Political Hay

Values Apply to All Issues

Unintentional caricaturing of the religious right by media and conservative advocacy groups alike leaves the wrong impression of what might be on the minds of evangelical voters.

By 8.1.06

Send to Kindle

Liberals aren't the only ones who think evangelical Christians are simpletons who have a narrow list of "morals" issues on their minds when they enter the voting booth.

You need only watch the behavior of the dominant media, who monolithically follow a tired reporting template, to realize that most don't bother to look any further than the same old talking heads and public policy organizations. And it isn't just the liberal media (Washington Post, New York Times) who are in lockstep; others like the Washington Times and Fox News don't deviate much from the pattern either.

The talking heads are most frequently the Revs. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. The conservative social issue advocacy organizations are the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the like. These are the "go-to" folks when a reporter wants a quote on abortion, homosexual rights, God in the public sector, marriage protection, public prayer, etc.

I guess if you say loud enough and long enough that you represent "values voters," the media will believe you and come running. It's not too difficult to convince them. Add to that the findings that in the last presidential election voters said they made their choices predominantly based on "moral values," and you complicate the situation. But what that meant from the perspective of each individual voter is unclear.

The problem is, the "religious right" talking heads are all too glad to perpetuate their unwritten agreement with the media orgs just so long as they get their regular exposure. While doing so, however, they leave the impression with the broader news-consuming population that those few "family" issues are all they care about. Conservative Christians then are therefore often thought of as out of the mainstream and out of touch, because to most folks they are unconcerned with the broader concerns most folks have. Whether it's the fault of the "values" commentators themselves or the media, you can call it unintentional caricaturing.

But go to your local evangelistic Christian church on any Sunday and ask the politically aware (few are, sadly) what their chief concerns are about the country, and the answers will be little, if any, different from what you hear from anyone else. Issue No. 1 likely is: Do I have the promise of a job to provide for my family? No. 2 (and closely related to No. 1): Can I afford in the current economy to meet my family's needs? From there the answers will vary, but among the next few will be the topics that are currently hot on talk radio: immigration, the war in Iraq, national security, and public corruption. The point is, you won't hear in unison from the churchgoers, "Abortion!" "Homos!" "Porn!" "Evolution!" -- but that's what the current media emphasis would have you think.

Trouble is, someone or some group does have to be the go-to for these "social" concerns also. So how do you develop proper God-fearing conservative advocacy without coming across as limited, irrelevant, and ignorant to the "bigger" issues?

The answer is, all the issues have moral implications, so don't ignore the ones that are of broader concern. For example, is redistributing wealth in order to help the impoverished the moral thing for government to do? Or should government let individuals have more of their own money to determine which charities are most worthwhile to receive their dollars?

Or the war: Is the moral position to intervene in foreign countries where dictators trample human rights and commit genocide? Or is the moral high ground with those who avoid foreign entanglements?

Right now the so-called "values voters" are treated as a part of the Republican base that only need be catered to in election years -- if there's trouble, like this year. Hence Congress has acted in recent months on a marriage definition amendment, protecting the flag, and abortion restrictions. Add to that President Bush's veto of embryonic stem cell research, and the GOP thinks they just might have them wing nuts tightened down once again.

But that development may not be enough, according to a report in the Washington Times:

Republican pollster Frank Luntz said he has found an abundance of frustration and negative feelings. He said many Republicans are not aware of the values votes and are disappointed that Congress has not enacted tough measures on immigration or acted to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"A higher percent of Americans care more about illegal immigration, high gas prices and wasteful Washington spending," he said. Values votes are good for the base, he said, but only if Republicans make voters aware of them.


There you have it. So what the "religious right" pundits and organizations should do is apply their worldview to everything that concerns mankind -- not just their limited "family values" list -- and then crank out papers and opinions that reflect those beliefs. It would be great to hear from them on immigration, gas prices (freedom and competition), and wasteful government spending.

Perhaps then they will be viewed as more relevant, and "values" won't be limited to abortion and family in the eyes of the media and the overall public. And those churchgoing constituents may be romanced more frequently than just in election years.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.