Precinct caucuses are coming up on Tuesday in seven states across the country, including mine. I'm telling fellow Coloradans that if you’re registered with a party, be there. You can vote in the presidential poll and help choose candidates for local, state, and federal offices, as well as issues for the party platforms.
If you go to a Republican caucus, the other participants were probably at church or synagogue this weekend. If you’re at a Democratic caucus, it’s likely they were not. Surveys show that Americans who worship at least weekly tend to vote with the GOP by about 60-40. Those who worship less often, vote with the Dems by a similar margin.
This doesn’t make either party better, but it’s one of the sharp differences between them. Asked what issues will frame the 2008 campaign, members of a university adult class I’m teaching with liberal columnist David Sirota put religion second on the list, right behind the war. Also near the top were the economy, health care, taxes, and the role of government.
After Sirota elicited these suggestions and jotted them on the board, it was my turn to cross-examine. How had such concerns, I probed, helped Republicans win seven of ten presidential elections since 1968? Specifically, where did religion come in? The class is mostly liberals (which I’m enjoying), and one answered: “Abortion and homosexuality.”
True, but the explanation goes deeper. Faced with a string of Supreme Court rulings devaluing religion, and with a Manhattan-Berkeley-Hollywood axis scorning moral absolutes and spiritual faith, traditionally-minded Americans of both parties rallied around GOP candidates for a defense of the old values, “the way we were.”
Defense of marriage and the unborn was part of it, sure, but so was defense of our national identity and security. Baptist Jimmy Carter lost reelection after dismissing the “inordinate fear of communism” and embracing a declinist view of the future. Divorcee Ronald Reagan won twice with “city on a hill” biblical optimism and a forward strategy against the Soviet “evil empire.”
The Bush-Clinton struggle since 1992 has reflected many of these same disagreements. In 2000, a tree-hugger bent on saving the planet was edged out by an evangelical saved from drink. Substitute radical Jihadism for communism, and you realize that our 2008 debates aren’t so different from those of 1972 or 1984.