Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, October 29th, 2007.


Shattered

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Bush Administration, conservatism, Religion

This is partly an addition to moonbat’s “Evangelical Crackup” post and partly something I started to write last week and never finished.

A couple of weeks ago Paul Krugman wrote that the Republican Party is not getting the big donations from Big Corporations that it has in the past. Krugman wrote,

According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, in the current election cycle every one of the top 10 industries making political donations is giving more money to Democrats. Even industries that have in the past been overwhelmingly Republican, like insurance and pharmaceuticals, are now splitting their donations more or less evenly. Oil and gas is the only major industry that the G.O.P. can still call its own.

The Economist says pretty much the same thing:

With all polls predicting a Democratic sweep of House, Senate and presidency in 2008, the smart money is flowing the Democrats’ way.

A Wall Street Journal poll last month showed that only 37 percent of professionals and managers identify themselves as Republicans or leaning that way.

A YouGov/Polimetrix poll for The Economist finds that only 44 percent of those earning more than $150,000 plan to vote Republican. So it is no surprise — though historically astonishing — that the Democrats’ presidential candidates have raised substantially more than Republican ones.

Now, why would this be? The Economist continues:

There are several obvious reasons for this. The shrill voices of religious conservatives have driven away many pragmatic Republicans who feel that banning abortion and gay marriage are not the most pressing issues confronting America. The Bush administration’s incompetence, evident from Iraq to Louisiana, alienates people who know about management.

But the most damaging factor has been the Republicans’ inability to control the federal budget. By slashing taxes without cutting spending, Bush turned the budget surplus of $240 billion he inherited from Bill Clinton into a deficit that bottomed out at over $400 billion, and is still running at $160 billion….

… Belatedly (to put it mildly), the administration has realized that it has lost the mantle of sound economic management to the Democrats. On Oct. 3 Bush picked up his dusty veto pen, using it to cut back spending for the first time in his presidency.

Astonishingly, he chose the wrong issue to wield it on: a proposal to expand a highly popular scheme that subsidized health insurance for poorer children. This from a man who had let Republican pork through by the sty-load.

The Economist has hopes for some of the GOP candidates, notably Giuliani, McCain and Romney, and doesn’t think much of the Dems. However,

Taxes, trade, and health care: These are subjects Main Street wants to know more about. But the religious right does not. Rather than building a pragmatic center-right alternative to Hillary Clinton, the conservative movement is stuck with God, gays and guns.

Methinks the Reagan Coalition is heading for D-I-V-O-R-C-E. The moneyed interests supporting the GOP were happy to cater to the religious Right as long as the Christionistas were swinging elections in their favor. But if Money decides that God is a loser, watch the GOP re-discover the joys of secularism.

Money liked George W. Bush because he promised to cut their taxes. But there’s more to a culture favorable to business and profits than low taxes. I suspect Money is re-learning what some of those things are. It doesn’t need high gas prices, health insurance costs from hell, economic instability among consumers and capital tied up by record debt. The current crop of GOP candidates, for the most part, aren’t promising to do much differently from Bush. They’re promising to do the same stuff, only more competently. Money must be reviewing its options very carefully right now.

Gary Kamiya writes at Salon:

Bush’s presidency has made a shambles of real conservatism. Let’s leave aside the issues on which liberals and conservatives can be expected to disagree, like his tax cuts for the rich, expansion of Medicare or his position on immigration, and focus solely on ones that should be above partisan rancor — ones involving the Constitution and all-American values. On issue after Mom-and-apple-pie issue, from authorizing torture to approving illegal wiretapping to launching a self-destructive war, Bush has done incalculable damage to conservative principles — far more, in fact, than any recent Democratic president. And he has been supported every step of the way by Republicans in Congress, who have voted in lockstep for his radical policies. None of the major Republican candidates running for office have repudiated any of Bush’s policies. They simply promise to execute them better.

The Bush presidency has damaged American civil society in many ways, but one of the most lasting may be its destructive effect on conservatism. Even those who do not call themselves conservatives must acknowledge the power and enduring value of core conservative beliefs: belief in individual agency and responsibility, respect for American institutions and traditions, a resolute commitment to freedom, a willingness to take principled moral stands. It is a movement that draws its inspiration from towering figures: Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke. It stands for caution in foreign adventures, fiscal sobriety and a profound respect for tradition.

Or at least it used to stand for those things. Today’s conservatism is a caricature of that movement: It embraces pointless wars, runs up a vast debt, and trashes the Constitution. Selling out their principles for power, abandoning deeply seated American values and traditions simply because someone on “their side” demanded that they do so, conservatives have made a deal with the devil that has reduced their movement to an empty, ends-obsessed shell. How did the party of Lincoln end up marching under the banner of Tom DeLay and Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and Ann Coulter?

The House That Reagan Built always was a hammered-together mess of clashing architectural styles. The wonder is that the coalition lasted as long as it has.

