As Endless Campaign '08 relentlessly grinds on, voters might consider a little project of mine as a tonic to ward off the election cycle blues: flip the conventional political and journalistic custom of always focusing on discord and division on its head, and instead search out pockets of consensus and convergence. It sounds boring, but it's not.
One area that intrigues me is the environment.
I have never really understood why conservative Christians weren't hardcore environmentalists. If conserving God's earth and creations isn't both conservative and spiritual, what is? Sure, I understand that the culture of America's greens is Birkenstock liberal and associated with an anti-business, pro-Big Brother Government mindset that conservatives can't stomach. Environmentalism got tossed into the whole culture war deal and the greens ended up on the blue side.
When I looked a bit deeper, it turned out that the views of Christian conservatives on global warming and environmental issues weren't very different from the rest of society. Godly people are pretty green.
A out a few weeks ago showed that 46 percent of white evangelicals think global warming is having a serious impact on the environment - a view shared by 52 percent of the population as a whole. Not a big difference. Only three percent of white evangelicals think global warming doesn't exist.
Global warming and the environment will be "very important" or "extremely important" voting issues for 43 percent of white evangelicals; the figure is 55 percent for the rest. Not a big difference.
The two Republican candidates coming from a Christian evangelical base, Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback, talk about caring for the environment as part of taking care of God's creations.
"I believe that even our responsibility to God means that we have to be good stewards of the earth," Huckabee said, "be good caretakers of the natural resources that don't belong to us; we just get to use them."
There is plenty of action on the conservative environmental front. A group called the Evangelical Environmental Network is busy reaching out to the evangelical community on green issues. In his terrific book, "Crunchy Cons," Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher makes a compelling case for a sophisticated Christian environmentalism.
Richard Cizik, a vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, has been an aggressive advocate for action on global warming. And he took some heat for it from conservatives who thought he was becoming a deep blue green.
There are plenty of evangelicals who still think Green=Gore=Evil. After all, shortly before his death, Jerry Falwell said the flap over global warming was "Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus." That Satan ought to just mind his own business, you know?
Now flaps are what reporters and consultants focus on. "Split Over Global Warming Widens Among Evangelicals," read one The Wall Street Journal headline. The Washington Post declared: "Global Warming Starts to Divide G.O.P. Contenders." Democratic strategists now see climate change as a wedge issue. Maybe they can peel some traditionally Republican voters away by playing the green card.
Well, how about a headline that says something like, "Growing Consensus On Global Warming All Along The Political Spectrum?" Too boring.
What's really boring is the perpetual push to polarize everything. America is not polarized. It is fragmented, confused, complicated and inconsistent. As it should be. Voters aren't polarized about global warming; the vast majority thinks it's a serious problem. The debate about what to do about it is unsettled, to be sure, at every level.
The truth is the environment is an issue where folks on the left and on the right have found some real common ground. Keep an eye out for more pockets of consensus as this campaign that is built on phony polarization drones on. It's more challenging than listening to the same old arguments.
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Against the Grain. We will publish some of the interesting (and civil) ones, sometimes in edited form.
By Dick Meyer