Saturday, November 11, 2006

The God-Gap Narrows

There is a very interesting article in the NY Times this morning analyzing what Christian did in the voting in the midterm elections this week. Here is the link---

Among the salient points in the article, the following stand out: 1) Catholic voters, despite the trypical stance of many Democrats on abortion, voted Democrat 55% to 45% which is a drastic switch compared to two years ago. The overwhelmingly main reason was the war in Iraq. 2) It is not true, as some Evangelical leaders have suggested that Evangelicals did not turn out in as large a numbers as in 2004. What is true is that Democrats got 28% of the white Evangelical vote as opposed to 25% last time around. In both elections white Evangelicals made up some 24% of the electorate-- a huge voting block to say the least. 3)the biggest change in sheer numbers seems to have been the return of most all of the African American Protestants to voting for Democrats. 4) in terms of special initiatives gay marriage laws continue to be voted down whenever they are on the ballot. The situation in Arizona is a bit muddy, but they already had the law on the books. They seem to think that they did not need to vote a stricker ban in at this juncture. This is hardly a win for liberals in a very socially conservative state.

One of the issues which is worth pondering is the difference between fiscal conservatives (ala Swartznegger) and social conservatives. It appears that the former type did better than the latter, with prominent Republicans going down for the count in the Midwest including Rick Santorum. But the most telling remarks in the whole article for our purposes came from various Evangelical leaders on the religious right. Here are there remarks I am quoting from the article--

Evangelical Christians are "fed up with the Republican leadership, particularly in the House," said the Rev. Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention. "They're disgusted that Republicans came to Washington and failed to behave any better than Democrats once they got their snouts in the trough."

Roberta Combs, chairman of the Christian Coalition, said responsibility for the GOP's loss of the House and Senate "goes right back to the leadership, the corruption among Republicans."

And James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, issued a statement saying that "many of the Values Voters of '04 simply stayed at home this year" because the Republican Party has "consistently ignored the constituency that put them in power."

In regard to these remarks, Dobson is dead wrong, and Combs and Land ignore the elephant in the room--- namely the serious dis-ease over the war in Iraq even amongst socially conservative Christians. Combs and Land however are correct that there was some real reaction to the immorality and corruption in the Republican party. What they do not mention is that Republicans, perhaps even more than Democrats are in bed with the major influence peddlars, taking zillions of dollars in PAC money year and year for their compaigns.

There has to be major electoral reform engineered by both parties if this is ever going to be cleaned up. For example, we need absolute spending limits on campaigns, we need limits on how long before the election one can advertize. We need a ban on a constellation of kick-backs. It would also be good if the money went not to the campaigns but to all the major networks which were required by law to give equal advertising time to each of the legitimate candidates, say for a period of one or two months before the election. It is of course money, power, and influence which have corrupted the Republicans, just like it has the Democrats. A personal illustration will have to do.

Several years ago I was contacted by Tom DeLay. He figured since I was a well known white Evangelical I must be on his side on a host of things. I was invited to the White House, and I was named Kentucky Business Man of the Year. I have the plaque sitting in my office framed to prove it. Now, I am no businessman. Just ask my wife. For five years I ran a little coffee shop in Wilmore for our Christian students as a ministry to them-- its called Solomon's Porch, and its still up and running, employing and feeding students and helping them work their way through college and seminary. Its a good ministry, but its not a business that made money. In fact I lost $40,000 helping those students during that time. I was definitely not a Kentucky Businessman of the Year! There were many who did better than I, and I could talk at length about the plight of small businesses which are taxed right out of existence. Several previous restaurants in that spot had not lasted more than about six months. Wilmore is only a town of some 5,000 souls.

You see Delay was running a scam on Evangelical Protestants. It worked like this--- you call someone, and send them an award, whether they deserve it or not. You invite them to D.C. to meet influential people. Delay gets the photo-op with small business persons, but the real purpose of all this is raising money. I got endless calls out of Delay's office to send money to this, that or the other fund running out of his office to further his causes etc.

In other words, I wasn't given an award for anything. Obviously they were oblivious to the fact that my business was failing from an economic point of view, though not from a ministry point of view. What I was given was a carrot, hoping for a whole bunch of carrots in return. It was purely a quid pro quo deal. What I won was endless phone calls about races, and causes etc. some of it more or less connected to Delay's office directly. It is not a surprise to me that the man was drummed out of office. It is also not a surprise to me that he was a major player in that party and a close ally of George Bush from way back in Texas. "All power corrupts, and ultimate power corrupts uiltimately" is a wise saying.

