Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

The Future of Pro Life

Marcie Wheeler raises some interesting questions about the status of anti-choice in the Democratic constellation here in Kent County. The short version: is pro-life the dominant, requisite force that it once was, one that requires women to take it and say nothing?

There is a right way and a wrong way, IMO, to run an anti-choice candidate. Telling voters–particularly the women voters being impacted by anti-choice Dems of late–they can’t talk about it bc they don’t know enough is not the way to do it.

Particularly in the context of a run for the Third by Steve Pestka, the question of the pro-life Dems again rises up. The pro-life stance (or “anti-choice”) has been seen as a prerequisite for competitive candidates since the Clinton election, in part because recruiting drew from the Catholic west side community and the Christian Reformed — both distinctly pro-life. Their victories and general growth in the number of elected officials seemed to confirm the stance. Wheeler’s challenge (and others) invites a reconsideration of this political axiom. The question of abortion may not be the deal breaker that it was 10 or 15 years ago.

One sign of change has been the growing political leadership in the City, on the school board (Tony Baker, Wendy Falb), and especially in the Second Ward with Ruth Kelley and Rosalynn Bliss.

A second sigh of change has been the diminishing of the cultural drivers for anti-choice over the past 10 years. It’s traditional electoral base has been in the Catholic and Dutch Reformed communities, the latter especially weakening demographically and broadening over this time. The interesting aspect about the redistricting of the Third has been the removal of some of these traditional bastions for the anti-choice side in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood.

A third change is generational. The Life/Choice battle is a Boomer/Gen X issues. Anecdotally and by surveys, young evangelicals are not as wrapped up in the cultural war aspects — other issues, e.g. sex slavery or development, carry greater weight. This broadening of concern allows Dems to frame other compelling moral arguments away from the Life/Choice arena. While most young evangelicals will continue to vote R, the wider, more holistic range offers opportunity to pick up votes, perhaps moving from 25 percent D to 30 percent.

And finally,  there are the efforts of the Republican Party itself. Turning Life into a voting issue certainly assisted them in the 90s; it clearly motivates their base.  However, the very scope of their victory has capped their votes; once you have the significant plurality of pro-life votes, how many more are there? The pool of voters for whom Life is a voting issue has shrunk, most are Republican already. Moreover the radicalization of the GOP on this and general women’s health issues also functions to confirm present voters but push away moderates.  Internal victory and radicalization has reduced the penalty for being Choice, in fact may render it moot.

Something like this can be seen in Justin Amash, himself. While in a nominal way pro-life, his own libertarian tendencies push him away from a (self) definition as pro-life. (Consider that in two years he has issued four news releases related to abortion).

If the Life/Choice battle is no longer the deal breaker it once was, what should Dems do? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Visceral Reaction

This past Thursday not only marked the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but also the turning of an important page restoring constitutional government.

On the Mall in Washington, hundreds of thousands gathered for the annual March for Life.  And in the Oval Office—really within earshot—President Obama put his signature on Executive Orders closing Guantanamo CIA prisons and prohibiting “intensive interrogations” (that’s torture, as even government prosecutors concede).

Politically, the two actions seem to be going in opposite directions.  One pitched itself as a  rallying of the opposition — the vehemence of opposition made all the sharper by the actions and statements of then Senator Obama supporting the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).

For the others, the closing of Guantanamo and the barring of torture fulfills a promise. Each side celebrated with their partisans: new winners, old losers.

Yet the emotional intensity of the both positions belie the straightforward political approach.

As speakers at the rally and commentary around the web make clear, abortion remains one of the first of the major political battle lines.  But for many the position is one of over-riding moral weight.  In conversation, it is impossible to see the other side.

It’s pretty much the same when it comes to the issues surrounding “aggressive interrogation” and detention at Guantanamo.  For them the issue of torture has the same prima facie moral status.  And that’s something new.

This moral outrage, this sense of moral stain gives the left something that it has been missing in political discussion.  Morally charged politics. The other (conservative) side is not simply wrong as a matter of politics or policy, but wrong as a matter of morality.  The rejection is every bit as visceral for left as abortion is for the right.

The question for the conservative and especially the pro-life crowd will be whether they pick up on this fundamental moral positioning.  For those who see it, there is the opportunity for real bridge building: the concern for detainee rights and freedom from torture is of one piece with pro-life concern, part of what Joseph Cardinal Bernadin advanced as a consistent life ethic.

But of course, the temptation to play the partisan card instead of the pro-life one.

