GOP’s G-O-D Problem

Kathleen Parker is getting quite a response to her WaPo piece “Giving Up on God.”

As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

I’m bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we’re setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

Andrew Sullivan agrees wholeheartedly and contends the party’s control by the “Christianists” is the reason they so blindly followed Bush.

You have to see the link between the fundamentalist psyche and the suspension of critical judgment in the Republican party for the past eight years. A non-born-again president would never have been allowed to get away with it.

Jonah Goldberg says “This act is getting really old.”

I don’t know what’s more grating, the quasi-bigotry that has you calling religious Christians low brows, gorillas and oogedy-boogedy types or the bravery-on-the-cheap as you salute — in that winsome way — your own courage for saying what (according to you) needs to be said.

In this one, I’m much closer to Goldberg than to Parker.   As with nonsense about how liberals are modern-day Fascists, this business about “oogedy-boogedy” is decidedly unhelpful in shaping the debate.

Goldberg is quite right here:

For the record, I have no problem with arguments about how the GOP has become too religious. I ended my book with pretty much that argument. I opposed Mike Huckabee vociferously because he seemed the quintessential rightwing progressive imbued with a rightwing social gospel. These are all good arguments to make and they have good responses to them. But please drop the nonsense about how the G-O-D people  or the Palin people are low brows and beasts. There are low brows and beasts everywhere, on every side of the ideological spectrum.

Indeed.  Sadly, Parker gets is right too late in her column:

It isn’t that culture doesn’t matter. It does. But preaching to the choir produces no converts.

I fully concur that trying to build a majority coalition around Christian Conservatives is a losing proposition.  As I noted a couple weeks ago on OTB Radio, targeting one’s public policy so as to appeal to “every last Pentacostal” is a mistake.  At the same time, however, there’s no conceivable center-right majority that excludes people of faith.  (Indeed, one can argue that conservatism without religion isn’t conservatism at all; but that’s another debate.)  The key is to appeal to social values voters without repelling Chamber of Commerce and libertarian Republicans and sympathetic moderates.

Daniel Larison, meanwhile, thinks religious conservatives get too much blame but for a different reason:

Despite their numbers, and in large part because of their reliability as Republican voters, evangelicals and social conservatives draw very little water in the GOP. Each cycle GOP leaders see how little it will take to get these voters to turn out for their candidates, and what that amount of lip service is each cycle they try to reduce it. The voters continue to turn out, despite having less and less reason to do so, and for their trouble they are accused of the errors that the party leaders made and into which the establishment dragged them.

I disagree.  All of the Republican Party’s major leaders are from the social conservative wing of the party and that wing dominates grassroots recruitment, get-out-the-vote drives, fundraising, and so forth.   It’s true that they don’t have much to show for their power in terms of public policy outcomes.  But that’s a function of institutional checks and balances (the filibuster in the Senate, the fealty to stare decisis in the courts, and so forth) than the voting behavior of Republican officeholders.

Really, though, that’s part of the point.  We’re simply never going to outlaw abortion again.  The culture and the medicine (RU486, morning after pills, etc.) have moved beyond that. We’re not going to have prayer in the public schools.  We’re not going to outlaw divorce or return to a mythical time where there’s no sex outside of marriage.

That said, Parker’s notion that religion must be “returned to the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs” is as offensive as it is absurd.  Religious folk have every bit as much right as anyone else to speak their minds and to try to shift public policy towards their preferences.  For that matter, Christian belief is as valid a motivation as partisanship or ideology or habit or self-interest for forming positions on the candidates and the issues.

The GOP’s goal shouldn’t be to drive out the social conservatives but rather to bring in others.

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Andrew Sullivan agrees wholeheartedly and contends the party’s control by the “Christianists” is the reason they so blindly followed Bush.

    So, St Andrew the Incontinent has managed to work in his BDS, his erstwhile Catholocism, and the one motivation that drives his entire output anymore, into one handy package?
    (Yawn)

    Goldberg doesn’t know how right he is. This is getting way beyond tiresome.

    It’s as I said in another thread here a few hours ago: Sullivan is attacking the ‘crhistianists’ because they make a handy target, in much the same was as the Jews were for Hitler and the kulaks were for Stalin.

    This is not about religion, per se’, this is about western culture, and the homosexual desire to over-ride said culture in what can only be called an effort at self-justification. Soceity, in short has always been wrong, and they always right, in their view. Immutable oppressors are the final element in dystopia, after all.

