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Will the Republicans Lose Their Religious Edge?

Here’s a fairly muddled article by our friend Gary Rosen that predicts and hopes that the Democratic candidate may actually be more religiously attuned that the Republican one in 2008. Giuliani and McCain, the thinking goes, seem and probably are less pious than Obama and Senator Clinton. I don’t think Hillary has the capability really to "sell" her faith. But Obama, we have to admit, seems (in the way he talks) and probably is more religious than Giuliani and McCain, and that fact or appearance may move religiously observant voters, especially if they think that there’s no reliable social conservative in the race anyway. It surely isn’t in the electoral interest of the Republicans that the faith gap be closed, especially when they aren’t faring so well on other fronts.

Let me add my own quite questionable social science research. I interviewed a small number of Presidential Scholar candidates at Berry College last week. They were, with one exception, obviously devout and very smart middle-class white southern Christian kids. I asked them who should be elected president in 2008. The name most mentioned was Hillary Clinton, and always in a negative way. The only other name mentioned at all--several times--was Obama, each time in a positive way for his hopeful and inspirational message. I mentioned Giuliani and McCain on occasion to fill the silence and got no response.

So all in all, there are reasons for thinking that Giuliani (competence, toughness, eloquence, likeability, experience) would be the strongest Republican candidate. But others point more and more to Romney as the strongest and smartest faith-based or inspirational candidate. The spectre of Obama, among oother things, calls into question the extent to which social or religious conservatives can be taken for granted.

Discussions - 17 Comments

Many evangelicals feel so whipped that they’ll probably cozy up to anyone who hands them a biscuit and strokes their necks. Pathetic. What matters is the political beliefs and cultural sympathies of the candidates -- and those they’d likely appoint if elected. Everything else is feel-good nonsense for girlie-men.

Frankly, these kids are not "very smart" when it comes to politics if they think Obama is fine (especially if Hillary isn’t) and that there is nothing good to say about Rudy (or, implicitly, Romney). It’s a sign of how far liberal propaganda and ignorance have sunk into the culture if even many of the best among our youth are this clueless. Let’s hope it was not a particularly representative sample of that sector of American young people who are both devout and "very smart" -- not to mention middle-class white Southerners! If it is representative, that bodes ill for the future.

Obama’s religion is more a function of rhetoric than anything else and, at least on that score, he’s definitely more saavy than Clinton. However, he’s on record on more than one occassion railing against the theocratic right’s intolerance and dogmatism (his second book is riddled with such boilerplate invective---pushing the same anti-religious vitriol that has made Clinton an impossible sell to the faith based crowd). Maybe the most significant move a President can make to promote socially conservative policy is to nominate jurisprudentially conservative judges--something Guiliani has promised to do and that Obama surely won’t.

Obama might be attractive (policies aside) especially to the Sunbelt evangelicals, if for no other reason than that it helps salve a particular guilt they carry vis-a-vis their black brethren. Or, at the very least, his faith talk + race might make some (though certainly not all) evangelicals talk a little sotto voce when criticizing him. I can imagine a Christianity Today article lamenting some of Obama’s pro-choice extremism, but lauding him for his "thoughtful" religious rhetoric. Especially if Giuliani is the alternative.

3: Yes, on the religious right, as one everything else, Obamessiah is just the same old same old. He is a star because he is black and slick. Period.

4: Many Christians, otherwise intelligent, have a very poor understanding of politics -- and politicians. They aren’t interested, hold themselves above it, see very unspiritual things through an (inappropriately) spiritual prism, and, in short, are in perpetual danger of being duped. And yes, I do think a psychological need to make up for historical wrongs against blacks (not theirs’, which are minuscule or nonexistent, but others’) is part of the evangelicals’ interest in this fraudulent airhead.

Smart comments all, but MS in comment 4 is really making the most relevant point...

Obama’s faith (at least its public expression) appears to be a kind of squishy-left feel-good smorgasbord Christianity. I wonder how many evangelicals will be taken in. He’s a member of the Congregational church, the most liberal (in the theological sense) denomination in what used to be called mainline protestantism. I’m a little shocked that so many appear to be taking seriously the thin gruel of squishy religiosity that Obama spouts. Obama comes off (inaccurately in my book) as "sincere" while Hillary comes off (accurately) as cold and calculating. I think the "real" Obama came out in his off-the-cuff riff about "waste" of military lives.

I think Clinton and Obama are both coldly calculating, but America always seems to swoon over a fresh face, a swoon stoked by an eager press. I think the Obama swoon is coming too early and he going to peak early, then crash, like Howard Dean did. The one to watch is John Edwards and his "Two Americas" schtick.

David Frum said it well in his 1994 book, "Dead Right," which remains highly relevant today: Evangelicals, he said, generally are not apart from the liberal, materialist, relativist culture. They are part of it and are compromised by it.

’tis early yet...those students will learn more about the man from the Aloha state. They’ll learn, for example, whether he’s willing to say that abortion should be "rare."

