DATE August 31, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: David Kirkpatrick discusses planks of the Republican
Party platform and the conservative movement's issues and leaders
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We're going to look at the conservative wing of the Republican Party, its
differences with the more moderate wing and the influence of Christian
conservatives within the party. My guest, David Kirkpatrick, is a reporter
for The New York Times who covers the conservative movement's issues and
leaders. It's a new beat that was created at the beginning of the year.
Kirkpatrick previously reported on the publishing industry for The Times.
This week he's reporting on the Republican convention. He co-authored today's
front-page story headlined Social Conservatives Wield Influence on Platform.
One of the most controversial parts of the Republican platform, controversial
within the party itself, is the plank about same-sex unions. What do you know
about what the platform disagreements were like?
Mr. DAVID KIRKPATRICK (The New York Times): Well, the original draft of the
platform very closely mirrored the stance the president has taken on the
subject of gay unions; that is, opposed to gay marriage, but leaving it up to
states to recognize other forms of same-sex union, like civil unions or
domestic partnership. The platform committee met right after Vice President
Dick Cheney, at a meeting in Davenport, Iowa, had said some more permissive
things. He said that he disagreed with the president and thought that the
whole matter of how to define marriage ought to be left up to states. Some of
the conservatives in the party were upset by that and, they say, in reaction
to that, put out a push within the platform committee meeting to strengthen
the language of the platform, to go past what President Bush had previously
said and to condemn civil unions, gay civil unions, as well as gay marriage.
GROSS: Could you read the passage in the platform plank about the unions that
was added at the request or under pressure by conservatives?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Sure. I'll start with one sentence that was in the
original, and then I'll read the addition. `We strongly support President
Bush's call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage.'
That was the original part. Here's the addition. `And we believe that
neither federal nor state judges nor bureaucrats should force states to
recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage. We believe,
and the social science confirms, that the well-being of children is best
accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and
father, anchored by the bonds of marriage.'
That's the nub of it. It goes on from there to make clear that they frown on
other kinds of unions that would provide the same sorts of benefits as
marriage to same-sex couples. But the thing that's so bothersome to people
within the party who would like to emphasize tolerance is that that passage
goes out of its way not just to say, as the president has, `We're up against
the wall here and we've got to do something about this marriage matter, or
else a handful of judges are going to redefine it for the whole
country'--that's the president's line. This goes further than that and says,
`We think that gay people are less qualified to be parents, and we want to put
them down a little bit.'
GROSS: So, you know, this plank says that the Republican Party is opposed to
civil unions, not just gay marriage. How strongly is that part of the plank
endorsed by Republicans in the party? I mean, how much of a priority is that
issue, you know, opposing civil unions for gay couples?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: That's a good question. Nobody really knows. The thing
about the platform committee is that's one place where social conservatives
within the party have really made a big push going back 20 years to try to
organize and dominate. So social conservatives, led mainly by Phyllis
Schlafly, really control that process. So the platform is likely to be more
conservative on a lot of social issues than, say, the Republican
representatives in Congress.
GROSS: Now you mentioned Phyllis Schlafly. She was a big leader in the
anti-Equal Rights Amendment issue, you know, decades ago. And I don't hear
her name very much anymore. Is she still a power in the Republican Party and
among social conservatives?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, she really is. She really is. Watching the platform
deliberations, that was quite clear to me and even a little bit surprising.
She was way ahead of the game at developing a grassroots infrastructure around
the country of social conservatives. So this year in the platform committee,
the Republicans managing the committee on behalf of the Bush White House and
campaign tried to streamline the process so they could just kind of
rubber-stamp their initiative. So it was hard for delegates to learn the name
of other delegates; it was hard for outside groups that wanted to lobby the
delegates, learn the name of the delegates. It was hard for others to get
copies of the platform so that they could argue about what should be in it.
But Phyllis Schlafly, through her organization Eagle Forum, had a number of
representatives from different states, different state representations on the
platform committee. She had a number of Eagle Forum members who were
actually on the committee. And that put her in a really strong position in
terms of having input into the process. So when the White House and the Bush
campaign were negotiating with social conservatives over how the platform
might ought to be changed, OK, the White House had pretty much all of the
cards 'cause they had most of the delegates. But those were bilateral
negotiations, pretty much, with Phyllis Schlafly.
