This is a useful, if flawed, tour d’horizon of the top ten potential religion and politics flashpoints in the upcoming year. I’ll note my quibbles and quarrels in each instance.
10. Occupy Wall Street and the Religious Left: Missed Opportunity?
One might surmise that OWS could benefit from the organizational infrastructure, if not the respectability, of Blue churches, synagogues and mosques, etc. As for progressives of faith, the OWS movement could provide it with something it has sorely been lacking for decades: masses of energized voters.
Whether an affinity develops in 2012 between the Occupy forces and the Religious Left, with crafty Obama operatives forging those bonds and reaping the rewards, remains to be seen.
I really doubt whethere there are “masses of energized voters” to be had from among the OWS movement and its sympathizers. There’s this poll, which suggests that support for the movement is waning, despite the best efforts of some in the media to put as attractive as possible a face on it. On the other hand, there’s this poll, which finds somewhat greater sympathy for OWS’s concerns, but little support for its tactics. Finally, there’s this poll, which suggests that “class warfare” rhetoric is unlikely to resonate with enough voters to turn an election around.
9. The Persistence of Anti-Mormon Sentiment
[A] mistrust of Mormons appears to be at least one of the factors explaining why some White conservative evangelicals in Iowa have flirted with every candidate but Romney. They have careened from Michele Bachmann, to Rick Perry, to the Herminator, to, in the past few days, a surging (Catholic) Rick Santorum. It seems plausible to assume that some Evangelicals, at least, just won’t vote for a Mormon.
There are plenty of reasons why conservative voters, many of whom also happen to be evangelical, may have misgivings about Mitt Romney. If, however, he’s the Republican nominee, I don’t expect many of them to sit the general election out, given the alternative. And we shouldn’t forget that anti-Mormon sentiment is more pronounced among Democrats than among Republicans.
8. Islamophobia: What’s It Good For?
The practice of singling out one group of religious Americans for this type of derision is clearly odious. But does it work? Results from 2011 indicate that it does not. Purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric presently staff the backbench of the GOP pack. Those who do not aggressively play that card (e.g., Ron Paul, Mitt Romney) appear to be doing well in Iowa.
My quibble here is whether statements regarding Islam have much effect, one way or the other, on the electoral fortunes of various candidates. Certainly in the current atmosphere making an issue about, say, the location of a mosque is unlikely to vault anyone to the front of the pack. By the same token, silence is unlikely to guarantee front-runner status.
7. Bloomberg Holds His Ground
An acquaintance pointed out to me that suspicion of religion runs perhaps a bit higher in New York than elsewhere, not just because of the Manhattan-based elites, but because “religion” inspired the 9/11 attacks. So I’m reluctant to read much into, or draw grand conclusions from, Mayor Bloomberg’s willingness to stand up to critics of his exclusion of religious voices from the 9/11 commemoration.
6. The Swashbuckling Evangelicals
More diverse (and less centralized) than some are led to think, the Religious Right is everywhere. In 2011, for example, Gothamites learned not only about the 9/11 project, but “church planting” initiatives in New York City. Then they found about attempts to transform public schools into Christian worship spaces on Sundays.
Looking beyond the Hudson, there was the reign of the “Personhood Amendments,” which were only rebuffed after frantic mobilization and great effort.
The point is that the Christian right is political dynamism personified. It never stops, never relents, never thinks small, and is afraid of nothing. I would add that it usually conducts its activities within the parameters of the law, as well.
I have two observations here. One is that a card-carrying atheist intellectual finds it more useful (or true) to observe that social conservatism remains politically healthy. Does he need a bogey-man with which to scare people? Or is he just ”convicted” about the truth of the phenomenon? I can’t tell, but will only note that all too often friends of social conservatism worry about its future.
My second observation is to note that he thinks he has to add that “the Christian right…usually conducts its activities within the parameters of the law.” His readers must be sleeping more easily, now that he has reassured them that most religious conservatives aren’t inclined to shoot at abortionists or fly planes into buildings. Perhaps he could have gone on to note the difference between Tea Party rallies and OWS protests; the former tend to be paragons of lawfulness, which can’t be said of the latter.
