The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define And Inspire Our Country by Howard FinemanThe Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define And Inspire Our Country by Howard Fineman

The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define And Inspire Our Country

byHoward Fineman

Paperback | March 10, 2009

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Howard Fineman, one of our most trusted political journalists, shows that every debate, from our nation’s founding to the present day, is rooted in one of thirteen arguments that–thankfully–defy resolution. It is the very process of never-ending argument, Fineman explains, that defines us, inspires us, and keeps us free. At a time when most public disagreement seems shrill and meaningless, Fineman makes a cogent case for nurturing the real American dialogue. The Thirteen American Arguments runs the gamut, including

Who Is a Person? The Declaration of Independence says “everyone,” but it took a Civil War, the Civil Rights Act, and other movements to make that a reality. Now, what about human embryos and prisoners in Guantanamo?
The Role of Faith No country is more legally secular yet more avowedly prayerful. From Thomas Jefferson to James Dobson, the issue persists: Where does God fit in government?
America in the World In Iraq and everywhere else, we ask ourselves whether we must change the world in order to survive and honor our values–or whether the best way to do both is to deal with the world as it is.

Whether it’s the nomination of judges or the limits of free speech, presidential power or public debt, the issues that galvanized the Founding Fathers should still inspire our leaders, thinkers, and fellow citizens. If we cease to argue about these things, we cease to be. “Argument is strength, not weakness,” says Fineman. “As long as we argue, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, we will argue.”
Howard Fineman is Newsweek’s senior Washington correspondent and columnist. His “Living Politics” column appears regularly in the magazine, on, and on An award-winning writer, Fineman is also an NBC news analyst and a regular on Hardball with Chris Matthews and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. His work has appear...
Title:The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define And Inspire Our CountryFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.19 × 0.69 inPublished:March 10, 2009Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0812976355

ISBN - 13:9780812976359

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Chapter 3 THE ROLE OF FAITHGod in His infinite wisdom must have designed Tennessee asthe ideal place in which to argue the role of faith in public life.In what sometimes is still called “the buckle of the Bible Belt,”locals favor “strong preachin’,” but also the evangelism of a secular gospelcalled Jacksonian Democracy. Nashville is home to the abstemious soulsof the Southern Baptist Convention, but also to country singers keeningover lives ruined by drink and dissolution. In 1925 the mountains of eastTennessee were the site of the infamous Scopes Trial, in which a teacherwas sent to jail for teaching the science of biological evolution. Yet thosesame rugged mountains are home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory,a leading center for advanced science, and to two nuclear power plantsthat operate on the physics venerated there.So Tennessee was the appropriate launching pad for the political careerof Senator William Frist, M.D.–and also the appropriate place for it tocrash to Earth. In Tennessee, the senator had to fly through the crosswindsof cultural conflict, between the theories and demands of Bible Belt religionand of ivory tower science. The bumpy ride ultimately reduced his imagefrom that of an idealistic, Grey’s Anatomy—style “superdoc” and presidentialpossibility to a hopeless political hack. The trajectory of his public life illuminatedthe power of an essential American Argument. We are a prayerful,Bible-believing country, yet that same trait causes us to constantlyfret–and argue–over the extent to which our faith should influence decisionsabout education, research, welfare, and other government activities.Frist rose to prominence on the secular, science side of the argument.His first calling card was medicine. His father and uncle were prominentNashville physicians who had made a fortune assembling one of the nation’sfirst HMOs. He was a brilliant, meticulous student, excelling atPrinceton, at Harvard Medical School, and in internships at MassachusettsGeneral Hospital.Frist had a need to exhibit his knowledge in dramatic circumstances.He became a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon famous for steely nervesand clinical derring-do, “cracking open chests,” as he put it, thrusting hishands into thoraxes to remove diseased hearts and lungs. He owned aplane, which he kept gassed up and ready to fly so he could ferry in replacementparts–living hearts–for his patients. He piloted the plane, ofcourse. He was forever experimenting with new surgical techniques,studying logistics, puzzling over the social consequences of the on-the-flytriage necessary to match salvageable patients with salvageable hearts. Acommitted runner, lean as a whippet, and blessed with an ability to concentratein an operating theater, Frist slept only three or four hours a night.He used the wee hours to educate himself by writing medical tracts.As he launched his campaign for the Senate in 1994, his religious faithwas not a visible part of his public profile. He rarely talked about hisstandard-issue Presbyterianism, the denomination of choice among theSouthern business establishment. Rather, he advertised the healing powerof medicine. On the wall behind his desk, he tacked up a picture of a picniche had organized and attended earlier that year. He was surroundedin the photo by a cheerful-looking throng of more than one hundred.Who were they? “Those are my former transplant patients,” Frist saidproudly. “I feel a deep bond with those people,” he said. “I can’t express itin words.”Even after he became a senator, Frist did not abandon his medical pursuits.He was an unofficial doctor-in-residence in the Capitol. After the9/11 terrorist attacks, he used his late-night study vigils to produce apicture-and-text guide and instruction manual on how to treat injuriesand contaminations that might follow