"Bush did a good job keeping Catholics away that Reagan brought in," Eagle Forum president Phyllis Schlafly, who is Catholic, told CT. "Dole hasn't done anything to include Catholics."
From ................. CHRISTIANITY TODAY
October 7, 1996
CANDIDATES COURT FAMILY VALUES VOTE
WILL EVANGELICALS TIP THE SCALE IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE ?
JOHN W. KENNEDY
With the presidential election entering its final chapter, the campaigns of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole are angling for the family-values vote while approaching the profamily agenda from opposite sides of the stream.
The adoption of pro-family campaign themes by both candidates comes on the heels of voter analysis that the most important deciding factor in the November election may be the conservative evangelical Christian vote, which represents up to 40 percent of registered voters.
"Some believe the Religious Right peaked in 1980, but in every election since then they have always had 3 or 4 percent more of the electorate," says William C. Martin, author of the just released With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. "The Religious Right is the single most important faction in the Republican party, perhaps in American politics. Without the Religious Right, Bob Dole doesn't stand a chance."
In any event, Dole's chances may be very slim. In spite of a significant post-convention bounce in national opinion polls for Dole, Clinton has remained ahead by a significant margin.
In addition, doubts linger as to whether the Christian Coalition, the leading edge of the Religious Right, can deliver the conservative Christian vote for Dole. Voters who say they are part of the Religious Right split 41 percent for Clinton, 40 percent for Dole, according to a July poll by the Barna Research Group.
After Dole's convention speech in August in which he aspired to be a "bridge" to better times in the past, Clinton co-opted that metaphor by casting his candidacy as a "bridge to the twenty-first century."
Yet, despite the surface similarities of campaign themes and rhetoric, there are significant differences between the presidential candidates, and a historic opportunity awaits the next occupant of the White House in influencing American culture at the dawn of a new century.
A Dole presidency coupled with a GOP majority in Congress would greatly enhance the ability of moral conservatives to move forward on a wide range of issues. A second term for Clinton would enhance his ability to reshape the Democratic party.
Most of the presidential campaign's concerns fall within two broad categories: economic issues and social issues.
A 15 percent income tax cut is Dole's campaign centerpiece as a means to more robust, noninflationary economic growth. Clinton has proposed a much smaller package of tax cuts and credits while preaching federal deficit reduction.
Both Dole and Clinton aspire to the role of family-values champion. In Clinton's definition of family values, educational choice is limited to public schools, affirmative-action programs remain in force, and gun sales to spousal abusers are banned. For Dole, family values mean ending government benefits to illegal immigrants, banning partial-birth abortions, and enacting a school-vouchers program.
The differences between the Republicans' Dole and the Democrats' Clinton are centered on the size and role of federal government. Republican convention delegate Sharon Rexroth of Burlington, Iowa, says, "The most important issue is to get the federal government out of our lives. "
However, Clinton as President has promoted an expansive view of federal government, involved in many popular initiatives — from the V-chip to screen out television violence to the recently adopted health-care legislation.
"Clinton has the ability to shift his position remarkably well," author Martin says. Former GOP Vice President Dan Quayle says, "Four years ago Bill Clinton said speaking about family values was divisive, now he's giving my speech."
FLEXING THE RIGHT MUSCLES:
AS conservative Christians have moved from the political margins to being a potentially decisive voting bloc, scholars have traced the movement's origins in part to the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter, the first openly evangelical Christian President.
Yet, the Carter presidency proved disillusioning for conservative Christians hoping for historic change. In 1980, their loyalties shifted to Ronald Reagan, who explicitly endorsed the moral conservatives’ agenda. Reagan won 49 states in that year's presidential election, and since then evangelicals have had a growing influence within the Republican party.
During the presidential primaries this year, Dole had little trouble nailing down the GOP nomination. Yet few evangelical leaders seemed enthusiastic. Just before the August convention in San Diego, conservative columnist Cal Thomas urged Dole to step down as nominee, and World magazine editor Marvin Olasky recommended that Christians boycott the election if Dole did not shape up.
