How Barack’s winning the evangelicals
For all his flaws, George W. Bush is a master–or was–at courtship. On the campaign trail in 2004, Bush talked the talk, (and walked the walk) to the 100 plus million people who call themselves evangelicals. Like a compelling shepherd, Bush didn’t just ask God to bless America, he prayed with people, referred to his faith regularly and often told of his personal story of redemption. With enthusiasm and ease, he convinced hand-raising evangelicals to join his army, and follow their leader.
The successful relationship between Bush and evangelicals resulted in the year of that devoted values voter, the product of the carefully-followed specs of Karl Rove’s architectural genius: cater to the evangelical movement, a voting block too large to be dismissed. When the Bible-thumpers made up the margin of victory for President Bush, candidates and state parties took note. Two years later, they hired people to do what the President had done, but on a smaller scale: Hold voter registration tables at churches, send out marriage amendment petitions, set up prayer teams (I know, I was one of them.)
Though it didn’t work for Republicans this time around, while conservatives and Christians were licking their wounds, someone else picked up where President Bush left off. Like a dutiful dancing partner, Senator Barack Obama has begun courting the evangelical right, and some are already waltzing along in perfect time.
With his attendance at Rick Warren‘s church, Saddleback Valley Community, a mega-church in California for a large conference about AIDS, Obama has begun to align himself with an important base of voters to gain what conservatives lost this last year. Already lauded by some prominent evangelical publications for his outstanding “Christian faith” and a person Rick Warren called a “good friend” and a someone he’d like to work with on important issues, Obama is in perfect position, if he can keep the momentum, to use an unusual strategy for political gain.
Obama has become well-known not only for his charisma and sudden rise to fame in the last few months, but for his outspoken Christian faith to which he refers regularly. Over the past summer, Obama’s strategy started by chastising his fellow Democrats for failing to “acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people” (Associated Press, June 28, 2006).
While some liberal politicians, a la Hillary Clinton, have begun to gravitate to the center while citing the importance of faith and God, most stay away from being openly seen in the trenches with those believers: Someone might discover their Jesus-lingo is limited (remember Al Gore claiming John 16:3 as his favorite verse?). But Obama has taken a different approach and with Bush-like-bravado has positioned himself alongside those Onward Christian Soldiers, ready to fight their fights in the next important battle.
Unfortunately for Obama, he’s still got something of a pesky voting record, the one that alarmed the other half of evangelicals, and caused considerable controversy (18 antiabortion leaders asked Warren to disinvite Obama) when Warren invited Obama to his conference. That proof of his die-hard liberalism is in the pudding: His votes are 100% that of a Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi, and his pro-choice position on abortion, is his most alarming.
Though Warren admits he disagrees with Obama’s pro-choice position, that didn’t, and doesn’t, seem to stop many evangelicals to from dancing with their new partner. Oblivious to his liberal leanings, many seem smitten by his boyish charm, attracted to his forthrightness, and infatuated by his gravitas. Knowing this, Obama is visible among those evangelicals (like Warren) who are concerned with issues de jour, poverty and AIDS, instead of those aligned with typical, and more politically-charged issues like abortion and gay marriage.
While the evangelical movement has been regrouping from the losses of their pet conservatives this last year, Barack Obama snuck into their Jesus-camp. If he stays, he just may be one of the first to win both sides of the voting block, and if the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, conservatives could have a problem, and liberals could have their solution.