GROSS: Now you have been writing for months about how social conservatives
and evangelical conservatives have been pressuring the Bush administration to
be forceful in opposing gay marriage, and I think the first that you wrote
about this was in relationship to a meeting that was organized by Donald
Wildmon, the founder of the American Family Association. And you describe him
as a crusader against sex and violence in the media. What kind of meeting did
he organize, and what influence do you think that had on the Bush
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: To really understand this, you've got to go back to the
2000 election. The Bush campaign folks have said over and over again that
they were disappointed to find that some four million conservative Christians
failed to go to the polls, that they expected four million more Christian
conservative votes than arrived. And because of that, they feel they almost
lost the election. So a big priority for them over these four years has been
to give those people plenty of incentives to get to the polls this year.
So against that backdrop, Dr. Wildmon, Reverend Wildmon, assembled a group of
his friends and colleagues from Christian conservative lobbying organizations,
and they got together and they said--in short, they said, `We're losing the
culture war. The culture is getting, if anything, more permissive and more,
we believe, hostile to our values. And yet there's a sense that the
Republicans, our party, are winning. They've got both houses of Congress and
the president. Why aren't things going our way? Let's get together and see
what we can do to try to combine our forces and get some things done.'
And looking--now this was before the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in
favor of gay marriage that the state needed to recognize gay unions as
equivalent to heterosexual unions. And these gentlemen--a few ladies, but
mostly gentlemen--sat around and said, `What can we do? What's coming down
the pike that we can organize around and get something done and make a big
part of this election?' And they said pretty much unanimously, `Same-sex
marriage is going to be it.' They saw a trend in some previous court
decisions, including the Supreme Court ruling against sodomy statutes, that
led them to believe this was going to be an even bigger issue in the future,
and they thought it was one where they could really rally their troops and
get something done.
So they started preparing to pressure the White House on this and make it a
part of the campaign even before it was in the national news. And after the
Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled, then they began increasingly holding the
president's feet to the fire and warning that if he didn't come out and say,
`We need a constitutional amendment to prevent this,' that they would start
doing things like going on the radio and telling the people who admire them
and who share their values, `Hey, this president is out of step with us.'
And that might not seem like much, but in an election where the president is
really focused on getting conservative Christians out to the polls, if a
prominent evangelical Christian leader like, say, Dr. James Dobson, who's
probably the most influential of that group--if a prominent leader like Dr.
James Dobson starts going on his radio program and saying, `You know what?
The president's not getting it here. For some reason, he seems to be
hesitating about protecting marriage,' that could really be a problem for the
GROSS: How responsive was the Bush administration to this pressure from
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: It depends on who you ask. If you're talking to a group
like the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republicans, the White House
was all too responsive. And yet, among Christian conservatives, there quite a
bit of impatience because it took the president a while to come out and call
for the amendment. It took him several months after the Massachusetts court
decision. This president has done a lot to appoint gay people to positions
within his administration and, in some ways, has gone out of his way to try to
make gay people feel at home in the Republican Party. Gay Republicans who
have met with him say that he always seems happy to see them, comfortable,
understanding. And so it may be that he genuinely was reluctant to get
involved with this issue.
Also, for political reasons, I think he felt it behooved him to project an
image of tolerance and not be too quick to jump on a divisive issue like this
that some people could see as mean-spirited or even really obsessed. As
Grover Norquist, who's a prominent conservative strategist, said, you don't
want to be the first person to use the word `gay' in the debate. Whoever uses
the word `gay' first loses, 'cause it looks like you're spending too much time
thinking about these issues. So the president took his time before he got
around to calling for the amendment.
GROSS: There's something of a mixed message being sent out now by the Bush
administration, 'cause on the one hand you have this really
anti-gay-relationship--you know, anti-gay-civil-union, anti-gay-marriage plank
in the platform, and then a week before the convention, Vice President Cheney,
who has a lesbian daughter, says that people should be allowed to love who
they love and that states should decide whether gay marriages are going to be
recognized or not. Is it intentional, do you think, that his statement was
timed to coincide with the convention or at least to be made just a few days
before the start of the convention?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: I don't think so. I have no idea what was going through the
vice president's head or whether his advisers had told him he ought to say
that or anything like that. But I do know that I recently interviewed the
woman in Davenport, Iowa, who asked him that question, and based on my
conversations with her, I'm sure she's not a plant. She very genuinely wanted
to know the answer to that question, and she asked it with a long preface,
something like, `You know, Vice President, don't tell me what your advisers
have told you to say. Don't tell me what you think the public needs to hear.