However, the GOP's conservative platform and the selection of former Reagan cabinet secretary Jack Kemp has gone a long way in resuscitating religious conservatives in the Republican ranks.
Yet it is the President himself who "has done more for the GOP than any Republican," according to party national committee chair Haley Barbour.
"The motivation this year is an intense dislike for Clinton," says John C. Green, director at the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Some 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants gave a "disapproval" rating to President Clinton, according to a June survey by the 'Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.'
Clinton, a Southern Baptist, outraged many Christians his first month in office by lifting abortion restrictions and advocating the tolerance of homosexuals in the military.
While the President vowed not to denigrate his opponents this fall, his detractors in the Christian subculture have made no such pledge. "Clinton, without question, is the man with the least character, integrity, and morals of any president," Liberty University chancellor Jerry Falwell told CT.
"There is nothing about Bill Clinton to respect."
Falwell, who sold The Clinton Chronicles as an Old Time Gospel Hour fundraiser [CT, March 6, 1995], is one of many Christians to raise lingering questions about everything from Whitewater investments to deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster's death.
But Dole's grip on conservative Christians has not been firm. Earlier this year, leaders such as Focus on the Family president James Dobson and Family Research Council president Gary Bauer threatened to boycott the election if Dole allowed an abortion-tolerance plank in the platform and if he did not pick a pro-life running mate.
PURITY OR POTENCY?
As the religious conservative movement has evolved, its leadership has made a conscious move to broaden its base among minorities, Catholics, and women.
Likewise, Dole and Clinton, hoping to revive the winning coalition that twice elected Reagan, have moved to expand their support outside both the Republican and Democratic core constituencies.
For example, [Roman] Catholic voters remain a major factor in presidential politics, a group that gave Clinton an eight-point edge four years ago. In 1988, Bush won 44 percent of the Catholic vote, becoming the first candidate to win the presidency yet lose the Catholic vote.
"Bush did a good job keeping Catholics away that Reagan brought in," Eagle Forum president Phyllis Schlafly, who is Catholic, told CT. "Dole hasn't done anything to include Catholics."
Lyman Kellstedt, political science professor at Wheaton [Ill.] College, says that mainline Protestants are another key component of a winning coalition.
"If Dole has any chance of winning, he has to turn around the [Roman] Catholic and mainline Protestant vote, big time," says Kellstedt.
"No wonder Dole is talking about taxes instead of playing up abortion."
However, abortion is one of the few areas in which traditional [Roman] Catholics and evangelical Protestants have near unanimous agreement. Clinton's veto of the partial-birth abortion bill drew unprecedented criticism from religious leaders, including all eight American [Roman] Catholic cardinals and 11 top Southern Baptist leaders.
In a June letter, the SBC presidents questioned the legitimacy of Clinton's statement that he had vetoed the bill after many months of prayer. "It is difficult for us to understand that God somehow would condone this procedure in light of what the Bible says about unborn human life."
The [Roman] Catholic church has ordered 30 million postcards to urge a congressional override. "Your veto of this bill is beyond comprehension for those who hold human life sacred," the cardinals wrote to Clinton.
California Attorney General Dan Lungren, a [Roman] Catholic, says that some Democrats are switching to the Republican party because of traditional values. Because of this, the GOP has reason to give social issues a higher profile in the campaign. "The vast majority of Americans are against partial-birth abortion," Lungren told CT. "We need to show that Clinton is in an extreme position"
The GOP ticket has criticized Clinton for allowing partial-birth abortions, in which an abortionist punctures the base of a baby's skull with scissors, then removes the brain. In a Pittsburgh rally in August, Kemp said, "I can't imagine our nation being that city on a hill if we continue to allow the partial-birth abortion tragedy."
The Christian Coalition also has moved to organize politically conservative Catholics through the formation last year of the Catholic Alliance [CT, May 20, 1996, p. 76].