What did I learn from all this? There is no political party currently extant that deserves our whole hearted support as Evangelical Christians. We need to go candidate to candidate, issue to issue, race to race. And we should never be single issue voters for a particular candidate. And what we most need to be looking at is character, hopefully Christian character, but I will take a good moral person over an immoral Evangelical any time. Character is what counts when the heat is on in the land of politics. Evangelical politicians I would hope would learn something from this particular election about corruption. But if they put this all down to a single issue cause like the war, then there will be no impetus to clean up their act. And in some ways the latter is more important than this dirty little war in Iraq.

And that's all this failed businessman from Kentucky has to say about that.


Rainsborough said...

"we need absolute spending limits on campaigns"
Look at the data, and you'll observe that incumbents waltz back into office while spending little (though more than their challenger) EXCEPT in a few races where the challenger raises big bucks and the incumbent then has to respond. Spending limits may well serve to protect incumbents from any effective challenge.
Campaign talk isn't necessarily dirty any more than sex is.

"we need limits on how long before the election one can advertize."

"Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech"--at the heart of which surely lies campaign talk.

Matthew Miller said...

It seems election reform without term limits only empowers those in office.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Witherington,

Great post! it is indeed true we need to look at each candidate individually. For the most part, it is one's character that matters. My prayer is that american evangelical chritians will learn how to make better decision in the future.



Rainsborough said...

Term limits empower those not subject to them--the lobbyists, the bureaucrats, the legislative staff, the contributors essential to neophyte politicians' winning their elections.

Larry Chouinard said...

Excellent post Ben. Ironic that nothing was said by Fundamentalist Republicans about the re-centering of other Christian values such as poverty, environment, and the horrors of war by equally committed, Bible-believing Christians. Sorry, but the right-wingers do not speak for all Christians. Hopefully the face of Washington can change over the next few years, but the Powers are deeply embedded.

Ben Witherington said...

Rainsborough there is certainly a difference between limiting freedom of speech and having spending limits on advertizing one's campaign. Freedom of speech exists in the U.K., its alive and well but there are limits placed on both how long the campaign goes, how much one can spend, and the like. Legislation on limits to lobbying would also be good.

byron smith said...

Same in Australia.

Rainsborough said...

I'm not sure but that as a matter of policy and good sense, you're not right that it would be in the public interest to curb political spending as you suggest.

But what limits on lobbying would survive, or should survive the right to redress the government for redress of grievances?

And Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia should be able to scare up a fifth vote to knock down campaign spending limits. It might be Breyer, who quite discerningly held that Vermont's limits curbed competition more than they did corruption.

A better scheme might be public financing of campaigns, which needn't entail the government's sitting in judgment on whether this contributive act or the other is permissible.

Neil said...

I'm with Rainsborough. While I would love to see less influence and spending, I think the answer lies in more transparency and not limiting 1st Amendment rights.

Chaplain Mike said...

I spent many nights not studying at Solomon's Porch drinking coffee and chit chatting. Profit isn't everything, Ben :)

You are right, neither Ted H. nor Foley really did any harm to Repubs, it was Iraq; which I will be leaving for in app. four months for a seven month stay.

yuckabuck said...

"the Values Voters of '04" (from Dobson)

I can't let that one go by. The idea that values are what determined the 2004 election is a myth.

When the exit polls were taken, the biggest vote-getter for why people voted was "values." But if you added up people who said "terrorism," the war on terror," and "Iraq," the number was much higher that "values." It's a problem of perspective: If one was an anti-war Democrat, they tended to believe that Iraq and the response to 9/11 were two distinct things, and would then vote Democrat because of Iraq. If one was a Republican, they tended to see Iraq as part of the response to Al Quaida, and then would vote Republican because of the war on terror. When asked what was the most important issue in their voting, they would naturally give seemingly different answers for the same basic question, thereby making the 24% who said "values" look like the largest group. (This all comes from a column by Charles Krauthammer.) Therefore, both social conservatives like Dobson, as well as the liberals who decried "Jesusland" and wanted the blue states to cecede from the "red state theocracy" were both fundamentally wrong in reading the election.

