They said the evangelical movement was dead.
The pronouncement came soon after the 2004 election, when values voters turned out in record numbers and propelled Bush to an encore performance in the White House. A ruling that year by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court redefining marriage in the state had a lot to do with the evangelical surge. Marriage amendments were on the ballot in 11 other states that November. All of them passed by an average three-to-one margin.
Exit polls showed that moral issues were foremost on voters’ minds, despite the ongoing war in Iraq and the threat of Islamic terrorism. The media was baffled, but they didn’t wait long to proclaim the eminent demise of the religious conservative.
Some factors helped: scandal, corruption, and death. The headlines have been lined with stories arguing that evangelicals have lost power and influence. The GOP is losing its hold on the religious right, the Wall Street Journal says. The New York Times warns that evangelical teens are abandoning the faith in droves. And Time magazine asks if James Dobson’s political clout is fading.
But while media pundits write the evangelical movement’s obituary, political reality shows that the Christian right is far from dead, and that social issues are and will remain a major component of conservative governance.
The proof: John McCain’s announcement on Friday that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will be his running mate. The news came after weeks of GOP insiders floating names like Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge as potentials to fill out the ticket. Instead of these pro-abortion alternatives, McCain picked a reliable pro-lifer.
It was a calculated blow against Obama, who has been courting evangelicals for months in hopes of carving off a few votes for himself. The Christian right, in general, hasn’t trusted McCain. The choice of Palin assuages some of that concern. It also might pry away some disgruntled women who had supported Hillary â€” an unmistakable jab on McCain’s part considering Obama has been vying to swipe a few evangelical voters.
Some will argue that Palin’s pro-life views don’t matter because, if elected, her post as vice president would have little policy-making power. That would be true with an ordinary candidate on the ticket’s top slot, but the likelihood of McCain seeking a second term at the age of 76 is slight. If McCain wins, his veep pick would be the presumptive Republican nominee in 2012 and the standard-bearer for the party.
The choice of Palin is also evidence that McCain needs to give more than lip service to evangelical voters. That’s smart, because, effectively mobilized, they have the power to give him the presidency. And the reality is that social issues are high on the hierarchy of importance for a good portion of the American electorate.
The headlines over the last two weeks prove it. Even leading up to the Democrat’s convention, the Obama campaign had to play defense on the issue evangelicals care about most, and one of the defining social issues of our time: abortion.
Obama’s bungling of the question of when human life begins at Rick Warren’s forum on August 16 was the start. His answer gave pro-lifers another opportunity to point out his pro-infanticide votes in the Illinois Senate. Things got so bad that Nancy Pelosi had to go to bat for Obama by lying outright about the Catholic Church’s historical teaching on abortion.
Palin appeals to pro-lifers in her personal life, too. She and her husband have five children, and the youngest, born last April, has Down syndrome. In a culture that turns a blind eye to the murder of unborn children based strictly on a condition like Downs, a family that acknowledges the inherent worth of every human being is refreshing and only lends credence to her pro-life views.
Palin is sure to go through the campaign crucible in short order, especially with an opponent like Biden, who is a blowhard and has perpetual foot-in-mouth disease. But after a bruising Democratic primary in which many feminists were enraged over the treatment of Hillary, attacking Palin could easily look like more of the same from Obama and company.
More important than the strategic wisdom of Palin, however, is that she stands true to many core principles of social conservatism. And that, to quote a trite saying, shows that reports of the evangelical movement’s death have been greatly exaggerated.