In addition, religious conservatives have made some headway in appealing to African-American voters. Even though 37 percent of black evangelicals describe themselves as conservative in the Pew Center study, the GOP has an uphill climb in appealing to them. Bush received only 8 percent of the black vote four years ago, typical for Republican candidates the past three decades.
"Why are blacks still Democrats today?" asks J. C. Watts, Jr., a black Oklahoman elected to the U.S. House in 1994. In 1989, Watts switched party allegiances because he believed the Democratic party had deserted values important to him. "In the last 30 years the black community has become poorer, experienced a higher crime rate, a higher illegitimacy rate," Watts, a Baptist pastor, told CT. "Yet [except for the past two years] Democrats have controlled Congress where policy is set."
THE HARD EDGE:
Although conservative Christians have labored to soften their public persona, they are not shy in serving up fiery rhetoric to their most faithful activists.
Near the GOP convention in San Diego, 3,500 people attended a Christian Coalition "Faith and Freedom" rally to hear conservative luminaries.
Christian Coalition chair Pat Robertson and executive director Ralph Reed seemed anything but conciliatory at the gathering.
"As long as we're here, the Republican party is going to remain unapologetically pro-life and pro-family," Reed asserted. Reed boldly predicted that the GOP will retain both houses of Congress. "If you thought 1994 was something, you ain't seen nothing yet," Reed declared.
"I want to see the rotting carcass of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society put away and buried once and for all," said Robertson. "We're not going to rest until we are proud of the occupant of the White House and not ashamed."
CONFLICTING CHRISTIAN VOICES:
The recent Pew study estimated that all Christians, including Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, represent 84 percent of voting age population and concluded that "religion is a strong and growing force in the way Americans think about politics."
Even as the Christian Coalition has emerged as a prominent voice of religious conservatism, other religious groups, from the liberal and progressive perspectives, are making their views heard.
In a designated protest zone outside the GOP convention, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice sponsored a speech by Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt to denounce religious conservatives for overly influencing Republicans. "We will not let them go unchallenged," Feldt said to chants of "Prayerfully Pro-choice" from the crowd. "A majority of Americans are pro-choice."
The Interfaith Alliance is another organization founded to rally liberal and moderate Christians. But with 40,000 members to the Christian Coalition's 1.7 million members and supporters, the two year old alliance has yet to achieve national prominence.
Albert Pennybacker, president of the Interfaith Alliance, concedes that the Christian Coalition has "captured" the GOP, but he says the organization does not speak for a majority of Christians.
"People of moderate Republican heritage have been outflanked and outmaneuvered," Pennybacker says. "There are religious folk of a centrist position."
Although Robertson has made overtures to [Roman] Catholics, Pennybacker, a Disciples of Christ minister for 35 years, contends that most Catholics are appalled at the Christian Coalition's positions on social issues such as welfare.
"It is frightening to see Pat Robertson, a fringe element in American politics, wield such power over one of our nation's great political parties," says Pennybacker, who is also an official with the National Council of Churches. "His agenda is one of intolerance, exclusivity, and division."
[ but this guy has no problem with a foreign cult leader in Rome having much more power than Robertson ever could have ..... JP ]
Christian sociologist Tony Campolo, a member of the new moderate evangelical group 'Call to Renewal,' [CT, April 8, 1996, p. 87], says the Christian Coalition is not satisfied with control of the GOP. "Christians who want to stay in the Democratic party who have an evangelical value system are often targeted by Christian groups and run out of office simply because they're Democrats, not because of their position on the issues," Campolo says.
Even though Reed insists that the Christian Coalition is not an arm of the Republican party, a Luntz Research survey of members last year revealed that 97 percent believed Clinton did not deserve to be re-elected.
VOTER GUIDE BIAS ?
Voter guides are becoming a weapon of choice by religious activists, even though there are new accusations that the guides are politically biased.