a chemical or biological assault. Heinsisted that his full title be emblazoned on press releases and in brass onhis office door: Senator William Frist, M.D.When he began fashioning his political career, Frist had little contactwith the Other Tennessee, the one controlled, or at least defined, by theSouthern Baptists. The state’s largest denomination, they had always setthe tone politically, but not always directly. In pioneer days they were aliberating political force, opposed to hierarchical authority, especially an“established” church, of any kind. They promoted democratic ideals byinsisting that man had free will, and by insisting that the route to salvationlay in the simple, straightforward act of reading and believing theBible. Baptists had grown mighty on America’s frontiers, where settlershad needed a portable, independent faith, one that validated their sense offreedom but also gave them confidence that they were doing the Lord’swork in the New World.At first, Baptists and their brethren wanted nothing to do with directinvolvement in government, however, which they tended to fear (giventheir history in Europe and in much of colonial America) as an instrumentof theological oppression. That attitude changed somewhat in the1920s, as rural Americans came to feel themselves under assault by a new,metropolitan modernity. The battle was joined in Dayton, Tennessee,where a teacher named John Scopes was brought to trial for violating astate law against the teaching of evolution. Clarence Darrow, the most famouscourtroom lawyer of his day, teamed up with an equally famousjournalist, H. L. Mencken, to make a national laughingstock out of thelaw’s chief defender, William Jennings Bryan, the “prairie populist.”And yet it was Bryan’s side–the Bible-believing one–that won thecase at trial and on appeal. In New York City, textbook authors wereforced to delete evolution from their newest manuscripts. The Tennesseelaw remained on the books, banning instruction in “any theory that deniesthe story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible” or thatsuggests “man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Similarlaws existed in fourteen other states until the U.S. Supreme Court, in1968, firmly and finally ruled that they were an unconstitutional impositionof sectarian dogma in secular classrooms.The national ridicule engendered by the Scopes Trial drove two generationsof Baptists out of the political arena. Despite their legal early“victory,” the Southern Baptist leaders increasingly downplayed fundamentalistteachings, even if their congregants did not.But by the time Frist was thinking of running for office, a new generationof hard-liners–more media-savvy and sophisticated, but no less dedicatedto Scripture–had reasserted control of the denomination. Luckilyfor Frist (at least it seemed lucky at the time) the Baptists’ leading politicalfigure in the early 1990s was Dr. Richard Land, who had close ties to KarlRove, an ally of the late Lee Atwater’s and the emerging kingmaker of theSouthern-based Republican Party. Land headed the Southern Baptists’ politicaland grassroots organizing arm. He was theologically devout, buthad a doctorate from Oxford and enjoyed jousting with the Other Side.And maybe the Lord had a hand in bringing him to the campaign: LikeFrist, Land was a Princeton man. He could educate Frist in the politicalways of the Word.It was a slow, careful process. In Frist’s first campaign, in 1994, Landdid not press his fellow Princetonian on faith issues. It wasn’t part of theGOP’s national game plan. Instead, the Republicans ran coast-to-coast onNewt Gingrich’s determinedly secular “Contract with America,” whichstudiously avoided social and theological issues and instead focused onanti-Washington themes: tax cuts, spending reform, and the iniquity ofthe new Clinton administration and the Democrats who had ruled theHouse of Representatives for forty years. Frist was anti-abortion–justabout everybody in the new GOP was–but otherwise had felt little needto talk much about “the social issues.”Frist’s focus changed once he arrived in Washington, especially afterGeorge Bush became president, the GOP took control of the Senate, andFrist, with a behind-the-scenes boost from the White House, became majorityleader. Suddenly he was the man in the middle of an American Argument.Stem-cell research was the specific issue. Baptists and otherfundamentalists joined with the Vatican hierarchy to oppose the use ofhuman embryos in such research, even though many frozen embryoswere being discarded by fertility clinics and most scientists thought researchusing cells from that source held great clinical promise in thesearch for cures to disease.Frist proceeded to ambush himself on the issue. In 2001, he supportedthe president’s decision to limit federally funded research to cultures fromexisting embryo “lines.” But under pressure from his erstwhile colleaguesin the medical community–not to mention former first lady Nancy Reagan,who saw stem-cell research as the route to a cure for Alzheimer’sdisease–Frist reversed course. Now, he said, he considered the existing“lines” inadequate, and would support the use of embryos that would otherwisebe discarded by clinics and perhaps other sources as well. Since hewas a doctor and potential presidential candidate, Frist’s 2005 switch wasmajor national news. “It’s an earthquake,” said his Republican colleagueArlen Specter of Pennsylvania at the time.Frist garnered praise from the same medical and scientific communitythat had denounced him earlier. But the GOP’s religious fundamentalistsattacked him for supporting what they labeled “destructive embryo research.”