John F. Kerry is hardly the first politician to be rejected by religious Americans for failing to measure up to their standards.
There was Thomas Paine, for instance, the pamphleteering superstar of 1776, whose “Common Sense” -- published in January of that year -- lighted the fuse that became the American Revolution. By December, the brash optimism with which the war had started was facing the chilling reality of Valley Forge. Paine came through again with “The Crisis,” which Gen. George Washington read to his troops before they successfully attacked the Hessians in Trenton -- their morale restored by Paine’s passionate call to arms.
Washington never forgot the unfathomable debt the nation owed to its popular oracle. But less than 20 years later, Washington would ask Paine to enter his house by the back door. Why? Paine had published his skeptical views on religion in “The Age of Reason,” earning the vitriolic scorn of fellow Americans who had once adored him. Clearly, religious skepticism is not a path to power in the United States.
The U.S. has persistently been the most religious Western nation on Earth, and if the once indomitable Tom Paine could fall victim to the cultural divide of 1794, wishy-washy Kerry had no hope of surviving it in 2004. As recently as the 1960s and ‘70s, the Democrats had a strong and vocal religious contingent opposing the war in Vietnam and marching for social justice. (And of course the ACLU wasn’t warning of a theocratic state as long as the God-talk came from the left.) Since then, though, the Democrats have effectively banished God from their public face, just as they have run pro-life Democrats out of the party, no matter how liberal they were on economic issues.
This Democratic God-cleansing paid handsome dividends in 2004 -- for the Republicans. Until the Democrats learn how to bring God back into the discussion, they have little hope of returning to power.
There simply aren’t enough voters in Berkeley, Santa Monica, Santa Fe, Manhattan and Cambridge to offset the many concerned evangelicals, Catholics and Jews in the rest of the nation for whom moral values are a determining issue. Even minority groups -- the backbone of the party’s support -- are ditching the party over these issues. Since the Democrats claim to be the party of science, perhaps one of their Nobel laureates can explain the math to them.
The conservative political revolution of the last half-century could not have taken place without the alternative media revolution -- the rise of political direct mail, talk radio, cable TV and the Internet. That’s been equally true for that subset of the conservative movement earlier known as the religious right. In the 1970s and ‘80s, groups such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition used direct mail, as well as religious radio, TV and print outlets to promote their social and political agenda. Today’s conservative Christians have the added firepower of the Web.
Also important in this year’s elections was the fact that Catholics were as involved as evangelicals, and their new combined activism hasn’t ended with election day. Just ask Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter, who repaid President Bush for his crucial primary endorsement by warning the president not to push pro-life judges for the Supreme Court. Using e-mail and the Internet, talk radio and cable television, conservative Christians have swamped Capitol Hill with demands that Specter be denied the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. GOP senators on the committee have run for cover, and so far few have dared to publicly support their embattled colleague.
The conservative Christian community knows it made the difference this year. Now it expects Bush and the GOP to deliver what it was promised, and there will be political hell to pay if they don’t.