  2. Floyd says:

    kathleen;
    It’s the Armband religion of the left[Marxism] that will kill the Democrat Party.
    Your elation at the demise of conservatism is a bit premature, since the rejection of Bush from the right held more than the required difference to swing this past election.
    Don’t forget McCain failed to get adequate support from the right partly BECAUSE he is an old school Democrat politically. Look what reaching across the aisle got him.
    Your advice may be valued by those who substitute terms like “oogedy boogedy” for intelligent speech, but the Conservatives hardly appreciate advice from those who would rejoice at their demise.
    I’m sure you think that the world would finally be sane if only they came to agree with you, and dismiss all those who don’t with a term stolen from the vocabulary of a toddler.

  3. just me says:

    I think the problem is that there aren’t any clear definitions of just who the bad Christians are that should be booted form the party, and which ones are the good ones-the definition is loose to the point that it means different things to different people.

    Also, it ignores the fact that many of the social conservatives in the GOP are also some of the more consistent small government, fiscal conservatives.

    I am Christian. I am strongly pro life, but I am also fairly libertarian on other social conservative issues, so does that mean I shouldn’t have a voice in the GOP?

    The reality is that social conservatives, RINO’s and the like aren’t to blame for the GOP’s problems. The problem is that when the GOP came into power, they let the power corrupt them and they didn’t govern like small government conservatives that wanted to reign in spending. Instead of doing what they said they stood for, they decided to focus on getting and keeping power and corrupted themselves ethically and in how they governed.

    I don’t think any faction needs to be necessarily booted from the party or made a victim of the circular firing squad, what they need to do is actually focus on where they believe things in common, and govern as a party from that center of Venn Diagram-the platform and way they govern should focus on that.

    But telling the Christians to go take a hike in the end will kill the party,and frankly some of the best allies of those who want smaller government are also social conservatives (or at least socially conservative on some issues)-so exactly what litmus test are we using to decide who gets to stay and who gets to go?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The problem is that when the GOP came into power, they let the power corrupt them and they didn’t govern like small government conservatives that wanted to reign in spending. Instead of doing what they said they stood for, they decided to focus on getting and keeping power and corrupted themselves ethically and in how they governed.

    The internal contradictions. The reason to want small government is that the process described above is inevitable. The problem is not that the Democrats are the party of large government and Republicans are the party of small government. It is that any party in power is the party of large government.

    That is the reasoning behind government by enumerated powers, a philosophy of government which I fear is as dead as the divine right of kings.

    This is as much human nature as eating and sleeping are. It is not something that can be purged. It can only be controlled.

    And we haven’t had a great deal of success in doing that lately, have we?

  5. Jamie says:

    Parker is yet another blue on the inside conservative who feels the need to lecture the rubes of the rightwing on the proper way of thinking. She is the latest in a line of pundits like “Tokyo” Peggy Noonan and George Will who have taken the opportunity of Sarah Palin’s rise to prominence to expose their contempt for the actual people who vote in politicians they agree with.

    So I am not too thrilled with giving her much attention here. For one thing, I think she is just being controversial for the sake of making a name for herself. Her column is full of the self-congratulatory snark many skeptic have when they think believing in nothing makes them more enlightened than the childish masses looking for a daddy figure in God or whatever their mental/emotional disorders are beyond the idiocy they are most obviously suffering from. Parker wants to be the female Christopher Hitchens. Not a terribly unworthy goal, I suppose. But I do not buy into it for several reasons.

    First, anytime someone complains about the religious nature of the Republican Party, what they are actually complaining about is the embrace of the pro-life stance. For whatever reason, a sizeable chunk of the intelligentsia believe the party would fly like an eagle if it would drop opposition to abortion from the party platform. This is a curiosity to me considering how often even pro-choice republicans wind up losing badly in blue states all the time. As obsessed as segments of the left are with keeping abortion as available as possible to as many as possible, they do not breathe a sigh of relief to have a choice between two candidates who support abortion rights. There is more to some voters’ aversion to voting conservative than just abortion.

    Plus, abortion will never be outlawed again. That boat has sailed and even the most adamant of pro-lifers will admit it in candid moments. A candidate’s abortion stance is little more these days than a litmus test of character for them. I am as pro-life as you can get without advocating the firebombing of abortion clinics, but early this election season, I was for Rudy Giuliani in spite of his pro-choice stance. And so was pat Robertson, of all people. What you have there are social conservatives willing to embrace moderates they would prefer not to have because of his abortion stance and liberals unwilling to embrace pro-choice republicans. So abortion is not really the barrier it is made out to be.

