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Gerson on the new evangelicalism

Is there a home for this Michael Gerson in the post-’06 election Republican Party, or in the conservative movement?

For what it’s worth, I think he’s right about the younger generation of evangelicals:

Republicans will find it increasingly difficult to appeal to the new evangelicals with tired symbols like school prayer or the posting of the Ten Commandments. And candidates like Senator McCain will need to be more creative in their outreach than an uncomfortable speech at the Liberty University commencement. These activists will expect serious proposals on an expanded moral agenda—as President Bush has delivered on human trafficking and global AIDS. And they will not respond to a crude libertarianism that elevates the severe pleasures of cutting food stamps or foreign aid over the pursuit of the common good.

Stated another way, what place does Sam Brownback have in the post-’06 election Republican? Party/conservative movement?

Life and marriage issues are important, but so is a concern with "widows and orphans." What strikes me as missing from--or at best implicit in--Gerson’s piece is a serious engagement with the question of whether government programs are always the best or the necessary instruments of compassion:

Hurricane Katrina revealed a kind of persistent poverty that leaves many Americans with no connection to, or stake in, the American economy. It also revealed a political class in Washington, in both parties, that seems to view this as an unfortunate fact of life, rather than a scandal that must eventually be addressed. A new faith-based agenda should include policies that provide help for overwhelmed pastors and neighborhood activists who are salvaging discarded lives; encourage mentors for abandoned children, and promote wealth-building to overcome the economic legacy of slavery and segregation.

He says he’s not a utopian, and I believe him. But he seems to take our wealth for granted and doesn’t say anything about the role of the market in addressing the problems he so eloquently characterizes.

Gerson is extremely smart, thoughtful, and sophisticated. I wish I could be confident that the "new evangelicals" he describes will have sound practical judgment to go along with their decency and moral energy.

And I hope--but am not confident--that Republicans and conservatives can find a way to converse with these folks, providing some of the soundly practical ballast that Democrats and liberals who can appeal to their decency and moral energy can’t necessarily provide.

Update: For a little more on Gerson’s article, go here, and pay attention also to Paul Seaton’s comment below. MOJ’s Rob Vischer gently tweaks me in his comment on Gerson. Here’s what I said in an email response to him:

Republicans--of whom I’m unfortunately one--deserve the tweaking. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the late 70s, liberal Democrats seemed tired and intellectually out of gas. Those descriptors could surely be applied to current Congressional Republicans at least. They’ve gotten away with it (until now) because Democrats couldn’t offer a plausible alternative. (I know that the strongest case I could offer for electing or reelecting Republicans was: look at the alternative. That doesn’t inspire confidence, and didn’t deserve to, but there was little to which I could point beyond that.) I’m not sure that that has changed, although there are some interesting sparks across the way.


I think stiff competition--as the enemy of complacency--is good for both parties. Democrats will have to think in order to hold onto power, and Republicans will have to think if they’re going to get it back. And I "think" that each party can help the other think. it will be interesting to see, for example, if the Republicans can force Democrats to choose between the two abortion reduction bills currently in circulation. If Republicans overwhelmingly supported the DfL bill, but not Rosa DeLauro’s measure, Democrats will have to figure out how big their pro-choice/pro-life tent is.

Let me add that I disagree somewhat with
Amy Sullivan’s thin argument. Winning back evangelicals and Catholics on essentially style grounds in Michigan and Ohio--in a very bad Republican year--doesn’t prove a thing. There has to be something substantive to close that deal. I nominate the Pregnant Women Support Act, which I discussed here, here, and (briefly) here, as an opening bid.

Discussions - 5 Comments

There is a major problem for McCain. Had McCain begun his outreach towards conservative Republicans long before, he wouldn’t be having to start this now, practically within spitting distance of the beginnings of the Presidential primary seasons. Declarations of intentions will soon be upon us. The media is going to be following McCain’s every move now, hopeful for a misstep. And the slightest outreach towards those who are scorned and mocked by the media may find that very same media, which heretofore has been so fond of their darling McCain, their "maverick Republican," may find that media turn on him, and turn on him with a vengeance.

The one thing that I truly worry about is whether or not McCain is truly mentally and psychologically prepared for that moment when his former friends in the media turn on him, as they begin to flack for Hillary.

Evangelicals(Last men) in championing Superman Bono all fall under a single horizon, and this Horizon or ontological structure is Isothymia. This Ontological Structure is the Horizon and exclusive domain of the democrats, and perhaps also of the compassionate conservatives...which demonstrates how mute of a point political parties really are. So this election is about Iraq stupid... and Iraq is about Megalothymia...Bush is the concrete example...the whipping boy for the repudiation of this ontological structure or horizon... derrided loosely as Manliness...cowboy boots and overreaching in general...

There is one major problem with this characterization... it neglects the degree to which Bush’s Megalothymia was already corrupted by Isothymia...it neglects to mention that in Team America parlance Bush is both an asshole and a pussy. And perhaps...just perhaps...Iraq failed because it wasn’t undertaken under a solid war ethos horizon(a horizon that can’t exist simultaneously with Isothymia). That is to say that our hands were tied by a mission that wanted to be a mission trip(1.6 million evangelicals can’t be wrong?)..a mission as much about killing the bad guys(Megalothymic) as it was about the spreading the great commision of liberal democracy(isothymic).

Why does Dr. Knippenburg even bother to ask if Evangelicals have a future in the Republican party? Evangelicals are simply another manifestation of Isothymia...and Isothymia to simplify things greatly is the only dominant horizon...it is The Ontological structure...it is "The Truth". It is that which determines the allocation of blame and praise. It is that which determines the vote count.

Democrat or Republican, Isothymia has won every election since 1934.

Joe, a good find. I share your stated concerns and critiques (and their attendant implied concerns): do they have practical judgment? Do they know about the necessity of market institutions and processes? To which I would add: Do they deeply know the places they visit or wish to assist? Have they studied political philosophy (and good social science)? That’s not primarily a self-serving question. I wonder whether faithfilled-moralism is adequate to understanding the world, its character, the causes of things, and the possible and appropriate ways of improving matters? I wasn’t particularly encouraged by Gerson’s distinction between "utopian" and "radical." Nor was I encouraged by the popularity of Bono that Gerson reports.

Bono is a great guy within the horizon of Isothymia, I don’t see how you could fall within this horizon and not think Bono is an awesome guy. I think it would imply a contradiction. Also I think you guys are all idiots if you think for a second that this new evangelism is something distinct from the mainstream moral sentiment. This is the dominant american moral perspective...complex metaphysical distinctions are tertiary to the dominant objective: persuit of the common good, and the aleviation of suffering.

If he takes our wealth for granted and doesn’t say anything about the role of markets (given the kinds of issues he purports to address), it’s hard for me to see how Gerson can be described as
"extremely smart, thoughtful, and sophisticated." One can be these things and economically illiterate if one is a poet, a theologian, etc. But Gerson speaks on public policy, and his intelligence, thoughtfulness, and sophistication depend on his understanding of it. Or non-understanding.

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