Right Hook

For Gallup, polling is a religion. Plus: Sullivan and Steyn trade blows over Iraq, Levin and Limbaugh trash the U.N.

Published September 29, 2004 11:15PM (EDT)

In mid-September, a Gallup poll giving President Bush a 13-point lead over John Kerry left many election watchers scratching their heads; several other national surveys from the same period all showed the race deadlocked. Gallup's credibility has since come increasingly under fire. In Tuesday's New York Times, MoveOn.org ran a full-page ad questioning the company's methodology in light of the religious views of its longtime leader: "[George] Gallup, who is a devout evangelical Christian, has been quoted as calling his polling 'a kind of ministry.' And a few months ago, he said 'the most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God.' We thought the purpose is to faithfully and factually report public opinion."

A June article published in the Texas magazine the Baptist Standard sheds more light on George Gallup's paradigm for the company.

"For the past half century, the Gallup Poll has been phoning strangers, asking personal questions and then telling the world what Americans believe on topics from prayer to haunted houses and the afterlife. The Gallup Poll's fascination with religion and spirituality has had little to do with the usual rationale for polling -- a client's need to accrue market research data. Instead, the polling giant has been probing the inner life of Americans for a far more personal reason -- the boss wants to see souls saved.

"'The most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,' George Gallup Jr. said after giving the spring commencement speech at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. 'When I ask a question on these subjects, what I'm always trying to find out is, Are we doing the will of God?'"

The Baptist Standard also reported that while Gallup recently stepped aside as the company's leader, his vision remains intact.

"Questions on religion and spirituality are sure to continue, Gallup said, under leadership that shares a keen interest in the topic. Frank Newport is editor in chief of the Gallup Poll and vice president of the Gallup organization in Princeton, N.J. His father, John Newport, served more than 40 years as a philosophy of religion professor and administrator at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"And because George Gallup Jr. still carries his pocket-sized notebook, for scribbling down survey questions that might come to him at any hour of day or night, his ideas might even find their way into a questionnaire now and then.

"'The inner life is the new frontier of survey research in coming years,' Gallup said. 'We know so little about mystical experiences, yet the religious dynamic is perhaps the most powerful of all in American culture. This is a way to unite our country on a deep level and produce a more peaceful world.'"

In a press release late Tuesday, Catholic League president William Donohue labeled the MoveOn ad "slanderous" and held investor George Soros personally responsible for "impugning the integrity of all Christians." (He also falsely claimed that MoveOn has compared President Bush to Hitler, in reference to a TV spot created for a MoveOn contest by an individual not affiliated with the organization.)

Regarding Gallup's discussion of his religious ideals, "those guilty-as-charged lines were read by Gallup at a commencement address he gave at a theological seminary," Donohue said. "No matter, George Soros, the billionaire left-wing Bush-hater who funds the website (MoveOn.org has compared Bush to Hitler), has discovered the real reason why Gallup is manipulating the public: Christian bias is at work. In doing so, Soros has impugned the integrity of all Christians. Only secularists, apparently, are capable of rendering an objective survey.

"For the record, in the final poll before the 2000 election, the predictions of Gallup and Zogby proved to be the most accurate. So what should we make of those who did the polling for USA Today/CNN, ABC news, CBS news, and all the other survey houses who offered the most faulty predictions? According to Soros's logic, it must be that they have more of those biased Christians working for them than Gallup."

Donohue didn't bother to mention that less than two weeks before the photo finish in the 2000 race, Gallup's national tracking poll had Bush up by a whopping 13 points. And perhaps he overlooked the Baptist Standard article, excerpted above, regarding George Gallup's continuing participation in the company's work. "Finally, George Gallup Jr. retired on May 31 and hasn't conducted a poll since," Donohue concluded. "So much for MoveOn.org's accuracy."

More infighting over Iraq
The political right continues to battle itself over the truth about the situation in Iraq. Devoted supporters of President Bush are doing their best to downplay a rising specter of insecurity from Baghdad to Basra.

In a recent column for the London Daily Telegraph, Mark Steyn argues that the United Nations is corrupt and worthless, that it would be fine to have a "marginally less bloody thug" than Saddam take over Iraq -- and that the "gloom 'n' doom crowd" has exaggerated the violence hampering Iraq's reconstruction.

"There is a problem in the Sunni Triangle and in certain Baghdad suburbs. If you look at the figures for August, over half the 71 US fatalities that month died in one province --al-Anbar, which covers much of the Sunni Triangle. Most of the remainder were killed dispatching young Sadr's goons in Najaf or in operations against other Sunni Triangulators in Samarra, with a couple of isolated incidents in Mosul and Kirkuk. In 11 of Iraq's 18 provinces, not a single US soldier died."

The majority of Iraq, Steyn continues, is no different from the peaceful shires of the United Kingdom.

"Do you remember that moment of Fallujah-like depravity in Ulster a few years ago? Two soldiers were yanked from a cab in the wrong part of town and torn apart by a Republican mob. A terrible, shaming episode in the wretched annals of Northern Irish nationalists. But in the rest of the United Kingdom -- in Bristol, in Coventry, Newcastle, Aberdeen -- life went on, very pleasantly.

"That's the way it is in Iraq. In two-thirds of the country, municipal government has been rebuilt, business is good, restaurants are open, life is as jolly as it has been in living memory."

Blogger Andrew Sullivan, once a fervent Iraq war hawk who later condemned the Bush administration for "terrible mismanagement of the post-war," shows how Steyn is long on colorful rhetoric but short on dry facts.

