Was the Right Wrong?

Virginia Postrel's analysis in "Lost Causes" (Jan.) was shortsighted. It cannot be said that the religious right lost out on election day.

Polls show the so-called moral issues were less important to the electorate last year than they had been for 12 years. Republicans lost in California because the issue of the economy, the focus of the campaign, was especially powerful there. Bush wasn't unpopular in California, he was hated.

Moreover, it was the hard-core conservatives who jumped ship first. Bush, his tax hike, Pete Wilson, and the economy dragged all Republicans down in California. Voters elected Dianne Feinstein over a moderate, Barbara Boxer over a conservative. The religious right had nothing to do with it.

In the few races where candidates were strongly tagged as "candidates of the religious right" (such as Barbara Keating-Edh), the main issue was the economy. And if they were incorrectly labeled, whose fault is that?

The Christian right sat this one out, and with the electorate concentrating on other issues, they were able to have more influence in areas of special concern. Among people who considered abortion an important issue (12 percent of the electorate), pro-life candidates had a massive advantage.

Contrary to media spin, the night after Pat Buchanan and Reagan spoke at the Republican convention, Bush reduced his gap with Clinton from 21 points to five points. Poll after poll shows that the GOP would be stupid if it ditched the social issues.

Kristian M. Dahl
Minneapolis, MN

Virginia Postrel made some very interesting points about Pat Robertson, Pete Wilson, and William Weld, but the example of Virginia congressional candidate Henry Butler was wide of the mark. Butler was indeed attacked for "wooing" Christian voters, despite the clear differences between him and the pro-life community. But that's not why he lost.

Virginia gained the new congressional district in reapportionment, and our Democratic legislature and governor deliberately carved it out of the Washington, D.C., suburbs, giving it a strong Democratic tint. The political orientation of the district, coupled with Democratic candidate Leslie Byrne's last-week barrage of ad-hominem attacks on several of Butler's youthful peccadilloes, which failed to elicit any counterattack by Butler, provided Byrne with her margin of victory.

John S. Buckley
Vienna, VA

Although there is paranoia over the Christian right among Republicans and voters in general, and although leftists we challenge often include anti-Christian charges in their mud slings, the factors that led to my narrow defeat, 51 percent to 49 percent, in California's 25th District congressional race clearly did not include opposition to religion. I emerged from a six-man primary in June with 43 percent of the vote. Republicans in the 25th District were overwhelming in their selection of me, the "conservative Christian" in the race, as their standard-bearer.

My 12-point lead 10 days in advance of the general election was narrowed to six points by election day as a result of a barrage of Ralph Nader radio spots accusing me of being a phony consumer advocate, as well as negative mail that accused me of being a front for big business, in favor of alcohol and tobacco use, and against safety in general. My six-point lead was not quite strong enough to carry me over the top, given the incredibly high turnout by registered Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in my district, 49 percent to 41 percent.

The 25th was never a "safe" Republican district. It was a newly created toss-up where we had a chance to win if the Democrat turnout didn't reach beyond 65 percent.

I am a practicing Roman Catholic, I don't deny. The Catholic Church is anything but an operative of the political right. I made a decision to keep a very low profile on social issues, preferring to stick to economics because polling indicated that voters were interested primarily in education and the economy. My opponent rarely brought up social issues, obviously for the same reason. How, then, can one conclude that I was done in by the Christian right?

The leftist press is obsessed with the abortion issue. When asked by reporters where I stood, I responded with my position and moved directly back to the economic issues that drove my candidacy. When reporters stayed on the abortion track, I refused to talk with them unless they would address the issues I wanted to talk about.

This hardly showed me to be a captive of the Christian right. Nor did I receive money from any group bearing the name "Christian" in my campaign. I did receive donations from people, including business leaders, who are Christians.

The leftist press would have us all believe that anyone with a Christian donor or volunteer in her political camp is doomed. Not so. Larry Bowler, Kathleen Honeycutt, Curt Pringle, Ray Haynes, and Bernie Richter are Republican Assembly candidates with levels of Christian support similar to my own who won their seats in the last election.

I am sorry to see REASON falling prey to what amounts to the paranoid discrimination against Christianity in general that is rampant in the leftist American press today. This misplaced paranoia must not be given credence. There are immense numbers of anti-tax, anti–big-government, pro-market, free-traders who oppose abortion on demand for scientific and human-rights reasons rather than on religious grounds. They don't deserve the treatment afforded them by a biased press with its own agenda.

Barbara Keating-Edh
Modesto, CA

Virginia Postrel was off base in suggesting that the victory of Colorado's Amendment 2, which bars localities from granting gays and lesbians civil-rights protections and voids gay-rights statutes in Denver, Aspen, and Boulder, was a victory against state regulation. Drafted with the aid of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition and vigorously backed by fundamentalist groups, Amendment 2 is nothing for libertarians to celebrate.

