Sunday, October 17, 2004

The God gap

In Closing the God gap, Gloria Borger gives a sense of the kind of convoluted minuet of religious identity-group politics that Bush and Kerry are dancing in the runup to the election:

He was, of course, preaching to the choir: In the last election, 62 percent of regular churchgoers voted for Bush. "The president knows how to speak in code to them," says Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. But last election, a top Bush adviser says, some 3 million to 4 million evangelicals may have stayed at home because of the last-minute news of the president's 1976 arrest for drunken driving. Never again, say the Bushies. "The key to this election is to get them to turn out," a top White House adviser told me. "And we will do it" --even if it requires personal escorts.

This points out what a mixed blessing the evangelical vote is to Bush. That 3 to 4 million of them can be convinced to stay home by a last-minute revelation of past sins shows what a "hothouse flower" his base can be. During much of the 20th century, many evangelicals eschewed politics, preferring to withdraw from what they saw as the sinfulness and moral compromise of electoral politics. They came onto the political scene in a powerful way with the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, only to abandon him in 1980. There are both moral and cultural factors at play with evangelicals. Bill Clinton, a southern evangelical and a social liberal, was able to capture some of this block. Bush must not only demonstrate to them that he is a strong social conservative and a faithful Christian, but also that he personally lives and breathes those values. John Kerry's clumsy, cynical manipulation of Mary Cheney's lesbianism, though it backfired on him, was aimed at this wobbly rump of the evangelical base. It may yet prove to have done some damage to Bush. Time will tell.

3 Comments:

Blogger Michael Herdegen said...

Bush is no longer an unknown to the evangelicals; Bush has had three and a half years to show them that he's one of them, and of course, Bush's post-9/11 strength would be read as strength by evangelicals, and not as patriarchical oppression, the way some more unhinged Americans view it.

October 18, 2004 6:43 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Michael,
Apparently the Bushies aren't as confident as you are about the reliability of the evangelical vote. I was personally shocked to hear that up to four million of them had stayed home in 2000. Tom Brokaw interviewed ex-judge Roy Moore on the news tonight, part of a "Divided America" segment focused on the issue of church and state. Moore, when asked if he were disappointed that Bush and the Republican mainstream did not rally to his side, did not criticisze Bush directly, but did warn that many religious voters could withdraw their support from the Republican party over this. I think there really is a wobbly rump of evangelicals out there.

October 18, 2004 5:01 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Robert:

I'm confused as to why evangelicals even bother. Aren't most of them last days/rapture types?

Voting--and buying life insurance--would seem beside the point.

October 19, 2004 2:06 PM  

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