It has been recently pointed out that Americans have a peculiar view that sees wars as beginning or ending when they say it does. In 2004, a majority of voters said that the war would continue. In 2006, with no noticeable improvement on any front, Americans determined that the war should wind down soon. This, as well as disgust on the part of independents and conservatives for how corrupt the Republicans in Congress had become and how far they had fallen from the reform agenda of 1994 that had swept them into power.

It was not a rejection of ideology. Anti-gay marriage intitatives inspired people in some states to vote in a socially conservative way, who then turned and voted the Republican out. Minimum wage initiatives inspired people in other states to vote in an economically progressive/liberal way, who then turned and voted the Republican out. (Santorum was defeated by an ostensibly pro-life Democrat, so his loss was related more to other issues than to his social conservatism.)

C.P.O. said...

Wow! That is a fascinating post. It's good to hear somewhat of an insider perspective on politics and evangelicals. Delay's actions were pretty low, but unfortunately not too surprising.

Ben Witherington said...

Weel Chaplain Mike, my prayers are certainly with you. I have a chaplain in my Revelation class right now who is headed that way as well. Those troops need Jesus as much or more than anyone since they are in harm's way.



Randy McMurphy said...

What amazes me is that despite a media and democratic insurgency against Bush (for 5 of the 6 years of his presidency), scandals both real (Abramhoff) and imagined (Valerie Plame) the Democratic victories were by-in-large by rather narrow margins. This suggests to me that the public holds both parties in nearly equal contempt.

Campaign spending limits will produce improvements only to the degree that it reduces the time interval or degree to which we end up being exposed to half-truths or outright lies. I don't believe there is any interest in actually being informative. I am reminded or a recent editorial cartoon showing a mother, father and little boy standing in the living room with the TV. The mother is reminding the boy to, "Remember, if you can't find anything nice to say..." at which point the father seated in front of the TV says, "You can grow up and write campaign commercials."

The following is lifted from work credited to Dr. Richard Beeman, Professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it." The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.

Active informed involvement of the people? How can the people be informed when our representatives seldom even read the massive programs they enact.

Real reform will only occur when the power of government is curtailed. That will only occur when we find a way to limit the ability of the federal government to both spend and tax. My own fantasy solution requires that each citizen receive two pieces of information annually. First, every person would receive an annual statement itemizing their pro-rata share of the national debt (including off the books obligations). Second, they would recieve one statement itemizing and totaling ALL of the taxes paid to every governmental body at EVERY level.

I do believe that citizens informed with those two pieces of information would becove very active indeed.

Roger Ball said...

I am one who voted republican and became upset that they were bigger porkers than the dems. This historically is a typical mid term election swing. The party in power loses 30 or so seats in the house. If the loss had been 60, then the results would be significant. As it is, it simply shows the media's lack of knowledge of history (or ignoring it.)

Anonymous said...

John Armstrong has written a great article about the fall of Ted Haggard here:
It's well worth reading.

Rusty B said...

As a Viet Nam vet, I can remember that it took about 3 1/2 years for the American people (with a little help from the Tet offensive and Walter Cronkite) to lose interest in that war. Americans have a low tolerance for watching their sons come home in body bags with "nothing tangible" on the line. The rush of early victory is long forgotten. As in 'Nam, all that appears to be happening is that we are propping up a questionable Iraqi government at the expense of x casualties/deaths per week. I wish the President had paid more attention when he was at Yale. It might have saved us from repeating history.

Elvis Elvisberg said...

Roger Ball, conservative writer Rich Lowry debunks the Republican talking point that this election wasn't a big deal. You can argue with some of his conclusions, but it's tough to argue with the fact that we haven't seen a swing like this in the 6th year since Watergate.
"But as liberal blogger Kevin Drum points out, most of the big “itches” came prior to the past 20 years when gerrymandering got more sophisticated. Reagan lost only five seats in his sixth year, and Clinton only five (although he had already suffered a wipeout in 1994). For Democrats to win 29 seats despite all the advantages of incumbency enjoyed by the GOP is a big deal."

Dr. Witherington, what an interesting story. Are religious leaders really just another interest group to be wined, dined, wowed, and coopted? Thanks for the story, and for keeping a sense of humor about it all.