It's one thing to oppose anti-discrimination laws across the board, but Amendment 2 forbids just one group from inclusion in civil-rights ordinances—gays and lesbians. During a campaign filled with homophobic vitriol, gays were condemned for comparing themselves to "legitimate" minorities with legitimate rights. Stigmatizing homosexuals was, in fact, the amendment's primary rationale, and since its passage anti-gay violence throughout Colorado has risen precipitously.

Moreover, libertarians should find it onerous when a state tells a locality what manner of legislation it can or cannot pass and intolerable when local laws approved by local citizens are voided by the state. Keeping decision making local is the heart of true democracy. With the Christian right now working to put Colorado-style initiatives on the ballot in at least eight other states, repealing Amendment 2 would send a strong message in support of the "traditional values" of individual liberty and local governance.

Stephen H. Miller
New York, NY

I'm surprised to see you call Oregon's Measure 9 a product of anti-gay bias. Measure 9 was the truth, and the truth isn't bias.

The lying bias is to make out that dangerous, abnormal, unnatural, and perverse people have the right to the same respectability and access as normal, natural, decent people—so that they can demand to have access to our children (teaching, scouting, etc.), while their wicked, devilish lifestyle denies them the ability to have children of their own.

You and I both know exactly what they really want—don't we? Consider what these people really do. John Wayne Gacy, the Atlanta mass murderer, etc.

Lionel Ledbetter
Adamsville, AL

Ms. Postrel replies: As those who read past the first third of my editorial know, I'm well aware that the economy was the primary issue in last fall's election campaign and George Bush's dismal record on taxes, spending, and regulation contributed mightily to his downfall—and to the failure of campaigns backed by Bush emulator Pete Wilson (who has since become a fiscal conservative). That in no way detracts from the fact that November 3 was a bad day for those social conservatives generally lumped together under the "Christian right" flag. In evaluating the evidence, it's important to keep in mind that both the religious right and their enemies—suspicious reporters and activist groups such as People for the American Way—have a strong interest in hyping the power and success of the Christian right.

No election result hinges on a single issue, because different issues matter to different voters. Certainly Henry Butler was hurt by allegations about his "youthful peccadilloes"; but driving away suburban voters suspicious of connections with the religious right also hurt him. Similarly, Barbara Keating-Edh's defeat had multiple causes, including the Nader attack. But her own desire to emphasize the most important issue of the election year—the economy—was thwarted by reporters obsessed with social issues (and the California media persistently portrayed her primarily as a social conservative). This suggests that the "Christian right" tag was a negative, not a positive.

Indeed, the persistent complaints among social conservatives about the media's obsession with abortion and Murphy Brown ("a biased press with its own agenda") suggests that such associations hurt; in 1988, when the press reported on the Pledge of Allegiance or Willie Horton, the reports helped George Bush—whatever the intentions of their authors. The same cannot be said for the press's portrayal of the Republican convention as a rally of the religious right. When the speeches were made, the poll numbers rose, but once the "religious right rally" spin was in place, they started falling. Suburban America, the key to the Republican resurgence, is discomfited by extremism, religious or otherwise, and pro-market women were turned off by what was portrayed (for the most part unfairly) as a GOP determined to keep them barefoot and pregnant. It's worth noting, in this regard, that Bruce Herschensohn won among California men, for whom social issues are less important than economic and foreign-policy matters.

Finally, the gay issue. Mr. Miller is quite correct that there is something mean-spirited about singling out a particular group for exclusion from special civil-rights protection. But the swing voters in Colorado—the ones who would not have voted for Oregon's Measure 9—were far more concerned with regulation than with oppressing gays. These Coloradans simply said "Stop" to the seemingly endless proliferation of protected categories that divide people into favored and disfavored classes and infringe on freedom of association (the very freedom the law has historically denied gays). As for local democracy, it may or may not be good for individual liberty—witness 19th-century slavery or 20th-century sodomy laws.

I include Mr. Ledbetter's hate-filled and ignorant diatribe to demonstrate to future Republican candidates just why middle America may find social conservatism, in its more-vitriolic form, a turnoff. And I'd like to point out, for the record, that Ted Bundy—among others—was a heterosexual and that among the many gays and lesbians I have known not a single one has pursued serial killing as a hobby.

Medved vs. Hollywood

I've been repeatedly annoyed by the unappealing and sometimes repulsive qualities of so many recent motion pictures. Accordingly, I was inclined to attribute a degree of plausibility to Michael Medved's famous theory when I encountered it in articles in various periodicals. That was until I became thoroughly convinced to the contrary by Charles Oliver's excellent review of Medved's new book, Hollywood vs. America ("It's Not a Wonderful Book," Feb.). Mr. Oliver is to be congratulated for his very insightful analysis.