    Second, Americans like for their politicians to appreciate God, mother, and country. We will not elect candidates on the right or left or right who do not at least play lip service to god. Even candidates the religious right hated, like bill Clinton and Barack Obama, did so. It is so important to voters, they were willing to can Republican Elizabeth Dole for her democrat rival Kat Hagan because she falsely accused her opponent of supporting atheism. To accuse one of being godless is that much of an insult. Does Parker note the irony of religious voters electing a Democrat over the issue of atheism in Bible belt North Carolina?

    It happens all the time. Democrat Geoffrey Fieger lost the gubernatorial race in deep blue Michigan a decade ago by a huge margin after claiming Jesus was just some kook nailed to a tree. Jesse Ventura was a one term governor of deep blue Minnesota due in large part to claiming religion was a crutch in a Playboy interview. It is not just Bible Belt Republicans who think religion is important. A lot of those folks were willing to overlook Obama’s association with Jeremiah Wright and his racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American rhetoric because that was Obama’s religion. I do not necessarily condone the acceptance, but I recognize it for what it is—a respect for how one worships their God.

    Finally, let us turn to Obama and his cult of personality to demonstrate how even the godless portion of the left will embrace the “right” religion when it comes along. I find it ironic they critique the religious right at the same time they are so enamored with a man who has claimed a light will shine down from heaven inspiring you to vote for him. Once he is elected, the oceans will roll back and the world will begin to heal. If that is not religious rhetoric applied to a secular messiah, what is?

    Bill Maher and Jon Stewart have both said Obama might end their comedy careers because there is nothing to make fun of about him. T mock Obama would be blasphemous. They are offering Obama a reverence neither gives to actual religion but religious followers do give to their religious figures. Tell me again the republicans have a God problem when the democrats are struggling with issues like that.

  6. odograph says:

    At the same time, however, there’s no conceivable center-right majority that excludes people of faith.

    The sad thing is that Religious Right seem so ready to exclude themselves on narrow religious questions, questions that do not in fact find commonality among “people of faith.”

    It’s a game they’ve played for at least a decade: “Give us an evangelical Republican platform or use our votes.”

    In case you hadn’t noticed, less “evangelical” Christians find that disturbing. (Or Christians who are evangelical in the biblical sense rather than the political sense.)

    (Indeed, one can argue that conservatism without religion isn’t conservatism at all; but that’s another debate.)

    Are you kidding me? Men of reason and religion have often suffered Doubt. If doubters now face this hurtle for your party … WTF?

  7. odograph says:

    Sorry: “or [lose] our votes.”

  8. odograph says:

    BTW James, do you buy into the narrative that our Constitution grew out of Scottish Enlightenment ideals? And weren’t those ideals, about a more general “public religion” and what qualifies now as an “ancient” American separation between Church and State, what the Religious Right been out to overthrow?

    I mean, prayer in schools? How can that be more of a question in 2000 than it was in 1800?

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    As a nonreligious conservative I don’t understand the irrational fear of religion in politics. Sure there was a day when religious differences caused wars, the inquisition sucked, and Rome ruled western Europe with an iron hand but has religion really threatened enlightened thinkers in the last hundred years? I don’t see it as the threat it’s made out to be.

    From a secular standpoint I see religious voters and political figures as being guardians of tradition and tradition is good. Traditions have served us well so why such a rush to abandon them for untried ideas? Progress will always come but a headlong rush can produce some unpleasant consequences.

    There should also be tolerance for those religious party members. They may have beliefs that shock us in the era of public school non Christmas holiday parties like exorcisms, modesty underwear, laying of hands, and the like but so what? We tolerate those who believe in UFOs. We tolerate religions like Islam, Hindu, and others that are completely foreign to us and have some rather unusual customs. I always thought it hypocritical of the left to so eagerly embrace exotic religions of foreign lands while at the same time denouncing the traditional religions of most here in the US. Where’s the tolerance for snake handling Pentecostals?

    Now I believe in God, seldom attend church, and sin like crazy. That said I have a huge amount of respect for those committed enough to live a religious life. In political terms I see them bringing much more to the table than they take away. Parker is, like so many other conservative writers, looking for a scape goat. She has this terribly wrong and can’t seem to acknowledge her mistake. Instead she is digger herself an ever deeper hole.