“To push for the expansion of this suspect and unethical science,”said Dr. James Dobson, “will be rightly seen by America’s values voters asthe worst kind of betrayal of choosing politics over principle.” Dr. Landhad a simpler political reaction, but equally to the point. “I’m heartbroken,”he declared.And so it came to pass that Frist was politically doomed, even thoughhe tried his best to reconnect with the “heartbroken” Land. The senatorsought to placate his religious “base” by championing the anti-euthanasiacause of Terri Schiavo. Although he had not personally seen the bedriddenand severely brain-damaged woman, he offered a long-range “diagnosis”of her condition, concluding that she was aware of her surroundings andthus should be spared. He did so after watching a video of her moving hereyes in what some had concluded was a purposeful, sentient fashion.Then, as though burrowing into Tennessee’s antimodern past, Fristshowed up at a Rotary club in Nashville to talk about evolution. After theSupreme Court in 1968 invalidated statutes that had banned the teachingof evolution, Biblical literalists had developed a new strategy. Rather thanopposing evolution per se, they supported the teaching of a theory theycalled “intelligent design.” The idea was that human beings and otherforms of life were so complex and elegantly arranged that only an intelligent“Creator”–that would be God–could have made them. Scientistsgenerally dismiss the theory as nothing more than a faith-based tautology,an assertion beyond the reach of experimental, factual verification, andtherefore not “science” at all.But Frist was not one of those scientists. “I think a pluralistic societyshould have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith,” hesaid. Exposing schoolchildren to intelligent design “doesn’t force a particulartheory on anyone,” he said. A few months later, a federal judge inPennsylvania disagreed. He struck down a local school-board policy thatrequired that students be made “aware of the gaps/problems in Darwin’stheory, and of other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to,intelligent design.”By then Frist had bowed out of that debate–and most others in thefaith wars. He had said from the beginning of his political adventure thathe would serve only two terms in the Senate, and as his second term drewto a close in the fall of 2006, the only remaining question was whether hewould run for the GOP presidential nomination. He was not a deft politician–you could see the gears grinding with every move he made–buteven a Lyndon Johnson would have had trouble surviving in the riptidesof the faith-versus-science debate.In his final few months, Frist almost literally wasted away, shrinkingfrom lean to gaunt, his normally chipper surgeon’s demeanor falling offinto what resembled absentmindedness. On the Senate floor, he seemedalmost lost. He had been chewed to pieces by the Eastern establishmentthat had credentialed him initially; he was almost too easy a target for TheNew York Times. At the same time, the Richard Lands of the world hadgiven up on him, looking elsewhere for Republican presidential candidatesto champion. Rove had once been a backer–had led the effort toget him the majority leader’s job–but Bush aides now privately deridedFrist as a ham-fisted amateur who had never learned to play the game, nomatter how adroit he had been in an operating theater.In November of 2006, after the Democrats won back control of theSenate, Frist limited himself to the occasional Washington social event ashe and his wife prepared to return to Nashville. He said he was buildinga new home there. In a sad, unself-conscious parody, the new edifice resembleda downsized White House, with pillars, portico, and all. Hecould take shelter there from the argument that had overwhelmed him.The land we live on was claimed in God’s name, but the world’s firstofficially secular government sits on it. We invoked God in makingour Declaration of Independence, but not in our governing authority, theConstitution. Only one clergyman signed the former; none the latter. Yetwe are among the world’s most devout people; most of us see the Bible asliteral truth, the Word of God. We base our nationhood on the unalienablerights the Creator bestowed upon all of mankind. So what roleshould He play in our public life?Faith and its traditions and institutions can strengthen society’s socialfabric, and amplify its commitment to family and justice. But if the Wordrules all, the faithful are duty bound to spread–yea, even enforce–it.The result: sectarian crusades in secular realms. Some are noble (abolitionor the bioethics movement), but some foment intolerance (the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, the ravings of Louis Farrakhan), or warp scientificinquiry, public education, and foreign policy. We are one country,yet forever torn between two methods of understanding, Revelation andReason, and two sacred texts, the Bible and the Constitution. Of all the argumentsthat define us none is more vexing–alternately troubling andinspiring–than the one we had for four centuries over the role of faith.America, the late Jerry Falwell proclaimed, was a “faith nation.” Hispolitical foes disputed the specific term, but they cannot gainsay the basicpoint. The polling figures are as familiar as they are immutable: 90 percentof us say we believe in God; 85 percent believe in the personal powerof prayer; 70 percent are affiliated with an organized religion; 42 percentsay they attend religious services regularly; and 38 percent refer to themselvesas “committed Christians.” Senator Barack Obama summarizedthese numbers in his tart fashion. “Substantially more people in America,”he said, “believe in angels than they do in evolution.”Looking back, it is clear that it is our destiny to argue about faith inpublic life. History makes us do it.One reason is the centrality of the Bible–not just what it contains, butthe fact of its new, wide availability at the time of our founding. Our earliestseventeenth-century settlers arrived with Reformation ideas. Theycame bearing new ways of thinking and guiding their lives created bypost-Gutenberg technology (the movable-type printing press) and individualistic,post—Martin Luther theology. To these early Protestants, andfor those who came here over the next two centuries, the Bible–notpopes, prelates, or princes–was the arbiter of morality and the road mapto heaven. What’s more, it was within the power and the ken of any mortalto read it and interpret it for himself. He could and did go forth intothe New World to seek its riches and master its dangers with a rifle, an ax,and a Bible. “Those who believe that knowledge of God comes direct tothem through the study of the Holy Writ,” observes historian Paul Johnson,“read the Bible for themselves, assiduously, daily. The authority layin the Bible, not the minister.”The result was a uniquely American invention: a lively, supply-sidemarketplace of religion. “The direct apprehension of the word of God,”writes Johnson, was a formula for dissent–“for a Babel of conflictingvoices.” Diverse faith was, and is, like the energy from splitting the atom.