Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Please Do My Homework for Me--Part 1.

I ended up on three panels at next week’s American Political Science Association Meeting in Boston. That means I have lots to do over the next week. The easiest and hardest of these three assignments is being on a roundtable on social consservatism and the upcoming election. It’d be easy to shoot the bull for 10 minutes, and all you wise and wordy threaders have given me plenty of amunition there. But to display my brilliance to the best effect, I probably need to make only or two amazingly cogent points. My question to all of you: What would you say under such circumstances and why?

Discussions - 19 Comments

Why not just wait till you hear what some of the other participants have to say, and then respond off the cuff.

You can handle it.

First off, I would question the value of an academic discussion which so easily transitioned from right-wing blog snarks to serious academic discourse. Second, I would play along and say, ok, here is a topic for discussion. After a disastrous period of 30 year growth, we are witnessing the first signs of the decline of the radicalized faith-based politics in the United States, with its apocalyptic visions and insane dreams of redemptive empire, its hyper-moral political rhetoric, and its panic-fear and calls for redemptive violence after the September 11th attacks. The God of the New Testament had died in European consciousness, so the God of the Old Testament was sought to be resurrected in US domestic and international policies in the form of crusading violence and domestic panic insecurity. This has now crested and will come to an end. That should stir up the ol' faculty lounge.


Some things to consider:

1. Does Obama's ease with religiousity and McCain's discomfort with it mean anything for this election?
2. Similarly, are evangelicals moving beyond abortion and marriage to issues that may favor Obama (namely, the "green" issues)?
3. Even if evangelicals are unlikely to swing at all towards Obama, might they stay home? Does McCain's VP pick matter in this respect? Are evangelicals tired of having their votes taken for granted with little in return?
4. Are younger evangelicals different from older evangelicals (namely, more inclined toward Obama)?

Just some thoughts off the cuff.

I would suggest that social conservatism is weaker for its inability to draw the votes of socially conservative nonwhites (especially African Americans)for socially conservative candidates. This is largely the result of the breach between the African American community and political conservatism - some of the reasons for the breach were explained in William Voegeli's Claremont Review article. There are significant numbers (maybe not a majority) of nonwhites who have socially conservative opinions but end up voting for socially liberal candidates. Social conservatives (as conservatives) share much of the blame for this state of affairs. Repairing the breach would lead to a less racially polarized and also a more socially conservative politics. How to get there... damn if I know. But the white population is in sharp relative demographic decline and a conservatism (social and otherwise) that does not make major inroads among nonwhites is facing a tough future.

Stert-man, chill out, can the hyperbole, and you might actually almost be saying something there. Your talent is not in (not so witty) displays of manly exaggeration. Pete, thanks, it's a point that should be made.

Though thats clearly alot to take on between now and November. Sorry for a suggestion that just occurred to me was unhelpful.

Decline of Mainline Religions place in the US narrative, via Peter Leithart's summary:

In a characteristically fascinating article in the August/September edition of First Things, Jody Bottum argues that, given the informal Protestant establishment that has existed since America’s founding, “the death of the Mainline is the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other period in American history. Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: the Mainline has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.” The collapse of Protestant America makes it very difficult for Americans to combine patriotism with profound criticism, with the result that “any attempt to speak in the old-fashioned voice of moral criticism turns sour and bitter - segueing into anti-Americanism, regardless of its intentions.”

Bottum poses, more sharply and profoundly than any one else has, the question of whether America can survive the loss of this “leg” of the three-legged stool of democracy, capitalism, and religion.

To continue with Mr. Lawler's homework, and to further spin the neocon bow-ties at your 'academic' conference, I would set up a power-point presentation of how the Bush administration is the tombstone marking not just the end of conservatism in the US but the end of the 'new american century'. Affixed to the screen will be poster-presentations on a) the scientific elites leaving the US because of intelligent design and faith-based education, b) the trillions in debt coupled with the wealth distribution to petro-terrorist states. c) Bush's launching an elective 'imperialist war in a post-imperialist age,' d) the ending of the US dollar as the dominant international reserve currency, e) the moral stature of the US dissolving in an acid of torture techniques and domestic surveillance, f) the illustration of the vulnerability of our cold war military apparatus to the viral resistance of the suicide bomber, g) the emergence of new cultural polarizations whereby the missionary consciousness and self-validating violence of the La Haye-fueled neocons has destroyed american power and credibility for a generation. Maybe then a panel on manly exaggeration, but it would focus more on WMD's and the build-up to war than on anything listed here.

Scott, thanks, although it seems to me that our mainstream Protestant demoninations haven't been heard from any distinctively Christian--patriotic yet profoundly critical--way for a while now. The last of our egalitarian and, in a way, liberal Calvinists--the late Carey McWilliams and the novelist/essayist Marilynne Robinson.

Stert-man, Are you auditioning to be the Ann Coulter of what every it is you are?

You know, all war is elective.

We didn't have to fight Japan after they bombed us. Moreover, there were some who blamed the United States for the bombing because we antagonized the Japanese in their quest for material and oil.

Sound familiar?

Of course there was a very strong movement to keep the United States out of the war that was going on in Europe.

So, you can argue that we did not have to fight the Japanese nor the Germans.

All war is elective.

But, so?

On topic ..

