.

    The framers of the constitution thought giving /everyone/ the right to vote would be a disaster.

    We can only hope the stoopid people on each side of the equation magically cancel each other out.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to wardsmith says:

      Yanno what bothers me? The deliberate creation of low-information voters.
      Women who do not watch tv, who will not pollute their mind with entertainment
      not from G-d…
      ya get me?Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kim says:

        > The deliberate creation of low-information voters.

        You’re probably coming from somewhere else than where I’m coming from, but that’s what my engineering comment was about, above.

        It appears from my perspective that the forces which create disinformation that is consumed primarily by the left operate in their own world. The anti-GMO people, the anti-vax people, the crystal healing people, they’re all independently pushing various bits of what I regard as woo, but they’re generally doing it because they believe it and they’re trying to get other people to believe it. They’re on a small mission.

        I look at this Value Voter bit and I see a lot of woo-overlap. I see packaging. I see a collaboration. I see a Mission.

        I readily admit this is one of those unfalsifiable things that I try to de-emphasize in my analysis of issues and whatnot, simply because it’s unfalsifiable. But it still strikes me as particularly creepy in a way that the independent woo-operators on the left don’t.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to wardsmith says:

      Well, the Framer’s also thought it was a good idea to keep people in bondage. So, maybe they weren’t all knowing God-King’s who we shouldn’t question?

      And I think it’s just an odd coincidence I’m seeing all the right wingers I know linking to the same exact Youtube videos. Hmmm.Report

  23. Avatar zic says:

    Thank you for doing this.

    I’d fear being burned at the stake for a witch in such a crowd, so your attendance seems a testament to your courage and bravery.

    And I’m not surprised the atheists couldn’t marshall much logic to their side, they seem to struggle so with the notion of organizing, Christians have many centuries of organizing and getting their arguments arranged like ducks in a row. Sad.

    I like my conservatives one on one; where there’s a chance to find our common ground before we dig in to our differences.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to zic says:

      “I like my conservatives one on one; where there’s a chance to find our common ground before we dig in to our differences.”

      This made me smile, and it reminded me of an old Sting lyric from the Soul Cages album, one of my favorite lyrics ever:

      “Men go crazy in congregations,
      They only get better one by one”


      • Avatar zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Sweet. My favorite Sting album. Sadly, I saw him perform shortly after. (Disclaimer here: I’m married to a jazz musician; I thrive on improvisational music.) Even with much of the crew from the album, it sounded like, well, the album. Sigh. Audience can be a cult, too, and often don’t want that digging in to new territory; they want to hear music of familiar paths and comforting resolutions.Report

  24. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    I’m just sad that Sarah Palin wasn’t there so that we could smear her for “palling around with [fake] terrorists”!

    Seriously, good job, and you have a lot more patience and reserve than I do (as everyone here can attest).

    I have one Draw Something friend who’s knee-deep in the Big Muddy the VV nonsense. We’ve agreed to keep politics totally out of our conversations.Report

  25. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Each person’s response is some variation of noting that of course after the public outrage both the White House and the Associated Press were going to claim that that was the original statement, but clearly it had been changed to cover the President’s tracks.

    This goes beyond the usual examples of believing your side’s story but not the other side’s story. If the AP, or the Journal, for the Times, or CBS, or even Fox reports “The White House issued statement X” and quotes X verbatim, I’m going to believe that X exists and says what was reported. What you’re describing isn’t skepticism or even insularity, it’s cult-like disbelief in anything that doesn’t come from within the cult.Report

  26. Avatar Erik Kain says:

    Terrific piece, Tod.Report

  27. Avatar Jason M. says:

    “Peter Sprigg, the Council’s Senior Researcher for Policy Studies, states that the government should enforce “criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”

    Men caught singing show tunes in public will serve 3 months of community service. Ladies, don’t worry – getting caught wearing sensible shoes is merely a $75 fix-it ticket.Report

  28. Avatar Kolohe says:

    This was a uniformly excellent piece and the best thing I have read this month. Thank you Mr. Kelly.Report

  29. Avatar mark boggs says:

    Good work, Tod. Wonderfuly written, too. Good on you for trying to stay open about the whole thing.Report

  30. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I always feel bad reading pieces like this because, mostly, the VV people are “my people”. The kids you describe in that wonderful opening were raised the way that I was raised.

