Religious Voters in the 2008 Election: What It Means for Democrats, Republicans
Key West, Florida
Some of the nation’s leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in May 2008 for the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.
William A. Galston, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and an assistant for domestic policy in the Clinton administration, discussed the importance of the Catholic vote in 2008. Galston noted that nearly every swing state has an above-average share of Catholic voters. He added that the Bush campaign’s extraordinary success in mobilizing Catholic voters in 2004, particularly in Ohio, created the margin that gave the Republicans the election.
Michael J. Gerson, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and previously a top aide to President George W. Bush, talked about the new generation of evangelicals whose focus is social justice issues. Gerson said that evangelicals in general are not turning into liberal Democrats, but they are becoming less tightly connected to the religious right and the Republican Party. Many, he said, are looking for a new, broader, more positive model of social engagement, which has yet to fully take form.
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: On behalf of the Pew Forum, welcome to those of you who have never been before, and to those of you who have been and are back, we’re glad to have you back.
Let me just quickly mention why the Faith Angle Conference exists. As you know, even prior to the events of Sept. 11, the issue of the relationship between religion and politics was contentious in our society, and the role of religion and religious believers in our public life has been hotly debated. The Pew Forum and the Pew Charitable Trusts felt that it was very important to help journalists, writers and editors better understand religion in American life and religious believers, and so we started having these conferences nine years ago because it was a story we felt was either under-reported or sometimes misinterpreted or misinformed.
So we have these conferences to help you do your vocation even better than you do. In these meetings we try to combine excellent academics who also are good in the practical realm of public life in America, and we’re delighted that it’s been of service to many of you. Everything is on the record unless someone says I really want this to be off the record. That’s very important. We’ll be sure to keep it off the record if you say so.
Our topic this morning couldn’t be more timely, and so we’re delighted to have the two gentlemen we have here. Dr. Bill Galston is going to be our first speaker. The bios are right in front of you. I would only add that, as you all know, Professor Galston is not only a political philosopher, but he’s an expert in public policy. He’s had practical experience as a domestic policy advisor in President Clinton’s administration. Bill combines political theory with the practicality of politics about as well as anybody in the country. So on this subject, at this time, I can’t think of anyone better than Bill Galston to have here. Bill, thank you for coming.
WILLIAM A. GALSTON: Thanks for having me back. I turn down a lot of invitations but never this one. I’ll just begin by telling you that Mike Gerson and I have conferred a couple of times in advance of this event, and we’ve decided to play from strength. So I’ll be talking principally about the Democratic Party and, more specifically, about the role of the Catholic vote in the past and future of the Democratic Party. Mike is going to talk more about changes in the evangelical community, and I suspect that if he gets to 2008 remarks, they may have somewhat more to do with the Republican Party than with the Democratic Party. But I don’t know that for sure.
I want to begin by framing my discussion of the present with some reflections on the recent past. I’ve been interested for a long time in the dynamics of party change in America, and I’m interested in that because although the Founders did not anticipate the rise of the party system – indeed were horrified by the thought and did their best to prevent the rise of a party system – it nonetheless has become the principal vehicle for the organization not only of mobilization but also of ideas and the implementation of ideas in the form of practical policy.
The party system as we now know it came into being in a tumultuous period, the 12-year period between 1968 and 1980. In 1968 neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party looked much like what they do now. By 1980 the basic mold, I believe, was set, and the parties have not changed all that dramatically since. We may want to argue that point, but that’s at least a first approximation.
So the next question analytically if party change is so important: Where does party change come from? There are lots of answers to that question. Here are three. One possibility is that you have a demographic eruption – some new, previously unmobilized portion of the electorate surges into the political arena and does so disproportionately for one party or another. The second source of party change is serious clashes within a party over program or even ideology. I’d say the most dramatic example of that was the five-year period between 1975 and 1980, where Ronald Reagan and the forces he represented challenged the existing sort of Midwestern style of Republicanism and succeeded in taking over the party and reshaping it – a takeover that I believe has defined the modern Republican Party to this day.
The third source of party change is the one that I really want to focus on as the predicate for my remarks, and that is a party is more likely to change when it has experienced repeated defeat, particularly when the most recent defeat is unexpected and therefore all the more painful. I was Fritz Mondale’s issues director from 1982 to 1984, and I can tell you that Mondale’s defeat changed the Democratic Party not one whit because after May nobody expected him to win. In 1988, by contrast, Michael Dukakis was up 17 points in June, and I think the conventional wisdom was that he would win. I didn’t subscribe to that, but I was so lonely I talked to myself in the shower. (Laughter.) And so Dukakis’ defeat was one of those attention-getting episodes in the history of the political party, and it created the predicate for the work that a small renegade band of New Democrats did between 1988 and 1992. Absent the stinging, unexpected Dukakis defeat, that would not have happened.
I believe that from the Democratic Party’s standpoint 2004 was a lot like 1988. It played a very similar function. Believe it or not, it was a race that most Democrats thought was eminently winnable. They thought they had chosen a candidate who could win it. They thought they had an approach that would thread the needle and get – to vary the metaphor slightly – get the ship through some of the shoals on which it had been wrecked in previous elections. And when John Kerry’s campaign failed, it was a similar moment, where the attention of everybody in the party was riveted on the question of what went wrong and how to fix it.
What you always have at that point is a battle of competing narratives. The narrative that won out, whether it should have or not, whether it was warranted by the numbers or not, was a narrative that focused on values and religion. You all recall the famous and much-contested exit poll question about moral values voters. You probably also remember the chart that is below, titled “The Religious Divide in the 2004 Election,” where as people become more observant, they become less likely to vote for Democrats and vice versa.
You’ve all seen versions of this chart. This would be a great chart for a French election, but if you’re in America, not so good.
So the Democrats really began to take that seriously. And if I may invoke the sacred name of Pew, their attention was really seized when a series of Pew polls indicated that an astonishingly small minority of the American people thought that the Democratic Party was “friendly to religion.” I think everybody concluded that something needed to be done.
Interestingly, something was done – lots of things – but two things in particular. No. 1, there was a lot of re-thinking, and not just by would-be party intellectuals and ideologists like me, but by the candidates themselves. And I would put in evidence two very significant speeches by the two people who ended up as the Democratic survivors, Barack Obama’s Sojourners Call to Renewal speech and then Hillary Clinton’s abortion speech. Those two speeches represented very systematic and deliberate efforts to re-think this whole set of relationships in a way that might at least create more play in the religious sphere for Democratic candidates.
Secondly, and I know this is especially true of the Clinton campaign, there was renewed attention to a pool of voters who had been largely neglected, namely Catholics. The reason for that is that Catholics, who in 1950 were the most faithful Democratic voters, 50 years later had become the quintessential swing voters in the American electorate. Just to illustrate that, I’ve put on the chart below, “Major Party Shares of the Catholic Vote from 1992 to 2004.”
As you can see, in 1992 [Bill] Clinton carried Catholics by something approximating his national margin. He built on that and got up to plus 16 in 1996. That edge had virtually disappeared by 2000, and by 2004, because of the Bush campaign’s extraordinary success in mobilizing Catholic voters, particularly in Ohio – Matt Bai wrote a couple of terrific pieces about how that happened and it made the difference. It’s easy to demonstrate that superior Catholic mobilization by Republicans in the state of Ohio created the margin that gave George Bush the election.
So with that as a background, Democrats started thinking a lot harder about the Catholic vote. I want to spend my remaining 15 minutes, which is I think about what I have, on that. First, a brief demographic and statistical word about Catholics in general in the United States. And for all of this and a lot more, you can burrow into the bowels of the appendices of the Pew Religious Landscape Survey –
CROMARTIE: The executive summary is in your packet.
GALSTON: If you’re interested in looking at the statistical appendices, I’ll be glad to bore you during the break. At any rate, what do we find out from this wonderful statistical inquiry? First of all, comparing Catholics to Protestants, Catholics are a little bit older, but not dramatically so. They’re slightly more likely to be married and to be living with minor children, but again, not dramatically so. They’re slightly less likely to be divorced or never to have married. They are as likely to have completed college and to have gone on to post-graduate work as Protestants are. Most people don’t think that’s true but it’s true. And they are as likely to be middle class or even upper-middle class as Protestants are.
The notion of Catholics as across the board older, less educated and poorer is really not true at all. It may be true in specific parts of the country, but for Catholics as a whole, it’s not true. And if you strip out Hispanic Catholics from that, then – just doing numbers on the back of an envelope, which is all I had time to do – I think it actually flips, and white Catholics may turn out to be slightly more educated and have slightly higher median incomes than Protestants. Don’t hold me to that, but that’s what I think.
An interesting factoid about Catholics that I’ll throw in just for your titillation is that about a third of all people born into Catholicism no longer consider themselves to be Catholic. That is fully 10 percent of the adult population. Ten percent of the adult population. Ex-Catholics outnumber every Protestant denomination except Baptists. I have often wondered – and I don’t know of any serious work on this – I have often wondered whether ex-Catholics continue to carry with them a Catholic sensibility that affects the way they view society and politics, including partisan politics.
The final factoid before I start drilling down is that there has been a tremendous rise during the past generation in unaffiliated voters, who now constitute about a sixth of the electorate. And once again, if you do a longitudinal analysis, look at where people started out and where they ended up, today’s adults are about three times as likely to have moved from affiliated to unaffiliated status as the reverse. If you want to know why is it that there’s been such a growth in unaffiliated adults, it’s the sum of two things. First of all, a lot of young people from unaffiliated houses have not yet affiliated. But even more important, there has been a very large migration of people who were born into a denomination or a religious affiliation who have simply left it behind as they grew up. We’re not yet in Max Weber land, where modernization equals secularization, but clearly something is going on that we ought to pay some attention to.
I’d now like to go a little bit more deeply into the role of the Catholic vote in the 2008 primaries. If you look at the chart labeled “2008 Democratic Primaries: White Vote by Religion,” the vote that you see there is Clinton, and you find two things. There are 21 primaries, first of all, in which it’s possible to make a comparison between how she did among unaffiliated voters and how she did among all voters. In 20 of those 21 cases, she under-performed – that is to say, Obama over-performed – among unaffiliated voters. That makes a great deal of sense when you consider that young people in particular are disproportionately likely to be unaffiliated and that he’s done disproportionately well with them. Twenty-five percent of all young adults regard themselves as unaffiliated and report that.
The second thing you see is that in the 23 cases where it’s possible to do a Catholic-Protestant comparison, she performed better among Catholics than among Protestants overall and in two-thirds of the states. So all of the media speculation that arose in the wake of Pennsylvania is not just a one-off, but it reflects, I believe, a more general pattern that has been emerging and becoming clearer as this campaign has gone on.
Now let me direct your attention to the charts below. You’ll see some detailed cross-tabsthat I persuaded a national newspaper to release just this Friday so that I’d be able to discuss it with you.
We can come back to these cross-tabs if you really want to dig in, but here are some of the key take-aways. In Pennsylvania – this was from a Pennsylvania exit poll – Clinton beat Obama among whites overall by 26 points, 63-37. Among white Protestants, it was 59-41, an 18 point edge. Among white Catholics, 72-28, a 44 point edge. And by the way, even in the midst of this electoral catastrophe, Obama beat Clinton 59-41 among unaffiliated voters.
Now, if you look at the demographics of white Catholics compared with white Protestants – we’re talking about the white vote here in Pennsylvania – they are somewhat older (five points more likely to be over 45), somewhat less educated (six points less likely to be college grads) and somewhat lower income (four points less likely to make over 50K). But all of these differences are modest at best, and they are not nearly large enough to explain the overall outcome – this large difference between her Catholic appeal and her Protestant appeal – and they do not go away when we control for key variables.