  10. odograph says:

    It would be harmless Steve if (a) energy were not wasted on social issues, and (b) those social issues were used as “wedge issues” driving arguably more important topics to the wings.

    I mean, look at 2004. Definitions of marriage became a hotter topic with some than the war. “Values” voters cared about marriage more than war.

    Bush calls for ban on same-sex marriages – February 25, 2004

    I guess that’s a “G-O-D Problem” only when it stops working, eh?

  11. Triumph says:

    Parker is just shooting the first salvo in the annual “War on Christmas” those damn secular humanists wage against us every year.

    In the same way that the stores start putting their christmas merchandise out earlier and earlier each year, Parker and the “Happy Holidays” crowd are trying to ruin the season for the vast majority of us already–and it aint even Thanksgiving yet!!!

    We let them have Hannakah and Kwanzaa, why can’t they let us have Christmas?

  12. James Joyner says:

    Are you kidding me? Men of reason and religion have often suffered Doubt. If doubters now face this hurtle for your party … WTF?

    I’m making a semantic argument. Historically, conservative parties and the conservative ideology was founded on preserving religions principles.

    BTW James, do you buy into the narrative that our Constitution grew out of Scottish Enlightenment ideals? And weren’t those ideals, about a more general “public religion” and what qualifies now as an “ancient” American separation between Church and State, what the Religious Right been out to overthrow?

    I think many of the Founders were of that persuasion. But most intellectual conservatives today are, too. As am I. That’s never been the mainstream grass roots conservative, though.

  13. odograph says:

    I think many of the Founders were of that persuasion. But most intellectual conservatives today are, too. As am I. That’s never been the mainstream grass roots conservative, though.

    Sneaky of you to appeal to my innate elitism … effective though.

  14. tom p says:

    I disagree. All of the Republican Party’s major leaders are from the social conservative wing of the party and that wing dominates grassroots recruitment,

    I do not have time to read all the comments (as deeply as they deserve), but… Where do I fit in? There are many points in today’s GOP that I do not agree with… but there are many others I do agree with… and yet I am “apostasy”.

    The GOP’s goal shouldn’t be to drive out the social conservatives but rather to bring in others.

    I have often said, that there is nothing wrong with one’s religion informing one’s political views, but dictating them?

    There is a difference. And it is that difference that keeps me from voting GOP at this point in time.
    As odograph said:

    Men of reason and religion have often suffered Doubt.

    At times, I have been one, at other times, I have been the other… Now? I am… merely a man of doubt. Today’s GOP has no place for one such as me.

  15. Drew says:

    Greetings from Arizona, which is alot warmer than Chicago……

    ” The sad thing is that Religious Right seem so ready to exclude themselves on narrow religious questions, questions that do not in fact find commonality among “people of faith.”

    It’s a game they’ve played for at least a decade: “Give us an evangelical Republican platform or (lose) our votes.” ”

    Sad, indeed.

  16. odograph says:

    Speaking of God and politics, Mr. Huckabee was on NRP last night. He basically called out libertarians as faux conservatives and wished them into the cornfield.

    NPR Link

    Probably important enough to be a OTB topic in itself …

  17. G.A.Phillips says:

    He basically called out libertarians as faux conservatives and wished them into the cornfield.

    Sad thing is that I have been trying this on liberals for the last 20 years for being faux Americans but it don’t work:(

  18. anjin-san says:

    I have often said, that there is nothing wrong with one’s religion informing one’s political views, but dictating them?

    Well put.

  19. Bithead says:

    I have often said, that there is nothing wrong with one’s religion informing one’s political views, but dictating them?

    Well put.

    Perhaps, but it strikes me as being ill informed as to the nature of religion, which is supposedly the source of the values that the individual holds highest. If we consider political views to reflect one’s personal values, then why wouldn’t one’s politics be dicatted by, if indirectly, one’s relgious beliefs?

  20. tom p says:

    Perhaps, but it strikes me as being ill informed as to the nature of religion, which is supposedly the source of the values that the individual holds highest. If we consider political views to reflect one’s personal values, then why wouldn’t one’s politics be dicatted by, if indirectly, one’s relgious beliefs?

    Bit, I would love to have this conversation with you some day….

    but it strikes me as being ill informed as to the nature of religion, which is supposedly the source of the values that the individual holds highest

    and here is the crux of the problem with todays GOP… I have no problem with an individual being against gay marraige, but when that individual tries to tell me whom I can and cannot marry? I have a problem with that (don’t like it? don’t do it.) I have no problem with an individual saying they do not like 3rd trimester abortion… but when it comes to the morning after pill? c’mon, a zygote is a human being??? At best it is a potential human being (spontaneous abortions happen… shall we string God up?) Terry Schaivo… say no more.

