The Posterity of the Religious Right

Modern movement conservatism is, as most should know, buoyed by an alliance of three core constituencies; religiously motivated social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and the neoconservative war hawk.

It’s an alliance that has been so strong and has played such a powerful role in contemporary politics it’s almost impossible to see these three foundations not tied irrevocably together. But while this allegiance, formed out of political convenience, seems as embedded in our political make up as anything else, it must not be forgotten that there are inherent contradictions within.

We saw at least one of these contradictions rear its ugly head back before McCain established himself as the clear front runner for the Republican nominee. Indeed, it was, in a way, a very powerful contradiction that cemented McCain’s nomination.

That contradiction came in the form of Mitt Romney, or, at least, he was the catalyst of it all.

Mitt’s wheelhouse was firmly embedded in the fiscal branch of the Republican party. He tried to talk tough, promising to multiply Gitmo, and he tried to speak to the religious aspect of the party, most notably with his speech on religion in America. But his foreign policy bona fides paled in comparison to Rudy Giuliani’s dubious claims to neoconservative authenticity, and most definitely to John McCain’s oft written of military record and time as a POW. Likewise, as a Mormon, Romney’s faith simply wasn’t trusted and welcomed by the Religious Right whose religious leanings are most definitely much more… traditional (for lack of a better word)… than the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

His inability to connect with the these two other branches of movement conservatism greatly disappointed the fiscal branch, most widely represented in the conservative intelligentsia. The conservative periodicals, talkshow hosts, columnists, and bloggers who endorsed him, and there were quite a few, pushed hard to influence the other two branches, but to no avail.

In the end, the group that would do the most damage was the Religious Right who had opted to get behind one of their own in Mike Huckabee. Meanwhile, irritated that the religious portion of the party had opted to throw their candidate overboard, the fiscal portion along with its chattering class cadre, didn’t necessarily endorse McCain, but at least toned down their bitterness towards his inevitable nomination.

In the end, McCain would ultimately be the last man standing, but his prize would be a tainted one. His admitted lack of economic acumen would fail to endear him to the fiscal right, while past sentiments expressed towards high profile religious leaders left the Religious Right lukewarm towards him at best. Indeed, now, at a point where McCain should have solidified his base and be doing head and shoulders better than the likely Democratic nominee who is still locked in an ongoing and bruising primary battle, he continues to trail Senator Obama in the polls.

Much of this, of course, will be because McCain in this election will no doubt have to suffer the wrath votersĀ  feel towards George Bush, however that does not account for the fact that McCain is still seeing some troubling indicators, from Ron Paul’s stunning performance in the Pennsylvania, to McCain’s consistently low fundraising numbers compared to his likely opponent in the General Election.

Is this all McCain, though? Is it simply that Republicans can’t stand him, but if they had someone who was just a little better than McCain and the rest of the field, that candidate would be doing much better? This is undoubtedly possible, but there is evidence to the contrary.

As I began this piece, there are inherent contradictions between the three factions that make up the modern Republican coalition. Fiscal conservatives are likely to look upon the way that Neoconservatives spend cash, particularly on wars of adventure, with some fraction of disdain. That’s not to say that we see this often in practice, but perhaps the small “l” libertarians who have supported Ron Paul provide the greatest example of this disparity. While the same fiscal conservatives probably are indifferent to their more faith-based brothers and sisters in political arms (I’m sure many of them are faith based themselves, and appreciate the burden their charity efforts lift off of government expense), there is cause for some religious folks to not look kindly upon fiscal policies that put the underpriveleged at a disadvantage. At the same time, those heavily religious voters may consider the warhawks to be too hawkish for their own faith based sensibilities.

You don’t see these contradictions arise in the form of visible discord much, naturally, because that’s what part of being in a coalition is all about. In fact, the argument above simply lays out logical differences that could be possible. Case in point, not all religious folks are doves, as Pat Robertson so aptly proves for us.

But while this coalition has intrinsic differences and has learned to compromise well on those differences, that is not to say that things will always be that way.

It was back in 2004 that I had watched something on television that literally dropped my jaw. It was a piece on evangelicals, liberal evangelicals. I didn’t know they existed, but apparently they did. It’s not that I didn’t think that Christians couldn’t be progressive, indeed, from my own limited history and knowledge with Christianity and its teachings, I would almost expect more Christians to be liberal than conservative on a number of items. But that’s just not how the coalition worked.

In fact, there’s reason to believe that as a new generation comes of age and becomes active in American politics, there may be a shift coming in the attitude of religious voters. For so long the focal point of faith-based politics has been on hot button issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but younger religious voters have begun work to change that.

In the end they may be better off for it.

The funny thing about hot button issues, particularly those hot button issues that pertain to the once identified “values voters”, is that politics has little ability to effect change in their favor. Homosexual marriage may still be a long way off but with coming generations, each more tolerant than the last, I’m confident that before I leave this planet it will be fully sanctioned. The structure of legal decisions and law that protects abortion will likely never be fully undone, and the constitutional argument to keep prayer out of schools is sufficiently stronger than the argument to put it back in; an aspect that will likely continue with the trend of newer more tolerant generations and an increased diversification in the multiculturism of our nation.

However, for those faith based voters willing to look beyond the precepts of dead end issues such as these, they will often find other aspects of governance that goes against the grain of their values and forming coalitions with groups outside the Republican norm will grant them increased power to actually make a difference on these items. Items such as war, for instance.

Not that I believe that Democrats should make ready for an influx of evangelical masses to the party fold, but there are inroads to be made amongst what seemed at one time an almost unreachable constituency.

Not the Religious Right, but its posterity, its younger generations.

Indeed, while we may not be able to build an all encompassing party that can swallow up the remnants of the Republican coalition, there are inroads to all three branches. Democrats can offer true fiscal discipline which can sound awfully attractive to fiscal conservatives who are being put off by their party which has engaged in fiscal recklessness. Likewise, not all Republicans are neoconservative warhawks.

For far too long the Republicans have been beating Democrats over the head with a seemingly insurmountable coalition. In return, we simpy throw up our hands, pander where we can, and hope we can scrape together enough people to overcome it. However, if the posterity of the Religious Right can teach us anything, it should be that running from the Republican coalition isn’t the answer, but instead exposing those inherent differences within.

(edited by DrGail)

One Response to “The Posterity of the Religious Right”

  1. Michael says:

    Nice article. As with most things though, change is slow and I still it’s going to take a couple of generations before there will any real shift in the Republican base.

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