The Raving Theist

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March 17, 2009 | 18 Comments

Paul Fidalgo of DC Secularism Examiner responds to my defense of Elizabeth Dole’s Godless campaign ads, arguing that their primary intent was to foster anti-atheist “bigotry” rather than advance a “policy critique” of the specific political goals of the Godless Americans PAC. His thesis relies on selected quotes from the ads and other statements from the Dole campaign. The evidence he cites, however, supports rather than refutes my original analysis.

First, Fidalgo relies on the last line of the second ad: “If godless Americans held a party in your honor, would you go?” Fidalgo contends “[t]hat’s not a question based on policy differences . . . [i]t is a question that obviously assumes that atheists should not be mingled with, should not be befriended, and doing so would be unwise and morally questionable.” True — but only if you wilfully ignore both context and capitalization. In fact, the ad is unambiguously refering to (capital G) “Godless Americans” — the party-throwing PAC — not generic (small g) “godless Americans,” e.g. atheists. (Fidalgo’s lowercasing of “godless” must have been intentional, as it was capitalized everytime it appeared in the ad, and his critique would have been over before it began had he presented it properly). Furthermore, the party-attendance question was immediately preceded by a description of Godless Americans’ expressed political goals, leaving no doubt that policy initiatives rather than private associations were being questioned.

Next, Fidalgo relies on the following two paragraphs from a Dole campaign press release:

“Kay Hagan is trying to run a campaign in North Carolina that casts her as a moderate but the money that’s paying for it is coming from the left-wing fringe of political thought,” said Dole Campaign Communications Director Dan McLagan. “You can tell a lot about a person by their friends and these [atheists] are friends most North Carolinians would not be comfortable having over for dinner.” …

“Kay Hagan does not represent the values of this state; she is a Trojan Horse for a long list of wacky left-wing outside groups bent on policies that would horrify most North Carolinians if they knew about it,” McLagan said. “This latest revelation of support from anti-religion activists will not sit well with the 90% of state residents who identify with a specific religious faith.”

Fidalgo’s rendering of the language is again misleading, because he injects, in the brackets, the notion that Dole was refering to “atheist friends”. That word appears nowhere in the release, which clearly targets Hagan’s relationships with wacky left-wing fringe anti-religion activists. Once again, the attack is on political specific groups, which are identified in the first paragraph of the release: the Godless Americans PAC and the Secular Coalition of America. Although Fidalgo opines that “[t]he fact that there was a group to which one of the party’s attendees belonged was really just a little extra dressing,” the association was clearly the whole point of the release.

Finally, Fidalgo asserts that Dole’s own campaign manager, Marty Ryall, “wrote that they expected Hagan to take the first ad as an attack on her faith, not her legislative goals . . . He specifically states that the intention of the ad was to engender that very response, that the association with atheists was sullying to her Christianity.” Again, Fidalgo’s analysis rests on a distortion of what was actually said. Ryall’s exact words on this issue were “[w]e anticipated her response would be that we were attacking her faith; clearly she could not defend attending the event” and “Hagan ran a response ad, as we anticipated, claiming that we were attacking her faith.” Thus all Ryall is “admitting” is that he knew that Hagan would disingenously try to change the topic to her faith rather than address the policy concerns raised by Dole’s ads. Just like Fidalgo and all his sneaky atheist friends.


18 Responses to “Chump”

  1. Paul Fidalgo
    March 17th, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

    Well, first of all, I stand by my posts. I inserted “[atheists]” as a synonym for “godless” to clarify the clipping. I would also say that the capitalization of “godless” is immaterial, because they didn’t say “If the Godless Americans PAC held a party…” but just “godless Americans.”

    But even more so, I had assumed we were having a thoughtful, honest discussion about this topic. I am disappointed that you decided to throw in an ad hominem attack in your response. I assume “chump” is referring to me, and then you call me and other atheists “sneaky.” We can disagree without my motives being evil, or you having to call me names. I’m sorry that you went this route.

  2. Henrietta G. Tavish
    March 17th, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

    I would assume that “Chump” is a play on the title of the previous post, “Chum,” and that the “sneaky atheist” reference was an ironic use of the tactic you attributed to the Dole campaign. The only thing that’s ad hominem here is your use of TRT’s attempts at humor as the basis for an accusation of ad hominenism, a godless distraction quite akin to Hagan’s attempt to mischaracterize the ads as an attack on her faith.

  3. Brian Westley
    March 17th, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

    No, Paul nailed it. Distractions won’t work.

  4. Lily
    March 17th, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

    Paul, That 2nd ad was clearly referring to the PAC. There is no reasonable way to assume anything else. I am as partisan as they come but it never crossed my mind that the ad referred to all atheists everywhere. In fact, it seemed to me that the ad was a bit defensive and seems to have been aimed at heading off the criticism that the first one engendered.

    Like most people, even those in North Carolina, I have relatives and friends who are atheists. It is a foolish question to ask whether I would go to a party thrown by those godless Americans. Of course I would. Whether I would got to a party thrown in my honor by the Godless Americans is a different question entirely. (Can you guess the answer?!)

  5. Pikemann Urge
    March 18th, 2009 @ 2:16 am

    The politics… it burns… it burns…

    Let’s have some real issues here! Something to chew on! Okay, here’s one: Dr. Richard Carrier and Dr. William Lane Craig are debating the resurrection at Northwest Missouri State University at 19:00, Wednesday, American time.