    The chastity they try to cultivate against the tide of the hormone bath their brains are drowning in, the secure knowledge that the culture is 100% against people of faith as demonstrated by all of the violent movies out there (and, at the same time, we’re showing movies in the church like Thief in the Night… if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so. A more modern movie that we’d watch after complaining about violence would be stuff like The Passion Of The Christ). I don’t know if they still do the whole “this is what kids are listening to these days” things but they used to show slides of album covers (“This is the WASP album cover for Animal (F**k Like A Beast)… YOUR CHILDRENS’ FRIENDS ARE LISTENING TO THIS ALBUM!!!”). Pointing out how bad it was outside “in the world” was a way to scare us and bring us all together at the same time.

    I always feel bad because I know that, for the most part, they’re not bad people. They’re just dreaming about a world that never existed and dealing with the existential threat of their memes dying out because the other memes out there are so much more tempting (not to mention the memes out there that have a lot more scientific backing).

    I probably sound like an abused spouse. “They’re not that bad. They’re pretty good most of the time. Sure, they say hurtful things about gay marriage but, deep down, they’re not bad people.”

    I wish there were ways to bring them into the 20th Century gently (let alone the 21st).Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:


      I was shown these too, JB. I was trying to explain these films to a friend recently based on a conversation we were having, prompted by the Built To Spill song ‘Randy Described Eternity’ (if you know the song, you’ll know why) and had no idea what they were called (I just called them ‘Rapture/Tribulation’ films).

      They were terrifying to us kids. So thanks, I guess, for filling in a blank. I have some weird compulsion to re-watch these now, and see if they are as scary as I remember.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

        It’s on the Youtube.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

          Well, there goes my night.Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

            Wow, I really am gonna have to re-watch these.

            Here’s the plot summary for ‘Thief’ from wiki (I’d forgotten there’s a Twilight Zone/Shyamalan twist at the end!):

            Patty Jo Myers is a young woman who considers herself a Christian because she occasionally reads her Bible and goes to church regularly. She refuses to believe the warnings of her friends and family that she will go through the Great Tribulation if she does not accept Jesus. One morning, she awakens to find that her husband and millions of others have suddenly disappeared. Gradually, Patty realizes that the Rapture, an event some interpret from the Bible, has happened and she and everyone else left behind are entering into the Great Tribulation, the last days of Earth, dominated by the Antichrist. A government system called UNITE (United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency) is set up and those who do not receive the mark identifying them with UNITE will be arrested. Patty desperately tries to avoid the law and the mark but is captured by UNITE. Patty escapes but is cornered by UNITE on a bridge, and falls from the bridge to her death.

            Patty then awakens, this time for real, and realizes that all she had experienced was only a dream. Her relief is short-lived when the radio announces that millions of people have disappeared. Horrified, Patty frantically searches for her husband only to find him missing too. Traumatized and distraught, Patty realizes that the Rapture has indeed occurred and she’s been left behind.

            And there are 3 more films!

            There’s a pretty entertaining review here:


            • Avatar zic in reply to Glyph says:

              Jaybird & Glyph, fascinating.

              I’m repulsed by the cult tone of all this.

              And the weird variations of post-apocalyptical sci-fi that filled my teenage years; but I knew I was reading fiction.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to zic says:

                I read lots of post-apocalyptic sci-fi as a pre-teen also.

                The difference is, I was told *this* stuff was real and nigh.

                And thus are libertarians made, apparently. I invite amateur psychoanalysis based on this revelation. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Glyph says:

        When I was a kid, my dentist had two “bible stories for kids” books in his waiting room, each published as a companion to the other. One told actual stories from the The Bible, with all the predictable selection choices. (Noah’s Ark, in. David killing Bathsheba’s husband, out. Jesus turning water into wine, in. Jesus killing a fig tree, out.)

        The second book, though, was full of stories about modern kids; these stories were simply inspired by the Bible. I only ever read one story from that book, and I can still remember it decades later:

        A boy goes into the hospital, and is assigned to a room with another boy. The other boy is a good Christian, and tells his new friend that if he believes in Jesus and prays, he will get through his operation just fine and live to play again. The first boy rejects this message of salvation. Later, he is operated on, but things do not go well and he passes away. The surviving boy talks with his parents about how sad he is that his new friend is not only dead, but will suffer pain and misery for eternity. In the back of the room, a ghostly Jesus watches, smiling at the boy’s words and faith.

        It really upset me.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          That is TERRIBLE.Report

        • Avatar Jason M. in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          I was raised an Evangelical Christian with experiences similar to the ones Jaybird and Glyph describe, though perhaps a little less sheltered than most American evangelical kids due to being an Air Force brat gowing up overseas, constantly moving. I remember being 14, and filled with terror at the idea that the Rapture was due to happen in the next three month. A cassette tape, from whatever end-times prophet du jour was all the rage then, had me utterly convinced. I was “saved”, but I didn’t feel saved. Maybe I’d be left behind, because somehow, in spite of reassurances to the contrary and in spite of my iron clad conviction that “it” was all true, I wasn’t truly saved, and I’d be left behind.