So if you look at a series of pair-wise comparisons, she did better among white Catholics than among white Protestants by 13 points overall. You look at education, it’s 12 points among non-college graduates and 14 points among college grads, so education sort of washes out. If you look at income, she did 9 points better among Catholic voters making less than $50,000 a year than among Protestants at that income level and 12 points better among voters making more than 50K. Once again, not a big difference. Twelve points better among white Catholic men, 13 points better among white Catholic women, so there’s no special gender effect.
The one area where the cross-tab does reveal an effect is age. She did 15 points better among those white Catholic voters who are 45 years of age or older and only 3 points better among white Catholics 18-44 years old.
One other thing that I tested for is religious observance, religiosity. Catholics in Pennsylvania were 36 percent of the total vote, divided evenly between those 18 percent who attend weekly and 18 percent who attend a lot less than that. She did somewhat better among the regular weekly attenders, by 9 points – 74-26 – as opposed to the less frequent attenders, 65-35. But as I look at the numbers, this appears to be largely an age effect.
I actually did a sort of side study of religious observance as opposed to denominational identification in all of the primaries for which we have the data so far, and there is no pattern. It’s not the case that she systematically does better among the more religious people in a particular denomination and he does less well, or vice versa. There is no pattern that I can discern, which is interesting because the conventional wisdom in recent cycles has been that it is not so much your denomination as your level of religiosity that determines the basic orientation of your thinking, and at least in these primaries that seems not to be the case. We’ll have to try to figure out why not.
Now if you go back to the cross-tab for just a minute, you’ll see something quite interesting at the bottom: the question, “If these are the only candidates on the ballot in November, for whom would you vote?” In an Obama-McCain contest, as you’ll see, white Protestants stick with Obama 70-17 against McCain, but that drops by a full 11 points for white Catholics. Only 59 percent of white Catholics in Pennsylvania said that they’d stick with him. If you compare that to the cross-tabs right underneath with Clinton, she does 9 points better among white Protestants vis-à-vis McCain in Pennsylvania but 26 points better among white Catholics. That is potentially, I don’t need to tell you, a very significant number.
Now why does this matter from a political standpoint? Well, if you’ll go to the chart below, I have listed for you states with an above-average share of Catholic voters compared to the national average of 24 percent. As you can see just eyeballing it, nearly every swing state is in that category. Nearly every swing state. And the exceptions to that are either within statistical striking distance of the national average, like Michigan and Ohio, or states that I call the possible purples – Colorado and Virginia, which have 19 percent and 14 percent Catholic vote respectively.
If you want to know why they’re possible purples, well, the state of Colorado has an electorate 25 percent of which is unaffiliated. That’s the third-highest take in the country. That is even a higher share than the evangelical voters in Colorado, who are so noisy and about whom we hear so much. As for Virginia, well, Virginia has a 31 percent evangelical population – evangelical Protestant – which is 5 points above the national average. In North Carolina, it’s 41 percent; Tennessee 51 percent. So by south of the Mason-Dixon Line standards, the state of Virginia is more Catholic and more unaffiliated by a long shot than its neighbors to the south.
In conclusion – am I on schedule?
CROMARTIE: You’re on schedule.
GALSTON: Very good. In conclusion, I will raise the big question, namely, why is there this denominationally linked difference in the responses of Democratic primary voters to Clinton and Obama? What is driving this? The honest answer is we don’t know for sure, but here are four things to think about. No. 1, within American society and American politics, reform is a Protestant idea. All of the great change crusades in American history have been led by Protestants, and Catholics usually find themselves, in party terms, on the side of the regulars as opposed to the reformers. As George Washington Plunkitt famously said, reformers are morning glories. I think Catholics have always believed that. And if you don’t know who George Washington Plunkitt was, see me at the break.
Second, I think that Clinton’s relentless focus on bread-and-butter issues may very well appeal to and activate the distinctive and traditional Catholic emphasis on social justice issues, the dignity of labor. I’m not saying that Obama has no regard for that. I think he cares very deeply about those things. But what you choose to talk about – what you choose to put in the foreground – and how you choose to talk about it can send a signal about where your passion is. I think that she has done a better job of sending that particular signal to people who are particularly primed to receive it.
Here’s a third hypothesis. Within Catholicism, leadership tends to be more correlated with age than in Protestantism, and for a very obvious reason. In Catholicism, as in old disappearing corporate America, there are fewer opportunities to rise outside the hierarchical structure, which requires patience and rewards persistence and age. So that’s the third hypothesis.
Here’s the fourth hypothesis, which is the saddest one. We can’t rule out the possibility that older Catholics are simply less comfortable with the idea and the possibility of an African-American president than are older Protestants. Having said that, I can’t quite tell a story that convinces even me as to why that should be the case. Perhaps some of you around the table can come up with an explanation. Thank you very much. (Applause)
CROMARTIE: Thank you, Bill.
Ladies and gentlemen, I call your attention to the bio descriptions in your packet. I highly suspect most of you know who Michael Gerson is. Michael now has a post at the Council on Foreign Relations as the Roger Hertog senior fellow. He has a twice-weekly column that he writes for The Washington Post, and he has now set the record as the very first person who’s ever worn a tie at this event. Michael, we’re glad you came. Welcome back.
MICHAEL J. GERSON: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be with all of you. I’m also pleased to be here with Bill Galston, who is really one of the most principled and creative people in American politics. As I said last night, a Democrat with Barack Obama’s style and Bill Galston’s substance would be unbeatable.
I’m glad that Bill has handled much of the social scientific heavy-lifting. I’m going to focus on changes taking place among religious conservatives, a shift that has important social and religious implications right now and may have major, though gradual, political implications in the future.
For those who don’t know, I come from an evangelical background. I attended Wheaton College outside Chicago as a Bible and theology major. It’s a pretty religiously conservative place. When I went, the joke on campus was that the administration had banned premarital sex because it might lead to dancing. (Laughter.) I’m actually sad to report that Wheaton students – in another sign of the decline of Western civilization – are now allowed to dance.
But since it opened before the Civil War, Wheaton has balanced a kind of moral conservatism with a concern for social justice. Its founder, Jonathan Blanchard, was deeply hostile to slavery. He embraced college education for women. He ran also – actually I found this out recently – ran for president on the anti-Mason ticket. This combination of theological and moral conservatism with social and political activism is the evangelical tradition in America. And after a brief absence, we’ve begun to see its return.
The model of social engagement of the religious right is largely exhausted and discredited. But it is not the crackup of religious conservatism; it’s the maturation of religious conservatism. It’s not something new; it’s something old and noble – as old as abolition, as old as the Scriptures. And this change has the potential to raise new issues and build new alliances that will change the American political landscape.
The evidence is probably familiar to many of you. First, we’ve seen a head-snapping generational change in leadership. [Jerry] Falwell, [Pat] Robertson and [James] Dobson are very different from [Bill] Hybels, [Rick] Warren and [Tim] Keller. This is in part, I think, driven by their own leadership and priorities. It’s also in part driven, when you talk to them, by their own congregations.
Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian in New York is largely young, single, urban. He reports that the religious right in the Republican Party is generally viewed with suspicion. This younger generation seems completely detached from these older institutions. Many of his parishioners have developing world experience; many are involved in inner city ministry. That may not be true everywhere in America, but these are the culturally formative churches right now – Redeemer, Willow Creek, Saddleback. They set the tone in many ways.
Second, there’s some evidence that evangelicals are more loosely attached to the Republican Party. I think that the Pew evidence shows a decline in identification of about 10 percent over the last few years. But this, of course, has been at a time of general decline of Republican fortunes. Zogby polls – I talked with John Green earlier in this cycle – Zogby polls in Missouri and Tennessee found that about a third of white evangelicals who showed up to vote in the primaries voted Democratic. Green says that that should be more like a quarter.
But, of course, evangelicals were still 60 percent of the caucus-goers in Iowa, and they generally backed [Mike] Huckabee through a string of primaries. So the reality here is they’re still the largest element of the party – probably making up about a third of the activist base. They’re still turning out, still committed, still concerned about social issues. But Huckabee himself, of course, represented some of this change with his emphasis on lower income voters and was attacked for it in the primaries. I remember [Fred] Thompson calling him a pro-life liberal during the primaries.
And third, there’s my own anecdotal evidence. Not long ago, I was at a conference up in Pittsburgh called Jubilee with 2,000 evangelical young people. For those who think that they are recruits for the Christian Coalition, I think they’re in for a rude awakening. Some aggressive idealism – there were booths on women’s rights and sexual trafficking and environmental issues. I got a lot of questions on issues of torture, poverty. Many of these young people came up to me afterwards in kind of an anguished uncertainty, unable to consider themselves Republicans or Democrats, homeless in the rigid partisanship of American politics.
I think there are a number of reasons for this shift; I’ll give a couple. One of them is there’s a significant revolt against the tone of the religious right. Rick Warren talks about how the church should become more known for the love it shows than for what it is against. I think that’s a generally shared conviction in this kind of emerging generation of evangelicals. I remember on Capitol Hill, when I worked there, how staffers dreaded the calls that were orchestrated by the religious right because of how vicious and rude they were. It’s easy to become kind of a pitiful appendage in the power games of others, and I think the religious right proved that in many ways.
Some of this change is coming because of a recovery of tradition. Evangelicalism began as a reform movement within establishment Anglicanism, and British conservatives were deeply suspicious of religious enthusiasm – and they should have been. It is a movement that challenged one of the richest industries in England, one of the oldest human institutions – the slave trade – and the followers of [William] Wilberforce became followers of Shaftesbury, who advocated the reform of public health and fought the excesses of the industrial revolution.
All these trends, of course, were reflected in American history in the political coalition that elected Lincoln and women’s rights and prison reform. Another reason for this shift, I think, is a reassertion of scriptural emphasis. Warren often talks about over 2,000 verses that relate somehow or another to poverty and justice and how he had read those verses for many years with blinders on and those blinders being removed. I think it’s increasingly clear just through scriptural interpretation one of the reasons these are recurring priorities in the history of the church.
Finally, I think we’re also seeing the outworking of a large historical trend, the movement of the center of gravity of world Christianity to the global south. You’re probably familiar with some of the figures, but there are now more evangelicals in Nigeria and Brazil together than there are in the United States. There are growing ties of sympathy and travel. There may be 1.5 million Americans who do short-term mission projects abroad every year, which has become a real right of passage among young evangelicals, and it changes your perspective. It certainly did mine.
I was just in Zambia and talked with a doctor who was explaining how when he moved there in 2001 when he would bring his daughters to school, he would have to leave an extra half hour or an hour to get across town in Lusaka because of the funeral processions that came every day, all day. When you see the extent of these problems, you come away expecting to feel pity but really feeling awe about some extraordinary people facing these challenges. I think that this is raising an entirely new set of issues among evangelicals – women’s empowerment, AIDS, malaria, clean water, conflict, genocide – and in many ways changing the way they view their political engagement.
Before I get too carried away, let me provide a few cautions because it’s easy to over-interpret these changes. Evangelicals are still largely on the center-right, not the religious left. Here, the 2007 Pew survey on younger evangelicals is particularly instructive. Young, white evangelicals still are more likely to approve of the president than their counterparts. They are twice as likely to say they are Republicans than their peers. Forty-four percent say they are conservative, 34 percent moderate, 15 percent liberal – about the same as 2001; 70 percent approve of the statement that it should be more difficult to get an abortion compared to about 39 percent of the young overall; 72 percent support the death penalty compared to about 56 percent of their peers. Many are disillusioned with the war, as are many Americans, but I think that there’s very little evidence that they’re embracing pacifism or joining the peace movement. And I think it’s fair to say that they’re generally happy with Supreme Court justices like Roberts, Alito.
I think there’s a general feeling that the religious left often seems to repeat the mistakes of the religious right with a different ideology, calling every budget cut in some bloated program a spiritual crisis. They tend to have baptized the agenda of the left, just as some have baptized the agenda of the right. And it’s worth saying that it’s not primarily the religious left that raised issues like Sudan and sexual trafficking and AIDS and other things, although they were often involved in these things. It was usually moderate evangelicals – mainstream evangelicals – who pushed on these large new issues of social engagement.