You can discuss the fact that science tells us when human development begins (the process that is called conception). The fact that religion, for the most part, supports this is nice, but not necessary for the debate; however, it will be used against you to silence you and make you appear a 'wingnut', a 'neocon', etc.

It seems to me there is a disconnect here between “Social Conservatism” and “Political Conservatism.” The difficulty is that we are all taught, and mostly believe, that the former drives the latter. When the latter bows to the former in the form of real legislation this is inarguable. But politics is, if anything, compromise, and as such not nearly conservative enough or progressive enough for almost everybody involved. This is particularly true when “moral/immoral” issues hit the legislative floor, or worse, the Judges’ benches. So the question becomes what if anything does the social conservative do in a political system devoted to finding the most tortuous path to the holy grail of pleasing everybody, and if not everybody than at least the mythical 51% majority nineteen times out of twenty.

If the Bush administration proves anything, it proves that the quality of debate is fast eroding. But was it not always so? Perhaps. The question for social conservatives as well as social progressive to ask might be, is it possible to participate in the political process without winning at least once in a while? Defining once in a while is best left open for now. Years ago I chummed with a friend who dealt in prize Angus bulls. I asked him about semen collection. He made some general and enlightening comments about the process and ended by saying that more often than not he had to provide his bulls with the “real thing” or they would get ornery to the point of being destructive. I suppose politically humans are like my friend's bulls, every now and then they need a real success to keep them socially engaged. As for our friend Stertinus, my guess is that he/she? is feeling pretty jerked around these days. Hang in there Stert, this too shall pass.

The danger is the issues that social conservatives are concerned with are first and foremost local one and thus really should not be the focus of federal gov't policy. In fact, the Feds ought to get out of these issues and leave them to the states. The danger here for conservatives has been the temptation to use federal power to address these issues. In doing this, social conservatives politically end up empowering the federal state as do social liberals. But once you start giving people things, they only want more, so politically speaking, the spenders win.

This is perhaps why I think the right should look into Charles Murray's radical ideas of his plan to end social entitlements by giving every American 10000 per year. I think only by changing the nature of the game can the political environment be created to actually let people have goodies and yet shrink the state. By shrinking the state, esp at the Federal level, I believe the environment will be more conducive to produce results more agreeable to the social conservatives than the world run by social workers and government bureaucrats.

I find comment 12 to be pretty darn good/funny. If you can just find a way to work in a story about a bull...

Another suggestion. There is alot of talk about evangelicals becoming more "mainstream" (though the mainstream is also moving closer to them) and broadening their politcal interests past the tradidional social consvervative issues like abortion. Much of this is to the good, and there is alot to be said for having Rick Warren rather than Jerry Falwell as your national face. But are evanglecals going to lose something in their engagement with the world? Might they be in a early stage of the same path as the Mainline churches (which as Joseph Bottum would be no good thing). Does the evangelical community have the resources to avoid going on that path and what are they?

Geez Stertinius! You're one to talk about “hyper-moral political rhetoric”.

Pete, what would you have evangelicals do? The Amish retreat from the world and look what it gets them; a world in which they and their values have little or no influence.

Faith within a man who is part of the state as citizen apparently has little influence on the culture or politics. If polls are to be believed, the aggregate of Christian America ought to have far more influence than it does. Social conservatives, rallying behind a Falwell or a Warren have some influence and focus. I might wish those men were more wonderful than they are. (Their fallibility can be such a grief. I suppose God must let them be so obviously themselves in an attempt to keep them humble for the sake of their souls.)

I don't see how the evangelical community was ever going to avoid involvement in government. Government has certainly been involved with them, such as in getting to choose what church is really a church based on judgment by the IRS and the conferral of tax-exempt status.

As much as any church is organized it looks like a faction and our government has ben designed to deal with faction in a certain way, whih is to diffuse it if possible. Churches like Warren's, as big as they are, are nothing to like denominations. Rick Warren does have influence beyond his church, across geography and I wonder what will happen there, if we will someday have the church of Warren as we have had the church of Wesley. It is funny to think of The Purpose Driven Life as canonical text, but that is not out of the range of possibility.

I am sorry I can't finish my thoughts here (and apologize for lack of editing) because I have other things I must do, but perhaps I have given enough for conversation already.

Kate, it wasn't a crititque of evangelical political activism, it was a concern regarding how they might avoid the disasters that overcame the Mainline churches. I certainly hope that the evangelical churches remain what they are and continue to excercise their (generally positive) influence on our politics. But there might be something to learn from the errors of others.

Pete, there is always something to learn from the errors of others. Thank you for your explanation.

I would suggest that the non- or semi-denominational evangelical churches are all about fluidity. The ebb and flow of the congregations speak to that. It is as if "undecided" in political terms became a party. The endless shifting of that group makes a party structure just about impossible.

A really large local church split over some decision the pastor made and the majority of the church dismissed him. The 55% of the church remaining can't afford to keep up the building and are floundering trying to find funds. They have a huge building and unless they find another charismatic head, that building, set in a residential neighborhood is going to become...? What? God knows.

Church splits happen all the time and has been one of the killers of the mainline denominations. Often, the splits are over politics. It is a fact of American religious life, because we are democratic in our religion as in all else. People in the church are also people in the world. I don't see how you avoid that.

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