Please just tell me what's in your heart.' And I think, based on my
conversations with friends of the family, that's what he did. His statements
were not a surprise in that they are consistent with the things he said four
years ago in the last campaign. But the timing unnerved some social
GROSS: So would you say that the Republican Party platform plank on gay
marriage and gay civil unions is controversial within the party?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: It is controversial within the party in that there some
Republicans, some moderate Republicans, some gay Republicans who were deeply,
deeply troubled by it. On the other hand, the truth is that at the grassroots
level, the question of gay marriage is very unpopular. Most people at the
grassroots level of the party are quite opposed themselves to recognizing
same-sex marriage. So I don't think this is going to trigger a big uproar
within the party. In fact, I suspect that this part of the platform is soon
to be forgotten. Like, who remembers that since 1980 there's been a plank in
the platform calling for a constitutional amendment banning all forms of
abortion? We just don't talk about that anymore.
GROSS: My guest is David Kirkpatrick. He covers the conservative movement's
issues and leaders for The New York Times. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Kirkpatrick, and he
covers the conservative movement, its issues and its leaders for The New York
Let's look at the Republican platform plank on stem-cell research. Let's
start with what the plank says.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: `We especially welcome and encourage a stronger emphasis on
adult stem cell and cord blood stem cell research. We recognize that
President Bush made a carefully considered decision to allow federal funding
for stem-cell research for the first time, and did not affect stem-cell
research in the private sector. We strongly support the president's policy
that prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to encourage the future
destruction of human embryos.'
GROSS: So this is basically calling for a policy different from President
Bush's policy, 'cause President Bush has supported funding for certain lines
of embryonic stem cells, and this is saying, like, no embryonic stem-cell
research should receive federal funding, yes?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: No, this policy is absolutely consistent with what the
president has said. The operative phrase here is `We call for a policy that
prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to encourage the future destruction
of human embryos.'
GROSS: I see.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: So what the president--the president has said that, `I'm
going to allow federally funded research on pre-existing lines of embryonic
stem cells, and I'm going to allow private research to go forward unimpeded.
All I want to do is make sure that no federal money goes to harvesting new
stem cells from embryos, so that is no taxpayer dollars taking embryos.'
GROSS: Now was this embryonic stem-cell research plank controversial within
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, totally controversial. It was controversial on both
sides. Before the platform hearings began, a group of moderate Republicans
tried to say to the president, `Listen, when you made this decision, it
sounded like a good idea, but we now know that there are far fewer
pre-existing embryonic stem-cell lines than you thought. So saying it's OK
for federally funded research on pre-existing embryonic stem-cell lines to
continue doesn't do that much for us. We think you should try to broaden this
out and allow more research.' Those people tried to make their case before
the platform hearings began, and then they were pretty much out of the
At the platform hearings, social conservatives came and said, `This isn't
nearly enough protection for those embryos.' Some opponents of abortion
consider an embryo to be a human life, and so taking an embryo or a stem cell
from an embryo is basically killing a baby. So they said, `You're allowing
this to go on in the private sector. That's crazy. What we need is a total
ban on all embryonic stem-cell research.'
And there was a bit of a scuffle in the platform hearings. Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who was running the platform hearings and also
happens to be a medical doctor, managed to fight off that opposition, partly
with a long, impassioned speech where he talked from his own perspective as a
doctor about the potential of stem-cell research and praised the kind of
Solomonic wisdom of the president's decision, you know, on the one hand
protecting some embryos or limiting the research; on the other hand, trying to
open up some lines of inquiry that could lead to developments later on.
GROSS: Now the abortion plank in the Republican platform remains virtually
the same as it's been. It calls for a constitutional amendment recognizing,
you know, all human life and basically outlawing all forms of abortion.