Another warning. It’s easy to overemphasize the newness of this. I don’t remember, but I know people who were involved in the 1973 Chicago Declaration, which was an evangelical statement on poverty, sexism, racism, violence. It was signed by Carl Henry, one of the leaders of the evangelical movement. The NAE, the National Association of Evangelicals, did statements throughout the 1980s on poverty and civil rights. I remember Francis Schaeffer, a major evangelical leader, wrote a book called Pollution and the Death of Man. People like Chuck Colson have – well, Chuck really led the most important social reform movement of the last few decades, reaching prisoners and their families.
But I also think it’s fair to say that this new evangelicalism is more of a tendency than a movement. It has strong leaders and weak institutions. The NAE is not the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And it may be inherent in the nature of the movement itself. American religion as a whole is becoming more personal and less institutional. Social expectations about religion have faded, and this in many ways has resulted in the large growth in both unaffiliated – that Bill talked about – and nondenominational Protestants at the same time and for some of the same reasons. It’s difficult to organize in that context.
But even with all of these warnings, there is something going on. Since leaving the White House, I’ve seen how this trend or tendency sets up a tension within the Republican Party and within conservatism. I’ve experienced some of that tension. This evangelical centrism is not libertarian. It’s engaged in a significant conflict on the visions of justice within the Republican Party. A libertarian definition of justice is generally the impartial application of rules – the rule of law, markets, everyone is treated equally. But it’s impossible to avoid the fact that the Christian and Jewish definition of justice is quite different. It’s measured by the treatment of the poor, the weak, the powerless, the voiceless.
And this is not, at some level, traditionally conservative. Religion in this case is not merely a source of tradition and social order. When a young Jewish girl tried to express the historical impact of the Advent, she used the words: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He’s put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He’s filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Teachings of faith are not always conservative. In fact, G.K. Chesterton said the grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of millstones, and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks have been rolled over them. Christianity is not defined by political and social change, but it requires an unavoidable political question. What if every human being we meet and every prisoner in a maximum security cell and every hungry child in a distant land and every unwed mother and everyone with a severe disability and everyone we love and everyone we hate is actually the reflected image of their creator – the most precious thing we will ever touch or see in this life. This view of justice creates the possibility of new alliances. This new evangelicalism has considerable common ground with Catholic social thought.
For some evangelicals such as myself, searching for models of social engagement on Capitol Hill many years ago, we looked to the model of Catholic social thought – the ideas of subsidiarity and solidarity. I just participated a few days ago in a conference with Rick Warren and Cardinal McCarrick and other evangelical and Catholic leaders to talk about this very topic and found very deep agreement. When it comes to these issues of social engagement, evangelicals are often Catholics without rosaries. (Laughter.)
It also creates common ground – and I won’t go into this too much – on a global agenda, which relates to my work at the Council on Foreign Relations. I work fairly closely with the Gates Foundation people, and their polling revealed something interesting, that the constituency for global engagement and assistance in the United States is very divided between the parties. The most skeptical elements of the Democratic Party are, in fact, blue-collar voters, who believe their first dollar should go to health care and other projects. The most supportive are college-educated Democrats, who view soft power as an important supplement to hard power.
In the Republican coalition, the most skeptical of any group in America to development assistance are secular conservatives, who distrust government and don’t believe America should play that role in the world. The most favorable within the Republican coalition are, in fact, religious conservatives, who have a moral view of America’s role in the world. This does create the possibility, which I’ve seen on a variety of issues, for alliances between religious voters and traditionally liberal human rights advocates and others. That’s been a lot of my work at the Council.
The discussion will draw out the political implications here, but let me make a couple of brief points. First, I think Obama had a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of these trends, but seems to be blowing it. I think he’s illustrating how difficult this is for Democrats in many ways. Obama could hardly have started better. His Call to Renewal speech was genuinely important, a strong rejection of secularism, a strong embrace of a religious basis for civil rights and social justice, very strongly consistent with the history of the civil rights movement. And to add a personal note, at that point and later – because that was an early speech, but in the early stages of this campaign – I was going to have a very difficult time choosing between a [Rudolph] Giuliani or an Obama candidacy. I think that would have been tough for many evangelicals.
But I think a couple of things have emerged in this context. One of them is that Democrats cannot forget that it was the abortion issue that funneled many religious voters into the Republican Party. On these issues, both Democratic candidates have really added little. Obama, in particular, has voted in favor of partial-birth abortion. He opposed a Born-Alive Infant Protection Act in the Illinois legislature. I think there’s very little evidence that Democrats are shifting on these issues in important ways.
I think his association with [Jeremiah] Wright has questioned his central strength – the message of reconciliation rooted in the rhetoric of the civil rights movement. In excusing Obama or Wright or both, some have tried to argue that black liberation theology is somehow an extension of civil rights rhetoric, and that’s simply false. The problem is not that Wright is political or liberal. Many African-Americans are both; African-American churches are both. The problem is that there is a message of anger and exclusion at the heart of his message, which was not true of [Martin Luther] King [Jr.].
I think there is a reality here that Democrats have to take seriously, which is that evangelicals in many ways were defined in opposition to the social gospel of the Protestant mainline, which Hillary Clinton represents, and I think they’re increasingly uncomfortable with the religious tradition that Obama shared for 20 years. So this year of outreach to religious voters is proving to be difficult.
John McCain represents, for me, an odd paradox. He’s probably the least comfortable of all three candidates talking publicly about his faith. He has a history in 2000 of relatively unprovoked attack on evangelical leaders. He has a tin ear for the evangelical community, going early in this process to speak at Liberty University instead of Wheaton College or Saddleback, accepting the endorsement of [John] Hagee, which I think was a mistake. Clearly, he is in unfamiliar country.
But in many ways, his ideology, his approach to politics, is the closest to this centrist evangelicalism – pro-life, support for climate change, opposition to torture, support of immigration reform. Immigration reform is particularly important, not because of evangelicals broadly, but because the largest political gains that George Bush made between 2000 and 2004 were actually among Hispanic evangelicals, which is about 15 percent of the total of Hispanics in the country.
Ken Mehlman, I remember, called them the key figure that came out of that election. They are in many ways a real bellwether because they’re very much in this centrist mode even more than whites. Nearly 50 percent oppose, for example, capital punishment – 16 percent higher than white evangelicals; 70 percent support a government guarantee for health insurance compared to about 58 percent of white evangelicals. So they more closely represent Latino Catholics than they do in some ways white evangelicals, and they need to be kind of wooed and won. The party in the immigration debate, I think, alienated many.
So what does all this add up to? I think that many evangelicals are center-right voters who respond to a message of social justice and community values, not only a message of rugged individualism and unrestricted markets. Over the years, religious conservatives have made common cause with movement conservatives, but they are not identical to movement conservatives. And this restlessness is increasing. Evangelicals are not turning into liberal Democrats, but they are becoming more loosely moored to the religious right and the Republican Party. Many are looking for a new, broader, more positive model of social engagement, which has yet to fully take form. This has left many evangelicals feeling homeless.
But this is not all bad. There is something essentially counter-cultural about Christianity that should make all Christians restless in political coalitions. Christianity indicts oppressive government but also the soul-destroying excesses that sometimes come with freedom. It teaches enduring moral rules and an emphasis on justice for the least and lost. It is often hard where liberalism is soft and soft where conservatism is hard. If Christianity were identical to any political movement, something would be badly wrong. It looks to a kingdom not of this world, and without borders, flags or end. And by this standard, we will never be fully at home.
Thank you. (Applause.)CROMARTIE: Thank you, Mike.
MIKE ALLEN, THE POLITICO: Thank you both for stimulating presentations. Mr. Galston, you gave us your favorite example for your second and third triggers for party change. I wonder if you could give us your favorite example or the key example of a demographic eruption. And Mike, probably everyone around this table understands this except for me, but I did not clue in early enough to the distinction you were making between the remnants of the religious right. So could you tell us whether the religious right still exists and is it moving this way, or is there a certain population that is still in the same place?
GALSTON: Okay, very briefly. My favorite 20th century example of demographic eruption would be the 1932 election. You just look at the numbers; there’s just a surge of people into the electorate – into the Democratic Party – representing a coalition that hadn’t existed before.
CROMARTIE: Remind us – that ’32 election?
GALSTON: Yeah, it was the first Roosevelt election.
CROMARTIE: Right, right, okay.
GALSTON: And that really created the template for the Democratic Party that existed between 1932 and roughly the mid-1960s. There was, I would say, a smaller but still significant eruption of highly educated, upscale professional young adults into the Democratic Party in the late ’60s and through the mid-1970s. If you look at the famous freshman class – the House freshman class of 1974 – you’ll see the first fruits of that. And I think there has been a line of candidates, of whom Obama may be the first successful one, reflecting that new upscale professional demographic within the Democratic Party.
The reason that Obama is going to succeed where so many before him have failed, whether it was Bill Bradley or [Paul] Tsongas or Mo Udall, or what-have-you, is that he has put together upscale professionals in the African-American vote. In every previous cycle, the African Americans were with the regulars and against the upscale reformers – not so this year.
GERSON: I guess I would respond to the question by saying that institutionally the religious right was overestimated even at the time in a certain way. Even at its height, the Christian Coalition had real grassroots clout in a fairly limited number of states. But even that limited institutional framework has declined. I think it’s more than symbolic that when the Christian Coalition tried to find a new president and picked a popular pastor who wanted to expand this agenda and talk about these issues more broadly, the board and leadership of that organization – he essentially resigned before he took office because of resistance.
GERSON: Yeah, Joel Hunter. The reality is that when the NAE – I don’t always approve of everything they do – but when they do a statement on climate or they do other things, there still is opposition, significant opposition – calls for resignations and other things. There is a fear, a significant fear, among a significant portion of the remnants of the religious right that these new issues are going to supplant life issues, family issues and other things. I don’t believe that that’s necessary, and I don’t think it reflects the evangelicals or the public in a lot of ways.
But as I said, I think that there are a significant number of converts to this approach. When I was at the White House, I got a lot of people who lobbied me on Sudan in particular as a breakthrough issue, and some of them were older evangelicals. It was not just generational. There has been with the religious liberty emphasis of the last decade and the AIDS crisis just a broadened global perspective among a lot of evangelicals. I will say, though, that as you’ve had these religious right institutions decline, I’ve not really seen what replaces them as far as expressing this movement. There’s an institutional gap in a lot of ways. It hasn’t caught up with opinion.
I think Sojourners and others try to take advantage of a portion of this, particularly at college campuses, and have some success, but I don’t think they’re going to be able to organize as broadly because, as I argued, I think that most evangelicals remain center-right in orientation.
ALLEN: Thank you for that. As long as Michael considers this related, I think we have to pause and note the irony of this 10 percent decline in identification with the Republican Party. This occurred with President Bush in the White House. Is there anything you guys could have done to alleviate that?
GERSON: Well, first of all, the evangelical identification with Bush in ’04 reached almost 80 percent. He won evangelical votes by 3-to-1 in that election. That’s an artificial high; there’s no question. This was unprecedented. My general view is I don’t believe that evangelicals are going to be 50-50 like Catholics seemed to be in a lot of ways. I think Bush got 52 percent. They’re not going to be 80-20. That’s the switch; that’s the shift that’s going on. I think that’s likely to continue with this broadened emphasis on a variety of issues. Evangelicals have shared many of the same concerns and disillusionment as the broader public. The polls actually reflect those trends even less but aren’t immune to them. So I think there’s an artificial high point in a lot of ways to measure against, but I also think that they share the views of the general public and there’s been a significant retreat from identification with the Republican Party, particularly among the young.
JACQUI SALMON, THE WASHINGTON POST: A question for Bill. Are there any national polling numbers when it comes to the white Catholic vote, Obama versus McCain and Clinton versus McCain? In other words, are white Catholics swinging back toward the Democrats after voting 52 percent for Bush?
