by Rod D. Martin
November 14, 1997
The relentless freight train of realignment barreled through Election ’97 Station last week. It nearly ran Christie Whitman down.
Whitman, who annihilated her opposition four years ago on a platform of massive tax cuts — cuts which she delivered — has been an outspoken “moderate” Republican. “Moderation” in Whitman-speak means “anti-Christian,” and good-as-advertised, “moderate” Whitman placed herself to the left of Dick Gephardt last year, vetoing a ban on the gruesome partial birth abortion procedure.
Conservative Evangelicals and Catholics abandoned her in droves, voting both Democrat and Libertarian to unseat her. She squeaked under the wire with 47%.
This was a dramatic contrast to the landslides of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Virginia Governor-elect Jim Gilmore. Giuliani, tough on crime and corruption but otherwise no social conservative, took great pains not to alienate the Christian right, and was rewarded mightily. Gilmore, a solid Christian conservative, destroyed his opposition with the tax issue, but not before amassing an enormous lead based on his social stands.
None of this should be a surprise. 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 recent 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 was defeated.
Since 1994, Christian conservatives have represented over 40% of the GOP’s activist base. That number is growing. “Moderates” can’t win a single liberal vote through their “moderation,” but through it alienate their conservative base. Worse yet, the majority of them persist in treating Christian conservatives like Ross Perot’s crazy old lady in the attic. They are bigots, and they’d best look at Whitman and learn.
There is a reason for all of this. 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 is winning.
This will only increase. 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 tax cuts, as important as they are, will and do 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 last year 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 trend, yea, this paradigm shift, pretty quickly, and make their peace with the Christian right, the wilderness awaits.