In this time of questioning the political future of American evangelicalism, that’s what the NYT’s David D. Kirkpatrick calls it in his lead story for the Sunday Magazine. He spends a lot of time in Wichita and finds a number of evangelicals who are disillusioned with Republicans and with politics. They’ve got passion fatigue when it comes to abortion (all that work with so little to show), and know that there are other social questions about which they ought to be concerned.
To the degree that they’re not finding their salvation in politics, this is, I think, a good thing. (They’re right, after all.)
But this hard-learned lesson means that they’re unlikely recruits in any Democratic political effort. The concern with social questions such as those concerning the poor (who, we’re told, will always be with us) needn’t and shouldn’t lead to support for the panoply of government programs that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have in store for us. But persuading evangelicals of that may require some effort to discuss the roles of civil society and the marketplace (as opposed to government) in dealing with poverty. And it won’t and shouldn’t evoke the same passions that have been associated with the abortion wars.
The good news for Democrats in this thus isn’t that, all of a sudden, there will be nothing the matter with Kansas. It’s that Republicans probably can’t count on quite as high a percentage of support and quite as high a turnout from evangelical voters who continue to be relatively socially conservative. As I’m not convinced that there’s another trove of votes for Republicans to find to make up for that likely fall-off, the GOP will be in for tough times.
I think that there’s "damage control" that can be done--mostly of the sort of plain, but hard, talk about how there are non-governmental solutions to problems that we should all recognize as problems. And I think that that it’s a good thing for Republcans to have to do this, rather than relying on the willingness of Democratic secularists to continue to enable their opponents to paint the party as anti-religious. In other words, if religious voters (as religious voters) are more up for grabs than they have been, then the parties (especially the GOP) will have to be more thoughtful in how they mobilize their various constituencies. Let’s hear more talk about opportunity and responsibility, and the culture and social settings that create them. This kind of talk appeals to religious folks, but not exclusively to them. And it can (or ought to) distinguish Republicans (and conservatives) from Democrats (and liberals).