Mr. Moyers gave a speech last winter at Harvard, criticizing the Bush administration's environmental policies and making the case that an unfortunate theology, particularly a belief in an imminent Second Coming, was the driving force behind these policies. At the start of his speech, to illustrate this theology, Mr. Moyers shifted back in time and quoted Mr. Watt. Mr. Moyers said that Mr. Watt "had told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony, [Watt] said, 'After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.' "Limerick frets about the way people are so contentious in these days of the endlessly yammering internet, and thinks if Watt and Moyers would just sit down to a nice meal together -- she offers to host them -- they'd learn to work together. She notes one of the two has accepted her invitation but doesn't say which. Given the way she's phrased the proposal, I've got to assume it's Moyers. Here's why.
But there is no evidence that Mr. Watt ever said this improbable thing, and Mr. Moyers acknowledged his "mistake" in quoting a remark that he could not confirm....
By casting many evangelical Christians as enemies of the earth's well-being, Mr. Moyers has made a not entirely strategic move to alienate people who could, should they be persuaded to recognize the hand of the Creator at work in the creation, prove to be remarkable and effective supporters for a cause that he considers urgent and crucial.
Moyers used a quote that he had "no evidence" of and that is so bizarre that he can't even fall back on the fake-but-true characterization that it seems like the sort of thing Watt would say. And -- I'm just using the facts as stated in this column -- acknowledgement of mistake lies only in "in quoting a remark that he could not confirm." But if there's "no evidence," in what sense are you "confirming" a "quote"? There's nothing to confirm. Limerick is toning down Moyers' offense here, and it's an offense not only to Watt but, more generally, to evangelical Christians. It portrays them as dangerous and evil.
As Limerick puts it, Moyers has made "a not entirely strategic move" by alienating people who "could" be persuaded to join him in his cause. Note the assumption that evangelical Christians do not now care about the environment and that they haven't yet learned to see the hand of God in creation. Moyers is the dominant character here. He already knows the right answers, so he needs to adopt good strategies, and he made a mistake not to get the evangelicals on his side. But he could win them over to his cause -- the cause is his -- if he persuaded them with religious insight that they somehow aren't supposed to have on their own. Yet this observation is a plainly obvious one to a believer. To think otherwise is to think the fake quote really is the sort of thing an evangelical would say.
I agree with Limerick that people shouldn't be so contentious and that there's too much arguing. We never seem to reach the end of calling someone's statement outrageous and demanding another apology. Too many people are promoting themselves by acting all aghast about one thing or another and trying to divide Americans into stark politically partisan factions. But something about this proposed Watt-Moyers sitdown in front of a beautiful landscape rubs me the wrong way.