The movement has always been intellectually fractured, riven by contradictory beliefs. As George Nash pointed out in his classic “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America,” from the beginning modern American conservatism has been divided between traditionalists and libertarians. Libertarians regard individual freedom as the highest good, support the free market, and oppose coercive government policies. Traditionalists regard virtue, not freedom, as the highest good, believe in a transcendental moral order and are wary of unfettered individualism. Despite attempts to “fuse” them, the two worldviews are fundamentally incompatible — you either believe in surrendering to God and tradition or you don’t. Time and again, conservative attempts to implement policies that do justice to both the movement’s “freedom” and “virtue” wings have failed.

The relationship between the small-government, libertarian-minded conservatives and the Religious Right always seemed improbable on the surface. Even so, there was a remarkable amount of cross-pollination between the two factions. For example, the late militant Christian whackjob Rousas John Rushdoony preached that God blessed America with “biblical capitalism,” and God’s Capitalism must not be sullied by wordly government regulation. The now-fallen Rev. Ted Haggart’s explained Jesus’ plan for free market capitalism to his flock. And I’ve encountered a remarkable number of self-described libertarians who oppose reproductive rights for women.

The Economist expressed amazement that President Bush chose to be frugal with a bill for children’s health care, but that tells me The Economist doesn’t understand our righties. To them, meanness is a virtue. Whether to the poor, or gays, or women, or undocumented workers, both the small-government and social conservatives can be hard-hearted bastards. They may have diverse ideas about which groups should be kicked while they’re down, but the meanness is always there.

And so is the vainglory. Kamiya continues,

Bush’s “war on terror” is a rerun of the Cold War, with “Islamofascism” replacing communism and Dr. Strangelove at the controls. By attacking Iraq, Bush made up for all those decades of compromise and weakness, all that Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement, that groveling accommodation with evil. This time, we’re nuking the bastards!

Bush’s unprovoked war on Iraq provided a satisfying catharsis for American conservatives, an opportunity to play Winston Churchill and fight the good fight against Evil. But the satisfaction of urging on a Manichaean struggle from one’s armchair should only go so far before reality kicks in. Just as most conservatives during the Cold War realized that attacking the Soviet Union was not in America’s interests, so one would think that today’s conservatives would realize that Bush’s “war on terror” is not only unwinnable, but both unnecessary and counterproductive. By now, it’s obvious to all but myopic ideologues that attacking the Arab world to teach it a lesson was like kicking a vast wasp’s nest while wearing a Speedo. We want to win the “war on terror,” not strike heroic poses while being stung to death. No one disputes the virtue of moral clarity, but without intelligence, moral clarity is useless. Where is it written that conservatives have to be stupid?

Actually, I do dispute the virtue of “moral clarity.” “Moral clarity” all too often is just Bigotry wearing Virtue’s T-shirt.

But this takes us to another aspect of the Reagan coalition. Neocons and others wrapped up in the glory of American exceptionalism and the interests of Israel made common cause with Christian pre-millennialists who are eager to bring on Armageddon. Thus, in the early 1990s Bill Kristol and other leaders of the neocon faction of conservatism adopted the Christian Right’s views on abortion and gays. I suspect this had less to do with sincere moral sensibilities than with a desire to weaken the Democratic Party and liberalism generally. But today, David Kirkpatrick writes in “The Evangelical Crackup,” evangelical congregations are splitting over the Iraq War.

Today, the evangelical journal, has even posed the question of whether evangelicals should “repent” for their swift support of invading Iraq.

“Even in evangelical circles, we are tired of the war, tired of the body bags,” the Rev. David Welsh, who took over late last year as senior pastor of Wichita’s large Central Christian Church, told me. “I think it is to the point where they are saying: ‘O.K., we have done as much good as we can. Now let’s just get out of there.’ ”

Welsh, who favors pressed khaki pants and buttoned-up polo shirts, is a staunch conservative, a committed Republican and, personally, a politics junkie. But he told me he was wary of talking too much about politics or public affairs around the church because his congregation was so divided over the war in Iraq.

In other words, Christian conservatives and neocons are no longer reliable allies. Another aspect of the coalition has crumbled.

Finally, the men who were leaders of the religious Right during the Reagan heyday are growing old, as are their followers. Younger evangelicals don’t see the world the same way their elders did. Kirkpatrick:

Secular sociologists say evangelicals’ changing view of society reflects their changing place in it. Once trailing in education and income, evangelicals have caught up over the last 40 years. “The social-issues arguments are the first manifestation of a rural outlook transposed into a more urban or suburban setting,” John Green, of the Pew Research Center, told me. “Now having been there for a while, that kind of hard-edged politics no longer appeals to them. They still care about abortion and gay marriage, but they are also interested in other, more middle-class arguments.

