In Defense of the Religious Right: Why Conservative Christians Are the Lifeblood of the Republican Party and Why That Terrifies the Democratsby Patrick Hynes
Political consultant and commentator Patrick Hynes dispels common stereotypes and misapprehensions about the most powerful political constituency in the country while undertaking the most exhaustive effort yet to define what the Religious Right is, what its members believe, and why they are right.See more details below
Political consultant and commentator Patrick Hynes dispels common stereotypes and misapprehensions about the most powerful political constituency in the country while undertaking the most exhaustive effort yet to define what the Religious Right is, what its members believe, and why they are right.
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CHAPTER 6 THIRTY MILLION JESUS
FREAKS CAN'T BE WRONG
THIRTY MILLION JESUS
The best way to think about the postelection analysis from 2004
is of two armies. One army advances on a piece of terrain and swiftly takes it. The second army girds its forces, complete with superior firepower and overwhelming troop strength. This second army not only retakes the lost ground, but then proceeds to decimate opposition forces, hopeful none will live to retell the tale of their inspiring, if short-lived, victory.
This first army represents the immediate conventional wisdom after a 2004 exit poll showed that 22 percent of all voters were motivated to vote by "moral values" issues, as opposed to 20 percent who said the "economy and jobs" motivated them, 19 percent who said"terrorism," and 15 percent who said Iraq.
"What does Bush owe the Religious Right?" asked Karen
Tumulty and Matthew Cooper in Time magazine. "They helped reelect the President, and Christian conservatives want payback."
"I think the rise of what was called moral values in the polls on this election defined a group of people whose families face, who want to live, and do live in what we would call an old-fashioned life . . .
more 'Father Knows Best' and less 'The Times They Are A
Changin',' " historian and writer Richard Reeves, who studies politics and presidents, told CBS News. "And 'Father Knows Best' held on."
"Voters focused on four issues: moral values, the economy, terrorism and the war in Iraq. The issue most voters thought was most important was moral values," observed Dan Rather. "For those voters,
the choice was lopsided: 79 percent went for Mr. Bush, and only
18 percent for Kerry."
Some of the duller lights of this analysis emanated, of course, from liberal pundits. These folks accepted the idea that moral values won the election for Bush. Yet they resented the fact because they themselves very publicly reject America's moral values. "Can a people that believe more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?" cried Garry Wills. The ironically-named novelist Jane Smiley used the I-word to explain what happened:"The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry." Columnist Michael
Kinsley said Christian voters were more "arrogant" than people on his side of the aisle who are "crippled by reason and open-mindedness."
Finally reaching the acceptance stage of grief, Katha Pollitt wrote in Slate, "If a voter wants Christian Jihad, he may not be willing to desert the cause for health insurance--especially with Republicans telling him 50 times a day that the plan is really a socialist plot to raise his taxes and poison him with Canadian drugs."
"Let's be clear: Bush ran on a moral agenda--God, guns, gays,
and true grit in fighting the evils of Saddam Hussein and terrorism,"
echoed Robert Reich.
THE "MYTH" MYTH
So that was it, eh? Case closed? Evangelical Christians turned out in record numbers, motivated by "moral values" and an inordinate fear of progress to reelect Pres. George W. Bush?
Not quite. The counter-analysis came swift and hard. It came from the Left and the Right and the Center. Whatever the 2004
election was about, these election spinners demanded, it was not about "moral values."
"The morality gap didn't decide the election," declared Professor
Paul Freedman of the University of Virginia. "Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help."
Alan Abramowitz of Emory University concluded, "It may take years to determine whether the 2004 election signaled the beginning of a new era of Republican domination of American politics or was simply a normal election in an era of intense competition for the support of a closely divided electorate. However, data already available suggest that Republican claims that 2004 was a landmark election are overstated and raise doubts about the notion that
Republicans won the election on the strength of a massive turnout of social conservatives."
New York Times op-edster David Brooks declared the "moral values"
story line "certainly wrong." He explained, "Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote, voters were given the option of saying 'moral values.' But that phrase can mean anything--or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result."
Jim Wallis also objected to the wording of the exit poll, writing in his book God's Politics, "The single moral values question was a whole different kind of choice that the rest of the 'issues,' ignoring the moral values inherent in those other concerns. Putting an ambiguous moral values choice in a list of specific issues skewed the results."
The issue was put to bed in the minds of most pundits. The"moral values" army of analysts were wiped out completely when
Charles Krauthammer declared it a "myth." Krauthammer was a hard-charging Bush enthusiast during the 2004 election. He is also recognized as one of the few genuine intellectuals within the
American political commentariate. And so people paid attention to what he had to say:
Whence comes this fable? With Pres. Bush increasing his share of the vote among Hispanics, Jews, women (especially married women), Catholics, seniors and even African-Americans, on what does this victory-of-the-homophobic-evangelical voter rest?
