by Rod D. Martin
August 14, 1998
Spending a good bit of time in the company of political folk, I hear their concerns, and the past few weeks have been especially full of advice. It is eleven weeks before an election, and the carping has begun: conservatives, they say — and especially conservative Christians — need to tone it down.
By “tone it down,” of course, they mean “shut up.” The so-called “moderate,” exemplified by New Jersey’s Christian-bashing Christie Whitman, simply reels at the thought of mixing politics and ideology, particularly of a religious bent. They marvel at voters who will oppose them simply because of an issue, be it Second Amendment rights or conservative tax policy or — above all others — abortion. They are certain that elections are won on personality and money, that issues are largely unimportant, and that anyone who will go to the mat for a strongly-held belief is a dangerous demagogue.
In short, they are tolerant of everything but principle; and moreover, having no convictions of their own, they assume that most of the world is just like them.
They assume wrong; and the conservative who takes their advice does so at his peril. Americans generally, and Republicans specifically, have been moving dramatically right for nearly twenty years; and like Jesus, they want candidates who are either hot or cold: the lukewarm get spewed out of their mouths. While reporters wring their hands about the polarization of politics, the greatest complaint we hear from the masses continues to be that there isn’t enough real difference between the two parties, that they are sick of voting for “Republicrats.” Confirming this, a 1997 study at Manchester College showed that people trust candidates with strong stands, on either side, far more than “fence-sitting” moderates.
This should be obvious. When Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America gave voters a clear conservative alternative to the old liberal consensus, a tidal wave engulfed the Democratic Party, washing it out of nearly 70 years of power. When George Bush ran as a conservative in 1988, he decimated Michael Dukakis; when he ran as a moderate in 1992, his own activist base stayed home. And despite the media’s love affair with the aborted fetus, the 1994 elections saw abortion “moderates” defeated left and right, while not a single pro-life incumbent in either party lost.
Since 1994, Christian conservatives have represented over 40% of the GOP’s activist base. That number is growing. “Moderates” never win a single liberal vote through their “moderation,” but do manage to alienate their conservative base. Worse yet, the majority of them persist in treating Christian conservatives like Perot’s crazy old lady in the attic. They are bigots, and they are fools; and they are laying the groundwork for James Dobson to split the party.
So why is American politics polarizing? The old liberal consensus having miserably failed, voters in both parties are seeking to define new worldviews to replace it. In the Democratic Party this has manifested itself as a militant humanistic rejection of all traditional and Christian values, as well as an embracing of West European socialism’s ideology of government (best illustrated by the failed ClintonCare plan). In the Republican Party, the realization that despite Richard Nixon we are not “all Keynesians now” has resulted in a movement toward Austrian economics and a Biblical worldview. In both parties, neither having given more than lip service to the non-material world for decades, the spiritual side of this shift is winning.
This trend will only grow. All questions are ultimately theological, because all questions are rooted in one’s view of ultimate reality. The breakdown of the old consensus politics has forced a reappraisal of everything, and new battle lines are being drawn in theological terms: will the atheist/humanist axis teach our kids how to put condoms on cucumbers, or will Christians teach them the three R’s and the difference between right and wrong? Will we believe in the natural goodness and perfectibility of man and thus stoke the fires of big “benevolent” government, or will we believe in original sin — like the Founders — and dismantle the god-state we’ve built? Will we ultimately embrace existentialism or neo-paganism, or will we determine that no understanding of the world is possible without recognizing the Creator behind it all?
These questions will come to haunt men’s souls. Whitman’s tacit agreement with Clinton that “it’s the economy, stupid,” will and does look shallow and childish beside them.
Certainly, the Christian right, like its anti-Christian counterpart on the left, is nowhere near mature, nowhere near consistent, yet. But it is learning. Mistakes like throwing support to Bob Dole in South Carolina will not soon be forgotten. And over time, a thoroughly consistent worldview will emerge. That worldview will be one of limited government, individual liberty, and Biblical morality, just as was the worldview on which this country was founded. Its early outlines are already inspiring millions, and its moral authority on issues such as abortion — just like the stand against slavery which created the Republican Party in the first place — is compelling.
And if “moderate” Republicans don’t figure out this paradigm shift pretty quickly, and make their peace with the Christian right, they will quickly go the way of the Whigs.