Losing the election seems to have really shaken the American conservative movement deeply and the most significant long term effect, that I perceive, is watching some important, born again, wooly-evangelicals slowly morphing into what, in Europe, would be classified as Christian-Democrats.
It might be that the descendents of people who voted for William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long and FDR may again be susceptible to the “populist” messages of Democrats bearing “gifts.”
Surprising, perhaps, but eminently logical, because one of the most curious strange bedfellows effects of American politics has been the alliance between those who consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ and those who are demonstrably followers of Ayn Rand and who propose lowering the taxes for the super rich and cutting assistance to the needy, who they often refer to as “moochers.”
The success of this alliance always depended on the infusing of the teachings of Jesus with racism, homophobia and the love of firearms. This is known as the “God, Guns and Gays” formula. Even a cursory reading of the teachings of Jesus would show us that this formula is more “tribal” than theological, to say the least. This is the center of the What’s the Matter with Kansas conundrum.
Why Christians were ever interested in guns and pampering the rich passeth all understanding, however, the reasons for the Randistas to seek the company of Christians are not hard to figure out.
Since it is obvious that a political movement whose slogan was simply, “help the super rich to avoid paying taxes and to escape bothersome regulations that would cramp their style,” besides not fitting on a bumper sticker, would not win enough votes to shape policy effectively, it was necessary to craft something with broader appeal.
This simple idea began to take shape when Richard Nixon hatched his Southern Strategy, a tactic whereby by championing the dog-whistle, “state’s rights,” the Republican Party ceased to be the party of Lincoln, the party that freed the slaves, which nobody in the South (who was allowed to vote), ever ever voted for, and became the party of choice of the all the racists, reactionaries, religious fanatics and assorted rednecks.
Ronald Reagan’s “Reagan Democrats” strengthened the mix in the North with his talk of “welfare queens,” thus weakening the unions and then this brew has come to its fullest fruition with Fox News and the Tea Party.
Of course, at the center of all the nuttiness of today’s Republicans, in reality, is their bankrollers’ fear of taxes and regulation. For them the ceaseless culture warfare is merely a tactic to simultaneously attract and confuse a sufficient number of the ignorant to enable the “one-percenters” to paralyze the political process and pack the Supreme Court in coming years with justices that would roll back all the progressive legislation going back to Roosevelt (I’m talking about Theodore Roosevelt here, not just FDR). It looks like in this post-Romney moment the arrangement may be unraveling.
Precisely to pack the Supreme Court, winning the presidential election of 2012 and getting Obama out of the White House, and getting a union buster in, was dear to the hearts of America’s billionaires, they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to that effect and came up empty … Republican politicians, men and women who would like to get into office and stay in office, have taken note of a simple fact — the billionaires can’t buy them power — that a majority of the American people want what Mitt Romney calls “gifts:” affordable health care and education… and are quite happy to see the rich pay for it.
Significantly, the religious right has also taken note.
The problem that the one-percenters have with the religious right is that on one hand for the Bible-thumpers, their ideology, “right to life” etc, is the center of their agenda: their ideological position trumps money. While, on the other hand, for the billionaires money is their ideology, nothing trumps money.
The two groups, evangelicals and one-percenters have different priorities, what Chairman Mao used to call different “primary and secondary contradictions.”
I’ll give you an example of what I mean, an excerpt from an op-ed that one of America’s most important evangelical gurus wrote in the Washington Post, an article by Robert Jefress, which I don’t think has received the attention it deserves.
They don’t much more socially conservative than the Reverend Jefress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, a preacher with a daily radio program that is broadcast on 725 stations nationwide.
To give you an idea, of how conservative Jefress is, although he generously denies that President Barack Obama is the Antichrist, he affirms that, “the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”
So check out Reverend Jefress’s “trip to Damascus:”
Evangelicals need to remember that we are a diminishing minority in America. If we care about winning elections with candidates who will push back against abortion and immorality, then we have to be willing to compromise on some secondary issues to form a winning coalition with other Republicans. Unfortunately, evangelicals tend to resist “compromise” because of our propensity to label every issue a “spiritual conviction.” In the four weeks before Election Day, I spoke to thousands of pastors in cities across the country(…) In private conversations with some of these pastors, I discovered that for some, “standing for righteousness” meant more than pushing back against abortion and same-sex marriage. They saw opposing higher taxes, Obamacare and bans on assault weapons as equally important moral issues, even though such purely partisan positions have no biblical support. My message to fellow evangelical Christians is this: We must differentiate between biblical absolutes and political preferences. We must never compromise on the former, but we must be willing to bend on the latter if we want to see our moral agenda enacted. Breaking a pledge to Grover Norquist and embracing higher taxes for even higher cuts in expenditures is not tantamount to denouncing Christ. Acknowledging the need for governmental health-care reform does not necessarily pave the way for the rule of the Antichrist. I have a proposal for all Republicans. Instead of nominating a candidate who is mute or malleable on social issues but intransigent on political issues, let’s try the reverse. Let’s find a candidate who has a history of consistently and courageously embracing the social views of the majority of the Republican Party, as well as many Democrats and independent voters: that life in the womb should be protected and that marriage is for a man and a woman. But let’s also nominate a candidate who realizes that compromise with the other party is necessary if we are to restore our country’s fiscal integrity, protect our environment and provide the quality health care Americans deserve. Robert Jeffress – Washington Post
So, ironically, far from being a warm-up act for “the Beast”, President Obama’s victory seems to be healing a rift between Christians that opened when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the church door in Wittenberg. Because what the evangelical Reverend Jefress is advocating could come straight from the Vatican or the pen of any Catholic bishop. Here is how conservative columnist and former chief speech writer for George W. Bush explains Catholic social teaching:
The Catholic Church — a politically and ethnically sprawling institution — has no natural home on the American ideological spectrum. Neither major party combines moral conservatism with a passion for social justice. So Catholic leaders have often challenged Democrats to be more pro-life and Republicans to be more concerned about immigrants and the poor. Michael Gerson – Washington Post
Without going too deeply into the many differences between the evangelicals insistence on charismatic conversion or being, “born again” and the Catholic church’s rather plodding “salvation through works”, we could cut to the chase by saying that most Catholic social thought has its roots in following words from the Book of Matthew:
‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:41-45
Such a text is one of the earliest expressions in Christian terms of the thirst for social justice. As such it helps give that thirst shape and a common, deeply rooted, electrifying language.
Imagine how that text would sit with Ayn Rand or the Koch Brothers, in fact, can you imagine it being spoken at a Tea Party event? It would be amusing to watch Willard Mitt Romney flippityflop when confronted with it.
Who is a “stranger” to be invited in? Who is a “prisoner” to be looked after? Who are the needy and the sick to be taken care of?
If you stop and think that the African-American and the Latino communities are often both over represented in the prison system and in need of “gifts” such as good health coverage, immigration reform (strangers to be “invited in”) and good public education and at the same time these communities are often devoutly Christian and socially conservative (read “homophobic” etc), this split on the right could soon cause tensions on the left as different members of the liberal consensus (read single women and gays) assess their “primary and secondary contradictions”.
If the white evangelicals, in order to achieve Christian unity, renounce racism and nativism and include blacks and Hispanics in a return to the populism of their ancestors, American politics could become a lot more class-based and a lot more interesting.
Photo by Cala and Vik Nanda under a Creative Commons license