So we get comments from Representative Pete Hoekstra and Rep. Vern Ehlers that dodge any awareness of  the moral dimension and go straight for the policy and the political. Hoekstra becomes the security hawk, and Ehlers puts forth a vague pragmatic concern.  And Democrats smile.  Answering moral concerns with this assertiveness or worse, with a wishy-washiness simply concedes the moral high ground. Worse for Republicans, it is an obliviousness which fastens the torture label to all their candidates and pushes them further into the wilderness.

Filed under: Faith, National, , , ,

Rick Warren and the Big Show

Tomorrow is the show.  The Inauguration.  And with comes the controversy of Rick Warren.

The ins and outs of this controversy may already be fading, but before Warren stands up and prays, a few words ought to be said about what this means (or does not).  After all, in the land of the Windmill, Rick Warren does have some some standing.

Let’s start with the personal. To read Barbara Hagerty at NPR, there is a real bond of friendship behind the decision.  And as even die-hard partisans will admit, they often do have friends across the philosophical aisle.  So Warren is selected being a useful acquaintance, a friend.  And of course by doing so, Obama further cements the bond between them.

As to the politics, at its most basic, the Obama invitation has the marks of other actions, such as reaching out to Sen. McCain — it’s a way to bring  an outside group into the conversation.  After all, this is one of the real powers of his office, determining who gets heard.  And again, it is not that difficult to see the political goal he is aiming for: a defusing of the culture war.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped the social conservatives who are busily  trying to ramp up vision of Obama as an arch-abortionist,  one ready to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (aka FOCA) on a moment’s notice, independent of actual action by Congress.  Even while the fires of paranoia get stoked, Obama’s selection of Warren seems to side step the issue. Rather than contest the issue, Obama moves past it with an implicit “So?”

But it is not the battle over abortion that draws the ire from the left, but rather from the controversies over the role of participation of gays in society, and especially in the ability of gays to have their relationships recognized as marriage.

The great reversal

In the wake of Prop 8, those supporting marriage rights for gays and more broadly, full inclusion of gays in society have waged an aggressive push-back campaign.  Here, Warren’s support for Prop 8, together with his general Evangelical view of homosexuality have aroused political ire from the political Left.  What is distressing for those here in the land of the Windmill is that Warren’s views are not so separate from evangelicals generally.  Far from an exemplar of homophobia, his views are much more commonplace.   In much the same way that conservatives rail against “the homosexual lifestyle” or “godless elites” so now evangelicals get the favor returned. Susan Posner gives a sharp expression of the sentiment:

Warren represents the absolute worst of the Democrats’ religious outreach, a right-winger masquerading as a do-gooder anointed as the arbiter of what it means to be faithful.

The bitterness last month was palpable.  So where we have the President seeking to dampen the culture wars, progressives have found an issue on which to push even harder.

And for those of us who live int he shadow of the windmill, this animosity to evangelicals and religious faith generally is more than a little disconcerting.  It certainly challenges the path we have been taking.  But perhaps we should have seen it coming. Read the rest of this entry »

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Will Faith Walk to Obama?

The news from Politico (and Gallup) is not good today. All the work of the past year has not (apparently) moved the dial when it comes to the religious voter.

The Gallup Poll now shows Obama backed by 28 percent of white voters who attend church at least once a week — a group that makes up a roughly a third of all voters — which would be no improvement from the 29 percent of these voters who, according to exit polls, backed Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore in the previous two presidential election.

There is something of a body blow to this, given the work that folks like Amy Sullivan and Mara Vanderslice have done, as well as the more explicit outreach efforts of the Democrats generally. Has nothing really changed? Pulling apart the article and looking at other recent data suggest that more be happening here than the top line numbers suggest.

Perceptions change. As the article notes

Democrats have made some gains in improving the public’s perception of their openness to religious Americans. Some 38 percent of Americans believe the Democratic Party is “generally friendly toward religion,” up from a low point of 26 percent in 2006, according to the annual August Pew Religion and Public Life Survey[.]

The true significance of such a move lies in the broader move of the Democratic party to the center out of a sectarian stance. The danger of its secularity had been that party would be seen as representing a niche in American society rather than the as a coalition of various subgroups. Ironically, the ascendency of true believers in the Republican party seems to be propelling that party into a similar sectarian stance. Too intense a religious commitment may be as dangerous as too little for a party aspiring to national leadership.

