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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

An Election Without the Religious Right?

Something in my paper caught my eye last night. It illustrates a point I've made in earlier posts -- the Republicans are in trouble. John Nichols, in a piece in The Capital Times, tells us, "Barack Obama might beat both Hillary Clinton and John McCain on Tuesday." In other words, Obama may beat not only Clinton, but attract more voters than the winner of the Republican primary.

The part that caught my eye was a breakdown of the vote in Iowa along party lines. Depending on which party you're rooting for, the results are either not pretty or beautiful.

Almost 25 percent of all Iowans who caucused last Thursday did so for Obama.

Another 20.5 perecent caucused for Edwards, while 19.8 percent caucused for Clinton.

And what of the winner of the Republican caucuses?

Mike Huckabee won a mere 11.4 percent.

So a quarter of Iowa caucus-goers came out for the winner of the highly competitive Democrats, while barely 10 percent came out for the Republican victor.

Add to that other polling that shows that evangelicals represented "some 60 percent of Republican caucusgoers."

Mr. Romney's advisers had been saying that if evangelical turnout rose to more than 50 percent, victory would be impossible for Mr. Romney, whose Mormon faith is regarded as heretical by many evangelicals. Mr. Romney's past support for abortion rights also troubled many Christian conservatives.

Since Mike Huckabee didn't win his caucus by more than 60%, we can safely assume that these "values voters" were extremely fragmented in their thinking. In Iowa, at least, the religious right is in disarray.

Which makes the reaction of the religious right more than a little confusing. That reaction seems to be "In your face, secular America!"

When some Democrats and Republicans gathered at the University of Oklahoma for a forum to get presidential candidates to start building bridges and "establish a government of national unity," Family Research Council's Tony Perkins freaked out. This was an effort to drive out "values voters." See, when these guys say that "God's being driven from the public square," they really mean that they don't have the public square all to themselves. Any recognition that any other group of citizens -- voters with different ideologies and values -- exists is an attempt at oppressing the only real Christians in the whole damned world. There is no middle ground -- either you love these guys with all your heart or you want to destroy them. At least, that's the way they seem to talk.

Anyway, Perkins, who you may remember as one of the circus of nuts who tried to "save" Terri Schiavo, wasn't having any of this "unity" BS. So he pushed some BS of his own., via Right Wing Watch:

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), says in their zeal to find common ground, the moderates want to jettison social issues from both party platforms and focuses. The FRC leader says the group of moderates "obviously did not get the message from Iowa," where former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee surged ahead because of "his unequivocal stand on core issues."

"I think we've seen in the wake of Iowa and in what's happening across the country that those issues are very near and dear to people," Perkins observes. "Those are issues that motivate people; they vote based on those issues. [And] those issues are important to Americans, not just evangelicals, but value voters make up a wide section of Americans who are concerned about the moral direction of our country."

Huckabee may have won because of his "his unequivocal stand on core issues," but it wasn't the evangelical vote that did it. Not alone, anyway. The math doesn't work -- again, Mike got nowhere near 60% of the vote in a caucus that was 60% evangelical. Perkins is wielding a club he doesn't actually have.

Part of the problem is that the leaders of the religious right are losing control of their flock. While they want a very narrow focus on outlawing abortion and battling the gay menace, with sidetrips down the creationism road, religious conservatives' issues are becoming broader -- including things like the environment (that good stewardship of the Earth thing), government corruption, war, and poverty. These people are asking themselves, "What would Jesus do?" and coming up with "Pretty much all the stuff he talked about" as an answer. Besides, this fetusophilia and homophobia thing has been going on for thirty or forty years and they really haven't gotten very far with it. Outrage fatigue sets in and the issues fall in priority. When there are things you want to happen that seem to be immediately possible, those issues jump up in your list of priorities.

And those things seem immediately possible because they have broad, bipartisan support -- exactly the "national unity" thing that religious right leaders like Perkins think is such a bad idea. Where people want progress, leaders like Perkins are advocating continuing the stalemate. That's not a very appealing prospect.

Of course, the nation isn't Iowa. I suppose it's possible that the religious right is totally scattered only in Iowa -- but I doubt it. A Pew poll taken in November found that "while 78 percent of evangelicals voted Republican in 2004, only 57 percent were inclined to vote for Republican candidates this fall." Not only can't religious right leaders "guide" their voters to vote for a specific candidate, they can't even get them to vote for a specific party. Evangelicals may have put Huckabee over the top in Iowa, but not all of them and not enough of them to beat a Democrat there. In a caucus to caucus comparison, Obama beat Huckabee by a landslide.

This election could be the first in a good long time where the religious right doesn't dominate the Republican field. If that's the case, get ready for a breath of fresh air.

We could all use the breather.


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