Following Rick Warren's highly-touted Saddleback Forum, the question of the week sounds like a Victorian overture: Can Barack Obama fruitfully court the evangelical vote?
A recent Washington Post piece, "GOP Loyalty Not a Given for Young Evangelicals," noted how young evangelicals have begun shooting the GOP down on Saturday nights, as the Democrats address various issues--the environment, poverty--more vigorously. In fact, evangelical support for John McCain as compared to George W. Bush in 2004 has dipped 13 percent. Your smile is a thin disguise, young evangelicals.
Between general fear and loathing of McCain among social conservatives and Obama's little trifecta of sermon-like stump speeches, faith-based initiative pandering, and the muddling of his pro-choice views, no one cause for evangelical deterioration exists. But, damn, Obama sure is trying hard.
This past weekend, to coincide with Saddleback, his campaign rolled out "Believers for Barack"--which may sound like a folk revival concert, but is actually an online effort to lure in a young, Christian voting bloc, uniting Obama's favorite opiates: religion and infatuation with Barack Obama.
Largely a hybrid of online efforts by the campaign, "Believers for Barack" combines the clarification of "Fight the Smears" with the brilliant community-building of myObama. While the online expertise remains elusive for the GOP, the faith and politics terrain is clearly not unfamiliar on the Right.
For the daily dosage of evangelical campaign fun, take Shirley Ward, president of the Tennessee Federation of Republican Women, who recently clarified that, "Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart." Clearly, a topical, nuanced approach to the vital issues of the day.
Ward charmingly demonstrates where the evangelical path can lead: a conflated, broad sense of religion and government that encourages, to borrow a word from Obama, "distractions." Surely, this concoction of Christian exceptionalism and politics could only find a home under Obama's bus. Perhaps, though, Ward's comments are just a brand of political mingling, tied inexorably to a generation of social issues, and our generation brings a different brand to the table.
Marvel at the words of Stephen Merritt, a notable young evangelical interviewed for the Post piece: "When you look at the political party that has traditionally championed poverty, social justice and care for the least of these, it's not been the Republican Party." Thrill at the other sexy issue discussed: global warming--a popular issue with all evangelicals, 54 percent of whom said they would be more likely to support candidates who worked to curb global warming in an Ellison Research poll last year.
The message is clear: look first to the Republicans, and by proxy the government, to address poverty and the environment--that simply isn't conservatism. These core concerns, however, fit well amongst Obama's increased welfare, windfall profit taxes for oil, and mandated community service.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Obama himself will siphon off much of the overall evangelical vote, and will instead merely lay groundwork for a more socially conservative Democrat. But Obama's young, evangelical supporters may be a harbinger of the final breakdown of the remnants of the Reagan Coalition. Perhaps, Barack, as Foreigner once told us, "[they've] been waiting for a girl like you."