Moderate Shifts. As David Kuhn reports, occasional believers and Catholics are both showing shifts in allegiance to the Democrats. Here, the increasing Evangelical profile in the GOP works against it – groups that would otherwise share in their values nonetheless do not share the sociological identity of Evangelicals. So even if the sectarian box holds, others in the religious community seem to be abandoning it.

But the real give away in all this is the noting that the Democrats have stopped losing. The pattern of losing weekly church goers by increasingly larger margins has now flattened. This suggests again that outreach efforts have been successful at least in stopping the bleeding. The secular story is no longer seen as a self-defeating behavior that it has been where secular stances lead to rejection lead to secular stances. The bleeding has stopped.

But that’s not all the story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Democratic Party, Faith, , , ,

Theocracy slips away

Here in the heartland of the Christian Right in Michigan one can sense the energy beginning to drain. Certainly the letters to the editor are not so virulent. But you won’t see many Jack Hoogendyk signs about. And when social conservatives have run, as in the 72nd, the issues were those of leadership v. true (economic) conservative. Even Gary Glenn’s recent protest seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Is this really a case of summer doldrums? McCain? Or has something changed? According to this week’s release of the Pew Report on Religion and Politics, it appears that things are indeed slipping for the Christian Right.

In the poll a majority (52%) now say churches should keep out of politics. Compare this to 2004 when 51% thought churches should express their views.

The Pew data gets real interesting when we look at the subsets. This is a shift in conservative opinion even more than it is among Republicans. On the key social issues (gays, abortion), half of those with strong views now also believe that the church should keep out.

2004 2008 Change

% saying churches should keep out

Among those who say….

Gay marriage
Very important 2004: 25 2008: 25

Very important 2004: 33 2008 : 49

What appears to be going on is that conservatives are growing in their disenchantment with the Republicans to deliver on their core issue. The Impact of this failure is all the more prominent when we examine the role of education. The shift in opinion lies principally among those without a college degree (an 11 point jump). This is the heartland of the conservative populist vote, our old “Reagan Democrats” or of our out county voters.

They still want those conservative values, but they’ve grown disenchanted about the means to achieve them. Clearly, the role of the Church (evangelical or Catholic) to act as a conduit of their dissatisfaction hs diminished. (I think this a serious problem for especially the evangelicals). Tactically, that’s good news. Conservative appeals will now rest on the guns, patriotism, and class resentment (Obama as elitist). As the battle turns towards the economic, there is an opening here for at least conservative Dems to walk through — as the Virginians Gov. Kaine and Sen. Webb have shown.

At another level, the fading of the church’s political role likely indicates the growing sense of disenchantment. In Michigan, we know it in the general grumpiness about the economy and the penchant for silver bullets. The residue of the faded theocratic moment may be a loss of vision and imagination. And long term that’s our common political struggle.

Filed under: Elections, Faith, , ,

Amy Sullivan was right

Up north, I had the opportunity to finally get to some reading, including Amy Sullivan’s The Party Faithful. There’s more to be said about the book, but of immediate interest (certainly with the election breathing down on us) was her view of the current state of evangelicals and the Democrats. The hyper-partisan nature of the previous elections hides how often the two groups actually share common views. That was certainly the case when the conversation turned to politics at our camp; two in particular stood out. Both were self-described evangelicals; both also held significant positions in Fortune 400 companies. And as each described his own confusion about the issues, what troubled him and how he was leaning, I could hear echoes of Amy Sullivan’s point in her recent book

One friend spoke about the issue of social inequality and how the poor and the middle class are increasingly vulnerable. He was unsure about Obama, and naturally trusted the perceived experience of a McCain, but this question about our society and justice — this bothered him. Something had to be done.

The next conversation was even more striking. It was the war, and its toll. He was adamant that we should be getting out; that in economic terms alone, the war was a disaster for our economy. On other issues he longed for an overturning of Roe v. Wade. But even there, pushing a bit more, the notion of reducing the overall number of abortions (birth control availability, better education, more economic security for young mothers — see the Democratic platform) was certainly appealing, and not one to be rejected.

The two conversations underscored Sullivan’s point that Evangelicals have shared many progressive attitudes. This is good news for Democrats, all the more as the Republican Party (at least at its local level) seems intent on repeating the nostrums of the political past. These issues held close to the heart, these issues that nag the conscience of even conservatives gives freedom to Dems to be bold.  All the more as the model of abortion reduction appears to be a path to dampening the usual critiques.  In short, now is no time to shut up.

Filed under: Community, Faith, , , , ,


March 2020