I’ll never forget the Values Voters Conference held in Washington, DC in 2006. Jerry Falwell made the statement that a Hillary Clinton Presidential candidacy would rally the evangelical troops better than a campaign run by Satan himself. The audience, which consisted only of pastors, erupted in laughter.
The next morning after the statement I appeared on C-Span’s The Washington Journal program. I was debating the president of a liberal Christian group. I had to take the time to explain that Falwell’s seemingly unchristian comment was a statement made in jest. My opponent stated that this comment by Falwell was typical of the mean spirited nature of the religious right.
As I reflected further upon Falwell’s comments, I realized that this master of grassroots mobilization had made a very powerful observation. He recognized that political mobilization requires a clear sense of either danger or opportunity. In mid 2006, conservatives faced an out of control war, growing internal accusations of racism, and insensitivity to the poor. In a turbulent cultural landscape, it seemed as though it would be easier to mobilize against a Clinton presidency than any other. Falwell believed that it would be easier to attack the Clintons, once again, instead of facing a “new Democratic champion.”
It has been humorous to hear Rush Limbaugh, also in jest, encouraging his listeners to cross over into Democratic primaries and place a vote for Hillary Clinton. Rush’s appeal is tantamount to saying, “Give me an opponent I think I can defeat!”
Only time will tell if the old folk parable, “Be careful what you wish for” will apply to this election. It may be that conservatives have given the nation such a strong negative message about Hillary Clinton that we have created the vacuum into which Barak Obama has emerged.
It says to me that conservatives have been marching around the same mountain too long. How do conservatives re-direct their energy to create a positive message and a clear vision of their values? A clear rallying cry must begin within conservative ranks and then reach beyond its walls. Huckabee and McCain should be using this time to re-tool their messages for their base. Next, that message should be expanded for the general election.
The liberal community has rallied around the fear of 4 more years of a Bush-like administration. Both Clinton and Obama have focused on five voting blocks during the last 18 months. They have created messaging and a rallying cries for each group. The groups are:
1. Evangelical Christians
3. African Americans 4. Economic Conservatives
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
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