I don’t believe the influence of conservative Christianity on conservative politics will ever completely disappear, because this influence has been a feature of American politics from the beginning of American politics. But it’s an influence that comes and goes. It was very strong after World War I until the Scopes Trial in 1925. In the 1930s until the 1950s mainstream protestantism, including the larger evangelical denominations, was at least mildly progressive in the context of the times. Until the Reagan years many people outside the Bible Belt saw militant right-wing Christianity as a quaint relic of the past. Now, if I’m not mistaken, the GOP is at the beginning of a shakeout that will result in many re-alignments and dis-alignments. Unless the religious Right can pull off some unexpected political victories in 2008, I believe its influence in the Republican Party will be much subdued in the future.

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The Evangelical Crackup

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Religion

Great article in the Sunday New York Times on the swing of the political pendulum in Christianity, The Evangelical Crackup.

…So when Fox [Terry Fox of “Operation Rescue” fame] announced to his flock one Sunday in August last year that it was his final appearance in the pulpit, the news startled evangelical activists from Atlanta to Grand Rapids. Fox told the congregation that he was quitting so he could work full time on “cultural issues.” Within days, The Wichita Eagle reported that Fox left under pressure. The board of deacons had told him that his activism was getting in the way of the Gospel. “It just wasn’t pertinent,” Associate Pastor Gayle Tenbrook later told me.

Fox, who is 47, said he saw some impatient shuffling in the pews, but he was stunned that the church’s lay leaders had turned on him. “They said they were tired of hearing about abortion 52 weeks a year, hearing about all this political stuff!” he told me on a recent Sunday afternoon. “And these were deacons of the church!”

These days, Fox has taken his fire and brimstone in search of a new pulpit. He rented space at the Johnny Western Theater at the Wild West World amusement park until it folded. Now he preaches at a Best Western hotel. “I don’t mind telling you that I paid a price for the political stands I took,” Fox said. “The pendulum in the Christian world has swung back to the moderate point of view. The real battle now is among evangelicals.”

The older leadership is dying off. Jerry Falwell died last spring, and James Dobson, 71, is planning his succession.

Meanwhile, a younger generation of evangelical pastors — including the widely emulated [mega-church] preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels — are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus’ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.

The backlash on the right against Bush and the war has emboldened some previously circumspect evangelical leaders to criticize the leadership of the Christian conservative political movement. “The quickness to arms, the quickness to invade, I think that caused a kind of desertion of what has been known as the Christian right,” Hybels, whose Willow Creek Association now includes 12,000 churches, told me over the summer. “People who might be called progressive evangelicals or centrist evangelicals are one stirring away from a real awakening.”

“There was a time when evangelical churches were becoming largely and almost exclusively the Republican Party at prayer,” said Marvin Olasky, the editor of the evangelical magazine World and an informal adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor. “To some extent — we have to see how much — the Republicans have blown it. That opportunity to lock up that constituency has vanished. The ball now really is in the Democrats’ court.”

See also Sara Robinson, in Roosting Chickens, Part II:

I’ve been saying for a while now that the religious right in America finally and firmly jumped the shark over the past few years. But now that that big ol’ shark’s behind them, there’s another bunch of critters looming ahead that may prove to be even more damning. It’s that whole big flock of chickens that are finally coming home to roost.

I don’t know how long they thought they were going to go on that way, all self-righteous and judgmental, blaming homosexuals and feminists for everything from 9/11 to the price of gas, ignoring the interests of the poor in favor of those of big business, and dismissing any kind of environmental stewardship as nothing more than a way to waste time until the Rapture comes. Clearly, they didn’t see anything at all wrong with elevating the most spiteful and amoral among them as their national spokespeople, and rewarding them in direct proportion to the heat of their rhetoric. No, these folks were on fire (we’re still not sure if it was Jesus or heartburn), and they weren’t afraid to let their bilious light shine on the TV, in the streets, all the way to the White House. They did their best to set it high above the rest of the culture, where none of the rest of us could miss it if we wanted to.

And now, a new study reveals that young Americans, both inside and outside Christianity, have indeed taken note of this righteous spectacle– and a large and growing majority of them are absolutely revolted by what they’ve seen.

A study released last week by the Barna Group, a reputable Evangelical research and polling firm, found that under-30s — both Christian and non-Christian — are strikingly more critical of Christianity than their peers were just a decade ago…

One of the things that’s always annoyed me is the tendency of liberal politicians to play the right’s game. Nowhere is this more evident than in professings of faith. Even if the politician is something other than Christian (let’s be hypothetical now), there is plenty of support for leftish positions in the gospels. And yet I have yet to hear a full throated defense of liberalism based solidly, and easily on the words of Christ. Do that, and we snatch and run away with the ball that Olasky and Barna say is now rolling into the Democrats’ court.

Update: Tristero isn’t buying it:

Seems like everyone’s predicting the imminent implosion of modern christianism. And yes, it does look that way, doesn’t it? Despite the wide variety of clinical-level personality disorders on display amongst the current Republican candidates, the so-called “religious” right can’t find the particular flavor of lunacy that makes them get all hard. Call it electile dysfunction. As it happens Rich’s point is underlined by a simultaneous article in the Sunday Times on the same subject.

I truly wish this were so, that we didn’t have to worry about the theocrats amongst us. But I don’t believe it for a second…

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