(Holy) Oil and Water

At the Corner, Rich Lowry is feeling estranged.

Remember how evangelicals had “matured”? Remember how the war on terror had replaced social issues? It shouldn’t be hard, since all those things were being said a couple of weeks ago (heck, still being said maybe even a few days ago). Part of what seems to be going on with the Huckabee surge is evangelicals sticking their thumbs in the eyes of the chattering class—we’re still here, we still matter, and we still care about our signature issues.

I don’t remember hearing that evangelicals had “matured.” Nor have I noticed that Rich Lowry had “matured.” I infer that “matured” means evangelicals were expected to put aside their social and religious views in favor of other issues.

Remember the lack of excitement in the Republican race, especially among dispirited social conservatives? Well, now there is some excitement, and it isn’t over free market economics or the war on terror, but a candidate who doesn’t speak compellingly about either of those things but instead about social issues. As a friend I was talking to a little earlier points out, the most important moment of the campaign so far came when a social conservative excited a social conservative audience—Huckabee with his “I come from you” speech at the “values summit.” This friend argues that the Huck surge makes it harder, not easier, for Rudy to win the nomination. Now that many evangelicals have a horse in this race, it would be very hard to tell them that not only will their guy not get the nomination, but they’ll have to settle for a pro-choicer. I don’t know about that, but Huck has certainly trashed about nine months-worth of conventional wisdom on the changing nature of social conservative voters.

Excuse me, but … whose conventional wisdom on the changing nature of social conservative voters? Especially if that “wisdom” is they will drop conservative Christian values in favor of the Republican Party’s interests? I recall no such “conventional wisdom.” Perhaps Lowry mistakes his own wishful thinking for “conventional wisdom.”

For years members of the right-wing “chattering class” believed they owned the copyright on Christianity. They’ve smugly lectured us lefties that we have a religion problem. The Narrative — never forget the Narrative — is that conservatives honor religion and liberals don’t. It says that conservatives march in the bright light of moral clarity to fight Evil wherever it exists, while liberals stumble about in a fog of relativism and play on Evil’s bowling team.

Of course, there’s the Narrative, and there’s the Reality. But let’s put that aside for now.

Evangelicals are not a monolith. Not all are fundamentalists, and even among fundamentalists there is a contingent more eager to kick-start Armageddon in the Middle East than to overturn Roe v. Wade. In America, nationalism, jingoism, and fundamentalism have been fused together for generations. But the Republican Party was not part of this fusion until relatively recent times. Fifty years ago a nationalistic fundamentalist whackjob was as likely to be a Democrat as anything else. Nor, do I believe, did viable contenders for a major party presidential nomination explicitly court the fundamentalist vote until the past quarter century or so.

This is not to say that religion hasn’t played a role in presidential politics; of course, it has. Before John Kennedy, both parties catered to anti-Catholic prejudice, for example. But I know of no other time in our history when one party claimed Christianity as its own exclusive property and used it to club the other party.

Since Reagan, and especially since Rove, the GOP has brandished the white evangelical vote to swing elections in its favor. As Thomas Frank explained so well in What’s the Matter With Kansas, the GOP manipulated white evangelical voters into undermining their own lives, jobs, futures, civil liberties, access to health care, pensions, education, etc., in order to strengthen a financial/corporate/political aristocracy headed by King George W. Bush.

This system worked just dandy as long as candidates could cater effectively to the Christian right while serving the interests of the corporate and military-industrial establishments. Unfortunately for the GOP, none of the current presidential candidates seems able to do that. Instead, the top three candidates appeal to separate slices of the Reagan Coalition pie. You’ve got Rudy Giuliani, who has become the great white hope of the neocons. You’ve got Mitt Romney, who has some support among moneyed interests. And you’ve got Mike Huckabee as the Christian candidate. Pat Robertson’s endorsement notwithstanding, Giuliani is simply not going to get the so-called “values” voters. Romney faces hot anti-Mormon prejudice. And apparently Huckabee doesn’t know “The Islamofascist Enemy” from spinach.

Lowry is perplexed that “values” voters care more about their hot-button sex-and-death issues more than they care about the Republican Party or the corporate status quo. His problem is not that white evangelicals have changed, but that they haven’t. However, by giving Christian conservatives so much clout, the Bush Administration has spooked the moneyed interests that have been its foundation since at least the 1920s.

Poor babies.

Today Romney is preparing to deliver a speech intended to defuse his Mormonism as an issue. Judging by the parts he has released, the speech is going to be a weightless rhetorical froth drizzled with lines like “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom” and “Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.” Millennia of human history in which religion did just fine without freedom are cheerfully ignored.

Romney’s problem is that he has to simultaneously ask for religious tolerance while appealing to religious intolerance. Jeremy Lott compares the task ahead of Romney to the way John Kennedy defused the Catholic issue in 1960:

[Kennedy’s] speech has been remembered as a cry for religious toleration and an excoriation of religious bigotry. It contained those elements – “[I]f this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser…” – but the thrust of it was Kennedy’s promise that he wouldn’t be a particularly Catholic president. …

… If Romney were to give even a watered-down version of that speech today, he would not be the nominee of the Republican party. Evangelical primary voters may distrust Mormonism, but they have a greater fear of secularism. In that, they’re not too different from the country as a whole – many Americans would rather have a Muslim as president than an atheist.

Lott suggests that Romney “drop the consultant-speak for a few moments to tell voters exactly what it is that he likes about his faith, and where they can go if they’re unwilling to accept that.” Don’t hold your breath waiting for that. Mitt Romney is to authenticity what oil is to water. (See also Andrew O’Hehir and Walter Shapiro.)

Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, has packaged himself as Jesus’ candidate. But Huckabee is being spun by the war-and-profits Right as bad for business and soft on Islamic terrorism. Righties are comparing him to Jimmy Carter — which, in Rightie World, is lower than pond scum.

Now Republican voters are plagued by epic indecision. And Rich Lowry is perplexed that Christian conservatives are less interested in his favored issues than in their own. He sees this as a sign of evangelical “immaturity.” One might infer that, all along, he thought abortion, school prayer, gay marriage, and other issues dear to Christian conservatives were kid’s issues, and that evangelicals were to be humored, not taken seriously. Who’s got a problem with religion, Rich?

31 thoughts on “(Holy) Oil and Water

  1. I wonder if Romney will be wearing his Magic Mormon underwear when he gives his speech. How can you take seriously any candidate who believes in and indorses Moroni under-roos?

  2. It seems to me that those under the R umbrella not only won’t acknowledge there is a real world outside their own bubble, they don’t seem to have much insight into themselves or each other either.

  3. Pingback: Mitt Romney’s Frightening View On Religion And Governance

  4. Romney has to hope that his pretty phrases distract from the confusion of ideas behind them. That ‘freedom requires religion and religion requires freedom’ formulation looks poetic and profound, but makes no sense. And he talks about the importance of religious tolerance in the same speech with a diatribe against the evil ‘religion of secularism’.

  5. Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg are people who rarely make any sense to me. They’re both a couple of reasons to not waste a perfectly good fifty cents on an LA Times.

    I saw my first Huckabee bumper sticker (“Faith – Family – Freedom”) last night – in California no less – on a car that formerly sported a W sticker. Up till now, I saw Huckabee as mostly a southern phenomenon.

    We’re at a point in the horserace where the horses are finally changing position relative to each other: Obama v Hillary, and now Huckabee v Guiliani. Kos noted how Huckabee is doing this with a fraction of Guliani’s funding.

  6. The battle for power and money in this context is fueled by membership and money. Few organizations in the world are as effective at selling their product as the Mormons. From allaboutmormons.org: “In the last 15 years, an average of 800 people have joined the LDS Church every day.” We can’t know how many fall out daily as well, but be that as it will.

    Just imagine how busy Richard Land (Mr. Southern Baptist Ethics-boy) and his Christianist ilk are as they self-righteously try to gatekeep the electoral process in the U.S. from (at least) secular humanists, Muslims, Mormons and moderate and progressive Christians. I’d say at least as busy as a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

    The comforting piece is that the two ends of the bell curve tend to activate the middle, and in that construct I take long term comfort. I know I can live with the Middle Way.

  7. I don’t remember hearing that evangelicals had “matured.” …

    Excuse me, but … whose conventional wisdom on the changing nature of social conservative voters?

    I think Lowry’s talking about stories like this one from The New York Times Magazine.

  8. A little OT, I saw a terrific, four hour show on the Mormons, on PBS some months ago. Was quite a window into a world many of us only dimly understand.

    Some highlights:

    It’s the only church where the particular branch you go to is determined by your zip code.

    Even before Katrina made landfall, the Mormons had big rigs loaded with disaster relief supplies – supplied from their warehouses of the same – on the road, heading toward New Orleans. Scores of Mormon volunteers dispatched themselves to the destroyed city to pitch in and help. As you can imagine, this made quite an impression on the devastated natives, and I’m sure added to the church’s rolls.

    I forget the exact statistic, but I’m certain they’re one of the fastest growing churches, and it’s not surprising given this type of positive karma they seek to create.

    There was a fair amount in the show about how Mormonism has cleaned itself up from its more bizarre beliefs + past, thus making itself more appealing to normal folks, and so a Mitt Romney could well pass himself off thes days as a semi-mainstream sort-of Christian, instead of belonging to some bizarre semi-Christian cult.

  9. Pingback: Romney's big “Mormon speech” only mentions the word “Mormon” once

  10. Like any large religion, among the individuals who are members, you got good ones and bad ones. I have known quite a few good ones; they have impressed me with their sincerity and a desire to implement their faith in their daily life, as preveiously mentioned in the example about loading up to help Katrina victims.

    The down side is that they tend to think that everyone wants to be Morman; some just don’t know it yet. The idea of a set of laws built for allow anyone of any faith or no faith – secularism – is totally baffeling to them. Ultimatlely, I have had to stake out my ground and stand firm; that despite my respect for them, there are lines they can not cross (such as trying to turn their version of the Gospel into civil law).

    Mitt strikes me as a slug, but I do not think he represents Mormanism well in that regard.

  11. Doug, a friend tells me its not so easy to live in Utah, much less Salt Lake City, as a non-member of the tribe.

  12. Maha wrote: the speech is going to be a weightless rhetorical froth drizzled with lines like “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom” and “Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

    I am not sure of the difference between “froth” (insubstnatial) and dangerously wrong but I don’t think froth is a word I would use to describe the idea that “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom”

    The thought that humankind is essentially evil, or carry the mark of original sin and believe that man can be save from doing bad acts only by religion and is therefore necessary to democracy is not necessarily frothy or insubstantial., and that is why, it seems to me, that Romney is saying that freedom requires religion..

    There are legitimate questions as to whether we can continue to have a democracy if the underlying non-religious foundations, enlightened self interest and/or the basic goodness of mankind (regardless of religious necessity) continue to be undermined by the very ideas that Mitt proclaims are necessary to protect it.

    Paris Hilton is frothy, Mitt Romney is dangerous.

  13. Maha, the conventional wisdom may not have been such for the crowd at NRO but it was at least, A conventional wisdom that Rudy would get the Theocrats behind him because he hated our (liberals/progressives) guts and in order to elect someone who would put us in our places, they would go with Guilianni.

  14. I should go pro, I called this situation months ago. When Romney was being talked about last Winter and Spring, I said he was never gonna get the nomination because the Fundies would never vote for a Mormon. I kept wondering when the “experts” would notice this obvious problem.

    I was raised Fundie (I’m now an apostate and a heretic) and they hate Mormons more than they hate devil worshippers or Jews. Oh, they hate all religions except their own (and they divvy up Protestant Christianity into numerous sects based upon nit-picky theological differences) but they really hate Mormons, whom they consider cultists.

    Fundies will tolerate Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as second-class Christians, but they don’t consider Mormons to be Christians at all. They know it’s not politically correct to express bigotry anymore, so you rarely will catch them saying anything in public, but when they are “just among friends” it comes out.

    Growing up, I rarely heard anything derogatory about Jews, but we had few of them in this area. We had plenty of Catholics though, and not much was said about them either. The Mormons were a significant group, far larger than the Jewish community but far smaller than the Catholics, but they were the subject of almost all the religious bigotry I heard expressed.