GALSTON: There probably are; I don’t have them. My best guess, for what it’s worth, is that right now if the election were held tomorrow, white Catholics would not be for the Republican nominee at the 52 percent level that George Bush achieved in 2004. I should know those numbers. I simply don’t.
CROMARTIE: But he will by the end of the day. (Laughter.)
DAVID BROOKS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I have a question for each of you. First for Bill. When you got to the big whys of why this pattern is happening, I was most attracted to why No. 1, the reform movement. I want to get you to talk more about that, and to prompt you, my thought was that this can’t be new, this emphasis of reform being a Protestant idea. I wanted to see if I could get you to talk, A, about the history and, B, to reflect on the distinction Michael Barone has drawn saying Hillary’s supporters are Jacksonians, in particular with the emphasis on resilience and fighting, where that plays into this.
And this may be more a personal question for you, Mike, and less something you can generalize about – but some of us believe that John McCain’s moral sense is less Christian than pre-Christian – (laughter) – and it’s based on classical concepts of courage, honor, things like that. I was wondering how, A, you react to that moral sense and how you think evangelicals will react to that moral sense.
GALSTON: Well, the saga of Protestant reform starts with the Reformation and proceeds from there. (Laughter.) But in American history, most of the great moral crusades have been led by reform-oriented Protestant leaders, some of whom were in the public sector, some of whom were in civil society. First of all, it was Protestant ministers who created through their Sunday orations the popular predicate for the American Revolution, and that’s been documented amply. Protestant reformers were leaders in the anti-slavery movement, in the suffrage movement, in the temperance movement. It just goes on and on, and the civil rights movement as well. Others joined in subsequently.
If you look at the president who was the quintessential Protestant reformer, it was Woodrow Wilson. You can see writ large, not only in the United States but in the world, the fruits of Wilsonian – essentially Protestant – reform. So the more I think about the proposition that the reform impulse in America is more centrally and quintessentially Protestant at its core, the more attracted I am to that thesis.
Now, whether the fact that you and I are both attracted to that thesis for grandiose historical reasons because it makes us feel deeper – whether that translates without remainder into the proposition that it’s the principal cause of this asymmetry in support that we’re seeing between Catholics and Protestants for Clinton and Obama – I have no basis for connecting the high theory with the low results, but maybe really sophisticated focus grouping might be able to tease some of this out.
GERSON: Just to comment briefly. It’s a little bit of a paradox, however, that – I’ve said some bad things about the religious right. One of the most important things the religious right accomplished was to organize evangelicals and Catholics in a single social movement around a reform, which was the pro-life movement. That divide had been one of the most basic divides of American political history. The pro-life movement played this weird democratizing role. It’s seen as a source of conflict. It was actually an amazing source of social cooperation that had never happened in American history before. So you go to those early pro-life marches, and you’ve got people from Liberty University and you have Knights of Columbus carrying statues of the Virgin Mary. That was different. It was entirely different.
GALSTON: If I could interject, I think it’s an interesting conceptual question, and not just a conceptual question, whether that movement means – I’m using these as neutral descriptors – reform or reaction. That is to say, I happen to believe that the mobilization of the Christian right and the evangelicals back into the political arena was a defensive reaction, that is, absent certain external forces’ stimuli, it probably wouldn’t have happened. That’s a little bit different structurally from the classic Protestant reform, which takes a longstanding evil and tries to right it –
GERSON: Social improvement.
GALSTON: Social improvement as opposed to simply restoring the status quo ante, which is said to be better.
BROOKS: Reform is a word that we almost never use because I think you’ll never be able to find – reform movement basically means a movement for change that I like -(laughter) – as opposed to a movement for change that I don’t like. It comes up in the question of how you’re going to categorize the pro-life movement in this case, but I think it probably is a bit of a handicap for the whole Protestants-like-reform thesis. Do I make any sense?
CROMARTIE: That was helpful.
GALSTON: Yes. But having said that, I think that there – and I fully appreciate the sort of normative journalistic dilemma that you have – (laughter) – but from the standpoint of the way American history is written, I think American historians have no trouble filling the file folder that I described with a series of movements that are defined as reform movements.
Now, obviously a lot of people at the time didn’t particularly – a third of the population in 1774 didn’t like the idea of revolution. Very substantial portions of the population didn’t like the idea of women voting or getting rid of slavery or getting rid of booze or whatever. So it’s always controversial at the time of change which the “right side” is. That defines the struggle of every social movement. But I was just making a historical point about the way the terminology is typically deployed in the narrative, and I sympathize with The Times’ reluctance to go along with the historical profession. (Laughter.)
GERSON: I’ll just respond real briefly.
CROMARTIE: To that and also to –
GERSON: No, no, no, to David. I think that this lack of a religious narrative for his campaign – with McCain – is a political liability. I think it shows – it explains the tin ear. I don’t think he knows the difference between the various parts of the evangelical movement, how to appeal, all these sort of things.
But I guess I’ve come to the view that he is still a value-oriented politician who’s likely to be able to appeal to a lot of people. It is a different set of values. They’re not religiously rooted, reform-oriented values. They’re military conceptions of honor and loyalty and other things. But that’s also a great tradition of American rhetoric and civil religion. That’s not foreign to the American tradition in a lot of ways, and you’ve had this before. I think for a lot of evangelicals that’ll be a sufficient proxy in a lot of ways, to be for a value-oriented candidate. But that’s why it’s such a shame in a certain way with Obama, at least the way things have worked, because he has that great tradition of American ideals and rhetoric from the civil rights movement, which in some ways is even more powerful. It’s a uniting principle for Americans, and that’s why Wright has been so destructive.
But I also believe – I want to put in here – that it’s interesting that Hillary Clinton’s narrative is also a religious narrative and it’s the narrative of liberal Protestantism – social justice Protestantism. She’s steeped in United Methodist kind of language. And so you have these three, in many ways, great traditions of American rhetoric, but you don’t have the evangelical one in this mix in this election.
,img alt=”Ana Marie Cox” src=”http://www.pewforum.org/files/2012/07/cox11.jpg” />
ANA MARIE COX, TIME: I just want to make a point about McCain. I’ve spent quite a bit of time covering this cycle. First of all, I wanted to say that when David said that he was from a pre-Christian tradition, I thought you were talking about when he grew up. (Laughter.) And secondly, I guess just some data points. It’s safe to say that I’ve spent hours talking with McCain about climate change and torture, and he has never mentioned any of the kind of religious-based reasons for being for those things. On both points it’s incredibly practical reasoning for him. He often makes the argument about climate change that the worst that can happen is that we’ll leave our kids a cleaner planet. And on torture, obviously he has a very practical view on that as well.
Then, just the second point about him. A couple of weeks ago, I was out with him and because we’d run out of Hagee questions, we started asking him about his religion and he reacted – I’m using this word very consciously and carefully – but almost violently to questions about his religion. I don’t know if anyone was paying attention, but there was sort of a controversy about whether or not he was Episcopalian or Baptist. He now goes to a Baptist church in Phoenix, and he has yet to be baptized there. We were asking about when he was going to be baptized, and he said he was in negotiations – (laughter) – with his pastor. We thought that was an odd phrasing. (Laughter.)
EVE CONANT, NEWSWEEK: I wanted to ask Michael, when you go to these Jubilee conferences, you say that the younger evangelicals are coming up to you with sort of anguish on their faces and that they feel homeless. In the course of my reporting on religion and this cycle, I hear a lot from Democrats, from progressive groups, about common ground. I hear evangelicals use the phrase common ground, but I don’t often hear common ground on abortion and those words coming close together. Clearly that’s the big social issue, the thing that has in the past kept maybe some of these younger evangelicals from voting for a Democrat. Do you see any evidence, either anecdotally or beyond anecdotally, that large portions of younger evangelicals would actually vote for a pro-choice candidate this time around?
GERSON: I saw plenty of evidence early in this cycle that evangelical college campuses were similar to other college campuses in support for Obama – genuine enthusiasm. But that is what campaigns do. When you talk with them and ask them Obama’s views on a variety of topics, they don’t know. They have no idea, partial-birth abortion and other issues like these. He speaks a common ground language and it’s very, very appealing. So I don’t know. I don’t have any sense and the polling doesn’t support – the Pew polling indicates that evangelical young people are more pro-life than their parents. That to me is interesting. They view it as a social justice issue. It’s not viewed as a judgmental issue or a kind of sexual issue or other things. I think it’s viewed as a social justice issue, as part of a continuum of social justice issues. And that represents a real problem for Democrats to appeal.
The reality here is that it’s not impossible. Jimmy Carter appealed to evangelicals before this debate had become hardened in many ways. Bill Clinton, in his first election, got a significant portion of evangelicals because of a variety of cultural symbols. It’s not that these things haven’t happened before. But I do think it’s very, very difficult under the circumstances. I think Obama’s going to be under the weight of those two factors, of the fact that even though he talks about common ground on abortion, he supported partial-birth abortion, which is a redline for a lot of people. I think, secondly, the point that Wright undermines this common ground message, you know, black liberation theology –
CROMARTIE: A quick follow-up.
CONANT: With Hillary, though, at this point do you see any sense within her campaign or how she’s campaigning that – With Obama perhaps losing ground here, is there anything that Hillary has said or done that can pick up where Obama may be losing out?
GERSON: Well, not on that particular issue. I think it’s fair to say that Hillary Clinton is probably the most vigorously pro-choice candidate in American political history.
WILL SALETAN, SLATE: I actually have a question for each of you, and I’ll try to make it short so we can get to the break. For Bill, I was totally struck by what you said about one of your four theories. One of them was about whether Hillary’s emphasis on working-class issues sent a signal about social justice and the dignity of labor. What struck me was that Michael Dukakis with good jobs and good wages, and John Kerry and Al Gore -. For election after election, Democrats have had these sort of programmatic, “it’s in your interest” economic programs and have been ridiculed for those taking them away from values issues. So if you can explain a little bit about is she doing it in some way that’s different from the way those guys did it that makes it somehow more of a social justice issue?
GALSTON: I think it’s a question of context rather than of a change in message orientation. The 1988 election was not waged in economically hard times. Only in1992 have we seen levels of concern about the present and immediate future of the economy at the peak that we see now. The numbers are really staggering. When you have only 15 percent of people saying that the economy is on the right track, being well-managed, people are really scared. There is something going on that they don’t understand. For a lot of people right now, the narrative of success for them and their children is obscure, and so there is a special receptivity to a message that focuses on bread-and-butter economic issues. I’m just stating banalities at this point.
The surge of the economy into the overarching issue of this campaign in a matter of just a few months is a really stunning development. It has reconfigured the playing field. It gives new salience to old arguments, and it diminishes the salience of arguments, particularly cultural arguments, that have more purchase in better times. To put it as schematically as possible, in a year in which either peace or prosperity is at issue, the cultural issues are likely to recede. In a year when both are at issue, as we say in the classroom: a fortiori.
CROMARTIE: We say it here too.
GALSTON: I think it’s entirely understandable that a bread-and-butter message framed by terminology that resembles the terminology of the past is going to have much more salience and get much more traction, in the same way that Bill Clinton’s economic message in 1992 was clearly the driver of his campaign. That same message delivered in 1988 by the same messenger wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. So if you just look at the basic structure of the issues terrain, you’ll have a pretty good clue as to the kinds of arguments that are likely to have resonance in a particular context.
If we were still talking about the issues terrain as it was configured exactly a year ago, we’d be having an entirely different argument or discussion about an entirely different brand of political rhetoric. I think it’s almost as simple as that.
SALETAN: So it sounds like nothing to do with the message, everything to do with the receiver, with the context.
GALSTON: That’s my view.