Its origins lie in a single question in the Election Day exit poll. The urban myth grew around the fact that "moral values" ranked highest in the answer to Question J: "Which
ONE issue mattered most in deciding how you voted for president?"
It is a thin reed upon which to base a General Theory of the '04 Election. In fact, it is no reed at all. The way the question was set up, moral values were sure to be ranked disproportionately high. Why? Because it was a multiple-choice question, and moral values cover a group of issues,
while all the other choices were individual issues. Chop up the alternatives finely enough, and moral values are sure to get a bare plurality over the others.
It must be noted that many pundits had an ulterior motive in downplaying the role of moral values in 2004. Most liberal commentators fluffed off the impact the Massachusetts's Supreme
Court's gay marriage dictate would have on the election. Allowing posterity to come to believe that 2004 was the year of the moral values counterrevolution would forever blemish their reputation as pundits.
Worse still, it would create a sense of finality on the issue of gay marriage, a very real sense that Americans don't want it, now and forever.
And that wouldn't do because liberalism is all about breaking down social norms until the irregular becomes normalized.
David Brooks, whose conservative credentials are otherwise challenged only for his employment at the New York Times, supported legalized gay marriage. Even Krauthammer wrote a column in which he expressed opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment in
But let us assume that these pundits were sincere and were not simply trying to protect their income-earning potential as political prognosticators. Which analysis is correct?
Well, for reasons not really expressed by anyone in the public,
the first army, the one decimated by the likes of David Brooks and
Charles Krauthammer, were right, but not for the reasons they think. I alone have lived to tell the story.
Let us start by examining that "flawed" exit poll question. Was it, as Krauthammer explains, flawed because "moral values" covers a"group of issues"? Possibly. But isn't "Education"--one of the other options--a "group of issues"? And what about "the Economy"?
Certainly Krauthammer wouldn't argue that the economy is a singular issue, right? And "Terrorism." Is that a single issue? Or a family of issues?
Krauthammer's analysis falls far short of debunking the "moral values myth."
What of Wallis's argument that the "moral values" option on the exit poll question was "ambiguous"? Perhaps it was . . . to Jim Wallis.
But he is virtually alone in his confusion. Overwhelmingly, voters who cited "moral values" as their motivator voted for George W.
Bush--80 percent to 18 percent. In other words, voters were very unambiguous as to the meaning of the question, at least as it related to their vote.
The fact that "moral values" registered on the exit polls and that those voters were so solidly behind one candidate over another tells us that there is something far more significant going on here than
Krauthammer's "myth" and Wallis's "ambiguity."
The fact is George W. Bush won reelection because the
Religious Right turned out in numbers previously unimaginable.
Whereas 1994 was the Religious Right's first successful endeavor into national (as opposed to regional) election activity, 2004 was the year they took over American elections altogether. Two thousand four was the year in which the Religious Right established itself as the most consequential voting bloc in the nation, the GOP's indispensable voting bloc, the people standing between the modern
Democratic Party and its hopes of ever again becoming the nation's dominant political faction. The 2004 election changed everything.
When we actually consider what happened in 2004--who voted and why--we can easily understand the visceral reaction of those who pursue an agenda antithetical to that of the Religious
Right. Liberals have quite logically concluded that they need to nip this "moral values" thing in the bud. But the bud has bloomed. And it has spread its seed across the fruited plain.
As for Krauthammer, Brooks, Wallis, et al., I can only say that spinning an election is a lot different than winning one. They must never have worked on a political campaign in their lives and therefore can only postulate from the sidelines. The simple fact is, I have worked on scores of Republican campaigns for high public office,
and I have never sat in a strategy session and said, "Gee, how can we get the neocons and the antigovernment libertarians engaged in our campaign?"
Republican political professionals always start a campaign by establishing a relationship with the conservative base. And those folks are found in churches, faith-based groups, and pro-life organizations.
For Republicans to win, they must first talk to Christian conservatives. If that fact offends the sensibilities of the sophisticated commentariate, I suggest they look into another line of work.
TURN THIS MUTHA OUT
It would be literally impossible to overstate to impact the Religious
Right had on Election Day 2004. According to exit polling data and postelection research, white evangelical Protestants, the linchpin demographic of the Religious Right, voted for President Bush over
John Kerry by a margin of 78 percent to 22 percent. Catholics who regularly attend Mass voted for Bush over Kerry by 56 percent to 43
For the first time since Pres. Ronald Reagan's 1984 drubbing of
Walter Mondale, the Republican candidate for president won a majority of all Catholic voters. Mainline Protestants who regularly attend church (among other behavioral indicators) favored Bush by
68 percent to 32 percent. President Bush benefited from an eyepopping
31 percent increase in his vote share among Latino
Protestants and benefited from a 17-point swing in his favor among
Latino Catholics from his previous performance.
The frequency with which a voter attends church was a greater predictor of his Election Day decision than whether or not he attended college, belonged to a union, served in the military, or was married with children.
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