"ATTENTION STEYN: Here's more troubling data on the tenacity of the Iraq insurgency, as compiled by a private security firm," Sullivan wrote on Monday. He excerpted this troubling report from the Washington Post:

"Reports covering seven days in a recent 10-day period depict a nation racked by all manner of insurgent violence, from complex ambushes involving 30 guerrillas north of Baghdad on Monday to children tossing molotov cocktails at a U.S. Army patrol in the capital's Sadr City slum on Wednesday. On maps included in the reports, red circles denoting attacks surround nearly every major city in central, western and northern Iraq, except for Kurdish-controlled areas in the far north. Cities in the Shiite Muslim-dominated south, including several that had undergone a period of relative calm in recent months, also have been hit with near-daily attacks ... On Wednesday, there were 28 separate hostile incidents in Baghdad, including five rocket-propelled grenade attacks, six roadside bombings and a suicide bombing in which a car exploded at a National Guard recruiting station, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 50 ... [A]ccording to the Kroll reports, recent violence appears to have been widespread rather than limited. On Wednesday, for instance, attacks in Salahuddin province occurred in Taji, Balad, Tikrit, Samarra, Baiji, Thuliyah and Dujayl -- the seven largest population centers in the area."

Sullivan doesn't suggest giving up on the war. But he also says that right-wing denial about Iraq leaves him hoping, perversely enough, that President Bush is consciously misleading the American public.

"Not quite Mark Steyn's view that in most of Iraq, 'life is as jolly as it has been in living memory.' I'm not saying that this a reason to give up on what we are currently doing -- attempting to build up Iraqi defense forces, police, and trying to hold elections at the end of January. I am saying that the president is either dissembling to the American people about the scope of the problem there, or dangerously uninformed. Under the circumstances, I'd be more reassured if he were dissembling."

In a recent essay for the National Review, military historian and Hoover Institution fellow Victor Davis Hanson framed his take on the Iraq situation with the words of Georges Clemenceau: "War is a series of catastrophes that results in victory." Indeed, as U.S. military leaders reportedly plan for a major offensive after the U.S. election to crush insurgencies in Fallujah and elsewhere, Hanson foresees a lot more catastrophe for both Iraqis and U.S. troops before any victory -- even if victory may be close at hand.

"When the United States has chosen to confront the militias, it has won handily. It can do so again in Fallujah and Najaf should the interim government wish a final victory -- and our political leadership at last allows the Marines to eradicate terrorist killers who have turned the city of Fallujah into a murderous sewer.

"It is always difficult for those involved to determine the pulse of any ongoing war. The last 90 days in the Pacific theater were among the most costly of World War II, as we incurred 50,000 casualties on Okinawa just weeks before the Japanese collapse. December 1944 and January 1945 were the worst months for the American army in Europe, bled white repelling Hitler's last gasp in the Battle of the Bulge. Contemporaries shuddered, after observing those killing fields, that the war would go on for years more."

"The intifada is over" for Israel -- but not the U.S.
Commentator Michael Totten is more liberal hawk than card-carrying conservative, but he, too, took issue with Iraq "doom-mongers" in a recent blog post. He points to Israel's hard-won success in beating back terrorism, citing a recent New Republic cover story, "The Intifada Is Over," to make his case.

"[Pessimists] aren't crazy to look at Iraq now and think [it] is a mess," Totten writes. "It is a mess, and it's a bad one. I'm not in denial about it. I planned to visit, then I changed my mind, so I am well aware that the country has deteriorated. My point here is that the pessimists among us were guaranteed to declare regime-change in Iraq counterproductive and/or a quagmire no matter what actually happened short of an instantaneous transformation of Mesopotamia into Belize...

"I [am not] saying we should do exactly what Israel did. We couldn't even if we wanted to. We can't wall off Baghdad. I understand why people look at Iraq today and are overcome with a sinking feeling. It happens to me sometimes too. It's so easy, especially if you opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place, to look at the horrible things that happen and think they represent the whole story or are part of a trend that goes only one way. But remember Israel. They had a horrific spike in terrorism awfully recently. You could have predicted that trend would keep rising indefinitely. And yet it did not. The reason it didn't is because Israelis fumbled around until they found a strategy that actually worked. Then they implemented it. Now the intifada is over."

Totten doesn't say whether he thinks the U.S. has found an effective strategy for Iraq. And he does note, per the New Republic article, the heavy price Israel has paid for its ostensible victory -- not least having become a pariah in the eyes of many other nations. Totten quotes from the article: "In its victories and its defeats, Israel is a test case of what happens to a democracy forced to confront nonstop terrorism."

"Israel's present," Totten adds, "may be our future. Best get used to it now."

Hot Air America
All of John Kerry's campaign talk of restoring international alliances has right-wingers blasting the United Nations anew. While Mark Steyn labels the U.N. worthless, radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin are going with, respectively, "a roomful of thugs and dictators" and "no different than the KKK."

After President Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, Limbaugh concluded that terrorism was a preferred tool of the organization. From the Sept. 21 edition of "The Rush Limbaugh Show":

"LIMBAUGH: The only problem with the speech was Bush was talking about freedom and democracy to a room full of thugs and dictators, but it didn't hold him back ... Much of the leadership of the world doesn't consider terrorism as other than a means to an end. They don't condemn it because they wish to reserve it as an option should they need it. Remember who the audience at the United Nations General Assembly is."

New York's WABC radio host Mark Levin followed suit on his show on Sept. 23. Secretary-General Kofi Annan notwithstanding, Levin sees no difference between the U.N. and the KKK:

"LEVIN: I have a simple question for John Kerry. How can he support an organization that anti-Semitic? I would like to know how the U.N., given the make-up of the august body, is any different than the KKK or all the rest of it. They've got people in that U.N. that are torturers, mass-murderers, anti-Semites, anti-Americans, anti-freedom, and we're supposed to keep conferring our decisions to them. Why?"

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Iraq Middle East United Nations