Abortion remains very controversial in the United States, but you don't hear
as much discussion about the Republican abortion plank as you used to. Does
that remain controversial within the party? And would you agree it's not
talked about as much in public as it was before?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, that's a really interesting question. It's
controversial within the party in the sense that there are a lot of moderate
Republicans who are in favor of abortion rights, and in fact, many of them are
speaking in prime time during the convention. That's the face they want to
put forward. It's not talked about in part because in terms of the party's
official position, the social conservatives have won. Nobody really credibly
thinks that they're going to be able to challenge that position in the
platform. The social conservatives just have a lock on that.
Now on the other hand, President Bush, during the last election, found that it
was a good idea not to talk too much about abortion. He rarely used the word
on the campaign trail. He would use code words that hard-core anti-abortion
activists knew, like `crisis pregnancy counseling center.' If you're part of
the anti-abortion movement, you know that refers to a counseling center that's
going to dissuade a young woman who's pregnant from aborting her fetus. But
in the 2000 election, he didn't talk that much about it. And in the 2000
platform, the party included the familiar call for a constitutional amendment
banning abortion in every instance, but they buried those two paragraphs in a
larger section of the platform, headlined something like Protecting the Rights
This year it's different. The president has signed a ban on partial-birth
abortion, and he talks about that all the time on the trail. And in the
platform, there's a five-paragraph section called the Culture of Life that
really emphasizes in a very up-front way the president's position on the
abortion issue. And I think that's partly an appeal to those four million
evangelical voters that the Bush campaign feels were missing in the 2000
GROSS: The original roster of speakers for the Republican convention featured
mostly the moderate wing of the party, speakers like John McCain, Rudolph
Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And then after those speakers were
announced, a group of more conservative speakers were added. What's behind
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: No way to know, really. I know that there were
conversations after the fact after I and other newspaper reporters reported
that a lot of social conservatives in the party were upset that they were
being excluded from prime time. There were conversations between the White
House and some of those people saying, `Look, why'd you have to mouth off
like that? 'Cause now when we add more social conservative speakers, it's
going to look like we're just trying to make you guys happy, and we would have
done it anyway.' And maybe they would have done it anyway. I don't know. In
any event, they're not getting the prime-time spots. Most of the social
conservative speakers that have been added to the platform are speaking
earlier or later, so they're not the real focus of the convention.
GROSS: Are the people who we are seeing at the podium representative of the
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: I would say that what we're seeing is not that
representative. A lot of the speakers who are featured in prime time like
John McCain, Mayor Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have positions on some of
the most contentious issues, the social issues like questions about gay
marriage or questions about abortion, that are at odds with the president and
certainly at odds with the platform, and probably at odds with most of the
Republican Party represented in Washington. So I don't think it's that
representative. But one speaker they've put in prime time that is appealing
to social conservatives is actually a Democrat, and that's Zell Miller.
GROSS: Now he's going to be giving the keynote.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: He's going to be giving the keynote.
GROSS: He's a Democratic congressman, former governor of Georgia, who
introduced Bill Clinton when Bill Clinton was first being nominated for the
presidency. How was he chosen to give the keynote at this Republican
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: I don't know how he was chosen, but I think it was a very,
very smart idea. If you look at the Republican base right now, a lot of what
we call the Republican base are white conservative Christian voters who, 30
years ago, 20 years ago, probably voted Democrat. So those are kind of swing
voters in the sense that, in a lot of cases, their pastor might say, `Vote
Republican,' but their union leader might say, `Vote Democrat.' On the other
hand, on social issues, they're also way over to the social conservative side
of the Republican Party. So in a sense, he is an ideal guy to speak to those
voters, because he himself has been a Democrat and because he's very much in
tune with them on the divisive social issues that are important to them, the
conservative social issues about abortion and gay marriage and traditional
GROSS: David Kirkpatrick covers the conservative movement's issues and
leaders for The New York Times. He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews the new CD by pianist Dave Burrell,
and we continue our conversation with David Kirkpatrick. He covers the
conservative movement for The New York Times. We'll talk about the Bush
administration's efforts to get out the Christian conservative vote.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with David Kirkpatrick. He
covers the conservative movement's issues and leaders for The New York Times.
This week he's reporting on the Republican convention.