“Nowhere else in Christendom was religion so fragmented,” writes colonialhistorian Gordon S. Wood. “Yet nowhere was it so vital.” It was allthe more vital because, in a New Eden of America, there was more ur-gency in finding the right biblical path away from sin. The place waspure; the temptations of freedom were great.As with other parts of our heritage, this marketplace was so ferventbecause it was based on freedom of the individual. As with other marketplaces,it was buffeted by crowd psychology, the dynamics of salesmanship,and the laws of supply and demand. Without the clerical structure ofan official church, preachers rose to power on the strength of eloquenceand marketing skill, convincing the layman of the wisdom of their interpretation.Popular preachers were early fruits of our democratic thinking–“in a sense, the first elected officials,” says Johnson, “of the NewAmerican society.”Philadelphia, birthplace of our Republic, was known through most ofthe eighteenth century as the ultimate faith-based bazaar–site of the legendary,building-packing sermons of George Whitefield, American’s firstrevival evangelist. The Founders who convened there in 1787 to draft aConstitution knew the history of the city. They were not hostile to religion;indeed, they were not all firmly against some version of an officialchurch, if it could be democratically selected.Just two years earlier, a committee of the Continental Congress hadcome within a single vote of moving in that direction. Drafting rules forselling land in the Northwest Territory, the committee voted to allot for“the maintenance of public Schools” one section within each square ofsurveyed squares. Then they voted to devote “the section immediately adjoiningthe same to the northward for the support of religion. Profits arisingtherefrom in both instances to be applied forever according to the willof the majority of male residents of full age within the same.” In otherwords, the public would pay to “support religion,” presumably by constructingthe church the locals wanted.To James Madison’s great relief, the “support of religion” clause wasvoted down in the end. “How a regulation so unjust in itself, foreign tothe authority of Congress . . . smelling so strongly of an antiquated Bigotry,could have received the countenance of a committee is a matter of astonishment,”he wrote to James Monroe. Presbyterian clergy, Madisonreported, “were in general friends of the scheme,” but they had temperedtheir “tone, either compelled by the laity of that sect, or alarmed at theprobability of further interferences of the Legislature, if they once beginto dictate in matters of religion.”In writing a Constitution, Madison and the other Founders took anotherstep back from the approach the Continental Congress had considered.The idea of a state-supported church–even one democraticallychosen by local elders–would not even be considered. When it cametime to draft a Bill of Rights four years later, they hammered home thepoint. “Congress shall make no law,” the First Amendment says, “respectingthe establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercisethereof.” The framers were not banishing faith from the public square–but they were banishing the possibility of state monopoly in the market ofcreeds. They made the point in 1796 in another, but significant, context.In the Treaty of Tripoli, they tried to soothe the Muslim ruler there by assertingthat “the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christianreligion.” That wasn’t quite right, of course. We were set in motion byChristians in the name of Christian kings. But after 1776, the kings didnot govern us, and neither did their faith. No one faith could. You couldbelieve in any you chose–or in none at all.The fact is that the focus of the Founders–what they thought thecountry indeed was “founded on”–was not Christianity per se, or theBible, or at least the Bible alone. The focus of their intellectual, political,and moral ambition was the world, history as it was lived, and the Enlightenmentspirit of inquiry and science. Many were Deists, skeptical ofChristian dogma about the divinity of Jesus. They studied Athens andRome–not Jerusalem–for most of their clues to the nature of government.Their holy trinity was Hume, Locke, and Montesquieu. The decisionof the committee of the Continental Congress is a footnote in history,but a crucial one, reflecting and foreshadowing an argument for the ages:They concluded that the only kind of education that government shouldpay for is the kind that takes place in a secular classroom.But, as was the case in 1785, it was always a close question. In 1801,Baptists, a minority in Connecticut, wrote to President Jefferson to complainthat their state viewed religious liberty not as an immutable rightbut as a privilege granted by the legislature–as “favors granted.” In hisfamous and carefully considered reply, Jefferson said nothing about Connecticut,but noted that it was an “act of the whole American people” (theBill of Rights) “which declared that their legislature should make no lawrespecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercisethereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”Perhaps no single “thus” has generated so much controversy. To besure, Jefferson’s “wall” means there can be no state-sponsored church. Butmust it mean no role for faith in public life?Probably not. Even in his letter, Jefferson seemed to make the point.He closed his “wall of separation letter” to the Danbury Baptists thisway: “I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing ofthe common Father and creator of man.” However guarded his words,he was reciprocating something. Faith and public life are not a unity, butJefferson understood that here they are virtually inseparable in manyways.The idea of “revival” is one example of how faith and politics inAmerica are intertwined. Indeed, it is, arguably, our most important politicalmetaphor. We are a nation that operates by continual revival. Withoutan established church, with each of us free to read the Word forhimself, we compete with each other to win souls, and revivals are ourunique method for doing so. The religious Great Awakenings were mirroredin our politics, and vice versa. In a nation that prays for the adventof Good News, every deal is New, every political campaign is a crusade,and every crusade is a campaign. The mechanics of a Billy Graham event(he no longer calls them “crusades”) and those of a