Will America’s faith-based social conservatives snatch defeat from the jaws of what should be a big November victory?
If they follow a very destructive pattern that they’ve exhibited over the past couple of decades, then, yes, inadvertently this could happen.
Last week a federal district court judge in Boston ruled that the federal “Defense of Marriage Act,” signed by President Clinton in 1996 is unconstitutional. This could result in many faith-based Americans becoming further disillusioned by what they perceive as a proliferation of immorality in American culture, and simply choosing not to vote this November.
Some will be offended at my insinuation that faith-based folks could possibly be short-sided. But before you get angry, consider some important facts about how faith-based Americans have impacted our nation over the past several decades – both by voting, and not voting.
For one, faith-based Americans had a sketchy track record of electoral participation for much of the previous century. Column space doesn’t allow for a thorough treatment here of the history of Christianity in America. But from roughly the time of the famous 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial,” when theologically conservative Protestant Christians were publicly humiliated for not embracing the “theory of evolution” and thus began a pattern of disengagement from the broader culture, up until the early 1970’s, voting habits among America’s conservative Christians were somewhat irregular.
The cultural upheaval of the late 1960’s and early 70’s, complete with America’s youth protesting the Viet Nam war and reveling in the so-called “sexual revolution,” was sufficiently alarming that it drove many faith-based Americans to vote for Richard Nixon, which in turn helped lead Nixon to his landslide 49-state re-election victory in 1972.
From there, the faith-based voters “movement” continued to grow. Jimmy Carter, America’s first self-professed Evangelical Christian President, successfully positioned himself as the anecdote to the corruption of Nixon’s incomplete second term and swayed many of these voters to the Democratic side of the aisle. Ronald Reagan then successfully swayed many of these voters back to the Republican party, and since that time –and especially during the twelve consecutive years of the Reagan and “Bush 41” presidencies –conservative, faith-based political action groups have mostly flourished.
Much of this political advocacy has focused on issues pertaining to the definition of family, the definition of marriage, and the sanctity of the unborn child. This is all understandable, given how the Supreme Court ruled in the “Roe versus Wade” decision, and how lower courts have weakened parental rights and have sought to re-define marriage.
However, one of the unfortunate consequences of the faith-based, socially conservative political movement is that many faith-based Americans only choose to participate in elections when they see that that their specific, personal moral values are clearly represented on a ballot. A vivid illustration of this problem emerged in the 2000 presidential election, when the “pro-family” George W. Bush almost didn’t become President.
Days prior to that election, the Al Gore for President campaign leaked a story to the press about Bush having been arrested for drunk driving back in 1976. At that point Bush had been polling ahead of Gore, but we all know what happened on Election Day that year – Bush lost the popular vote nationally, and the future of the presidency rested on the electoral votes in Florida.
Years later Bush political advisor Karl Rove would publish his findings as to what happened on Election Day 2000. According to him, many social conservatives – perhaps as many as 2 to 3 million of them – who had otherwise intended to vote for Bush, instead chose not to vote at all, because given the drunken driving news, they determined that Bush wasn’t a “godly man.”
This probably was what led Rove to make sure that in the 2004 election, gay marriage bans appeared on the ballots in swing states like Florida, and Ohio. The “war on terror,” and the radically different visions about that war held by the two major presidential candidates, apparently wasn’t going to be enough to guarantee that faith-based Americans would vote in large number, so Rove provided them with an issue to which they could relate.
This dynamic also led both John Kerry and John Edwards to frequently compliment Vice President Dick Cheney’s “family.” Both Kerry and Edwards, while vicious in their criticisms of the Bush-Cheney ticket, nonetheless expressed how wonderful they thought it was that Dick Cheney accepted and loved his daughter Mary, “even though she was a lesbian.’” This was a very cynical ploy to try and get faith-based Americans to determine that Cheney was not a “godly man,” just as many of them had decided about Bush four years before, and to suppress the socially conservative vote.
And today, the debate over homosexual “marriage” is once again in the headlines, yet the debate is not going the way faith-based Americans would like. Will faith-based social conservatives get exasperated, and again abandon their responsibility to vote?
Rest assured that the Obama Democrats are hoping so.