It is encouraging to note that Medved is not advocating censorship. And I hope he understands that his aspirations for the quality of movies are much more likely to be realized by keeping their production and distribution in as free a market as possible. If Medved's thesis were correct, and "Hollywood" were actually refusing to produce the kind of movies the majority of patrons prefer, a new Hollywood would soon get rich by satisfying that unmet demand. The makers of unwanted movies would suffer financial losses and eventually disappear, or at least decline.

In short, the kind of problem Medved laments simply cannot exist for very long in a free market. And so the real issue of concern is not scheming movie moguls so much as the aesthetic preferences of the majority of our fellow citizens, which are largely a function of our culture, reflecting a varied mix of compatible and conflicting philosophies.

Joseph Curran
Daly City, CA

I was disappointed and somewhat shocked by Charles Oliver's negative review of Hollywood vs. America. To give Mr. Oliver the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that he must have had something else on his mind while reading the book, he must not have raised children over the past 20 years, and he probably lives in a media center such as Los Angeles.

According to Mr. Oliver, the book claims that the market has failed to "punish" Hollywood for ignoring the tastes of the majority of the American market. This is the exact opposite of the book's hypothesis. The facts that the market for films has drastically declined, that several prominent film companies are now in bankruptcy, and that network television has lost market share speaks well for the functioning of the market system.

What we have here is case not of market failure but of business failure. Is all of this due to the underlying values reflected in these films? Probably not, but no business or industry can ignore its customers and survive in the long term.

This point is reinforced by Mr. Medved's analysis of film success by ratings. The movies that more closely matched the tastes of the larger segments of the market were the most financially successful. The success of Disney is the perfect example.

Mr. Oliver spends an inordinate amount of his review discussing Home Alone. This film is only mentioned in two brief passages in the book. In the chapter on "Maligning Marriage," Mr. Medved lists it among those few that "showed devoted husbands and loyal wives who face adversity together." This is a positive from the author's perspective. The second reference occurs in the chapter on "Kids Know Best." Although Home Alone and the other films listed were generally admired by the author as among the best family films offered to the market, he points out that they have a common underlying thesis: "that parents are corrupt, hypocritical clowns who must learn decency and integrity from their enlightened offspring." In Home Alone, he notes, "contemporary kids need adults for only one purpose: comic relief."

Maybe Mr. Oliver does not realize that, unlike adults, who usually watch a movie once, today's kids and teenagers watch some of these films over and over. Due to cable TV and VCRs, the impact of films on kids today is much greater than in prior generations; therefore, these issues are critical to parents who do not share Hollywood's subjectivist, "anything goes" values.

In "Art and Sense of Life," Ayn Rand stated that "art is man's metaphysical mirror; what a rational man seeks to see in that mirror is a salute; what an irrational man seeks to see is a justification—even if only a justification of his depravity, as a last convulsion of his betrayed self-esteem." Unfortunately, our children are constantly looking into a mirror created in large part by "irrational" people, at a time when their self-esteem and sense of life are being formed.

In a free society, parents need to control their children's viewing habits, and a book like this will encourage them to do so more diligently. I hope this book will also serve as a guide to firms in the entertainment industry that choose to pursue financial success; without it, they will not survive.

Samuel Silver
Greenville, MS

It's not a wonderful review. Mr. Oliver mischaracterizes the book's moral context, substituting a value-free notion of the market. After summarizing Michael Medved's thesis in terms of a Hollywood conspiracy to sell us bad products, he counters that the market likes these bad products just fine. He can then ignore the moral content and settle down to a defense of the free market. Only, Mr. Medved doesn't condemn the free market—that's not what the book is about.

This neutrality—that if the market likes it, it's OK—ignores values in art. There are ultimately only two competing premises from which these values come: Is or is not human life, including the institutions that support it, good?

Mr. Medved's simple point is that mainstream Hollywood now purposely creates films that degrade human life, that say, in effect, human life is bad. No, the book is not about the failure of the market to punish debasing films (although Mr. Medved digresses on this when he needn't have). It pleads for something far different: some idea of human stature.

Ben Collum
Oklahoma City, OK

Mr. Oliver replies: To recapitulate, Medved argues that for over 20 years the entertainment industry has turned out products that do not merely hold no interest for its customers but that attack their most deeply held values. In the face of dwindling sales, Hollywood perversely continues to turn out these products; no one ever learns from his mistakes, and no entrepreneur ever sees an opportunity to serve this multibillion-dollar market, so tens of millions of consumers go unserved. Where I studied economics, that describes a market failure.

But it doesn't describe the real world. Hollywood is continually commissioning audience surveys to find out what people want. Entire final acts of movies have been rewritten and refilmed because they tested poorly in preview screenings. TV shows are yanked off the air after one episode because ratings are bad. In short, the entertainment industry cares very much about what its customers want.