candidate rally are indistinguishable.Much of the language is the same, sign-up tables are thesame, prayer counselors and precinct workers are the same. Only the objectiveis different: souls versus votes.What we think of as civic life would not exist without the religious impulseto lead, to educate, and to convince. That impulse fostered thefounding of our great universities and colleges, from Harvard to NotreDame to Brigham Young to Brandeis. It encouraged us to be the mostcharitable of people, with faith-based institutions leading the way fromthe time of the Puritans through Dorothy Day and her Catholic Workermission to the mainline Protestant and Jewish settlement-house movement,which in turn gave rise to the modern science of social work. Theabolitionists sprang from the churches of New England and Upstate NewYork; the civil rights movement from the Baptist and African MethodistEpiscopal churches of New York City and the Southern Bible and Cottonbelts. The Reverend Jesse Jackson used his preacher’s status and rapper’sgifts to launch successful voter-registration drives throughout the Southduring the 1980s.Mixing faith and politics–souls and votes–can be uplifting, but it canbe toxic, too. In the South, religion was a bulwark of slaveholding society,with elders interpreting the Old Testament view of chattel, includinghuman chattel, literally. In the North, the captains of industry mixed intheir Union League Clubs a lethal cocktail of Calvinism, Darwinism, andprofit. They made their workers drink it in the mines and on the factoryfloors. Literal readings of Scripture retarded the advance of equal rightsfor women and, in more recent years, for gays and lesbians. Churches haveprotested the moral blindness of science–of the eugenics movement, forexample–but also have stood in the way of worthy experimentation. TheWomen’s Christian Temperance Union launched itself with good intentions,aiming to achieve a sober, God-fearing society, but wound up fosteringcriminality and linking arms with anti-Catholic bigots.Intolerance was and is a risk. In colonial times, the emotion of religiousconflict could be drained away by distance. This was a vast, opencountry, and those with a different or controversial view of the Biblecould simply leave, or be banished, to a place where they could practicetheir faith relatively undisturbed. (The Mormons were literally hunted asthey moved, until they found peace beside the Great Salt Lake.) By themid-nineteenth century, however, the flood of Irish Catholics was toooverpowering, too visible, and too economically vital, to be out of view.The result: sectarian riots and faith-based discrimination.Appropriately, the ballot box was and is an antidote to religious discrimination.The Catholic example is instructive. In 1884, a clergymanspeaking to the Religious Bureau of the Republican National Committeefamously blasted the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, as anagent of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” The GOP candidate, James G.Blaine, did not immediately repudiate the remark, and he lost New YorkCity (and the election)–in large part due to Irish Catholic voters.Protestants took to establishing their own secret societies, dedicated torooting out Catholic influence. In 1893, a group called the American ProtectiveAssociation promulgated a new secret oath for its members.Among other things, they swore to “do all in my power to retard andbreak down the power of the Pope” and “not vote for, or counsel others tovote for, any Roman Catholic, but [to] vote only for a Protestant . . .” TheCatholic response was to plunge into politics that much more deeply; thefirst fruit of their labors was the 1928 presidential candidacy of New Yorkgovernor Al Smith.It took another generation, and the advent of the charismatic John F.Kennedy, for the United States to elect a Roman Catholic president. That,too, was a crusade, melding our fundamental metaphors for renewal andhope–a Great Awakening, a move to the West–into the phrase “NewFrontier.”In domestic politics, the biggest story of the last generation is plain tosee in retrospect. In summary form, here it is: Dismayed by what theysaw as the loss of respect for biblical values, evangelical Christians abandonedtheir aversion to electoral politics and joined with anti-abortion,culturally traditional Catholics to build a new, faith-centered RepublicanParty that elected Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and twogenerations of Bushes.It took a biblical generation–forty years in Old Testament reckoning–for the trend to reach its apogee, in Bush’s reelection campaign of2004. Its influence began to wane thereafter (the unpopularity of the IraqWar, sold in part by and for religious fundamentalists, hastened theprocess), but the rise of the Religious Right remains a big turn in the roadof American history, and one of the most consequential developments ofour time. Like a coda on a symphony, the 2004 presidential campaign producedthe fast-rising candidacy of Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in2008. He had spent much of his career in the pulpit, as a Southern Baptistpreacher. He had led one congregation. Now he was proposing to lead another:the GOP.This cycle of conservative Christian political awakening began at a timeof new beginnings in America, the 1960s, and it began, appropriatelyenough, with the issue of Bible prayer. The proximate cause, ironically, wasnot electoral politics per se, but six decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.In New York, as in most other states, public school students began theday reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and either the Lord’s Prayer from theGospel of Matthew or the Twenty-third Psalm from the Old Testament.Facing a challenge to that practice, New York State Regents prepared a“non-denominational” substitute. It said: “Almighty God, we acknowledgeour dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, ourteachers and our Country.” But even that was too much for the SupremeCourt. In the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale, it ruled that requiring a prayer ofany kind in the schools was a violation of the First Amendment. In a Pennsylvaniacase the next year, the justices ruled that the practice was unconstitutionaleven if students could get permission not to take part in thepublic praying.Although civil libertarians and their Democratic allies saw