SALETAN: Okay. Mike, I was really glad you brought up the thing about Huckabee being a pro-life liberal, which is what I loved about Huckabee, as a journalist. It’s so boring to have these coalitions sitting around for 30 years and nothing happening to them. What do you think the Huckabee experience tells about the viability of a – maybe the terminology isn’t quite right but – a pro-life liberal candidate in the Republican Party for president. What do you think, on the Democratic side, the experience of a [Bob] Casey in Pennsylvania or of Obama nationally tells us about what Democrats would have to do to bring in some people who might consider themselves pro-life liberals? With Casey it’s pretty obvious, but with Obama – he does seem to have tried to send a couple of signals.
Maybe, as you say, it’s just a redline on partial-birth abortion. A friend of mine who’s pro-choice said he had seen Obama on Fox News waffling on partial-birth and that upset him as a liberal. I wonder if that message even went across to the other side. Obama had clearly tried to use Casey as an example of – I’m not pro-life, but our party is going to be more open to these folks. That doesn’t seem to have made an impression on you. What would Democrats have to do short of actually crossing the line and being pro-life.
GERSON: There are two sections here. Huckabee, I think, proves in one way that this is still the largest single coalition within the Republican Party but is not a majority and that he got consistent support from evangelicals. It’s not enough, but it’s significant. I think the way that he tried to expand that appeal probably undermined his appeal in a lot of ways.
I was expecting to like Huckabee. I went out and was with him in Iowa, and it was the day that he announced the endorsement of the head of the Minutemen, which is not a mainstream group.
CROMARTIE: We’ve heard.
GERSON: And I think that there came to be –
CROMARTIE: What happened there, Michael? Did you ask him?
GERSON: I didn’t get a chance to –
CROMARTIE: You were so upset.
GERSON: Well, I know this is all on the record, but I asked a lot of campaign people and their basic response was, “Well, I wasn’t responsible for that.” (Laughter.) Yes. I think he undermined some of his strengths as he went along, but he does represent this shift. He constantly talked about how we have to be concerned not just about being pro-life before birth and talked about income mobility issues, which I think McCain’s going to have to address in some ways. I think he got a significant portion of this message and then came across as pretty calculating in what he eventually did.
SALETAN: How much taxing and spending do you think evangelicals would be willing to go along with for a candidate who really believes in their issues and their values?
GERSON: Well, I think, for example, it’s an interesting figure that even though the percentage of Hispanic evangelicals is higher, do you support government-supported guarantee of health insurance? You have 59 percent of evangelicals who support that. I think they’re not libertarian for the most part, although they’re suspicious of government, particularly because of these experiences that came through the ’70s and ’80s, attack on religious education and things like that – the perceived attack on these things. So I don’t believe they represent a kind of libertarian wing of the Republican Party. They’re different from conservatives for the most part, even though they share many values.
Then on the Obama side, you’re asking what are the redlines here. First of all, I think in order to be real, it has to be more than just, we want to reduce the number of abortions through contraception. I think the Democratic Party is going to have to be open to gradualists, which it’s really not now. Even on the Daschle mode, late-term abortion restrictions- any legal restriction of any kind I think is probably an important line, to say that this is morally serious at later stages or some kind of thinking.
I think it can’t just be an abortion-reduction strategy, basically, for the fundamental reason that evangelicals and others in society view this as not just a moral issue, but an issue of social justice that has to have legal implications. I think that’s what the Democratic Party has been unwilling to do, even though a few of its members have supported partial-birth restrictions and other things, but none of its nominees.
GALSTON: Just let me add one or two sentences. Let me say I absolutely agree with what Mike just said –
CROMARTIE: On the record.
GALSTON: Yes, well, as a political point, and I’ve made that argument inside party circles that the rhetoric of reaching out on this issue, without any real substance behind it, isn’t going to get us very far. I will say, though, that there is one symbolic circle that the Democratic Party could close at its 2008 convention: Invite Bob Casey Jr. to address the nation.
LAUREN GREEN, FOX NEWS: I feel a little like the momentum has gone down a little bit, but the one question I want to talk about is racism and in terms of Obama. One of the things that’s not really talked about a lot is this underlying variable that may be skewing numbers unknowingly of the Catholic vote or the Protestant vote, the over-50 crowd, the under-30 crowd, all of these things. Because racism is so deeply indented into the pysche of the American public, we seem not to want to talk about it, but it’s sort of – to coin a phrase – the white elephant in the room. I go to Dr. Keller’s church in New York. He explained one day that one of his black friends came to him and said, you people think because you do certain things this way that you don’t understand that that’s a white way of doing something. Whereas we might see it as a white way, you just see it as the way. That kind of explains the level of racial divide that is in the United States. Are there any numbers that give credence to that element, that indefinable variable, that may be skewing the numbers?
GALSTON: Good question, and I’ll just say a couple of things in response. First of all, when I listed my four hypotheses, the one that I ended with (and I put it there deliberately) was the possibility that what we’re seeing among older Catholic voters in Pennsylvania is much more discomfort with the idea of an African-American president than you would see among younger Catholic voters, who grew up in a different world. The difficulty that I have with that thesis is that you then have to explain, which I can’t – I can’t tell a story to explain why it is that no such discontinuity shows up between younger and older white Protestants in that very same state. Those are hard numbers that we have to wrestle with.
Having said that, there’s another very important time series here. The Gallup Organization, as you probably know, has been asking questions going back to the 1940s. Would you be comfortable or uncomfortable with an X or a Y or a Z as president? When they started doing this in the 1940s, you had 60 percent-plus of respondents saying that they would not vote for an African-American for president, period. The last time I checked, a couple of months ago, that was down to 6 percent. Now, it’s the same question, phrased in the same way. I have to acknowledge that the social conduct of acceptability and unacceptability in responding to those questions, even anonymously, has changed, but still I think we have to give some weight to the magnitude of the change. Interestingly, twice as many respondents – 12 percent – expressed real discomfort about the idea of a woman president. And now, let me go on to stir the pot.
You’re not necessarily going to agree with this, but I’ll say it anyway. I think that a very substantial portion of white America is itching for the chance to vote for – and I’ll put this very bluntly – a certain kind of black leader for president of the United States. I think people would have felt great about voting for Colin Powell if he’d chosen to put himself forward in 1996. And until the Reverend Wright affair came along, I think a whole lot of white people would have felt great – cleansed – about voting for Barack Obama.
GREEN: Can I add to that? I was talking with Michael before about the barbershop/beauty shop conversation that most of you here probably don’t get to hear –
GALSTON: Oh, I do.
GREEN: (Chuckles) In black circles the feeling is that there are a lot of white liberals who prided themselves on voting for or supporting Obama and then felt blindsided by Jeremiah Wright. That’s kind of the underlying issue with Jeremiah Wright. It gets down to being faced with a black man who is from the civil rights era who is basically saying to them: Your system of entitlement I’m going to call on the carpet right now.
GALSTON: Well, if I could just come back once briefly on that. A reporter friend of mine sat down with Obama not long ago and put exactly that set of questions to him. Obama’s response was very interesting. He said it is a misunderstanding of Wright to see him as continuous with the civil rights tradition. He represents a slightly younger generation that felt betrayed by what they saw as the failures and inadequacies of the civil rights tradition and went off in a more nationalist direction.
GREEN: But then there are other younger generation black ministers who are saying, Wright doesn’t represent us and the black liberation theology only represents about 25 percent of a new generation that’s coming up. So there’s clearly some kind of conflict, don’t you think, between this new generation of minister – the megachurches – and the Jeremiah Wrights.
GALSTON: Very much so.
CROMARTIE: Michael, do you have a comment?
GERSON: I think the terrible tragedy of the Wright situation is that many people that I talk with, even on the conservative side, felt like the day that Barack Obama – if this were to happen, even if they wouldn’t support it politically – the day that Barack Obama took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol would be one of the great, important days of American history. The history of America in many ways is the history of race from its very beginning, from its founding, and it would be an extraordinary healing moment. It’s the reason why at the beginning of this process I was absolutely convinced that Barack Obama would be a much stronger candidate than Hillary Clinton.
The venom of conservatives toward Clinton is very real and rooted in a long history, and I never felt that toward Obama. Even those who opposed him felt like this would be a historical accomplishment and an important moment. That’s why I think Wright is so tragic in a certain way. He calls into question this centerpiece – commitment and form of idealism – by which he launched his campaign. I don’t know how that turns out, but it’s a shame.
CROMARTIE: On this point, Kathy.
KATHY SLOBOGIN, CNN: You were asked what the Democrats would have to do to bring around the evangelical centrists on abortion. I ask you the same question: What would Obama have to do on Reverend Wright to bring you back into his camp?
GERSON: I think he faces an almost logical problem, which is that he has now denounced a man that he tolerated for 20 years, and it’s very, very hard for him. The question becomes does he have kind of a moral gag reflex? Does he have a kind of anger at things we should be angry about? That was hard to do, given this history, for a variety of reasons. I believe that it would have been smart and just for him to have done what he has done now early in the process. I think the arguments that he made in the Philadelphia speech really turn against him – the identification of Wright with the mainstream of the African-American community, the fact that he could not renounce him for a variety of reasons and then had to renounce him. Strategically I think he should have done what he’s done now earlier in this process. But it wouldn’t have ended this because of that long-term involvement. I sort of side with Jeremiah Wright in this. I’ve been talking about this.
CROMARTIE: You do?
GERSON: I do in one way. I don’t agree with his theology; I’ve critiqued it. But he holds it seriously. It’s an intellectual construct that’s not just a generational anomaly. I think that Obama’s speech in Philadelphia dismissed him as being – and patronized him as somebody, well, you know, this represents the anger of another era. I think Wright’s response has generally been – in some long speeches that explain black liberation theology: No, I’m not representative of another era; I represent a theological framework that I argue for with some vigor. I think that some of this reaction was actually provoked by the Philadelphia speech.
GALSTON: Just a very quick comment. First of all, this represents the latest in a string of what I’ll call sociological moments in the Obama campaign, where the impulse is to elevate above the issue and then frame it sociologically and explain it that way. And the sociological explanation takes the place of the substantive confrontation. That’s a nice side step as long as you can get away with it. I happen to agree, once again, totally with Mike Gerson. As a matter of fact –
CROMARTIE: I didn’t intend for you all to agree on so much.
GALSTON: Well, I’m sorry about that. We’ll look for occasions to disagree. The single most unpopular article I have ever written – and that takes in a lot of territory for those of you who know me – the single most unpopular article I’ve ever written was the one that I published the day after the Philadelphia speech, where I said in effect, this isn’t going to cut it because it left unanswered the central question that had been raised by the eruption of Wright into the public sphere, namely, the nature of this personal relationship between them.
I raised in my own language the question that Mike just raised, namely, we have seen Obama’s admirable capacity for bringing people in. Now we need to find out whether he has an equally admirable capacity for drawing lines where lines have to be drawn. My judgment was that the Philadelphia speech either hadn’t drawn a line or had drawn it in the wrong place and that there was going to be follow-up. I said that much more in sorrow than in anger, but I am not at all surprised by the way things played out. I’ll show you a copy of this. I had a chamber pot dumped over my head in the 24 hours after it hit the ‘net.
CROMARTIE: You had what over your head?
GALSTON: A chamber pot.
SALETAN: What about Obama’s press conference last week, did that do it for you?
GALSTON: I’m with Mike. I think that if Obama had come closer to that six weeks ago, he’d be in a different place, in a better place.
SALETAN: And now?
GALSTON: And now? My judgment – and I hope I’m wrong about this because I think he’s going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and speaking as a Democrat, I’ll support him ardently and do whatever he asks me to do – but I think some enduring damage has been done. You can’t make that soufflé rise twice. (Laughter.)
COX: I have a few different questions. The first one is for Mike. I don’t know if you have this demographic data at your fingertips, but I’m wondering about these young evangelicals that you described, the homeless ones, the ones that see social justice as part of the evangelical mission. I’m wondering to what degree they are reflective of that generation as a whole, which is a very different generation than my generation, this next generation.
