Monday, November 22, 2010

The Christian Right XI 81

Synopsis of part of American Theocracy Chapter 6: The United States in a Dixie Cup: The New Religious and Political Battlegrounds

“George Bush is an evangelical Christian, there is no doubt about that. The president's evangelicalism means he believes in the truth of the Bible, with a capital T: the virgin birth, the death of Christ on the Cross for our sins, the physical resurrection, and most important, a personal relationship with Jesus.”

  • Richard Land, chief Washington representative of the Southern Baptist Convention, 2003

“The religion gap is the leading edge of the “culture war” that has polarized American politics, reshaped the coalitions that make up the Democratic and Republican parties and influenced the appeals their presidential candidates are making...Voter who say they go to church every week usually vote for Republicans. Those who go to church less often or not at all tend to vote Democratic.”

--Susan Page, USA Today, 2004

“For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political movement, the President of the United States has become the movement's de factor leader.”

--Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, 2001

“The Bush administration's worldview is one grounded in religious fundamentalism – that is, it emphasizes absolute authority, and tradition, and a divine hand in history and upon the United States. Such a worldview is disastrous for a democratic system.”

– David Domke, God Willing, 2004

Phillips uses these quotes and then writes, “PLEASE REREAD THE FOUR EPIGRAPHS ABOVE. FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE United States has a political party that represents – some say over-represents – true-believing frequent churchgoers. And theocracy, a subject once confined to the history books, has crept into current-affairs journals.

Phillips notes that Bush carried all 11 seceding Southern states in both 2000 and 2004. In no western nation has political loyalty so radically changed from one political party to another. Southerners were nearly unanimously opposed to Republican candidates until Dwight Eisenhower ran for president in 1952. Eisenhower carried three southern states in 1952 and five in 1956. Nixon carried three in 1960. By opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Goldwater carried five southern states but lost the outer South (where the Republican party was actually emerging) and nearly the rest of the country. In 1968, Nixon ran again and carried five southern states. In 1972, running against a particularly liberal Democrat, George McGovern, Nixon obtained 79% of white southern voters, a record that stands to this day.

Phillips states that a coalition of Southern democrats with Nixon, including some party-switching, would have given Nixon's second term a working majority and a generational political shift in national government – but this didn't and couldn't happen because of Watergate. With Nixon destroyed, this cross-party alliance fell apart and the door was opened for a Southern democrat, Carter, to win in 1976.

Phillips, an expert in demographics, contends that the democratic presidents since World War II – Truman, Johnson, Carter and Clinton, offended their fellow southerners with civil rights legislation and also with unsuccessful military campaigns (the South being the most hawkish region of the country). “The Democrats' crowning problem,” Phillips tells us, “lay in a deepening mismatch with the cultural and religious viewpoints of their erstwhile bastion, the white South. When Democratic administrations were in office, Washington authorities were as much at odds with the southern white majority as the carpetbaggers of old, which helps to explain the resentments the 1990s neo-Confederates were nicknaming them scalawags.

Political analyst William Schneider has noted that since 1980, religious Americans of all faiths have been moving to the Republican Party, and secular Americans have more and more found a home in the Democratic Party. “This is something new in American politics. We have never had a religious party in this country,” he notes.

Before 1972, those who went to church every week and those who seldom attended services voted the same way. A 10 point difference opened up that year. It has grown since. In the Democratic Party, the McGovern delegates were a distinctly secular bunch, following which traditionalists lost further ground as the party took positions that were increasingly secular. This trend proceeded even through the Carter presidency; his “Conference on the Family” was derided by the SBC, which did not like the administration's support of abortion or the Equal Rights Amendment. Besides this, Carter could be glum and quirky. Though he carried 10 of the 11 seceding Southern states against Ford in 1976, Reagan carried 10 of these 11 against Carter in 1980.

The charm and speeches of Reagan seemed to keep the evangelicals behind him, though the Reagan administration didn't actually deliver much to the fundamentalist agenda. When Vice President George H. W. Bush ran for the job in 1988, he sold his position as a born-again Christian in close contact with evangelical leaders in his book, Man of Integrity. He also made his son a key liaison to the religious right for the duration of the campaign. As his senior political aide, the elder Bush chose Lee Atwater, a rough and tumble South Carolina political consultant. For the vice presidency, Indiana Senator J. Danforth Quayle, a conservative ally of the Christian right, was chosen.

In 1992, the Democrats picked Southern Baptist William Clinton, who picked another SBC member, Al Gore of Tennessee, for the vice presidency. This was enough to defeat the incumbent president, the elder Bush. Clinton carried three-fourths of the secular vote, and Bush two-thirds of the traditionalists, according to Party of Unbelievers by Bolce and De Maio. Phillips notes that “Most of us, myself included, paid too little attention to this sea changer, now startlingly clear in hindsight.”

The SBC was not happy with the actual agenda of the Clinton administration. The laity broke for Republicans in 1994, and for the first time, the Republicans took over Congress due to victories for Southern republicans. The clumsiness of the republicans in power, especially House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accompanied by a sharp move to the political center by William Clinton, gave the president a second term. But the problem of the less religious tending to vote democratic and the more religious tending to vote Republican was about to surge to record-setting heights in 2000 and 2004. Religion watcher John Green explained, “once social issues came to the forefront – abortion, gay rights, women's rights – it generated differences based on religious attendance.” Phillips tells us this means “Theology was beginning to exert real electoral influence.”

In 2002, the midterm elections faced the issues of the memory of September 2001 as well as saber rattling over Iraq; yet the “religion gap” widened to 20 points.

[more on these new alignments in the next blog post]

No comments:

Post a Comment