    My point is this, this country was founded on the principle of “Freedom of Religion”, but what is that, with out “Freedom FROM Religion”??? Which, if you read the 1st Amendment closely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” is exactly what they are talking about. They are not talking about a “freedom of religion” but rather a “freedom from religion”, because they understood that when one religion becomes dominant, others suffer.

    Pick your religion, Catholic, Quaker, Baptist…. all have suffered at the heel of the dominant majority (or were they really a dominant majority?perhaps, a dominant minority?) It is impossible to argue that we are now a “christain” country (whatever the hell that means, the above mentioned “christains” have all suffered intolerable prejudice at one point in time or another) We are now a Muslim/Hindu/ Christain/Jewish/Agnostic/ (pick a religion) country…

    But today’s GOP hasn’t a clue. Hence, I don’t fit in. And I am not alone.

  21. Bithead says:

    My point is this, this country was founded on the principle of “Freedom of Religion”, but what is that, with out “Freedom FROM Religion”???

    Do you understand that there is a difference between cultural values and religious values?
    DO you understand that a high percentage of those who voted for prop 8 for example, don’t consider themselves particularly religious?

    Your entire rant falls down on that one.

  22. Bithead says:

    By the way, Tom, since you seem a mite confused, here’s a little background in the form of a post I wrote about four years ago. Pay attention to the links, particularly one of them to a Dale Franks post.

    Let’s also remember, please, that the whole of the civil rights movement back in the day, was founded in and supported by religious figures in our society, who frequently quoted the bible. Including King. Are these now to be thrown aside because they used source material of which you disapprove?

  23. mannning says:

    We are now a Muslim/Hindu/ Christain/Jewish/Agnostic/ (pick a religion) country… Tom P.

    Oh, yes! Hindus about 1 million; Jewish about 6 million, Muslims about 6.7 million, non-religious, including zeros, agnostics and atheists about 33 to 34 million; while Christians of all sects about 274 million.

    Can anyone guess from this what the dominant religion is in America? I do think that this poster is exercising wishful thinking. Not that we disrespect other religions, but a majority is a majority, and that fact carries with it certain beliefs in common, certain morals in common, and certain cultural norms in common. Were the Democratic Party to renounce religion altogether, they would lose every election they entered.

    Conversely, from a religious perspective, the Republican Party can, if it really tries, draw upon a huge majority of Americans with the right platform provisions, led by Conservatives, who have strong religious ties.

    The so-called wedge issues, or Value Issues will be a strong factor for a majority of citizens as well, because they have little choice in the matter. It is part of their religious beliefs.

    If there were to be a national referendum tomorrow on the two main wedge issues of abortion and same sex marriage, I assert that those issues would lose dramatically. Especially since in this way of voting, without the distractions of wars, the economy, and the fears of some about Bush (BDS), a purer decision could be reached.

    Most people I know recoil in horror at the fact of 50 million abortions in the nation since RvW was set forth. Is seems that at conception, something more than mere inert matter is conjoining, with an inherent prescription to create a person.

  24. Itsme says:

    The losses in the election serve as somewhat of an inkblot test, in which, everyone can see their favorite cause as the root for the electoral defeat.

    The intellectual wing of the party can attribute the problems to pandering to religion. The God and country folks can say that republicans have lost their way and need return to a more religion-centered party. The moderates in the party will say that the losses were due to not enough reaching across to the other party, not being inclusive enough. The ultra-conservatives will say it’s because the party is not conservative enough.

    Each of these groups can cite instances supporting their cause, and they are right about those instances, but wrong about their conclusions.

    I won’t make any sweeping pronouncements, but here’s what I see as a the root problem — A lack of prioritization. The electorate is basically divided 50/50. Even if one party gets a 55% or 60% majority in congress, the electorate itself is still 50/50. That means that a party may get the political power to force a lot of things through legislatively, but because they have a temporary political advantage, they should wield that power carefully or they will really annoy enough of the electorate to get themselves voted out of power.

    In other words, either party in power should try to implement their important ideas while not forcing through many of the smaller ideas just because they can. When smaller thing after smaller thing gets railroaded through, resentments get built up in the opposing electorate.

    We failed miserably at doing this. Time will tell if Obama and the Dems do likewise.