Mr. Silver cites Medved's "analysis" of films by ratings to buttress his contention that Hollywood ignores the larger market. I didn't discuss this in my review because I didn't believe anyone was gullible enough to think that it proved anything. I stand corrected. For those who didn't read the book, Medved argues that G- and PG-rated films have a higher median box office and are more likely to be among the year's highest-grossing films than R-rated pictures. Since Medved doesn't supply the actual study and provides precious few details, we'll have to take his word for it.

The analysis is still flawed for several reasons. First, as Medved himself notes in another section of his book (apparently consistency is not a traditional value), the MPAA ratings tell us very little. A PG-rated film, for example, can contain loads of profanity and violence and even brief nudity. On the other hand, a film such as Alive which has no profanity, violence, or sexuality and is pro-religion gets an R-rating because the board thought that the airplane-crash sequence was too harrowing for younger viewers. Further, the ranks of R-rated films are inflated by small foreign films and art-house flicks that have no stars, small ad budgets, and play on only a handful of screens. And Medved ignores the fact that Hollywood produces for a global market. There is a huge market for action films in Asia and in the Middle East, and Europeans can't get enough of sexy films such as Basic Instinct. On the other hand, Disney's non-animated films, which do well in America, generally don't travel well.

Mr. Silver also cites the networks' dwindling share of the TV audience as proof that people are offended by popular culture. ABC, NBC, and CBS have indeed lost much of their audience to the Fox network and to cable, but one would be hard pressed to prove that these options are more wholesome than the networks. If people were really disgusted, they would not be watching TV at all, but they are. In fact, every year the number of hours the average American spends watching TV goes up.

Which brings us to the question of what all of this pop culture is doing to America. Those, such as Michael Medved and Messrs. Silver and Collum, who seem to think that Hollywood is leading America to hell have to answer a few questions. If films such as It's a Wonderful Life and TV shows like Leave It to Beaver were so socially beneficent, why did the generation—or a very large portion of it—raised on them turn to drugs and free love? If contemporary culture is so corrupting, why did the generation raised on it turn out to be so conservative politically and socially? If the violence in pop culture is responsible for the violence on our streets, why did the rise in violent crimes begin in the early 1960s, before the strictures on screen violence were abolished, and why did violent crime taper off in the late 1980s, when violence on TV and in the movies was soaring? I could go on, but you see the point. To ascribe a significant portion of the world's ills to the influence of popular culture is wrongfully simplistic. In short, Mr. Curran got the point.

Science Scribblers

Thanks to Jonathan Rauch for his review of Freeman Dyson's latest book ("A Little Science," Jan.) and for publicizing Dyson's belief that "the world of science and the world of literature have much in common." The noted computer scientist Edger Dijkstra expresses a similar thought in Selected Writings on Computing: A Personal Perspective.

Like Dyson's From Eros to Gaia, Dijkstra's book is a collection of writings and speeches. In "How Do We Tell Truths That Might Hurt," Dijkstra says about the field he and I share: "Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one's native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer."

Dijkstra and Dyson aren't alone in seeing interdependencies between the sciences, literary art, and verbal mastery. I note with pleasure that many of today's best technical minds articulate the need for a much broader spectrum of education and personal intellectual competence than collegiate technical majors typically provide.

I am encouraged by Dyson's view of science as a human activity that not only engages but requires the whole, well-rounded person. Pursuing my own "well-roundedness" is what initially brought me to REASON, and Rauch's article reminded me of why I subscribe.

Jim Merritt
Capitola, CA

Selecting Service

I appreciated the article by David R. Henderson ("For College and Country," Feb.). The roots of national service in the United States go back to World War I, when programs of education, training, Americanization, and even health were coupled with military training and service. Some proponents of "preparedness" wanted boys as young as 8 in a program of "universal military training." ROTC and Jr. ROTC were among the outcomes of those efforts.

The nature of each subsequent cry for national service has depended upon whether the nation wants more soldiers or more low-paying jobs or both. This carrot-and-stick approach was used during the Vietnam War, when the Selective Service engaged in "channeling," whereby deferments from conscription were given to those who entered training or service in government-approved classifications. More-recent rules have withheld education and training from persons who could not claim they had obeyed Selective Service regulations concerning draft registration.

Within the last five years at least a dozen national-service bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate; most are "voluntary"—the carrot. They would establish a citizen corps or service on federal, state, and local projects, and on Indian lands. They would be full- or part-time and for persons as young as 15. And, of course, military "service" would be an option.

Naturally, legislators don't like to talk about the stick: a draft or reductions in funds for non-participating programs. The government will use its power and its purse to "channel" its youth. Yet every plan for national service has one overriding component: nationalism, the citizen's duty to the state. Call it "service," if you like.

William F. McLoughlin
Harpers Ferry, WV