April 19, 2011
During the last five years I’ve written provocative fortnightly columns for the Lancaster newspapers, and I periodically receive letters from an outraged older woman (or so my wife has guessed from her handwriting and historical references) who considers me to be a moral leper. From this person’s communications, I’ve learned that I’m “one of those leftist professors who are poisoning the minds” of the rising generation. In her most recent letter, which arrived in my college office mail two days ago, my correspondent called me “salacious” and compared me to a lustful professor at some Western university who incites his students to sexual excesses. Usually her letters are so full of disconnected charges and indiscriminate name-calling that it is hard to relate anything to my person, but the overall message is clear: My columns have pissed off this critic big time.
Two things about her mailings allow me to determine it’s her even before I open the envelope. First, the lady never signs her name or gives her address, which causes me to think she belongs to the Pennsylvania Dutch culture in whose midst I reside. The Pennsylvania Dutch will rarely tell you anything to your face. And they love to hide behind anonymity, which they associate with Christian humility. Like other people, they hold opinions and sometimes very traditional ones. But they try hard not to show others, and certainly not outsiders, what they’re really thinking. Anonymous letters are therefore useful.
This lady’s missives usually arrive in bulky envelopes crammed full of Xeroxed copies of articles from neoconservative publications, most recently a long Peter O’Rourke tirade from The Weekly Standard explaining how much better Republicans are than Democrats.
My correspondent is appalled that my views rarely coincide with what she takes to be authentic “patriotic” opinions. She extols Bill Kristol, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly as the true voices of American conservatism, but her fave is Charles Krauthammer, and in her last letter I was told that “ridiculing a man of the stature of Charles Krauthammer is proof enough of your ignorance.” She also accused me of being not only “hopeless, blind, deaf and dumb,” but downright “belligerent” for not backing the American enterprise to overthrow Gaddafi. She was particularly upset that I made fun of Sarah Palin for insisting we jump into this new war without even looking for allies. Apparently unlike me and other leftists, Sarah was saying the American thing. My anonymous correspondent heard the same view from O’Reilly on FOX and then read it in the WSJ about a day after Sarah spoke. Given all these authoritative “conservative” judgments, it seemed impudent for me to disagree—perhaps even a bit salacious.
The lady also fills her envelopes with charts showing how much of our earnings Obama is spending. She wants me to stress this issue in my columns when I’m not praising wars intended to “spread our values.” Unsurprisingly, my critic pays no attention to what the last Republican administration did to increase the federal debt, particularly by monetizing our expenses when it went to war in Iraq. All deficits, we are to imagine, start with the Dems, and I should explain this to readers lest it escape their notice.
In last week’s letter, I was also told how I would eventually “have to stand before our Almighty God and Savior” and answer for my thought crimes. Apparently Christ was not only Jewish in his earthly existence but also a neocon. I suppose that if the Gospels were properly interpreted, perhaps on FOX or in The Weekly Standard, it would be clear that the Christian savior was some kind of proto-Trotskyist or perhaps a precursor of George W. Bush’s liberal internationalism. Jesus was also in favor of American exceptionalism and would have supported gay marriage and eradicating legally recognized gender differences so long as we Americans embraced these reforms. It took a couple thousand years to figure this out, but it was there all along waiting to be discovered.
I think my correspondent is an important indicator of where the GOP and the “conservative movement” with which she identifies are going. She is in her own way a devout Christian who sincerely loves her country. Without naming names, she mentions that she used to “teach” at great academic institutions, but my impression is that she’s poorly educated. Her narrow picture of reality is drawn from a few neoconservative sources. She carefully duplicates her politically predictable clippings and then sends them out to her friends and enemies. One doesn’t have to reach very far to figure out that this lady is a very typical Republican: white, Protestant, and churched. She imagines her reading matter is Christian and patriotic because it is always advocating wars if not for God then at least for country, and she happily “supports our troops” wherever they are sent to bring the gift of “human rights” to someone.
This woman is not socially or politically marginal. She fully represents the Protestant Republican voters I meet every day and is in sync with the only “conservative movement” she’s ever known. We are nowhere on her radar screen because we don’t have the necessary resources to be there, and from her garbled neoconservative-Protestant perspective, my columns seem to come from the far left.
What should we do about people like her after we’ve laughed over their muddled accusations and boundless gullibility? They used to be the base of a real American right. Now they treat us as enemies. She is one of tens of millions that our side will have to win over if we wish to have a voice on the national scene. Our task is tremendous but hopefully not impossible.