And Frum is dead wrong if he said that--"not apart from" sure, but who can be? I don’t like encountering hipsters for Jesus, evangelical addicts of trashy pop-culture, mixing of the therapuetic with the Bibilical, and so on, but come on. How many self-described evangelicals would say a) "pre-marital sex is okay" b) "giving money to the church and to charities is not something we have to do" c) "Mohammed and Jesus teach basically the same thing" d) "Jesus was against having firm beliefs" e) "it doesn’t matter whether Jesus rose from the dead or not"? Almost none. And only by self-description would those who said so be considered evangelicals. There’s reason to be worried about evangelicals, that the directions many of them have evolved in will evntually bring a large chunk of them, one by one, to abandon evangelicalism altogether, but that’s not exactly a new worry for Christians. And generally, those evangelicals who become ready to affirm any of the above (a-e) will acknowledge that in doing so they have left the evangelical fold.

Obama might sway a few, and Republican-fatigue or Iraq might sway a few more in 2008, but we’re talking margins that while perhaps politically signficant, do not change the massive and foreseeably long-lasting fact for America of evangelical Christian faith.

Frum is right if he means to say that conservatives cannot dumbly bank on evangelicals. Some evangelicals are like Carter, and others can think they’re being used, a feeling which will likely skyrocket in the case of a Giuliani administration.

By "Obama might sway a few" I mean from voting Republican in 08.

9: Carl, points C through E are irrelevant to Frum’s observation. All you’re saying is that evangelicals have certain theological beliefs. Of course they do. So what? This isn’t the same as HOW THEY LIVE or HOW THEY SEE OTHER THINGS. Point B is not much more relevant. I’m sure they feel an obligation to donate to their churches. That has some small impact on how they live and participate, because it reduces the money available for material pleasures and other things -- including politics and conservative causes, by the way. I don’t criticize this, but simply make the analytical point. Point A, the belief that pre-marital sex is not OK, is simply a belief. I’m sure many also live by that belief, but that in itself isn’t evidence of apartness from the corrupt culture. It’s evidence that there are a few rules of right conduct that evangelicals follow. Cultural distinctness may require that, but it also requires much more.

Well, I don’t know the sociology on the How They Live issues--some reports in recent years have been pretty discouraging. I’ll let others debate the aggregate state of affairs among those considered evangelicals, but will say there’s plenty of obvious evidence that LOTS of evangelicals try pretty strenuously to live by such beliefs, and that LOTS really do.

My point a) is hardly "simply a belief" in the context of our sexually-revolutionized-some-time-ago culture! A culture that quite a few liberals think needs to loosen up a good deal more. And my point e)? Hard to affirm relativism when you believe your salvation depends heavily on WHAT YOU BELIEVE TO BE THE TRUTH, and THAT IT REALLY IS THE TRUTH.

None of this is to deny that evangelicals can be dumb about politics, often by shutting their ears to hard-earned conservative wisdom. (And things may about to get worse than usual on that front.) About political blindness I should know, having been a U2-loving evangelical pacifist-socialist type for much of youth. But I always knew I was simply at odds with my Democratic party on abortion. My position was, "well, I shouldn’t be a single issue voter...what about God’s concern for social justice...etc" I won’t bore you with the details of my long return to reality, other than to say that all of them suggest the obvious fact that "even" evangelicals need patient suasion and instruction in political matters. But the good news for conservatives is that so long as evangelicals remain evangelicals, their beliefs about "...God, of His relations with the human race, of the nature of their soul, and of their duties to their fellows" will remain fairly constant through all the political seasons, youthful idealisms, therapeutic trends, inane worship styles, etc., and will turn out to be "the common spring from which all else originates." That ’all else’ includes political matters, and yes, I am quoting Tocqueville.

Maybe their beliefs about God will remain constant. Maybe not. They certainly are not "the common spring from which all else [including "political matters"] originates" if 40 percent vote for the Democrats and a fair number of others don’t even vote. Or, if their faith is that common spring, then, politically speaking, it doesn’t do all that much good -- and, as you say, the situation may well get worse.

Lawler’s greatest fear. Rudy=Locke out of the Locke box. But Peter, you are wrong about Locke and thus wrong about America.

Sorry about my unclear at times post. I meant to say "things (in terms of evangelical political smarts) look like they might take a short term turn for the worse." To be sure, that might, among other factors, give us a Dem prez in 08. But particularly if that happens, it won’t be long before Dems and their new evangelical constiuents are at odds. My position is that unless the Dems seriously trim their sails on Roe, on abortion generally, and on embryo-destructive research, they will never win more than short-term and fleeting evangelical gains. The story is similar, if less intense, on other social-conservative issues. That is, the Dems as they are simply have to hope that people cease being evangelicals. Such a mass abandonment is certainly possible, and at times I have serious worries about it, but it might be less likely than a major party realignment, or signficant Dem moves toward the center on social issues. Oh, and have you heard of these things called "revivals?"

Carl is right right in 15 to suggest that my post only considers a possible short-term electoral phenomenon that probably wouldn’t have legs. Obama won’t provoke a realignment, that’s for sure. And to Mickey, I wasn’t evaluating the merits of G. except in terms of electability. Do I understand you to say that you agree with the Lockean G’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage?

No, I don’t agree with G on abortion or same sex marraige, neither did Locke.

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