The Christian Coalition plans to distribute 50 million "nonpartisan" presidential and congressional voting guides before the election. Typically the pamphlets are distributed at churches the Sunday before the election, too late for any kind of rebuttal.
Kellstedt notes that evangelicals who attend church regularly invariably vote more Republican than those who attend only occasionally. "There may not be messages directly from the pulpit, but the cues are there," Kellstedt says.
This year's voter guides include subjects such as "government-sanctioned homosexual marriages" and "family tax relief." On some issues, voters need to read the fine print. For example, the guide heading for candidates who support "taxpayer funding for pornography" really is talking about whether the lawmaker voted to reduce government subsidies to the National Endowment for the Arts. The voter guides are indeed partisan, according to the Federal Election Commission, which filed suit against the Christian Coalition [CT, Sept. 16, 1996, p.115].
Campolo charges that if both the Republican and Democratic candidate agree on an issue, such as abortion, the Christian Coalition finds another topic that will put the Democrat in unfavorable light. Campolo believes Christians should view tobacco subsidies gun control, and environmental regulation through the same pro-life lens as abortion, though those issues have never found their way onto a Christian Coalition guide.
The Interfaith Alliance has mailed its own voter guides in school board and state legislative contests, but not on the federal level. Local affiliates determine the questions, which are given a moderate rather than conservative spin, such as "Do you support legislation to weaken the environment?" or "Do you support tax cuts that would force cuts in education, law enforcement, and programs for seniors?"
The political views of many Christians are as deeply held as theological ones. Thus some religious Democrats are for choice on abortion, but not school vouchers, while many Republicans are the opposite.
A TEST OF STRENGTH:
With the November election in view, both the Religious Left and Right are realizing that righteous rhetoric does not automatically translate into victory on election day.
In addition, candidates infrequently acknowledge that election-day victories do not quickly result in enacted legislation. Governing is far more difficult. The Reagan administration did not deliver on the candidate's vow to significantly restrict abortion or to return organized prayer to public schools. Two Reagan appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, rarely vote with the Court's conservatives in key opinions.
After the 1994 election in which the GOP won control of Congress, House Speaker Newt Gingrich vowed that the House would vote on a school-prayer amendment, but it has yet to happen.
In a democracy with competing legislative and judicial branches and state governments that often have more leeway in moral matters, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and other Presidents have found their power limited in delivering on campaign promises.
Even before the first ballot is cast, some believe that if Dole loses, there may be a massive disenchantment among evangelicals in the Republican party, according to researcher Green.
"My great fear is they're going to end up being frustrated, because they're not going to find the answers in the political process," says Charles Colson, the former Nixon White House special counsel and founder of Prison Fellowship. "We're going to go right back to where the fundamentalists were a generation ago: disdaining the whole political process."
Such fears have yet to percolate to the grassroots. The GOP'S Rexroth, whose entire Iowa delegation is pro-life, is prepared to stay the course, saying, "We're not just in it for the season," she says. "Our movement is getting bigger."
"Strange tentfellows: Jerry Falwell [right] and Rep. Sonny Bono of California are in the GOP big tent." -[picture caption]
"Campaign kickoff: The addition of vice presidential running mate Jack Kemp [left) to the Republican ticket raised Bob Dole's standing with many conservatives, including this crowd in the GOP nominee's hometown of Russell, Kansas. Below, President Clinton works the crowd during his Twenty-first Century express train campaign in Huntington, West Virginia, en route to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago." -[picture caption]
"Voice of influence: 700 Club cohost Pat Robertson, Christian Coalition chair, promotes the profamily agenda in San Diego." -[picture caption]
"Mixed message: Some abortion-rights supporters at the Democratic National convention proudly wear the pro-family, pro choice labels." -[picture caption]
"Sooner solon: Watts", "Iowa delegate: Rexroth" -[picture captions]
"The abortion divide: A fetus is memorialized at an 0peration Rescue National service at a park near the GOP national convention in San Diego [below] while police keep opposing protesters separated." -[picture caption]