Now you mentioned early that the evangelical vote is very important to the
Bush administration in this election, and that Karl Rove is very concerned
that in the year 2000, the number of evangelical conservatives who actually
showed up at the polls were about four million less than he projected. What
is the Bush campaign trying to do to get out the evangelical conservative
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, the Christian conservatives themselves would say, `The
most important thing to do to get out our vote is to govern in a way that is
appealing to us.' And to a certain extent, they're doing that. The president
signed a Partial-Birth Abortion Ban which is very appealing. That's the first
anti-abortion victory in decades. And he's also called for a constitutional
amendment banning same-sex marriage, which some Christian conservatives think
is very, very important. But that's not all the Bush campaign is doing.
They're also making, really, unprecedented efforts to reach out to
conservative Christian leaders and even to pastors and well as to members of
congregations to try to get them to, you know, speak in their youth groups and
their seniors groups at their churches about the importance of coming out to
vote; to send in membership lists and telephone directories from their
churches or religious groups, so that the campaign can compare those lists
with voter registration rolls and to hold a kind of citizenship Sunday where,
for example, the pastor might ask everybody in the congregation who is
registered to vote to stand up and then pass out voter registration forms to
everyone who's left seating. So they're really trying to use the existing
organizations of churches and other religious groups as vehicles to try to
remind voters to get to the polls.
GROSS: Who are the most politically powerful, conservative evangelical
leaders now? And how do they compare to the leaders of the Reagan era? Are
they the same people, or are they different people?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: They're different people. The early leaders of the sort of
movement of evangelicals into politics were people like Jerry Falwell and Pat
Robertson. A lot of evangelical Christians don't think of themselves as
political. Historically, they have been less involved in politics than people
of other faiths, in part because they took a kind of view that, `Politics are
sort of worldly and sinful and not something that we should really be involved
with. Let's just think about the next world to come and spiritual matters.'
And around the '70s that started to change, and people like Jerry Falwell were
at the forefront of mobilizing those people.
Basically, the thinking was, you know, `It's not enough for us just to stay
home because we believe that the culture is turning against us and attacking
our values.' At least that's the way that a lot of conservative Christians
put it to themselves at the time and still do. And what they mean by that are
things like the Equal Rights Amendment, legalizing abortion, the sexual
revolution, taking prayer out of the schools. They say that the culture began
to feel hostile to them. And leaders like Falwell and Robertson and Timothy
LaHaye began to mobilize conservative Christians to get into politics.
Interestingly, Falwell and Robertson took a little bit of a hit among their
religious following as they became more involved in politics. You know, a lot
of people who would tune in to "The 700 Club" to watch Pat Robertson, they
were tuning in for spiritual reasons. And so as he began to do things like
running for president, they got a little bit turned off.
The really influential conservative Christians today take a different
approach. I would say that the two figures at the top of the list in my mind
would be Dr. James Dobson, who runs Focus on the Family, which is primarily a
broadcasting and Christian self-help group. And the other figure would be
Chuck Colson. Chuck Colson became famous as a figure in the Watergate
scandal. Now he runs a ministry that's primarily for people in prison and
coming out of prison.
Neither of them is known among the people who really admire them as primarily
a political figure. That doesn't mean they don't exert political influence,
especially Dr. Dobson, who's set up, you know, sister organizations that are
explicitly lobbying organizations, who's a common figure on Capitol Hill
pushing for this and that and who, in recent decades, has become a kind of
must-see person for anybody who wants to run for president as a Republican.
George Bush recently sat down with Dr. Dobson when he was out in Colorado
Springs giving a speech at the Air Force Academy. So he has a kind of
political influence, but he's always been very careful not to foreground his
political role in his public persona, which remains somebody who, if you're a
conservative Christian, you can turn to for what they consider biblically
sound advice about how to bring up your family.
GROSS: And how well-connected is he with elected leaders? How well-connected
is he with the Bush administration or with conservatives who are in Congress?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: If you're running for office in a state with a lot of
conservatives, you've got to care what Dr. Dobson thinks because many, many,
many people listen to his radio broadcast and turn to him as a source of
advice. So he's a popular one.