    This is surely more important and interesting subject matter?

  6. frustrated (mk)
    March 18th, 2009 @ 7:52 am

    Pike, do you have a link? A transcript? I’d be interested in that…

  7. skeptimal
    March 18th, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    RA/RT says: “In fact, the ad is unambiguously refering to (capital G) “Godless Americans” — the party-throwing PAC — not generic (small g) “godless Americans,” e.g. atheists.”

    Really? Your serious? And you expect anyone to buy that? You honestly expect us to believe that in this country, in the south, that when someone says the word “godless Americans” she thinks people will make subtle distinctions like whether there is a big or a little “G”? Please.

    “Just like Fidalgo and all his sneaky atheist friends.”

    Tell me, RA/RT, were you sneakier when you were an atheist than you are now? You’re setting a standard for non-sneakiness that your own posts don’t live up to.

  8. Michael Drake
    March 18th, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

    This sort of stretching will not keep you fit.

  9. JoAnna
    March 18th, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    Really? Your serious? And you expect anyone to buy that? You honestly expect us to believe that in this country, in the south, that when someone says the word “godless Americans” she thinks people will make subtle distinctions like whether there is a big or a little “G”? Please.

    Spoken, probably not. But it appeared in the ad as TEXT as well, and the text had a capital G, not a small g. As an editor who once worked with ad layouts, I can assure you that the distinction DOES matter and is important, especially in a context such as this.

    It’s all about context. And if you looking at the context as a whole, it’s clear that the ad is discussing that particular group of atheists and not atheists as a whole.

  10. Pikemann Urge
    March 18th, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

    Frustrated, the details are here:

    I don’t expect a transcript very soon. But if it’s being recorded, expect that to be released quickly.

  11. frustrated (mk)
    March 18th, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    Thanks Pike….but who’s who? Who is FOR and who is AGAINST?

  12. Pikemann Urge
    March 19th, 2009 @ 1:05 am

    Oh, right! Thought you knew who Craig was. Well, Dr. Craig is for and Dr. Carrier is against. Craig’s site is, Carrier’s is above.

  13. frustrated (mk)
    March 19th, 2009 @ 4:40 am

    Thanks again Pike. I’ll be interested in seeing the transcript if there is one…

  14. Matthew in Fairfax
    March 19th, 2009 @ 5:41 am

    From the second Dole ad:
    …but these facts Kay Hagan cannot deny: the Godless Americans held a fundraiser in her honor in Boston. Hagan attended and took their money.

    Hagan did not take Godless American PAC money. So in this one instance at least, the Dole ad was referring to individual atheists. I still have no problem with Dole going on the attack for Hagan attending the fundraiser.

    Going back to RT first post on the subject, Ellen Johnson has nothing to do with anything. She was not a host at Boston event and she did not contribute to Hagan’s campaign. Johnson is a director of a political action committee that did not contribute to Hagan’s campaign either. Johnson only involvement was as an unwilling participant in Dole’s first ad. Dole uses clips of Johnson for political mileage, but I don’t see the point for RT associating Hagan with Johnson this late after the campaign. All it did was confuse me.

  15. Catholic Cat
    March 19th, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

    Why would a political figure in a political race go to a fundraiser event of a particular group with political interests and not accept/take contributions?
    Especially when, at least on the surface, the political figure and the particular group supposedly have dissimilar points of view on matters such as the crux of concern for the particular, political group?
    That makes no sense to me.

    Flip the scenario:
    If I were running for a political position and claimed that part of my “package” was that I was against certain rights of gun owners. And then it were to surface that I attended a fundraiser event for the NRA. Are you going to say that wouldn’t raise a massive amount of doubt in your mind with respects to the integrity of my claims?

  16. Matthew in Fairfax
    March 19th, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

    Catholic Cat, remember the first Dole ad begins, “a leader of the Godless Americans PAC recently held a secret fundraiser….” The ‘leader’ referred to is Woody Kaplan who held the event at his home in Boston, as shown in the link in my post above. According to the Charlotte Observer, Kaplan is on the advisory board of the Godless Americans political action committee. So the ad is not saying the PAC sponsored the event, but rather it was an individual associated with the PAC.

    One or more persons at the fundraiser gave money to the Kay Hagan campaign, but she denies knowing anything about the (capital G) Godless Americans PAC. I checked the FEC website, and you can check it yourself, and it seems that Kay Hagan did not receive any money from the PAC itself. Woody Kaplan gave money to her campaign, and he is listed as an individual donor.

    The invitation shows “John Kerry and The Secure our Senate Majority Host Committee” as the organizers for the event. So, it is not similar to your NRA analogy.

    Does answer your question, or no?

  17. Catholic Cat
    March 20th, 2009 @ 8:49 am

    So Kaplan is not a founder of Godless Americans? Just simply one on an advisory board so only really an associate of the PAC?

  18. Matthew in Fairfax
    March 20th, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    Catholic Cat,

    The Godless Americans PAC website shows Ellen Johnson as the Executive Director. No founder is specifically called out. The Wikipedia page for Ellen Johnson credits her with the announcement of the PAC during the time that she was president of the American Atheists organization. So if she is not the founder of the PAC, then she was at least an driving force for its creation.

    Woody Kaplan is listed as being on the advisory board of the PAC, so the ad is not incorrect in referring to him as a ‘leader’.

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