This is an interesting conservative variation on a theme often voiced by liberal observers of evangelical politics.
The standard argument goes something like this: the culture war is either over or increasingly irrelevant to younger generations of evangelicals, who respond to a much broader array of appeals than to the old ‘hot button” issues. They care about social justice and about climate change, not just abortion and same-sex marriage.
David French doesn’t quite go down this path. Rather, he argues that once there’s broad agreement on a particular stance toward social issues (as there is among the GOP presidential aspirants), evangelicals ask a different array of questions.
If all the leading Republicans are pro-life, have pledged to protect religious liberty, and defend traditional marriage, then what is the distinct value of a culture warrior’s endorsement? Do these (largely unnamed) evangelical leaders have unique insights into dealing with persistent joblessness, the European debt crisis, the collapse of demand for housing, or the progress of counterinsurgency warfare in eastern Afghanistan?
…Maybe, just maybe, their rank-and-file supporters are less interested in arguing over who’s been pro-life the loudest and longest but instead on which pro-life candidate can also trim the debt, keep Iran in check, and begin to restore the economic portion of the American dream.
Evangelicals don’t have to play identity politics in the Republican Party. Instead, they can ask and attempt to answer the same questions as everyone else, using the same array of “tools” as everyone else. (I take it for granted that prayer and the reading of Scripture are not adequate, by themselves, to arrive at an understanding of the European debt crisis and of how to address it.)
I recognize that French has his own dog in the fight, but that doesn’t detract from his larger point. I also recognize that there’s still an argument about the future of the “evangelical vote.” In that respect, I remain unconvinced that folks on the Democratic side of the aisle are well-placed to enlarge their share of that vote.
But we can all agree that targeted appeals–from either the Left or the right–may be of limited utility in mobilizing that constituency.