Brian Birdnow

A generation ago in 1983, the well-known British popular music icon David Bowie perfectly captured the angst common to many liberals during the glow of the Reagan Age when he lightheartedly remarked in his hit song Modern Love”.

God and Man, No Confession

God and Man, No Religion

God and Man, Don’t Believe

In Modern Love

Bowie’s genial reference reflected the liberal take on the Reagan Era as a period of mindless materialism, and served as a generally good natured urging of his fellow citizens to once again reflect spiritual concerns and to subordinate the desire to buy, sell, get and spend to more transcendent ideals.

This past Friday, January 3rd, Dana Milbank the resident Republican baiter and all-around wise guy at the Washington Post turned David Bowie’s chidings upside down by criticizing the Republican Party for being overly pious and too “Christian”, which, of course, like the greeting “Merry Christmas” is now considered controversial to the sophisticates of Georgetown and Fairfax County. As Milbank puts it, “Has the Republican big tent evolved into a house of worship?” He goes on to point out that studies show the Democrats are growing more liberal and secular, while the Republicans are growing more conservative and religious. Significantly, Milbank says not a discouraging word about the Democrats drift toward a polyglot agnosticism as Party principle. He does, however, save his scorn for the Republicans, which he dresses up as a grave concern for the GOP plight that he observes. He states, “…the GOP has gone toward becoming a collection of older, white, evangelical Christians defined as much by religion as politics.” He then moves on to his favorite themes, chortling heartily at the so-called scientific illiteracy of Republican Party members who question Darwinian concepts of evolution through natural selection. Leave it to Dana Milbank to take a deep question and reduce it to a comic book style fantasy.

Mr. Milbank and his friends at the Washington Post spend much time trying to convince their readers that we are living in 1925, and that modern America is a larger version of Dayton, Tennessee during the Roaring ‘20s. Milbank would certainly like to think of himself as the H.L. Mencken of today, albeit without the wit and memorable phraseology. His smarmy tone completely gives away the game. Milbank claims that the growing religiosity of the Republican Party threatens their ability win elections but the entire piece is simply a case of the author beating an old and worn out carpet. Milbank bashes the GOP over Darwinism, gay marriage, terrorism, global warming skepticism (As this author writes it is seven degrees below zero outside) and, of course, the nature of God. He implies, severely, that Republican yahooism will usher in an era of Democratic dominance.

The Washington Post editorial board would do well to remember the old admonition to be careful what they wish for. The first demonstration of the strength of a mobilized religious voting bloc showed itself in the late 1970s and early 1980s when conservative evangelicals abandoned the Democratic Party in droves, largely over the leftward movement of the Party on social issues. The result, at least at the electoral level, was three Republican landslide victories in 1980, ’84 and ’88. Now, in 2014, we see many Catholic voters questioning their traditional Democratic voting habits. President Obama won the Catholic vote in 2008 with numbers greater than his majority in the general population. Obama captured the Catholic vote in 2012 by a scant 50-48.5%, but
Romney won the non-Hispanic Catholic vote with a 59.5-40% margin. The continuing perception of Democratic hostility to the Catholic Church concerning social issues and the health care bill guarantees that many Catholic voters will jump ship in the future. Similarly, but not as well publicized, we have seen a trickle of conservative Jewish voters moving toward the Republican Party as they contemplate the fundamentally non-serious nature of the modern Democratic Party when it comes to understanding the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. Much can and probably will happen in national politics in the next few years, but a tacit voting alliance of conservative Protestants, Catholics, and Jews will be very difficult to defeat at the ballot box. Dana Milbank and his pals might think that they have taken a trip back in time to the bad old days of the 1980s, when prominent Democrats wondered if they would ever win another Presidential election.

Quite frankly, the Milbank piece last week was simply another case of a liberal editorial scribe making a wish and dressing it up as fact, by throwing in a few questionable statistics. The fact of the matter is that Obama won again last year, but saw his margin of victory shrink to a very thin percentage of the vote against a very pedestrian candidate. The GOP held the House of Representatives, and will almost certainly hold it next time. The Republicans may win the Senate in 2016 and might very well win the big prize against Hillary Clinton. It is pointless at this early stage to make predictions, but Dana Milbank and the Washington Post folks who consider religiosity a loser in politics might be surprised to see that the Republicans are still there and still full of fight, in the churches and in the voting booth.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.