The 2008 election will either reignite the culture wars or provide the first signs that the American public will no longer tolerate the politics of division. Should the electorate choose the former, the war will be extended for a generation by virtue of the Supreme Court appointments that will ensue.
Commentary By: Daniel DiRito
Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate has evangelicals feeling all warm and fuzzy. Her presence on the ticket has energized the conservative base and rekindled concerns that this election will see the reemergence of a full-scale culture war. Truth be told, the culture war had never ended…it had just been sent into a funk with the selection of John McCain.
While many in the media have focused on the enthusiasm Palin has brought to this election cycle (high ratings and ad revenues anyone?), few have actually attempted to impart the significance of the Palin selection. It’s my suspicion that John McCain, unable to gain traction in the polls, elected to heed the lessons learned by those who are now leading his campaign…those who previously crafted the campaigns of George W. Bush. What this means is that the GOP, once thought to be moving away from values politics, has again opted to return to what it knows best…the politics of division.
Those who think this is a momentary relapse may want to think again. The appetite for wedge issue politics is immense…and the size and enthusiasm of the crowds, at the once lukewarm McCain campaign stops, is all the evidence one needs.
While I believe there is a movement in the evangelical community towards expanding their list of relevant issues…a movement that would likely lead some values voters to reconsider the merits of always voting with the GOP…there must be concern that the Palin selection will do little to advance that shift. Frankly, who could blame these fledgling pastors for abandoning their efforts to expand the consciousness of their followers and return to the red meat issues that have proven so successful in motivating the masses. If nothing else, it becomes a question of financial viability. Vegetarian values may seem vogue…but it’s still the red meat that sells.
What is often lost in the media’s focus is an understanding of the actual objectives of those voters who have seen a new dawn in the selection of Sarah Palin. Yes, the generalized analysis offered by the media chooses catch phrases like “God, guns, and gays”…but the stakes that underlie this culture war are far more ominous.
In fact, the tactics used by the GOP are much the same as those employed by the religious right. An example may be beneficial. For years, Christian conservatives have utilized a strategy of repetitious rhetoric…designed to define their opponents as an imminent threat to their beliefs. The best example is the constant assertion that there is a “militant homosexual agenda”.
Now aside from the Stonewall Riots, a skirmish between subversives in skirts and the police department that sought to harass them, the notion of militancy is strictly hyperbole. Regardless, this hyperbole establishes an extremely effective mindset in the moral minions…one that believes the enemy seeks to vanquish their values and install a new world order. Where this strategy deviates from past propaganda employed by partisan politicos is in its effort to cast the opposition as the aggressor…not the aggrieved.
I’m of the opinion that the lessons learned in the civil rights era serve as the foundational basis for this new strategy. The efforts to maintain segregation (think George Wallace) were eventually viewed as extreme by a majority of Americans. Proponents of maintaining racial inequality did little more than voice their prejudice…exposing their objectives and alienating the fair minded.
In the last thirty to thirty five years, many of those who shared these ideological leanings have reconstituted themselves as evangelicals. Let me be clear…by no means am I implying that all evangelicals hold the same views or that being an evangelical is evidence that one does. What I am saying is that it became the chosen vehicle for a group of like minded individuals intent upon waging war against the social issues they opposed.
Call it a softer gentler strategy…at least on its surface. Insert language that implies one is defending family values and Christian principles…from militant groups who have no regard for our long standing cultural traditions…and one begins to see the shift, subtle as it may be. At the same time, it is essential to argue that the enemy’s objective has no connection to civil rights or constitutional inclusion; rather it is a rogue lifestyle intent upon undermining our values.
Now let’s look at goals. Again, a look at the civil rights era sheds light on the strategy. What was learned from the civil rights era is that any legitimization is apt to insure more…eventually leading to judicial justification, legislative affirmation, and ultimately societal acceptance. When social conservatives invoke the slippery slope argument, they are actually explaining their own perceptions of the process that led to racial inclusion and therefore guides their opposition to any and all measures that validate homosexuality.
Like their black and white interpretations of the Bible, they see the battle against gays in the same manner. The rush to embrace Biblical literalism represents the commitment to this new strategy. As such, any compromise is akin to capitualtion…which means ideology must be absolute if one is to successfully repel the efforts of the enemy. At the same time, the ultimate goals must be disguised and deflected with rhetoric that is palatable to the general public. The door must be shut (constitutional amendments) before they can ultimately unveil their moral manifesto.
That leads me to the latest and clearest evidence of the obscured, but unfolding, objective. I wrote about this subject previously, when it was in its foundling state. As it turns out, the first foray into the execution of the plan has proceeded and is scheduled to be implemented at the end of this month. Take a look at the details.
Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.
The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”