the cases asa victory, an emerging cadre of conservative Republicans immediatelysaw it as a cause–and an opportunity. History tends to regard Arizonasenator Barry Goldwater as a libertarian who cared little about religiousmatters and who, in later years, expressed alarm at the rise of the ReligiousRight. But in his 1964 presidential campaign, Goldwater stressedhis strong belief in the need for a swift “return of prayer to the publicschools of the nation.”Cases that followed over the next few years stoked the anger of religiousconservatives. In 1965, the Court struck down a Connecticut lawthat barred the dispensing of contraceptives–at a time when Catholicteaching still held the use of such devices to be immoral. In 1968 the Courtstruck down a ban on the teaching of evolution. In 1973 the Court substantiallyloosened rules governing the national distribution of pornography,holding that it was up to localities to decide what was or was notobscene by applying their “local community standards.” Finally, most famously,the Court ruled in 1973 that women had a qualified, constitutionallyprotected right to an abortion, most clearly at early points inpregnancy.Taken together, the cases ignited a political supernova, the light fromwhich took years to reach the consciousness of the political establishment.I caught a glimpse of its power in the mid-’70s as a reporter in Louisville,in Bible Belt Kentucky, in the audience of an ad hoc group called the JeffersonCounty Commission on Obscenity and Community Standards.The city of Louisville itself was not a fundamentalist hotbed, but thesurrounding blue-collar county suburbs were, populated for the most partby rural folks who were drawn to the metro area to work at the industrialplants of GE and Ford. The chief executive of the county, the countyjudge, was up for reelection, and he saw a way to appeal to that crowd byestablishing the commission. The idea would be to set–in advance of anycourt case, should there be one–the county’s very own “community standards.”It was a political stunt: The commission never did establish thestandards, if for no other reason than that no one was eager to be seen examiningevidence.But it was the citizens who came to testify who mattered. Politically, Icame to realize, they were harbingers of the new era, in which “culturalpolitics” would be, or would seem, as important as the economics-basedpolitics that traced its roots to the New Deal. One by one, voters troopedto the microphone in a school gymnasium to describe what they saw asthe decay of society’s moral and religious signposts. They saw their familiesas under siege, assaulted by an evil laxity. To them, the rapid spread ofpornography was just one example. There was no prayer in the schools.No one respected the Bible.This was the time of “Deep Throat” in two versions. In New Yorkand Washington, the Nixon administration was under attack, houndedby leaks from an FBI man who had been given the porno-flick nickname“Deep Throat” by editors of The Washington Post. The journalists wereout to expose the political evil of unconstitutional authoritarianism. InLouisville, at least in that gym, they fretted more about the movie of thesame name, which they thought posed a greater danger than Nixon.The disgust at the two “Deep Throats” sparked a reawakening ofovertly biblical language in mainstream–that is, white middle-class–politics. The church-based civil rights movement was suffused with biblicalvision and verve; now the same faith-based emotion spread to thesuburbs in a different context.The first to say so explicitly was Jimmy Carter, the governor of Georgiawho rose from obscurity to the presidency in 1976. He did so bypromising a post-Watergate moral housecleaning in Washington, andsold himself as a truth-telling man of the soil and proud “born-againChristian.” Carter was the first major candidate to declare his born-againbona fides–and the first to directly appeal for the votes of fellow evangelicals.Carter’s sister testified to her brother’s spiritual quest for “totalcommitment to Christ.” In a speech to the Democratic National Committeethat year, Martin Luther King Sr. declared: “Surely the Lord sentJimmy Carter to come on out and bring America back to where it belongs.”In an interview in Playboy, Carter himself confessed to a lustfulheart. The metropolitan wise guys laughed, but his confessional, revivaltentmoment played well in the countryside.The electoral-map results were astonishing: Carter, the born-againBible Belt avatar, swept the South–the first time a Democrat had done sosince 1960, and, it turned out, the last time since. The meaning was clear:Even though millions of white voters in the South had migrated to theRepublican Party because of its “states’-rights” stand on race, Democratscould win the region if they could maintain, and build on, the new faith-based activism of the evangelicals. Republicans and conservatives, led bynew RNC chairman Bill Brock of Tennessee, recognized the threat immediately,and went to work countering it.So began a new political war, this one based not on race but on religion.It was actually a two-front war: one among conservative, antiabortionCatholics in the North; the other among evangelical Christiansin the South. The former, based initially in Connecticut, was led byacolytes of William F. Buckley’s. The second was led by Brock and counseledby Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” guru, Harry Dent of SouthCarolina, and by a new breed of preacher awakened to the call of politics–ironically–by Jimmy Carter himself.This new alliance had four goals: to undercut Carter with his evangelicalbase; unite conservative Catholics and fundamentalist evangelicals(who had feared and despised each other on theological and socialgrounds throughout American history); build a new national grassrootsmachine to turn out faith-based voters; and find an inspiring candidatearound whom to unite for the 1980 election.Undoing Carter was the easy part, since he was perched uneasily atopa national party that was, on most issues, at odds with evangelicals andconservative Catholics. Baptists had expected him, as president, to championtheir causes–such as a return to prayer in public schools–and toabandon other positions he had been forced to adopt during the 1976campaign. Carter did not do either. He continued to support Roe v. Wadeand its progeny, continued to back the Equal Rights Amendment, whichevangelicals