          Fast forward to adulthood, and I it turns out my 14 year old self’s intuiton about being truly saved was right!Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jason M. says:

            Yeah, I was ‘saved’ at a very young age (<5) and around maybe 12, I didn't 'feel' saved (Jesus supposedly 'lived in my heart', but I didn't really ever seem to hear from him, despite being close neighbors).

            So, my parents had me speak to a pastor at the church, and I re-did the whole 'accept Jesus into your heart' with him, but I still didn't feel any different. The pastor was later ousted for having an affair with a congregant (this also led to his divorce), and the last I saw him he was working behind the counter in a Subway sandwich shop (I was in high school ,or maybe just out at that point; all I know is that was the most awkward sandwich-related transaction I have ever had).

            I have no idea if these events were related.

            I didn't turn as against the church or my parents' beliefs as many others that I know did – I would describe myself as agnostic, not atheist (though that could just be my innate optimism – I have difficulty believing that this – all this, including the conversation we are having right now in which it appears to me that I am interacting with other minds, and 2-way communicating with them – is all a completely random meaningless electrochemical reaction) – I think Jesus was largely right on in the things he said, and that he and the Buddha have much to discuss; and that the Bible, understood as myth and metaphor, has much to teach us.

            But no way can I in good conscience put my kids through what I went through. When they ask about God, I may have to tell them the jury's still out.

            As for my personality and political leanings, I have no idea if these formative experiences are in any way responsible, or if this is just the way I am naturally, but as long as I can recall I have never been a 'joiner' – not politically, not personally.

            Hell, to this day I have been known to dodge out of being in *group photos*. It's that bad.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

              Your pastor story reminds me of a classic moment from the original Honeymooners:
              Ralph: I got a phone call today down at the bus depot. Who do you think called me?

              Ed: Who?

              Ralph: None other than the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler himself.

              Ed: You got a telephone call from the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler? The Emperor of all Raccoondom? I don’t believe it.

              Ralph: Sure you don’t because you never got a call from him.

              Ed: He doesn’t have to call me. He works right beside me in the sewer.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          It sounds exactly like a Jack Chick tract, except that

          1. The unfortunate boy would be Jewish/Mormon/Catholic.
          2. He would refuse to acknowledge the real (Protestant) Jesus on the advice of his parents and/or spiritual adviser.
          3. Who, on the boy’s death, would realize that he was going to spend eternity in Hell and would start to regret their fully conscious rejection of the true (Protestant) Jesus.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      I remember going to CCD/Confirmation classes and being forced to watch a movie that showed before, during, and after abortions… over and over and over again. Inside, outside. Successful ones and botches ones. Blood, blood, blood.

      I was 13.

      Good people my ass.Report

  31. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    When I was reading this, I kept thinking, “Boy is this good writing! I could see this being run in the New Yorker or the Atlantic or one of those journals.” By the end, I was of the opinion that it’s better than the things they usually publish now.Report

  32. Avatar JM in CA says:

    Tod, I am a values voter and wish I had the funds to make the trip you did. So, it is pretty obvious we would not agree on most, if not all, public policy decisions. But I wanted to say that I enjoyed your article and hope that more sleeve tugging will occur between the two camps. I am saddened that civility has left the current discussions, that your opponent is not just mistaken but is evil and that true compromise is not tolerated by either extreme wings. BTW, most vv I know read vociferously and not just the stuff from Fox. I wish you well and thanks again for your article.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to JM in CA says:

      Thank you for the comment JM, and for taking the time to read a post that you must have known right away you weren’t going to agree with. That in itself is quite heartening.

      If by chance you are still in earshot, do you mind if I ask how you came across this post?Report

      • Avatar JM in CA in reply to RTod says:

        Tod, I spend an hour or so a night reading articles from various sources on the internet. Yours was a link from Politico. You are right…I did not think we would agree but wanted see how you would treat the speakers and attendees. I was pleasantly surprised and wrote to thank you for your civil tone and respect. Also, your honesty was refreshing. Value voters have moments of cognitive dissonance, myself included. I would suggest that this is a universal condition and from what I read from you so far suggests you would agree. Thanks again for writing as you have. Have a great day.Report

  33. Avatar Mike Schilling says:


    Liberal message to Christians: Fuck these people!Report