Over the past month we have witnessed the emergence of a veritable sub-genre of political reportage: the don’t-count-Hillary-out-just-yet story. With its Yes She Can! effusions this type of journalism does not lack in counter-intuitive charms. But I think prudence (and a glance at the polls) dictates that we start thinking concretely about Barack Obama’s prospects in a general election.
Any discussion of these prospects must take into consideration the good Senator’s ability to reverse trends that doomed the Democrats in the last election. In 2004 Kerry/Edwards lost nearly four out of every five votes cast by White Evangelicals. Compounding the problem was the strange fact that the majority of Catholics voted against their co-religionist from Massachusetts.
Jim Wallis’ autopsy of that godforsaken campaign effectively summarizes this colossal failure of religious politicking: “There are millions and millions of moderate evangelicals and moderate Catholics who are simply not in the pocket of the religious right. And yet Democrats haven’t got a clue as to how to speak to them. They have no idea! And Kerry gave them nothing to vote for.”
Well, the good news for the Party is that Barack Obama will most definitely give them something to vote for! Permit me to rehearse some of the Senator’s strengths among Evangelical voters:
When it comes to religion in the public square Barack Obama is no John Kerry (no Michael Dukakis either): Many secular liberals tend to underestimate how significantly Obama’s views on this issue depart from those of his predecessors. The Democratic Party, he noted in The Audacity of Hope, “has become the party of reaction . . . In reaction to religious overreach, we equate tolerance with secularism, and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our policies with a larger meaning.” Later, he comments: “Not every mention of God in public is a breach in the wall of separation.” And again: “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square.” All of this will be church music to Evangelical ears.
More than a few Evangelicals are Obama-Curious: If the progressive evangelicals represented by leaders such as Jim Wallis are to become an electoral force, then the junior Senator from Illinois with his emotive religiosity and easy tributes to Christ provides them with a near perfect candidate to rally around. If ever there was an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the liberal Evangelical vision–and its organizational credibility–this is it. Bear in mind Obama doesn’t have to reverse the results from four years ago. He simply has to improve modestly. For example, had John Kerry won just five percent more Evangelical votes in Ohio he would have carried the Buckeye State. Could Obama do that? Yes, yes he could.
Conservative Evangelicals do not necessarily equate Obama with the anti-Christ: This is of great importance. For, I don’t expect the majority of Evangelicals to actually vote for Obama. Most will find his pro-Choice and other liberal positions far too much to bear. But this does not mean that they would subject him to the Hillary Treatment. I have always been struck by the remark of a pastor who although chagrined by Obama’s positions on abortion conceded: “I wouldn’t vote for him . . . But if we had to have a Democrat, I’d like to have a Democrat like him.” Which leads me to observe that. . .
Evangelicals have issues with McCain: The Maverick’s turbulent history with Conservative Christians is well known. True, he has performed respectably among them in the primaries. To this point, however, little indicates that they are excited by his candidacy. Even less indicates that they find Obama so objectionable that they will come out in droves to support his adversary in November.
Of course, vaguely non-hostile feelings towards a candidate are precisely what Opposition Research teams are paid to convert into a white-hot, simmering rage. In my next post, I will look at Obama’s Faith and Values liabilities—liabilities which he will struggle mightily to neutralize.
(For more information about religion and the candidates check out Faith 2008 by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs).
By Jacques Berlinerblau |
February 25, 2008; 4:01 PM ET
Previous: Islam, Dreams and Old Clothes |
Next: Swiftboating Obama
Main Index –>