And then, for you Bill, the Catholic support for Clinton – I have to be careful in the way I put this – is it possibly related to the fact that they wouldn’t judge her for staying in a marriage that had so many problems, whereas there are a lot of people – I’m among them – that question the judgment of someone that would not leave a relationship that seems to be so fraught, let’s say. It’s not so much that she gains an advantage from that, but maybe other people that are like me just more naturally would not see that as an – it’s not an advantage for her but just doesn’t hurt her with Catholics.
Another question, totally unrelated, what are the policy implications for this Catholic vote moving in a significant way toward the Democrats? It seems to me from what you’ve said it’s unlikely that they’ll have the same weight in policy discussions that the Christian right had in shaping the policy of the Republican Party.
GERSON: Very quickly because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen great figures on this, to be honest with you. I think there is more evidence that this generation is different and not just those kind of annoying, wispy chin beards, which is different. But it’s the globalized focus, which I think is different. I think that the polling on younger evangelicals indicates – the same polling that indicates that there’re some strong pro-life beliefs, and this has an implication for the Republican Party and for a variety of different political settings – I think there’s much more openness to long-term homosexual commitment. That is a cultural change shared by this younger generation of evangelicals with their peers.
So I think there’s some commonality there, but as I said, those numbers are significantly different than their peers’ on death penalty or even the Iraq war and some of these other things. Even though there’s been a significant erosion, there’s still a huge gap. I think it’s fair to say that any community organized around scriptural fidelity is likely to have an element of moral conservatism. I don’t think that should be surprising to people because it’s organized toward a tradition rather than toward an expressive individualism in a lot of these areas of morality. So I think that makes a difference. I’ve seen those elements on homosexual rights issues and on these globalization issues, which includes environmental kind of things, as well as global health and other things. There seems to be a lot of common ground with their peers.
GALSTON: Here is a high-flown speculation about the family-marriage issue you put on the table. In the Catholic tradition, there is a narrative of suffering and endurance, which is very important. J.P. II really hit that hard before his death. So there is this Catholic idea that choice is less central than it is for Protestantism. Once you’re in a situation, you endure its difficulties. You try to make the best of it because there’re some things that can’t be changed and other things that shouldn’t be changed, and so you do the best you can. I think that the narrative that she’s developed has been very much along those lines. It would be very interesting to do a serious study of how women from different faiths and representing different levels of education and occupation, etc., have responded so differently.
As for the Catholic influence on policy, well, in the break, Mike Gerson very rightly reminded me that there is one big counterexample to the Protestants-as-reformers thesis that I put on the table, namely, the labor movement, which was strongly influenced by Catholic social thought and Father John Ryan, who was in turn deeply influenced by the application of Rerum Novarum to the emerging industrial capitalism of the United States.
I don’t think it takes a genius to predict that if there is a strong Catholic vote for Sen. Clinton in the Midwest, that will have – at least at the margin – some impact on the likelihood that a Hillary Clinton administration will move more strongly on labor law than the Bill Clinton administration did and will probably reinforce the trade timeout that has already been put on the table by the Clinton campaign. Those are just speculations. It’s the best I can do.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I was very interested in the way you framed the disproportionate success that Sen. Clinton is having with Catholics, and I was just wondering if I could get Michael Gerson to speak to that. He laid out four multiple choice scenarios for why that might be. Do you have any guesses about why she’s done better among Catholics?
Actually, Michael, while you’re thinking, if I could have a follow-on. Do you find among – it’s very related – among more-orthodox Protestants that there might even be a stronger desire to elect a black president, that there’s a kind of “something to make up for” feeling among more-orthodox Protestants? (Laughter.)
GERSON: I could try the second one first. Elements of evangelicalism like Promise Keepers and other things have been very oriented toward racial reconciliation for the last decade as a central kind of commitment of its self-definition. I think there is a sense of burden that many – obviously many early religious right believers when they were pastors were not on the right side of some of these questions, although there were exceptions to that. Both Billy Graham and Oral Roberts were actually exceptions during the civil rights era of some of these things. Oral Roberts integrated his crusades and other things.
CROMARTIE: And so did Graham.
GERSON: Yes. And so did Graham and was open to Roman Catholics in a way that others were not. So I do think that there is a sense here. Maybe it’s this more Lincolnian view of American history that slavery was in fact a sin and has continuing consequences. I think there’s probably an element of that. But of course, it’s balanced by the fact that some people, who self-consciously would not regard being an African American as a disqualification for the presidency, may have a tendency to hang on to proxies – like Wright unfortunately and others – to try to justify their own tendencies on these things.
What’s going on with Catholics? I did take part – in some ways, George Bush in the year 1999 going into 2000 was one of the most vocally Catholic candidates for president in American history. We talked about subsidiarity – we used the word. We talked about solidarity. We redefined this kind of pro-life language in very Catholic terms – culture of life, expanding circle of inclusion and protection, welcoming society, all of these terms. It was conscious and not cynical. It very much fit where a lot of evangelicalism was headed on a variety of these issues. I think there was a pretty natural fit there, and those gains among Catholics were pretty dramatic up to 2004, so that kind of outreach actually works.
Why is it not working as well for Obama? I’m just afraid that Obama has returned, unfortunately, to the profile of a more traditional secular Democrat. He gets a lot of the unaffiliated, and there is in Pennsylvania, even though I know it’s not consistent over these things, there is a church attendance gap – a significant one – among Catholics. And so, I’m afraid that he’s developed the profile through these sociological moments of a more traditional John Kerry Republican – Democrat – (laughs) – typical John Kerry Democrat, somebody who appeals to knowledge elites, somebody with a more secular profile, and that’s losing a lot of ground it seems to me.
CROMARTIE: Well, you guys are in agreement again.
CHRIS LEHMANN, CQ WEEKLY: One question for each of you, I guess. First, to kind of follow on yet again, the way the media seems to, the Reverend Wright stuff. I’ve been struck by your remarks, Michael, of characterizing Wright as a liberation theologian and recalling that there are such figures in Hillary Clinton’s own religious background – her Methodist youth leader was very enamored of liberation theology, and Michael Lerner, whom she briefly embraced back in the first Clinton administration as kind of a Jewish liberation theologian. I know this because I used to work for the guy. (Laughs.)
GALSTON: My condolences.
LEHMANN: Another long and sad story I’ll spare you of.
GERSON: We were just at a dinner together by the way. We got along famously, so –
LEHMANN: I’m not here to judge. (Laughter.) But it’s striking to me that none of that piece of Hillary’s religious background has entered this debate over what is and is not liberation theology, a term that’s largely unfamiliar to a lot of mainline believers in America, and I can’t help but think that there’s a racial element to that. In other words, even as you’ve described much of the remnants of the religious right as a movement without institutional leaders right now, I think there’s a tendency for very complicated reasons to regard expressions of black religiosity as -. In the case of Wright, he’s a leader without a movement, as far as I can see, and there’s a very strong compulsion in the coverage at least to sort of say: Oh, no, Obama has aligned himself with this kind of dangerous post-civil rights theology. It’s a strange disparity that I’d like to see explained somehow.
GERSON: You know, I think there’s some truth to the point, which is there is some double standard here. Hillary Clinton, unlike Barack Obama, was an actual participant in the ’60s, not just going to a church of someone who was a participant in the ’60s. Tom Hayden has an interesting column on this about all of the fairly radical legal work that her firm was involved with in the ’60s and the variety of associations. If you’re making a guilt-by-association argument, I think there’s something there.
LEHMANN: Obviously, Wright in this own oafishness is pushing this progress forward, but Obama has repeatedly denounced him, denounced his statements, and there is this stickiness to it.
GERSON: I agree, but you can’t forget the fact that somebody who was 20 years in a church that – there are some differences there, more than accepting Hagee’s endorsement or being involved in something in the ’60s. There’s a discussion of people’s plans.
LEHMANN: Yes and no. One can also argue that Falwell and Robertson, who made very incendiary comments about all sorts of things, were long-term power brokers in their – I’m just saying it’s a very complicated picture, and we tend to craft it as a very simple -“he sat in the pew for 20 years while all these statements were made and he did nothing.” I don’t profess to have knowledge either way, but the narrative seems to push us in one direction.
GERSON: I think that Wright has been making clear that these are centerpiece commitments of his theological identity and permeated his approach at his church. That’s an argument Wright has made, and that’s why it’s a problem in a certain way. But I would make one comment based on that, which is Obama’s rhetoric early in the campaign – which is beautifully crafted – his Iowa victory remarks and others, is heavily influenced by an African-American tradition of rhetoric, the rhetoric of the civil rights movement, which is a great uniting tradition. I don’t think there was any reaction – quite the opposite. I think there was an embrace, a broad embrace, even in some Republican circles of that rhetoric and language rooted in the African-American tradition that came out of the civil rights movement. But this is the reason why Wright is so destructive, because at its heart there’s an exclusivity to black liberation theology just as there was to Central American liberation theology.
LEHMANN: Just as there was to the religious right in many ways. I just had a separate quick question for Bill to throw out another potential hypothesis for the strong Catholic support for Hillary. Is there anything in your study that suggests it might coincide with her very aggressive outreach to the Hispanic voter? It’s a very strongly Catholic demographic.
GALSTON: Well, since all of the statistics that I presented were of white Catholics, I deliberately gerrymandered the statistics so as to rule that out because that is an independent variable and a very strong one, as we’ve seen. And that deepens the mystery in a way, or at least it creates a harder nut for a hypothesis to crack because this is a white-on-white comparison.
EDWARD STODDARD, REUTERS: Bill, I was just wondering, would it be fair to say that white Catholics have emerged as a key base for Hillary Clinton? And I was just wondering what the implications of the white Catholic vote will be in Indiana this week in the Democratic primary.
CROMARTIE: And North Carolina.
STODDARD: Yes, and North Carolina, but I think in Indiana it’s probably going to be more important, I’m guessing.
GALSTON: You’re right about that because the white Catholic share of the Indiana population is exactly twice the white Catholic share of the North Carolina population, 18 percent versus 9 percent. Having said that, Indiana is 6 percentage points below the national average for Catholics. And in that respect, I asked myself demographically, which other state did Indiana most nearly represent from a religious standpoint? And the answer is Missouri, right? It doesn’t look like Ohio; it doesn’t look like Pennsylvania. It looks a lot more like Missouri. Thirty-four percent of Indiana adults are evangelical Protestants. That’s significantly higher – 8 points higher – than the national average. So, when you think Indiana, look southwest for a point of comparison. By the way, that single statistic helps explain why Democrats are competitive in all the states around Indiana, but at least for national political purposes, not in Indiana itself since, I believe, 1964.
STODDARD: But the broader question about are white Catholics now – would you say, are they a base for Hillary now, a key base for her?
CROMARTIE: Nice answer.
CLAIRE BRINBERG, CNN: Mike, I have a question about Sen. McCain, and I guess I’m just wondering whether you have some advice for him. Americans have seen that they want their politicians to be able to speak fluently about their faith. They think more highly of politicians that they view as religious, and Sen. McCain seems to kind of stumble his way through. He gave this interview to Beliefnet, I guess last year, where he addressed the whole issue of a Christian nation. Every time he goes a little forward, he has to stumble a little back. And now, as Ana mentioned, he does get a little angry on the campaign trail when he’s asked to describe the elements of his faith, his journey as a Christian.
CROMARTIE: He needs a faith coach.
BRINBERG: He needs a faith coach, but at the same time, there’s a question of authenticity, which bedevils any candidate who tries to talk about their faith. People know when someone is just trying to talk the talk. So I wanted to know how you think Sen. McCain should address this going forward. I also was wondering, where you look at values issues, where you look at the life issues and marriage issues being a bedrock in some areas of Republican general-election mobilization, whether Sen. McCain can take advantage of those same issues in a way that President Bush was able and whether his ticket really has to be balanced by a Mark Sanford or someone who can speak the language of cultural conservatism and reassure the Republican base that, as McCain has said, these issues he feels -. He is pro-life, he is pro-traditional marriage, but he said himself that those issues don’t rate very high on his agenda when it comes to things that he actually wants to address. So what does he need to do to give confidence to the base of the party?