GROSS: And he talks about these issues on the radio?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, but he's--you know, in news organizations like our
own, at The New York Times, we have a tendency to write about him when he
becomes involved in politics. But for the people who can be influenced by his
leadership, the people who really admire him and think he's important, they
listen to him because, most days he's not talking about, `We got to get out
there and vote against the marriage amendment.' He's talking about, you know,
`This is what to do if you kid is getting out of hand. Here's a
compassionate, biblical way to discipline your child.' Or, you know, some
people--you know, `Your grandmother is getting sick, and this raises some
issues for you. Here's a way to think about it.' Or, `Here's a story about a
person who had a crisis in their life and, through their faith, turned it
around.' These are the things that he talks about most of the time. And
that's what gives him some credibility when he then turns around and says,
`Wait a second. This marriage stuff could really be a problem.'
Now I should stipulate here, though, that you can't assume that just because
Dr. Dobson thinks that this marriage matter is superimportant, that everybody
who listens to his radio show agrees. I'm still not sure how deep the passion
is about the marriage issue in the pews. In a way, abortion is a more
threatening issue to people than same-sex marriage, in part because the
experience of having a baby is quite common. And it's not obvious, even to a
lot of heartfelt conservative Christians, how somebody else's gay marriage
affects their life.
GROSS: Now you recently wrote about a conservative group called the Council
for National Policy, which met last week in New York. And you describe this
group as having a membership that includes some of the most powerful
conservatives in the United States. What is the Council?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: The Council for National Policy is a group that was set up
23 years ago by Dr. Timothy LaHaye, who was one of the early leaders of the
conservative Christian political movement, and Paul Weyrich, who's another
figure who was influential at the founding of the new right. And they set it
up. At the time, what they said was, `We need a conservative counterweight to
what we believe is the liberalism of organizations like the Council on Foreign
Relations in New York.'
What to me, I have to say, is amusing is that they decided to make their
council and its deliberations and its membership lists and the locations of
its meetings and everything it talks about supersecret. So members are not
supposed to discuss any of that stuff. When they send e-mails to each other,
they're not supposed to mention the name of the organization in the e-mail for
fear that it leaks out. I managed to obtain a list of who's a member and of
the proceedings that were planned for this week at the Plaza Hotel in New York
where they met. And frankly, I don't think the things they said and the
things they talked about are that different from the things that they
say--that that group of social conservative, Christian conservative leaders--I
don't think that the things they said at that meeting are that different from
the things that they would say in any other context.
So it's a little bit funny to me that they wanted it to be so secret, but it
really is revealing of how a lot of Christian conservatives feel like the
culture and the media turned against them sometime back in the '70s and is
still against them, even though they've got their guy in the White House.
They've got a guy in the White House that a lot of Christian conservatives
identify as one of their own and as a strong evangelical.
GROSS: What was on the agenda, as far as you can tell?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: A variety of things, a lot of it very supportive of
President Bush. One of the things that struck me, looking over the agenda, is
how many people from the administration and its allies were represented there.
Senator Bill Frist, Senate majority leader, who's a close ally to the White
House, received an award. There was a gentleman from the State Department
speaking about how to handle Iran and its possible nuclear weapons. There was
a gentleman from the Department of Justice talking about human trafficking,
which is an issue that's very important to conservative leaders.
There was also a lot of people talking about the importance of the election,
who's going to win the election, what could be done to make sure that
Christians vote and even how the issue of gay marriage can be used to get
people out to the polls, like, specifically in Ohio, a big swing state.
There's a ballot initiative under way to try to put a measure on the ballot in
the fall in the November election that would put an amendment on the state
constitution, blocking same-sex marriage. And this is interesting to the Bush
campaign, in part because having that on the ballot will help motivate
conservative voters to go to the polls.
In public, the Bush campaign and the people who are organizing that effort in
Ohio have said, `This is not about trying to use this issue to drum up support
for the president. This is just about marriage, completely unrelated.' At
the Council for National Policy, the gentleman who's leading that effort gave
a speech that was basically about using socially conservative issues to get
out the vote in the fall.
GROSS: I don't know if you can answer this, but how would you compare the
amount of political power that evangelical leaders have today compared to the
amount of power, political power, that they had during the Reagan era?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: During the Reagan era, evangelicals were still relatively
new to national politics. I don't think there's any argument that they've
ever had as much influence on national policy as they do today. The White
House is--you know, every Monday, there's a conference call set up out of the
White House to stay in touch with prominent conservative Christian leaders
around the country, to tell them what's going on at the White House and what
the administration is working on. You know, a lot of that is just stuff like,
`The economy's getting better, blah, blah, blah,' but also to let them know
that the White House wants to hear how they feel about things, to stay in
touch with them.
I don't think conservative Christians have ever been as well organized. I
don't think they've ever voted to the extent that they do now. And I don't
think they've ever been as influential.
GROSS: My guest is David Kirkpatrick. He covers the conservative movement's
issues and leaders for The New York Times. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is David Kirkpatrick, and he covers the conservative
movement, its issues and its leaders for The New York Times.
Now, David, this is a beat that you started basically at the beginning of this
year. And I'm wondering what was behind the start of this new beat, and is it
giving you a different sense of America than you had before? You had been
covering books before for The Times, the book industry.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: No, it isn't giving me a different sense of America. One
of the reasons why I was interested in covering this beat is because of the
experience that I had covering the book industry and the media industry where
Christian books have really taken off. And a lot of the people who run the
big publishing houses in New York and--that's basically a secular, liberal
bunch who live in Manhattan. That's what we're talking about when we talk
about the people who run the book-publishing industry. And they were quite
surprised to find books like Dr. Timothy LaHaye's book about the "Left
Behind" series, novels based on his reading of the book of Revelation and the
Christian apocalypse soon to come. They were really surprised to find books
like that that were quite out of keeping with their own world view soared in
the top of the best-seller lists.
And I had written about that before, and so I was already fascinated by the
strength of the conservative Christian market and the way that it had, in some
sense, developed in parallel to the regular secular market. I mean, there are
Christian bookstores. There are Christian publishers. There are Christian
radio stations. There are some publishers and bookstores owned by the
Southern Baptist Convention. And so there's a whole sort of separate market,
and the people who would shop there would go to these stores, because they
were a little bit suspicious of the secular bookstores, and they wanted to go
to a bookstore where they knew, not only that they would find the books that
they want, but they wouldn't be troubled by books that were offensive to them,
that had, you know, dirty language or religious ideas that seemed heretical to
them or pictures of, you know, sexy stuff. They wanted to shop in that kind
of a pure atmosphere.
And so I had already become keenly interested in the development of this
parallel economy, because at a certain point, it began to cross over. You
know, as Wal-Mart stores developed around the country, bringing book selling
and music retailing to towns where there maybe hadn't been a designated
bookstore or music store before, and they started adding special Christian
section to those stores, then sales of these kinds of products really went
through the roof, and the mainstream media started to take notice and tried to
get into that market itself.
GROSS: When you interview somebody for your beat, covering conservative
groups and individuals and issues for The New York Times, are you ever given a
kind of litmus test before people respond, like, `Are you a person of faith?
What is your religious background?' you know, `Will you really understand from
a personal point of view the perspective of a conservative Christian?'
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Most people don't try to quiz me. I've almost never been
quizzed before the conversation starts. But I've interviewed a lot of
pastors, and I've interviewed a lot of very heartfelt evangelical Christians.
And these are people who feel like it's very important to spread the Gospel,
that the biggest favor they could do for someone is to help them get to know
Jesus Christ. So often, at the end of the conversation, as we're walking to
the door, someone will turn to me and say, `And what's your own personal
relationship with Jesus Christ?' And I try not to say too much about that.
What I say is the truth, that I go to a church, but I'm not going to tell you
what kind of church, because one day I'm interviewing a Southern Baptist; one
day I might be interviewing a Unitarian. And in the world we live in, those
kinds of issues, theological issues or denominational issues or issues about
what kind of church you attend, are political.
GROSS: You're attending the Republican convention. You're watching it from
the inside, not on television. Is there anything that you're particularly
keeping an eye out for? Is there anything that you're looking for that you'd
suggest we watch for?
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Well, what I'm interested in is how the party plays both to
moderates and swing voters as well as its base. I don't think I'm the only
one who's doing that. I think everybody is, in part because, in 1992, they
swung too far to the base. In particular, Pat Buchanan's speech about a
culture war scared off a lot of people, and I think that really hurt them. In
2000, who knows? They may have gone too far the other way. President Bush,
as we said a minute ago, was very discreet about talking about his views on
abortion, and projected a very tolerant, welcoming face to moderate voters at
the 2000 convention, but then they were disappointed by the turnout of
So I'm interested to see how they sort of walk that line at this convention.