5. Catholics and Evangelicals Don’t Always Lock Arms
[T]he Christian Right is far less juggernautlike when Catholics don’t come along for the ride. On at least two occasions in 2011, the nearly unstoppable political duo of Conservative Evangelicals and Catholics, showed signs of fracturing. The Catholic Church did not sign on to the aforementioned Personhood Amendments nor to the 9/11 controversy. The lesson going forward is clear: without massive Catholic buy-in, the Christian Right has a hard time achieving its goals.
No argument from me. Evangelicals and Catholics have to be together for either to succeed in the political arena.
4. Values Voters Less Interested in Values
Some commentators suggest that these voters scrutinize the personal morality of the candidates. But 2011 belied that assertion. Conservative Christian voters have been lukewarm at best to ethically unbesmirched candidates such as Romney, Huntsman, and Santorum (not to mention unbesmirched incumbent Barack Obama). Conversely, they were willing to get galvanized by besmirched ones, be they Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and so forth.
If he means to suggest that values voters are hypocrites, I can’t go along. If, on the other hand, he wishes to argue that social conservatives look t the big picture when voting–not just character, but also policies), then I’m heartily in agreement. Values voters are not idiots. They care about their pocketbooks and those of their neighbors, and they care about the good of the country.
3. Justice Kagan’s Dissent in Arizona School Tuition Organization v. Winn, et al
In her first dissent–and a crackling one at that–Justice Elena Kagan lamented how difficult it had become for citizens to bring establishment clause cases to the Court’s attention.
She warned that the decision “offers a roadmap—more truly, just a one-step instruction—to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge… No taxpayer will have standing to object. However blatantly the government may violate the Establishment Clause, taxpayers cannot gain access to the federal courts.”
Still, Kagan’s demurral reminds us that 2011 was not a good year for those opposed to the blurring of church/state lines.
2. President Obama: Innoculated
No news is sometimes good news and the degree to which the Obama administration didn’t get into scraps about religion in 2011 is very good news for the Democrats.
Sure there were moments of manufactured hysteria such as the recent noise about Obama’s godless internet Thanksgiving salutation
Yet for the most part, neither the president’s personal faith nor his policy initiatives have created difficulties for him with mainstream religious Americans. Obama has been ostentatiously prayerful, thus preempting critique from the religious right. His Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has laid low, avoiding the scandals and divisiveness that characterized George W. Bush’s mock-up, the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
His silence about the so-called contraceptive mandate is conspicuous. How could he overlook that? Letters have been written and lawsuits filed, both by Catholics and by evangelicals. I won’t speculate about his motives, but will merely question the comprehensiveness of his list.
1. The Evangelical Vote: Fractured then Formidable
The lesson of 2007 and 2011 would be that White Conservative Evangelicals are fractured in the primaries. The lesson of 2004 and 2008 is that when the ticket takes shape they are a formidable Republican bloc. So long as someone like George W. Bush or Sarah Palin is there to inspire them, they offer between 74-80 % of their vote to the GOP. If Mitt Romney does in fact win his party’s nomination, he will need to bear this in mind as he chooses a running mate.
The polling data I cited above doesn’t suggest that a Romney at the top of the ticket absolutely needs an evangelical-friendly candidate at the bottom. Indeed, the largest jump in evangelical identification with Republicans occurred during the Reagan years, when there wasn’t an evangelical on the ticket (see p. 7 of this study). This suggests that evangelicals don’t play “identity politics” with the fervor that marks some other groups. You can be friendly to their concerns without having to be one of them. This isn’t to say that Mitt Romeny mightn’t need some help in galvanizing all elements of the Republican coalition, but that has more to do with his style and record than with his religion.
Yes, I would have written this survey differently, but I’m glad to have had the occasion to provide my own slant on the issues identified.