Every four years, just as a presidential campaign kicks up, legions of media types who make their living outside the right-wing echo chamber emerge as a militia of Margaret Meads, descending on flyover country, trying to make sense of that exotic phenomenon, the religious right. In the end, those who actually get it are few.
From the attitudes shown by media toward the religious right, you'd never know that more than one-quarter of the U.S. population identify as evangelicals,
according to a 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and among white self-identified evangelicals, 62 percent told Pew in 2006 that they believe the Bible to be the literal word of God.
These, by and large, are the people who determine the outcome of the Republican presidential primary, thanks to the early stacking of states heavily populated by evangelicals, and the propensity of most evangelicals to align with the Republican Party. And yet, we who cover these races often know very little about the voters whose person-on-the-street interviews they're recording, except to know that these people are very different from us in their view of the world. So as everyday doctrines come to light in one or another campaign incident, the media either find themselves aghast at the implications, or simply choose to ignore them.
Take, for instance, Rep. Michele Bachmann's profession of the doctrine of "wifely submission." When a 2006 video of Bachmann surfaced showing her at a church gathering professing her submission to her husband, media types grew quite excited. At the Fox News debate in Ames, Iowa, last week, Washington Examiner columnist Byron York asked Bachmann, "As president, would you be submissive to your husband?" Before Bachmann could speak, York's question was met with a round of boos and hisses from the audience, whose members likely heard in his question a challenge to one of their fundamental doctrines. (Bachmann, aware that she was playing to a national television audience, dodged the question, saying that she and her husband respected each other.)