The political battle plan for Republicans in 2006 is veering to the right this week with President Bush’s public call for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
While it is not likely that administration strategists will abandon the war on terrorism to hold their base in line, it is clear they are adding social issues to the agenda as they prepare for the November elections. Life, death, marriage and family are again in the message mix.
That is the real news in this week’s push for a constitutional amendment with little chance of success. Despite speculation from political pundits, media observers and mainstream Republican leaders that Bush is a “reluctant warrior” on the gay-marriage issue, he and his advisers seem committed to leading the parade on a social agenda that has successfully energized religious conservatives to become such a potent force in the Republican coalition.
Over the past three decades, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have gravitated to the Republican Party. Since 2000 there has been an almost complete alignment between evangelicals and the GOP. In the 2004 election, 78 percent of white evangelicals voted for Bush. In part that was a result of aggressive voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts by conservative religious groups, but the real driving force behind this solidarity was the message of George Bush.
Bush has mastered the ability of speaking of his faith in ways that resonate with evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians. He was not shy about telling the faithful he believed God wanted him to be president while he was still governor of Texas. He told the Republican Party convention in 2004 that “we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.” He has made clear his belief that the Bible is literally true. He has often talked of praying for guidance, especially as he launched the invasion of Iraq.
The president’s commitment to his religious principles has caused discomfort to some who fear his literal Christian worldview and his absolutist rhetoric have too much influence on American foreign policy. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright notes that she “worked for two presidents who were men of faith, and they did not make their religious views part of American policy. … President Bush’s certitude about what he believes in, and the division between good and evil, is, I think, different.” She adds, “The absolute truth is what makes Bush so worrying to some of us.”
Former Republican strategist, political commentator and author Kevin Phillips has recently written of the power of the evangelical community in the Republican Party and the born-again politics of President Bush. Phillips, who first came to prominence with the publication of The Emerging Republican Majority in 1966, is now concerned that evangelical Christian thought has far too much power in the Bush administration.
In his latest book, American Theocracy, he reports that 77 percent of born-again, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians believe the events predicted in the Book of Revelation will occur in the near future. While only 28 percent of all Protestants believe the world will end in an Armageddon battle, 71 percent of evangelicals are convinced the end times are nigh.
Phillips goes on to say that “American foreign policy has its own corollary to the end-times worldview: the preemptive righteousness of a biblical nation become a high-technology, gospel spreading super power.”
Both Albright and Phillips worry that a president who believes God is on our side can lead to dangerous foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Such absolutist views, they fear, alienate Muslims around the world and feed the extremist hatred that is at the root of terrorism. Although Phillips offers a much more complex view of oil, debt and religious fundamentalism combining to weaken American power, the very title of his book suggests his concern over the direction of his party and our country.
There are signs of cracks in the religious-conservative bloc of the Republican coalition. Despite two Supreme Court appointments that fit their ideological mind-set, many of those who helped Bush to narrow victories in the past two elections have not gotten the social agenda they hoped for.
With moderates deserting the president and the GOP over Iraq and an inept response to Hurricane Katrina, the White House sees the need to motivate those values voters again. Backing a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman sends a message to the faithful that their president is still one of them.
Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy.