Thursday, November 09, 2006

Religious Right Reax

I suppose you thought Tuesday's election results were the Revenge of the Left, or even Revenge of the Center.

James Dobson, of religious right fame, says "not so." Dobson says this was the long-promised backlash of "values voters" against the Republican politicians who have seduced them year after year (after year, after year, after year, after year...) at election time, only to leave them feeling used and ashamed (and, frankly, unsatisfied) the day after the votes are counted. He says this is the harvest the Republicans have reaped for ignoring their most reliable constituency until the 1st of October.

"Many of my colleagues saw this coming. I said in an interview with U.S. News and World Report shortly after the 2004 elections, 'If Republicans in the White House and in Congress squander this opportunity, I believe they will pay a price for it in four years -- or maybe in two.' Sadly for conservatives, that in large measure explains what happened on Tuesday night. Many of the Values Voters of '04 simply stayed at home this year.

"The unfortunate thing is that Republican leaders still don't appear to get it. Sen. Arlen Spector, R-Pa, said on Wednesday that the election results represented a 'seismic earthquake' and that his party must become 'a lot more progressive and a lot less ideological.' Dick Armey emerged from four years in the wilderness to blame conservative Christians for Tuesday's defeat. They were, he said, 'too involved' with the party. He can't be serious! Someone should tell him that without the support of that specific constituency, John Kerry would be President and the Republicans would have fallen into a black hole in '04. In fact, that is where they are headed if they continue to abandon their pro-moral, pro-family and pro-life base. The big tent will turn into a three-ring circus.

"Republican leaders in Congress during this term apparently never understood, or they forgot, why Ronald Reagan was so loved and why he is considered one of our greatest presidents. If they hope to return to power in '08, they must rediscover the conservative principles that resonated with the majority of Americans in the 1980s -- and still resonate with them today. Failure to do so will be catastrophic. Values Voters are not going to carry the water for the Republican Party if it ignores their deeply held convictions and beliefs.

"To quote Dr. Ken Hutcherson, 'When Republicans act like Democrats they lose and when Democrats act like Republicans, they win.' And therein lies the lesson of '06."
I don't think Dobson is entirely correct about the motivations of religious voters, and I do not think he is the least bit serious about this latest implied threat to withhold support from the Republican Party.

Dobson and other prominent religious conservatives pushed just as hard for Bush and the GOP congress this year as they have in years past. To the extent that "values voters" abandoned the Republicans, it was in spite of their leaders' rhetoric, not because of it. The estimated one-third of Evangelicals who voted for Democrats this year did so in spite of the traditional hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage, not because of them. This was the year that religious working families realized that banning gay marriage wouldn't make their health insurance any more affordable. It was the year that they realized outlawing abortion wouldn't keep their actual, living-and-breathing sons and daughters from becoming cannon fodder in Iraq. Evangelicals and other religious conservatives did not stop caring about punishing gays and protecting the unborn, but they realized they just couldn't afford to be that theoretical this year. Two years from now, they might very well decide it's time to go back home.

And if they do, they will do so with the full encouragement of James Dobson, Tony Perkins and others like them. As much as they like to pretend otherwise, they are as addicted to the Republican Party as the GOP is to the votes they deliver year after year after year (after year, after year, after year, after year...). They love the perks of being party insiders too much to put them at risk for something as intangible as principle. The next time the GOP comes calling, they will find the leaders of the religious right as ready and willing as ever.