CROMARTIE: He needs to hire Mike Gerson as his faith coach.
GERSON: First, I think that John McCain is a political throwback in a lot of ways, and not to the classical period necessarily, but to Nixon-Ford Republicanism. Religion is something private; he does not talk about how it informs his public policy. He doesn’t make those connections in the same easy way that Obama or even Hillary Clinton does. I would have a very, very hard time advising inauthenticity on these things.
My best political advice is there are ways for him to talk about his deepest values in compelling public ways, which he often does. He’s a person with a code which communicates fairly broadly. I do think though that he could use some work – (laughs) – in putting these issue sets like environment, like his support, for example, on AIDS and malaria and a lot of these other issues – he’s one of the best Republicans on a variety of these development and disease issues – to put that support in a way that would appeal to people who hold those views for faith reasons, to find that common ground.
I think, for example, on these issues of disease and development, making them a centerpiece commitment of his campaign would appeal to younger voters broadly and would also allow him to talk about America’s moral role in the world in a context that’s very comfortable for a lot of evangelicals. I think there are ways to talk environment in similar ways that do the same, even though it’s not his natural tendency. There are ways to do that.
I also think – and this is interesting common ground with Obama, although he would talk about it in different ways – I think he could make service and citizenship one of the centerpiece commitments of his campaign. He has a great history that supports the theme; he’s been a supporter of these ideas over time. The idealism of the young – it’s a way for him to combat this issue on age. To identify with the cause of service and citizenship would be another way for him to appeal to these themes without having to come in inauthentic ways from a faith perspective. I think there are ways to be value-oriented without using inauthentic religious language.
GALSTON: If I could just add a quick word. And I’m actually a little surprised that Mike, who’s a peerless speechwriter, didn’t mention this as part of his McCain action plan. McCain is a biography candidate, and I have heard him talk in absolutely riveting terms about the central faith experience of his imprisonment in North Vietnam. That is a stunning little story. And if I were McCain – everybody know what I’m talking about? Yes. If I were McCain, that would –
GERSON: He has done that, hasn’t he?
UNIDENTIFIED: That story involves no speaking. That story is about the guard that draws a cross on the ground? But there’s more than that. McCain was a chaplain to the prisoners who were there, and that’s something that he doesn’t really speak about as much. He put the cross in the sand anecdote in that Christmas ad when everybody all of a sudden did Christmas ads this year, and he speaks about that from time to time. But his chaplaincy in Vietnam is not something that he talks about, and I think that would be a really powerful thing to discuss.
GALSTON: I read an article to the effect that he had substantial portions of the service memorized, and that’s why he could be a chaplain. He did it with nothing. which is darned impressive.
GREEN: Because McCain is uncomfortable with talking about religion and his personal faith that he’s sort of a throwback to the Nixon-Ford kind of –
GREEN: – religion is private, does that make him more appealing to a wider constituency and on the foreign front as well?
GERSON: It’s possible that he could appeal to Perot voters, reform-oriented voters, who were the most secular in that election by the way. The Democrats were not the most secular; the Perot voters were the most secular. He might be able to appeal to some Perot-like, reform-oriented voters in a way that George Bush couldn’t. There’s a possibility.
GALSTON: But if I could have my one sentence, I think that’s a terrific question. Now, I mount my hobbyhorse. In my lifetime, we’ve switched from a culture where male reserve was a virtue to a culture in which male reserve is a vice. We have become a confessional culture. This has something to do with the resurgence of evangelicals in the political arena, but other things besides. If you believe that the personal is the political, then how can you be political if you’re not personal? So, I think that there are all sorts of forces pushing in the direction of more personal disclosure in the public sphere. I deplore all of these tendencies. (Laughter.)
BRINBERG: A quick follow-up on the second part of my question regarding Sen. McCain. I appreciate that if he’s able to frame his platform in a spiritual way, that that could help broaden his appeal. But looking at some core evangelical voters who do focus on the life issues, the values issues, how is he going to reassure them? Is he going to be able to use those issues in an election in places like Ohio and places where the president has used them in the past? And do you feel like he needs to balance his ticket with someone who can speak more easily about his faith and is a social conservative?
GERSON: Well, I completely agree with the premise of the question, which is because he’s uncomfortable, when he does it, it can be ham-handed and overstated, so he can react in the other direction, talking about a Christian America and a variety of things in the way that most modern evangelicals wouldn’t. I think that’s a significant challenge. But from everything I hear, I’m not sure that they’re looking for religious balance on the ticket, that primarily this is kind of their current orientation, which might well lead to Huckabee or others. I think they’re looking in a much more conventional geographic way.
My personal view on that side is – I won’t go into all of it – but that McCain is a good candidate in one of the most difficult elections for a Republican in history. He’s over-performing the divide, the generic divide, and they better be thinking in terms of doing bold things because they’re going to lose otherwise. So there’s no run-out-the-clock strategy for McCain, and that for me would lead to maybe somebody like Condi Rice, somebody like Joe Lieberman, somebody that would be genuinely a departure instead of looking at traditional kind of calculations.
COX: I’m sure that Mike knows this, but a data point that other people might be interested in is that McCain’s main speechwriter, Mark Salter, is a very devout Catholic. He goes to mass every Sunday; his girls are in parochial school.
CROMARTIE: No. We didn’t know that. Did you know that, Mike?
GERSON: I think I did know that he was a Catholic.
CROMARTIE: Okay. That’s of help. Thank you.
CARL CANNON, READER’S DIGEST: First, Bill, I’ll start with you, and you can think about it while I’m asking Mike. When you were talking about these four possibilities of why Hillary Clinton is doing so well among Catholic voters, one you said is the economy. The context was this economy is so different than say ’84 or ’88. You said that people are really scared, that there’s something going on. Well, one of the things going on is that the Democrats, and particularly Hillary Clinton and her surrogates, are scaring the hell out of people. Campaigning in Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said that voters want somebody as president who knows that this is the worst economy since the Great Depression. Well, that’s not a statement that can be supported by facts. So in other words, Hillary Clinton and her surrogates are terrifying the voters and then saying, see, the voters are frightened. I guess my question for you is, why would Roman Catholics be more susceptible to tactics like that?
And Mike, my question for you is – this was touched upon. You said that polling shows that young evangelicals are more pro-life than their parents. Well, but they’re much more pro-gay marriage than their parents. And you touched upon this in an answer to Ana Marie Cox. My question is, is this a structural problem for Republicans, that over time as gay rights moves up and abortion moves down in importance, is it going to trump or neutralize abortion as an issue and move young evangelicals Bill Galston’s way?
GERSON: I can have a quick answer to that question because I think there are fundamental changes on environment that are being reflected in the conservative parties of every English-speaking country right now. And that’s true of Great Britain, it’s true of Australia, it’s true of Canada. This is an unavoidable political reality. I think the issues on homosexual rights are obviously more tricky because there’s a significant portion of the evangelical community that wants to essentially maintain the word “marriage” as a heterosexual institution. I think that’s evident at the same time that this younger generation is coming up that probably buys the argument that some way to recognize and encourage social stability is in the public interest. Republicans are going to have to accommodate that.
Now, in practice, a lot of them do anyway. They say, I’m for marriage as a man and a woman, but I’m for other civic arrangements that would encourage this kind of commitment that’s favorable to social stability and other things. I don’t know if that’s going to be enough. I’m not sure that I see a huge movement – a politically motivated movement – to recognize gay marriage as much as an increasing commitment to basic homosexual rights, to the necessity for society to accommodate and encourage these commitments.
So I do think that that’s an argument that in some ways has been won by the advocates. But in an odd way, that’s where both political parties are right now. It’s true of Hillary Clinton, I believe. It was true of John Kerry. It’s pretty much true of a lot of people on the Republican and Democratic side. That’s kind of where they’ve ended up, essentially using the word “marriage” in a heterosexual context but then talking about institutions that accommodate these commitments.
GALSTON: Carl, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree about this one, and let me tell you why I’ve reached a very different conclusion. Something is going on, and in very methodologically solid surveys like the Pew surveys going back two years and more, you start to see a rising tide of voter anxiety about economic conditions. Why should that be? And why should Catholics be disproportionately influenced by these findings? Well, first of all, this is going to be the first peak-to-peak economic cycle where median family income didn’t even recover to the previous peak. As far as I know, there’s no parallel like that. Does that mean it’s the worst economy since the Great Depression? No. That’s partisan hyperbole.
But, I’ll put another factoid on the table, and that is, for about 20 years manufacturing employment was stable in this country. Then starting in the late 1990s, it began to decline slowly, a decline that has accelerated in the years of this current millennium. Manufacturing jobs have gone down by 3.7 million since their peak in 1998. This is an unprecedentedly rapid downshift in manufacturing jobs, and I don’t need to tell you that this downshift has occurred disproportionately in precisely those states where Catholics happen to be above the national median.
For 20 years, to put it as simply as possible, the manufacturing output was able to rise in tandem with improvements in manufacturing productivity, which preserved the stable manufacturing job sector. Starting about 10 years ago, productivity started going faster and output started going down in the rate of increase, and the result was a huge wedge driven into the heart of the manufacturing base. Now, you could argue from an economic standpoint, well, it’s sort of like the agricultural sector. It’s a good thing that productivity is leaping ahead and that people are being forced out of the sector, no doubt to deploy their human resources more effectively in some other sector. But it’s understandable why people caught in the transition don’t see it that way, and that’s what’s going on.
REIHAN SALAM, THE ATLANTIC: A really quick question about new minorities. The first, in Michael Gerson’s remarks, you mentioned Latino evangelicals as a kind of leading indicator of evangelical centrism. One wonders, however, if as this group assimilates, intermarries – they’ve already indicated by virtue of making the break with Catholicism that they are distinctive in some respects – that perhaps they’ll become more tax-sensitive and more similar to Anglo evangelicals in a lot of respects. The other question regarding Asian-American evangelicals, when you look at this community, because they’re –
CROMARTIE: You don’t have to speak quite that fast, Reihan. (Laughter.)
SALAM: – so thickly concentrated –
CROMARTIE: This is Key West. (Laughter.)
SALAM: – in heavily Democratic areas that it seems that there’s been a trend in the direction of the Democrats, could it be that Asian-American evangelicals, as these folks acquire citizenship or as people go past the age of 18, that they will have a distinctive political trajectory? And also given that this is a relatively affluent and also highly educated group, can we see them overrepresented in the future evangelical political leadership? Are we seeing indications of that? This is a question from ignorance on my part.
GERSON: The answer to the first question is that the Pew has done the best survey on these topics, on Hispanic evangelicals, and it seems to me from the information that they have that they’re kind of in the middle. They share certain white evangelical characteristics, but they’re significantly more open to, say, government activism when it comes to political issues, significantly, according to the data, more opposed to the death penalty and some of these other questions. So –
UNIDENTIFIED: (Off mike.)
GERSON: Over time that happens in most assimilated groups. But I think that right now they’re a distinctive enough part of the Republican coalition and were so central in the change between 2000 and 2004 – and so completely ignored in the mainstream Republican debate and conservative debate on immigration, in particular – that it strikes me as politically suicidal that Republicans don’t pay more attention to this kind of group. But I haven’t seen similar material on Asian evangelicals, so I don’t know the answer to that question.
ANDREW FERGUSON, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I have a question about the sheet that Bill handed out, and it has to do with how meaningful these categories are to begin with, especially between Protestants and Catholics. It would seem to me that a much better test would be religiosity, or as you have here, church attendance. Between a Catholic who goes to church once a week and a Protestant who goes once or twice a week, there’s much more commonality than there would be between the gay Episcopalian in Vermont and Reverend Wright or something. So if you controlled for church attendance or some other measure of religiosity, would these differences vanish between Catholic and Protestant?
