Friday, October 28, 2005

Should Evangelicals Even Be Allowed To Vote?

As a life-long resident of Colorado Springs, and as someone who has grown up in the shadow of New Life Church, there is so much to comment on in this piece of journalism by Tom Brokaw on NBC called, "In God They Trust." But for various reasons, I will limit myself to just one little item.

Near the end of the broadcast, Brokaw began to press the issue with Pastor Haggard that evangelicals would like to have more national politicians reflect their views. Brokaw was clearly communicating the fear of many that politicians might actually do so. On balance, I thought Pastor Haggard replied well. (And in all honesty, I thought Brokaw did a decent job of fairness himself through most of the piece.) In response, Haggard pointed out that in our political system, “we” think we are right, “they” think they are right, we all present our best case, and voters get to decide with whom they agree. Sounds pretty straightforward to me.

But Brokaw pressed the issue further. He wasn’t at peace with the idea that evangelicals might take their personal, religious convictions into the voting booth, and he was especially not happy with politicians who reflected those values-he brought up the fear that some have of an evangelical theocracy.

The final line of the documentary was telling. And by “telling” I mean as transparent as saran wrap. Brokaw concluded with, “but if they gain control of Congress, they won’t need a theocracy.” Brokaw, in what is becoming an unhappily common mental practice, was trying to swap labels like “narrow” and “intolerant” for the idea of “people who disagree with me.” He was attempting to stick them on a Christian group because they happened to vote for candidates that, according to his acute journalistic insight, fit “very narrow” guidelines. Haggard again replied well by appealing to the public square of ideas. But noticed what happened. By implication (deliberate, I assume), Brokaw said that conservative, evangelical Christians were wrong for thinking they had right ideas, and for voting for candidates that reflected their set of values.

Now, if Brokaw is to avoid the label of hypocrite, he must then argue that he, and those with whom he agrees, do not believe they have right ideas, and that they do not vote for candidates that reflect their values. But certainly Brokaw does not believe that. I am just as certain that Brokaw, and those with whom he feels in league with politically, believe they are voting for stances on issues they would label right or correct (if even to say that their supposedly tolerant views are right), and for politicians who will attempt to implement their rather narrow set of guidelines.

So what did happen in that one, little line? Without any argument, without any of the mental work necessary to address issues, principles, or theories, Brokaw attempted to label those with whom he disagrees out of significance. The move is called ad hominum-it is the oldest, cheapest, and in reality, the commonest argument around.


Tom Gilson said...

I agre, the whole presentation last night seemed well done, but the last comment stuck out. It left a sour taste; or to tweak the metaphor, it sounded like Tom Brokaw's "sour grapes."

Worse, it violated a rule of good communication. If you're going to bring in a new, controversial topic--if you're going to start a whole new discussion--don't do it just as you're signing off!

Dan Neary said...

After watching the piece, I had a general sense of relief... mostly because Evangelicals weren't painted as whackos. After sleeping on it, I think I’m glad for the way Ted Haggard represented us Evangelicals… but I find the underlying premise of Brokaw’s “news” piece irritating. Evangelicals aren't some mysterious group on the fringe (as Brokaw would like his viewers to think)... we are the mainstream. If you're interested, I've blogged on this a bit more at

Menlo Bob said...

Brokaw being a professional journalist knows how to present himself as a fair representative. Pity those who buy into his act. The very topic screams out the concerns of those of the left. We'll know know he is fair when he probes into media bias and questions whether that minority viewpoint is good for democracy.

Mike said...

Ad hominem fallacy is rejecting the argument by attacking the messenger.

For example, by making the claim that the pastor is a drunk, therefore we need not listen.

The rhetorical error you are reaching for is something else, usually called overgeneralization.

It is, as you point out, a lazy substitute for real thinking.

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