viewed as an attack on the “traditional” family–and continuedto allow alcohol to be served at White House functions, even if drinkswere no longer available in the White House Mess. “I hope you give upyour secular humanism and return back to Christianity,” a prominentBaptist preacher told Carter.Here was the opening the Republicans needed, and it was immediatelyspotted by a group of religious conservatives that met regularly inWashington to plot the counterrevolution among the faithful. Catholicsin the North had been stirred to action by Roe; the National Right to LifeCommittee was gaining power. In the South they needed grassrootsgroups with whom they could link arms over abortion and other issuessuch as school prayer, gay rights, and “secular” science. All they lackedwas a public leader and motivator to gather the reins.And that is how Jerry Falwell barged into the picture. New Right ac-tivists in Virginia knew about him and were impressed. He was boisterousand literally from the wrong side of the tracks in his hometown, homebase of Lynchburg. He was a born huckster who spoke in the deep,hickory-smoked accent of Southside Virginia. His televised sermonsfilled the pews of his Thomas Road Baptist Church to the acousticallycontoured rafters, and he had turned his local broadcasts into a nationallysyndicated powerhouse called the “Old Time Gospel Hour.”As Falwell told the story years later, a delegation led by strategist PaulWeyrich came down from Washington to see him and propose that helaunch a group to engage evangelicals in politics from a conservative Republicanangle. “They approached me and I agreed that it was a goodidea,” Falwell recalled. “The idea was to take the country back.” (In fact,Falwell had been selling himself to the Beltway powers.) The name, Falwelland the others decided, would be “the Moral Majority,” an echo ofNixon’s “Silent Majority” from Dent’s 1970 “Southern Strategy” electioncampaign for the GOP.From the start, the goal was not only to register and inspire conservativeevangelicals, but also to win the presidential election, which meantagreeing on a figure to lead the crusade. “We needed a candidate to rallyaround,” said Falwell, “and we set about finding one.” Falwell, Weyrich,and the rest of the group met with most of the Republicans who werethinking of running for president in 1980. It did not take them long tofind the one they could agree on: former California governor Ronald Reagan.His California record was not perfect. As governor in the 1960s, hehad not opposed state funding for abortions, and his professional rootswere in the Hollywood movie industry, a font of secularism and moralcorruption in the eyes of most evangelicals. But he had worked hard towin their support in recent years, decrying the absence of prayer inschools and backing, when he ran for the GOP nomination in 1976, a“human life amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.With a candidate to sell and a constituency to reach–the one thatCarter had identified–Falwell and his Washington-based media anddirect-mail advisers compiled lists and opened Moral Majority chapters atthe new suburban megachurches and old-fashioned rural outposts alike.Adapting a technique used by labor and business lobby groups, Falwell &Co. compiled “scorecard” ratings of candidates on moral issues. TheMoral Majority staged rallies across the South and Midwest to supportcandidates, all of them Republicans.The rallies were a powerful mix of rock concert, revival meeting, andpolitical rally. At one in Alabama, huge screens in the darkened auditoriumpresented slide shows of examples of evil in the world of 1980, especiallywhat Reagan would come to call “the evil empire,” the SovietUnion: shark-toothed rows of missiles aimed at the United States,Khrushchev banging his shoe on the tabletop at the United Nations, Soviettanks rolling into Prague. Falwell took the stage to thunder a warningagainst “godless communism” and–though he didn’t say it in somany words–its allies in America: the godless, heathen liberals who supportedabortion, gay rights, and secular science, and who opposed schoolprayer, the family, and tax breaks for religious schools.After the ominous music and scary pictures, after the speech about thedanger of liberals, Falwell talked about answers: God, of course, but alsoright-thinking candidates. Lo and behold, two of them happened to be inthe audience: Jeremiah Denton, a former admiral and Vietnam War herowho was running for the U.S. Senate, and Albert Lee Smith, local congressionalcandidate. They stood at their places, the spotlights beamingdown on them as they were showered with applause. Reagan was notthere, but the Gipper was cheered, too.The overall theme of the rally: God will rain down his wrath on us ifwe do not elect these people!On election day, Denton and Smith swept to victory in Alabama, andReagan swept the country, including the entire South except for Carter’shome state of Georgia.The pattern and the alliances were set. Only the names, candidates,and technical expertise changed in the intervening years. The Moral Majorityfaded but begat the more technologically sophisticated ChristianCoalition, which promoted the presidential candidate Pat Robertson in1988. Falwell (who had no love for Robertson), supported George H. W.Bush that year, the first step toward becoming what amounted to a familyretainer. The third and last iteration of this line was Dr. James Dobson,who was not a preacher per se but a family counselor (better for the softsell) and a radio host who deployed the latest computer technology to servicehis listeners and build his national following.When it came time to build George W. Bush’s political career from theground up, Karl Rove began by introducing his charge to the Bible Belt ofTexas: the small towns in the west and the new megachurches of Dallasand Houston and San Antonio. And it was Bush, not Carter, who becamethe ultimate in born-again presidents. He favored the teaching of “intelligentdesign” as an alternative to evolutionary theory. He opposed the creationand use of human embryos for stem-cell research. He supported aHuman Life Amendment to the Constitution. He opposed a gay-rightsconstitutional amendment, and supported efforts in the states to definemarriage as a union of one man and one woman. He supported the use ofgovernment money by churches to do social-welfare work. He opposed acourt decision to take