"One of the great political ironies of the past few decades is that the Christian Right has been much more successful than its political rivals at fulfilling liberal thinkers' hopes for American democracy," writes Prof. Shields.
But the future of the religious right is less clear. The presidential contenders asking for their votes are more mixed in their appeal than George W. Bush was seven years ago. It's harder now to excite passion with reason when the arguments aren't 100 percent ideologically pure. But Americans remain a practical people, and nobody likes a losing strategy for long, no matter how dear the single issue.
The separation of church and state remains the great triumph of our democracy, enabling lively and often contentious argument that leads to workable, if not always wholly satisfying, compromise. The tensions between enlightenment and evangelism have been with us throughout our history, a struggle between reason and emotion. It's a tension that at its best provokes informed debate on moral and intellectual issues. To paraphrase Pogo, the philosopher of the comics pages, "We have seen the values voter, and he is us."