    I got my BA in history, and my studies in local and regional history show that the bigotry I witnessed was not unique. I also had Mormon relatives, including my in-laws during my first marriage. I have no criticism for Mormons or their beliefs. This is about Fundie beliefs.

    The Fundies believe that the Church of Latter-Day Saints is a cult founded by Joseph Smith, and that the Book of Mormon is the work of the Devil. That makes Mormons Satanic cult members. The more “liberal” Fundies (roflmao) might allow that some of the Mormons may be “unwitting” Satanists, but they’re still going to Hell.

    Central to Fundie ideology is the unerring accuracy of the Bible. Part of that includes the belief that the Bible is “complete.” The Fundies cannot and will not accept that God issued a sequel. The Book of Mormon is NOT the Word of God, and neither is the Koran. But the source of the bigotry may not be theology, it may be simple jealousy. I heard as much about polygamy as anything else when the subject of Mormons came up.

    Even outside the Holy -Roller Derby, the Mormon thing can be a conversation-stopper. It can make a difference too. Turn down coffee at a job interview and guess what question the interviewer will wish they could ask next?

    Don’t underestimate how important this is politically. Racists and sexists know that most people disagree with them, I’d bet most of them know in their own hearts that they are wrong. But Fundies believe whole-heartedly that they are RIGHT, even if they aren’t supposed to talk about it.

    And they ain’t voting for no Jack Mormon.

  15. Very interesting post and great comments.

    Having known and worked with a number of Mormons, or LDS members, as they like to be called, my observation is their religion is more akin to a “clan” rather than a cult.

    I realize how Mormonism and Republicanism meld well.
    When one is required to give 10% to the church, which serves as an excellent social safety net and professional network, the system works very well.

    When my sister-in-law moved to Utah many years ago, she thought joining the LDS would be a good thing for her family, being they were raising 2 boys between six and twelve years of age.
    It didn’t go well.
    “Debbie” likes to host parties featuring wine and Margaritas.
    The LDS do not like it when new members pick and choose what rules they will obey.

    It is amusing to watch the Republican party talking points degrade to who is closest to Jesus and who will conduct a better war on Islam. It’s like following a drunk driver, you know it’s just a matter of time before he crashes, so you keep your distance, call the highway patrol, and hope to hell he doesn’t kill someone in the process.

    Here in Florida, about the only political bumperstickers seen are anti-Hillary, a few pro Obama, pro Edwards,The occasional Rudy or Thompson, and a butt load of Ron Paul stickers and signs.
    Ron Paul is huge in the sunshine state.

    If I was inclined to make a prediction, I’d say either Ron Paul will win in Florida or that he will run as an independent.
    The DNC is making a fatal mistake in stripping all 210 Florida delegates to next year’s convention. It will no doubt drive some Democrats and a bunch of independents to choose Ron Paul.

    Here’s a little something that goes well with your post:

  16. I thought it was media blindness, ignoring Huckabee. Fer cryin’ out loud, if you’re a fundamentalist, what’s NOT to like?

    So the Republican party brought all those fundies on board and expect them to vote for Rudy Guiliana? When there’s a deep-fried Southern Baptist Preacher in the race?

    Maybe on some other planet…

  17. We all know Harry Reid is a Mormon, right? (A convert, as I recall.) He never found it necessary to make a speech about his religious orientation, with or without Romney’s airheaded rhetoric.










  19. myiq2xu – you and WereBear raise an interesting point. I well remember fundies labelling Mormonism as a cult. They felt the same way about Catholics in my town, but because the town was largely Catholic, and everyone had Catholic friends, it was moot. But Mormons were definitely a threat because they weren’t so everyday familiar.

    Of course a fundie will choose a Huckabee over a Romney. But hypothetically, lets say Romney wins the nomination. It would be interesting to see how much crossover he would get from the fundamentalists, especially if they really hate whoever the Democrat is.

    My thesis is that Mormonism has become much more mainstream, and so this would not pose a barrier to mainstream Christians at all, and that Romney would start to draw even from the fundamentalists, particularly the young. It would be interesting to see to what degree this is true. FWIW.

  20. Lowry’s confusion probably arises from him thinking that the ‘sexual morality’ campaigns brought into the Republican Party by the religious right were just like any other Republican strategy: a meaningless stick designed exclusively to beat opponents with.