And I think the early indications are that they're doing a pretty good job.
They have a number of speakers in prominent places that are going to appeal to
real moderates. They have Zell Miller, who could appeal to former Democrats,
because he is one, but could also appeal to hard-core social conservatives,
because he's one of those, too. And I think the most important thing is that
even when they're not talking about policy, they're sending messages, and
those messages are likely to appeal to a Christian conservative voter.
Like, you'll hear a lot of gospel music. Last night, on the first night of
the convention, there was a series of testimonials from widows of people who
had died in the attacks of September 11th. And in those testimonials, they
often referred to prayer, to God. And there was a moment of silence at the
end, and then a member at the New York City Police Department sang "Amazing
Grace." And that's not going to turn off anybody. That's not saying, `You
know, if you're not a Christian, you're not welcome here.' You know, they
also had some Muslim speakers on the list. But if you are a Christian, that
resonates with you.
The other thing that I was struck by last night, watching the convention, is
how natural it seems for the Republicans. You know, at the Democratic
convention, when John Kerry quoted Abraham Lincoln about how, you know, `We
ought not to say that God is on our side. We ought to hope that we are on
God's side.' You know, that's a line that really strikes a chord with a lot
of Christians of all stripes. That is a very popular line that is going to be
very appealing to a lot of people. But you know what? It seemed kind of
forced. It seemed like, you know, I heard it, and I thought, `Oh, I see. The
Democrats are trying to get on the religion bandwagon a little bit.'
With the Republicans, in part because I think faith comes so easily to
President Bush, it doesn't seem that way. And so when they sing a hymn or
they refer to prayer, it really grabs the constituency that they're trying to
speak to, and they can do that without having to discuss from the podium at
the convention divisive issues like same-sex marriage or abortion.
GROSS: Well, David Kirkpatrick, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Thanks.
GROSS: David Kirkpatrick covers the conservative movement's issues and
leaders for The New York Times.
Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD by pianist and
composer Dave Burrell. This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: New album from pianist Dave Burrell, "Expansion"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Pianist Dave Burrell was born in Ohio but grew up in Hawaii. He was a free-
jazz pianist in New York in the 1960s, but for a maverick, he had a rare
interest in early jazz styles. Burrell has recorded with Pharoah Sanders and
David Murray, performed jazz arrangements of Puccini and composed an opera
about his Hawaiian childhood and devoted an album to tunes by jazz pioneer
Jelly Roll Morton. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the creative mixing
continues on Burrell's latest CD.
(Soundbite of music)
Pianist Dave Burrell's Full-Blown Trio with two fellow free-jazz experts,
bassist William Parker and drummer Andrew Cyrille, who started out in a drum
and bugle corps. It makes sense Burrell would play a march. He's spent as
much time poking at the 100-year-old roots of jazz, marches included, as
pushing at its boundaries. He's always put twisted ragtime and 1920s stride
piano into the mix.
(Soundbite of "Expansion")
WHITEHEAD: "Expansion," the title track from the Full-Blown Trio's new CD on
the High Two label. It's typical of how Dave Burrell blends the antique and
the modern with a naturalness recalling Earl Hines, Jacquie Bird, Monk and
Burrell evokes more than recreates early jazz styles, combining an
avant-gardist's love of density with a buoyant, old-timey sense of rhythm.
Solo on Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful," he superimposes a couple of
left-hand strategies: the march-derived stomping of Jelly Roll Morton and
the lighter leaping patterns of stride pianists like Fats Waller.
(Soundbite of "They Say It's Wonderful")
WHITEHEAD: Growing up in Hawaii, far from mainstream currents and
African-American music, may have helped Dave Burrell synthesize old and new
elements in his playing. Observing from afar can help you see how disparate
styles resemble each other. Objects in the distance appear closer together.
There are a couple of free-jazz bashes on Burrell's new album I like a bit
less. He's good at it, but I miss his trademark multidimensional quilting.
In that, he's got something all his own.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Down Beat and The Absolute Sound.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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