GALSTON: That’s a good question, and I gestured toward an answer earlier in this session. The answer is I don’t know for sure. But one thing I do know for sure, and that is that the conventional wisdom is that the old denominational differences and confessional differences have been set aside. What you have now is a traditionalist entente made up of believing and faithful across the different denominations and confessions versus a non-observant tier who also make common cause across these lines. The data that I’m putting on the table are intended to call that conventional wisdom into some question.
I mentioned that I’ve actually done an analysis of less-observant, more-observant Protestants and Catholics for all of the primaries, and I can find no pattern. So Hillary Clinton did somewhat better among observant than non-observant Catholics vis-à-vis Obama, but conversely, she did somewhat better among less-observant as opposed to more-observant Protestants. And if you go state by state – I’ll show you the data at lunchtime and perhaps you can make more sense of it than I could – but I just did not see the religiosity variable, the observance variable, tracking with the results in the states to nearly the same extent that I saw the denominational variable.
And you’re right. Those are two very different ways of looking at the question. I looked at both of them. I saw a distinctive pattern in the one case and no pattern in the other, and so I decided to present a result as opposed to no result.
FERGUSON: Could that be because there’s a relatively small percentage of heavy religiosity among Democratic primary voters?
GALSTON: No. It’s not the case. I’ll show you some exit polls. In fact, Democratic primary voters – and this is why the party was so stupid to be so blind for so long – Democratic primary voters are not, for the most part, secular non-observers. They’re not quite as faithful as Republican primary-goers, but in the main, they are affiliated and at least half of them observe on a fairly regular basis. So I’ll show you Pennsylvania and Ohio.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN: Both parties now when they talk about the Latino vote seem to be talking almost exclusively about the immigration issue because that’s the door issue that everybody’s dealing with. But when you look at the evangelical portion of the Latino population and the strong Catholic heritage of this population, it doesn’t seem like they necessarily wind up on the Democratic side. They may much more naturally lean toward the conservative side. Do you see in either party people who are actively grappling with the next stage of the Latino vote? Once this issue of immigration is settled, where do these people wind up?
GERSON: When Bush gave his first major education speech, he did it to a Latino business group in California because we were trying to reach Latinos on education. On small business issues, there’s a significant overlap there because of a very, very active community. Latinos tend to be quite conservative on social issues, as some other immigrant groups have been. I would say all of that is true. Latinos even have kind of divergent views on immigration. Not all of them are pro-immigration.
But I’d be willing to argue that 98 percent, maybe 100 percent, don’t like being made a cultural target, okay? It doesn’t matter your views on immigration. And that was what key members of the Republican House of Representatives did during the immigration debate. It said that Latino culture – Hispanic culture – was somehow a threat to American mainstream culture, and I think that’s likely to mobilize and alienate just about every Hispanic in America, Catholic or Protestant. This to me was the big shift and I think the reason you went from around 40 percent support for Bush in 2004 to the 2006 election with a drop-off of about 10 percent in the Hispanic vote for Republicans. That’s a large shift.
FOREMAN: What I’m asking is, will these other core values that have been expressed religiously in this community come back to the fore and people say, all right, now the immigration issue is settled. At some point will these issues rise up again and the community say, look, we have always been this way as Catholics or as evangelicals, and we’re not very comfortable. The Democrats opened the door for us, but now we’re in bed with a group that doesn’t agree with us on some other issues we care about, whether it’s gay marriage or some other rights issues that they feel differently about – abortion.
GERSON: There’s certainly a plastic group in this way. George Bush between 2000 and ’04 made almost no gains among Catholic Hispanics. It was pretty flat. He made dramatic gains among evangelical Hispanics. That was a group that was ready to be appealed to. So it’s plastic in a certain way. They don’t have a tradition, and they’re attracted to Republican ideas.
CROMARTIE: Plastic or elastic?
GERSON: Plastic meaning shapeable and moldable and it’s not set.
GALSTON: If I could just add a word, I think, yes, moldable, but certain historical memories have a long shelf life politically. The California Republican Party has never recovered among Hispanics from the Pete Wilson years, and the question on the table is whether the House Republicans have done for the national Hispanic vote what Pete Wilson and company did for the California Hispanic vote.
GERSON: And if it were not for George Bush, I would think they had, but at least with Bush and McCain there are models of Republicans that provide some other alternative.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: This is really for Bill. I’m interested in who’s not going to vote, who’s going to stay home. I interviewed a number of black ministers the other day, and one thing that one of them told me is that Hillary Clinton has lost the black vote because Bill Clinton played the race card. So the first part of my question is, A, do you think that’s true, and in the general election – Clinton versus McCain – would that be enough to throw the election toward McCain? The second part of the question is with Obama. Would white Catholics stay home if he were the nominee, and would that be enough to throw the race to McCain?
GALSTON: Two deeply troubling questions, and you can answer them statically or dynamically. If you take a snapshot – I presented the snapshot from Pennsylvania on white Catholic attitudes right now, and they don’t look very good for Obama. Similarly, I absolutely believe the testimony that you heard from the black minister. If the election were held tomorrow and Hillary were the nominee of the Democratic Party, there would be some abstentions.
On the other hand – and this is where it helps to be as old as I am – I cast my first vote in 1968, the national election. I was a Humphrey guy, of course. I’ve been where I’ve always been; it rarely works. (Laughter.) I was surrounded by people who swore that they would never – Democrats who swore they’d never show up and vote for that Lyndon Johnson-aiding-and-abetting-and-enabling warmonger, Hubert Humphrey. Well, a funny think happened about a week before the election. People starting facing up to the inexorable choice that confronted them, and a whole lot of them showed up and came home.
I could tell similar stories. After the very, very bitter Ford-Reagan battle in 1976, everybody thought Ford was toast. He was 30 points behind, coming out of the Republican Convention. He made up 28 of those points, and I happen to believe that if he hadn’t prematurely liberated Poland, he would have been reelected. (Laughter.) So in fact, I think there’s a lot of history that the bitterness of the primary moment can – that time is the great healer. Having said that, I absolutely believe that African-American turnout would be suppressed if Hillary Clinton were to end up as the nominee and that is something that Democrats have to think about very seriously.
I happen to believe – this is a prediction, a falsifiable prediction and therefore one with content – I happen to believe that when it comes right down to it, the superdelegates will be more influenced by that fear in deciding which way to go than by any other single variable. That’s why I think if this ends up with the pledged delegate total and the popular vote total the way most people expect, that they will not in the end defy those results.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: What’s your analysis on Obama? Would white Catholics stay home?
GALSTON: I don’t know. I don’t know. They say they will. As I said, the question is – here I agree with John McCain –
CROMARTIE: On the record?
GALSTON: Absolutely. If I don’t say off the record, I’m on the record. Those are the house rules, right? On the record, when McCain said in his CPAC speech that this election would not be about small questions. It will be about the biggest questions confronting the polity, where the nominees will have starkly contrasting visions. In those circumstances, I believe that a substantial number of people will have to weigh their pique and disappointment against the fact that the stakes are very high and that you have two honorable candidates who espouse very different visions of what we ought to be doing domestically and overseas. I think that will help bring some people back. How many, I don’t know.
MICHAEL LINDSAY, RICE UNIVERSITY: This has been great thus far. Thank you very much for your comments. I have a question for both Michael and for Bill. For Bill, I’m interested in how the Democratic Party elite has become so much more secularist than average Americans. In 1972, first-time white delegates to the Democratic Convention, 30 percent of them self-identified as atheists, agnostic or as secularists. On the Republican side, it was 5 percent. In the intervening years since, let’s say, 2004, first-time white delegates to the Democratic Convention, 66 percent of them are identified in that secularist camp, whereas the Republican figure has been flat over that same span of time.
I think you’re right that 1968 to 1980 was incredibly important in realigning the parties. What is it that made the Democratic Party so hospitable to this secularist component? And how is it that they became so important among the Democratic elite, which actually looks different than folks who are elected to office and looks different from many of the constituents that they serve? So that’s my question for you.
And for Michael, my question is that when I was doing my research, one of the things that I oftentimes heard was that evangelicals were very, very pleased with President Bush, partially because he appointed people like you to senior positions – that your appointment, Karen Hughes – that this was a way in which they said there’s someone like us who’s not just in the White House, as they saw with Jimmy Carter, but also in his administration. One of the key differences between the Carter and the Bush administrations is that in both cases you have a chief executive who’s a self-identified evangelical, but in Carter’s administration, very, very few senior White House officials who shared the president’s evangelical faith, whereas in the Bush administration, there were several of you who shared the president’s faith. So my question is, who are the senior advisors in the McCain campaign who would satisfy –
CROMARTIE: We’re still looking for them.
LINDSAY: – satisfy evangelicals? Are there any, because those appointments do really matter, and of course, senior campaign advisors are the ones who become senior officials if their candidate wins.
GALSTON: I think Mike may want to respond with the old legal bromide, “asked and answered,” and slip the punch here. I can give you a historical account. As I said all too briefly in my history of the reconstruction of the American party system, when I was a young man, you had an enormous surge of people into higher education during the 1960s and early ’70s. It was during that period that college attendance became the norm, when most of the great state university systems were built in their current form. The world in which I started college in 1963 was nothing like the world 10 years later when I got my Ph.D., educationally speaking. The size and scope of the education sector had expanded dramatically, and that began generating what some neoconservatives called a new class.
Those people were the shock troops for party struggles starting in the late 1960s and persisting through the mid-1970s. They, led by some older people who had their eyes on the prize as well, reconfigured the rules of the Democratic Party, including instituting various sorts of quotas, the primary system that we have now, which had the effect of disempowering local, more blue-collar elites. The symbolic moment for that occurred in 1972 when, as some will recall, a Jesse Jackson-led Illinois delegation supplanted the Mayor Daley picked delegation. History really has unfolded in a pretty linear fashion from that point on. The role of organized labor, except the teachers’ union, in the Democratic National Convention has dwindled.
So the entire trajectory of “party reform” since the late 1960s has tended structurally to favor people in the class that you mentioned, and that kind of secular orientation is part of the sociological ensemble that goes along with a lot of other things, as you know. So that’s my brief answer.
GERSON: I would only add to that – I’m sure there are a lot of structural reasons for this – but people like me very much felt pushed. Jimmy Carter was the first president I liked. I handed out literature for him and was engaged in that campaign. Then, I don’t know if you remember, but with Walter Mondale, who talked about an orgy of intolerance from the religious right, who used religious people as applause lines in his speeches, Geraldine Ferraro talking in very divisive ways about the role of religion, the hardening of the Democratic Party – Jimmy Carter’s initial platform was “on the one hand, on the other hand” about abortion. “We understand that there are deep disagreements in America” – the hardening on that issue.
I think that there was very much a driving away that took place with key people and then even key Democratic leaders now. I know he’s not necessarily a mainstream leader, but George Soros has argued that being an evangelical as president, being a born-again president, he said, is itself a violation of the First Amendment, a violation of the separation of church and state. There’s a form of rigorous secularism in this, effectively creating a new qualification for presidential office that you not only have to be born in America, you have to be born once. (Laughter.)
UNIDENTIFIED: Of course, John McCain wasn’t even born once in America. (Laughter.)
GERSON: So I think there were plenty of these culturally formative symbols that Democrats engaged in, maybe as a result of all this, but in the way that they have engaged in politics.
On the McCain side, the person I think closest to McCain who understands these issues is probably Dan Coats, former senator from Indiana, whom I worked for at one point. I think he’s engaged in outreach and is not new to McCain. They were allies and friends when they were together in the Senate. So that’s a genuine voice in McCain’s circles for a lot of these ideas. I’m not sure staff-wise, but I think that’s a very positive thing.
CROMARTIE: Let me say, ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s going to be an act of social injustice for me to cut this off. It’s a really good sign of a good session when you go 15 minutes overtime. Let’s thank both of our speakers for their excellent presentations. (Applause.)
This written transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar by Amy Stern.
Photo Credit: Dan Habib/Concord Monitor/Corbis