    The fact that these religious people now found in their party actually (well, many of them, anyway) *believe* at a basic level in these campaigns, was always going to come as something of a shock.

    Campaigns, morals and rhetoric for the non-religious wing of the Republican Party are something done to discredit opponents and advance their actual agenda, which they generally don’t talk a lot about.

  21. Re: “Is comment #20 satire? Can’t tell anymore. It’s been a really long week. ”

    Conservatives have become impossible to satire. Even the most extreme comments that any outsider can imagine soon become routine dogma of the Conservative movement.

    For example Conservatives now routinely quote the fictional Congressional testimony from the fictional TV series “24” as though it actually happened.

    Evangelical Christians commonly refer to events in the “Left Behind” fictional works when justifying heir political and religious beliefs.

    William F. Buckley “rehabilitated” the image of Joe McCarthy by writing a work of fiction (“Redhunter”) and including fictional discussions and events that made Senator mcCarthy look more positive: And Conservatives accepted the work as truth.

    When individuals can no longer discern between fantasy and reality, and treat them interchangable, they are usually referred to as schizophrenic. In the United States we now refer to them as “Conservatives”.

  22. I wonder if Romney will be wearing his Magic Mormon underwear when he gives his speech. How can you take seriously any candidate who believes in and indorses Moroni under-roos?

    I agree that the “magic underwear” thing is ridiculous . . . but is it any more ridiculous than the beliefs and tenets of any other major religion?

    For my money, all religions are jam-packed with similar silliness. You can have the lot of them.

  23. Nor, do I believe, did viable contenders for a major party presidential nomination explicitly court the fundamentalist vote until the past quarter century or so.

    I know there are plenty of others, but I always think about Williams Jennings Bryan who today we know as the “winner” in the Scopes monkey trial, but for the past 20 years, he ran as a populist Democratic candidate endorsed by the party, endorsed by the people, opposing Darwinism and opposing gold for silver.

    If Williams Jennings Bryan were alive today he would win the presidency, instead of losing it. The sunbelt states that he dominated back then he would dominate today. And just like back in 1896, the corporate interests would do everything in their power to destroy him, just as the republican corporate machine is trying its best to destroy huckabee. Williams Jennings Bryan used his religion to club the republicans to claim christianity as being owned by the Democratic party.

    Seriously how much has changed in 115 years? Except of course, the Fundie club now is Republican. And they are winning instead of losing. And we have computers. That’s about it.

  24. All that’s happening now is that the neocon Republicans, who exploited the fundamentalist Christians, are being bitten in the back by the monster they created.

    Serves ’em right.

  25. 26- Seriously how much has changed in 115 years? Except of course, the Fundie club now is Republican. And they are winning instead of losing. And we have computers. That’s about it.

    Well, you missed one other difference–Bryan, as a Christian who had actually read the entire Bible and hadn’t been brainwashed by the theo-politics of the Moral Majority and its heirs, was pretty damn liberal. He might look conservative to our eyes because of his Biblical positions on a handful of social issues that serve as ceremonial footballs in our political system (and to give due discredit, he was also a prohibitionist and a racist), but he was anti-war, anti-imperialist, populist to the core and extremely critical of big business. A modern Bryan would look something like a cross between Brownback and Kucinich, and if he were running for president in 2008 you probably would never have heard for him–I can only imagine the media blackout we’d see on a serious presidential candidate with a reputation for trust-busting.

  26. Pingback: Drasties - Nou breekt me de klomp.

  27. In the late 80’s, a similar situation occurred in Arizona, when a Mormon,Republican Ev Meachum was elected governor, due in part to a third party candidate. He was subsequently impeached and removed from office, mainly due to the conventional wing of the Republican party which attacked him mercilessly. There were three counts against him, but only only one prevailed, a charge of mis -managing campaign funds. He was later tried in court,and aquitted. All in all, a delightful entertainment, which resulted in the sweet Rose Moffitt, Az’s Aunt Bee, becoming interim governor. I bring this up because I think it serves as the perfect blueprint for what will happen to Mike Huckabee. Let the games begin, and pass me the popcorn, please……..

  28. Pingback: The Mahablog » Hang on Tight

Comments are closed.