the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance.He nominated two justices to the Supreme Court whom right-toliferstrust and admire, even if those justices, now that they are confirmed,are likely to tread carefully as they dismantle Roe.Bush was the ultimate faith candidate in 2000. There was an evenmore perfect iteration in 2008, however–a Southern Baptist preacherturned politician named Mike Huckabee. The former governor ofArkansas (from the town of Hope, no less) campaigned among evangelicalsin the Iowa Republican caucuses as a “Christian Leader.” Since hewas an ordained minister (he had pastored two congregations), that wasliterally true. And he won the caucuses.Though Bush had become a pariah to much of the nation by the timeof the 2008 campaign, the voters who got him elected remained asimportant as ever–especially to Republicans eager to succeed him. Oneof them was Senator John McCain, who in the 2000 campaign had denouncedFalwell, Robertson, and others as “agents of intolerance” and division.Now McCain wanted their support. Some rethinking on mattersof science was required. In the very earliest stages of the ’08 campaign,when the bidding wars already were well under way among evangelicalactivists, McCain gave a speech at the Discovery Institute, the world’sleading proponent of intelligent design. Seeking to run on the base thatBush and Rove had built, McCain at times depicted himself as a proponentof teaching the theory in public schools. “I think there is nothingwrong with teaching different schools of thought,” he said in 2005. But ayear later, he qualified his support for intelligent design. “Should it betaught in science class?” he said in a conference in Aspen, Colorado.“Probably not.”A few months later, McCain issued what he hoped would be his definitivestatement on the matter. He did it in a book he cowrote with hislongtime aide, Mark Salter. McCain praised Charles Darwin’s work, andargued that the “only undeniable challenge the theory of evolution posesto Christian beliefs is its obvious contradiction of the idea that God createdthe world as it is in less than a week.”As far as McCain was concerned, the Bible in that case was metaphor,not literal truth. “Nature does not threaten our faith,” he wrote. “On thecontrary, when we contemplate its beauty and mysteries we cannot quietin our hearts the insistent impulse of belief that, for all its variations andinevitable change, before its creation, in a time before time, God let it beso, and thus its many splendors and purposes abide in His purpose.”If that was a little too murky, McCain was back in the fall of 2007 witha clearer declaration–not on intelligent design, but on the design ofAmerica. “The Constitution established the United States as a Christiannation,” he told the website in an interview. Surveys showedthat a majority of Americans tended to agree. That would be news to theFounders, Christians all.McCain’s bid to secure the allegiance of evangelicals fell short. Twoother 2008 candidates worked hard to woo them. One, ironically, was aMormon–Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. As earnest, devout, and cleancutas he was, Romney had a hard time keeping up with Huckabee, whohad spent ten years pastoring churches as a Southern Baptist preacher. Heran an ad in Iowa proclaiming himself a “Christian Leader.” Not surprisingly,the ad started an argument.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Thirteen American Arguments"The Thirteen American Arguments is a thought-provoking, engaging study of the great American debate, and a highly worthwhile read."–“Insightful and enjoyable . . . . In The Thirteen American Arguments, Howard Fineman lifts readers above the fog of modern politics . . . and offers a unique vantage point from which to see that the debates that shape American politics are timeless and profound.” --The Washingtonian“A spectacular feat, a profound book about America that moves with ease from history to recent events. A talented storyteller, Howard Fineman provides a human face to each of the core political arguments that have alternately separated, strengthened, and sustained us from our founding to the present day.” –Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals“With a marvelous command of the past and a keen grasp of the present, Howard Fineman expertly details one of the great truths about our country: that we are a nation built on arguments, and our capacity to summon what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’ lies in undertaking those debates with civility and mutual respect. Few people understand politics as well as Fineman does, and this work is an indispensable guide not only to the battles of the moment, but to the wars that will go on long after this news cycle is long forgotten.”–Jon Meacham, author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston“In an impressively thought-provoking original approach, Fineman revisits the great defining arguments that will deepen your understanding of America.”–Newt Gingrich, author of Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works“Howard Fineman proves that few things are as compelling as a well-argued debate. This book offers a thought-provoking way to look at America, its history, and our evolving public discourse.”–Arianna Huffington, author of Right Is Wrong“A perfect antidote to the old horse-race political journalism–a timely (and timeless) reminder of what’s really at stake in the race for the presidency.”–Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court“Howard Fineman guides the reader through the controversies that have haunted this nation since its inception. In the process he creates a fresh context for making sense of the 2008 campaign. Both scholars and students of politics can learn much from this book.”–Kathleen Hall Jamieson, co-author of unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation“A stimulating book that should be read by anyone who cares about the idea and arguments that made this country great, and which are critical to our future direction.”–David Boies, author of Courting Justice“[The Thirteen American Arguments] couldn’t be more timely. . . . There’s nothing like a good, robust discussion at the kitchen table. Nothing better.” –Tim Russert“A books for liberals and conservatives both.”–The Boston Globe“A great new book . . . Read [The Thirteen American Arguments] if you care about America and our history.”–Chris Matthews