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Jacques Berlinerblau Jacques Berlinerblau is an Associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the School of Foreign Service. Berlinerblau has published on a wide variety of issues ranging...

A collaboration with Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive's On Faith site, The God Vote explores the role of faith in this year's election. It is featured here as well as on Georgetown/On Faith.


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Top Ten Faith and Values Developments of 2007

December 28, 2007

I suppose this top-ten list should be prefaced with a disclaimer -- something to the effect that I loathe top-ten lists, that they simplify a complex reality, that they are the solvent of critical thinking skills, that they pose a national security threat, etc., etc. But the truth is that I rather fancy them. In small quantities -- like those cookies that come in seasonal gift baskets with oddly doughy consistencies and 73 grams of saturated fat per serving. What follows is my list of the nine biggest Faith and Values developments of the 2007 campaign (plus one facetious question):

These are not your President’s Evangelicals: Whereas nearly 80% of Evangelicals cast their ballots for George W. Bush in 2004, they were far less unified in 2007. Evangelical leaders have split their endorsements among Romney, Huckabee, Giuliani, and McCain. While the older leaders are passing away or diminishing in power, the younger ones are trying to expand The Conservative Christian Platform beyond its obsessive focus on abortion and gay marriage. Issues such as poverty, the environment, AIDS, foreign policy, and so forth are now on the Evangelical agenda and a much greater diversity of opinion is evident (Ideological heterogeneity: is that not a sign of a social movement achieving political maturity?) The possibility exists, of course, that Evangelicals will re-rally around the Republican nominee. But getting 80% of them to vote for the GOP in 2008 won’t be so easy because. . . .

The Democrats get religion: The party of Kennedy should be lauded or excoriated (depending on your point of view) for neutralizing a vulnerability that doomed its bid for the White House in 2004. No matter who wins the nomination, she or he will deprive Republican operatives of one of their favorite stratagems: portraying Democrats as godless nihilists who are obscenely out of touch with church-going America and poised to confiscate the land upon which your Family Worship Center rests. Let me repeat a point I have made before: in a general election, the Democrats don’t have to win the Evangelical vote (they won’t). They just have to stanch their Kerry-like hemorrhaging among this constituency (they will).

Mitt Romney’s a Mormon and there’s nothing wrong with that.: One of the most important questions to be answered in the upcoming January contests concerns the degree to which anti-Mormon bias will surface among conservative Protestant voters. In the spring it was assumed that deep-seated prejudices and animosities would keep Evangelicals from even looking at a candidate from the LDS church. But those Evangelicals who endorsed Romney demonstrated no interest in applying religious tests (political maturity again!). The wildcard, however, is Huckabee. He has not only played the anti-Mormon card (see below) but expertly marketed himself as the only “authentic” Christian on the GOP slate. If he takes Iowa and South Carolina, I pity the pollster who will have to tease the data and figure out if Evangelicals voted for their issues or for their co-religionist.

Evangelicals shun Mike Huckabee: That’s over now, of course. But it sure went on for a while. As recently as eight weeks ago, pundits (me included) were scratching their heads and wondering why Giuliani, Romney, McCain and Thompson were garnering Evangelical attention, but not this proud graduate of Ouachita Baptist University. Come to think of it, I still haven’t heard a convincing explanation. Did Republican Evangelicals see him as too liberal? Too unelectable?

Evangelicals "heart" Mike Huckabee: The factors that precipitated Huckabee’s sudden late autumn surge are also somewhat hard to fathom. Did Romney’s flip-floppery turn voters off ? Were Giuliani’s character issues and stances on social issues too much to bear? Or, did Huckabee discover a sweet spot in the electorate by mixing conservative positions (e.g., on the death penalty, abortion, gay marriage, evolutionary theory) with more liberal ones (e.g., on the environment, health care, the children of immigrants, poverty)?

Mike Huckabee: Whether he’s just wondering aloud with a New York Times Magazine columnist about Satan and Jesus being siblings in Mormon theology, or anointing himself a “Christian leader,” Huckabee has injected a particularly virulent strain of Faith and Values politicking into a race that had been relatively serene on this front. Central to his rhetoric is the idea of “authenticity.” To not bring his religious values into his politics is seen by him as a form of rank hypocrisy. Consider the following remark he made to his constituents in Arkansas during a moment of crisis:

Well, a word to those who would perhaps, with good intentions, tell me not to reference God or the Bible. The fact is that since my childhood, that Book and its Author have been the guiding forces in my life. And it would be much easier for me to give up being governor than it would be to give up taking the counsel that I have had from God and His Word.

Huckabee will wear his religion on his sleeve (if only because he is incapable of doing otherwise). For better or for worse, the Republican race will never be the same.

Romney’s Encomium to Ecumenicism: Say what you will about his December 6th address but it was pretty damn clever. One could just hear his F and V guru gushing “Let Huck run for president of the Evangelicals, you’re going to represent all religious Americans!” But not secular ones, apparently.

Secularists cordially invited to twist in the wind: It is perhaps indicative of the political plight of American secularists that no Democratic frontrunner came to their defense in the aftermath of Romney’s philippic (in which he drew a parallel between secularism and radical Jihadism). Bereft of champions, secularists will be making decisions of Nader-esque proportions come November. Do they vengefully abandon the Democratic Party, or do they trust that once in office Clinton or Obama or Edwards will come back to their senses and refurbish the Wall of Separation?

Bible Thumping: With memories of values voters emblazoned in their minds religious consultants have equipped their charges with scriptural applause-getters. Whether it’s Giuliani mentioning John 8:7 to deflect complaints about his character, Mitt Romney citing Psalm 127:3-5, or John Edwards invoking Mark 14:7 in discussions about poverty, scriptural verses served as a useful rhetorical accessory in 2007. More knowledgeable exegetes such as Obama and Huckabee have even shared their views on hermeneutics with their audiences. As far as I can tell, the Bible has been cited in this campaign more frequently than the Constitution.

Keyes to the Constitution: Amidst all of this Faith and Values posturing I find myself returning to an intriguing comment that Alan Keyes made as he went off on one of his many diatribes during a recent GOP debate. If I understood him correctly, he meant to say that we are created equal and endowed with rights by our Creator, not by the Constitution. In response to this claim I asked: “If God Himself were to come down to earth and wreak havoc with our cherished constitutional liberties would an American president be obliged to take Him on?” A facetious question of sorts, yet one that reminds us that we elect a Commander -in-Chief to serve American citizens, not God. This was sometimes forgotten in 2007.