Dr. John Green of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life met with several local members of the Ohio blogosphere last evening at the Crowne Plaza on Quaker Square in Akron. He is currently serving as a Senior Fellow with the Pew Forum. Dicussed at length were the causes, through the perspective of polling, of the results of the November election and the emergence of a religious left.
Firstly I'd like to touch upon the concepts of the religious left. There are two main paradigms of religious leftism: 1) those having a conservative theology, yet are socially and economically progressive and 2) those having a liberal interpretation on theology. Within these two "sects" of the religious left, there are even more specific delineations. These two main branches do not always agree on the issues and from some perspectives, it would appear that they are the religious left only because they are not the religious right.
Prior to the 1990s, it seemed quite unnecessary to be religiously liberal, mainstream/mainline Christianity had helped drive the civil rights movement, the economic progressivism of the early to mid 1900s, and the feminist movement. But the election of a solidly conservative Republican Congress in 1994 and the (re-)election of President George W. Bush in 2004 helped propel the religious left into action in 2006. Why was the religious left unimportant in 2000? We must take off our post-Sept 11 glasses and look at a world that was decidedly different: the economy, by and large, was still holding up; the World Trade Center towers still stood; and President Bill Clinton had just fended off an attack from Republicans (and some Democrats) on impeachment. Governor George W. Bush and Vice-President Al Gore both ran as moderates. Regardless of personal opinions on the election process itself, George W. Bush was declared the victor. Hope ran high, a new of era of conmpassionate conservative was upon us.
Sadly conservatism won out over compassion... and then September 11th.
Nothing was conservative about the Bush White House following that day. The government grew by leaps and bounds in the name of security of the public, but the Administration continued to posture itself as conservative. The President took the step of endorsing a constitutional amendment to define the definition of marriage: that itself certainly isn't conservative, at least politically. Indeed, it seems to run against the current of conservatism, goading for larger government and more "interference" in the business of the public. Conservative isn't the word to use anymore, rather, I think it is a traditionalist government. It is claimed by many people who say they are conservative: liberals are against social traditions and clearly they are not. Add to that the disaster of the Iraq war and the failure of Bush's faith-based initiatives (highlighted in David Kuo's recently released book) and religious liberals were left wanting.
Religious liberals wised up to these failures in 2004, yet unfortunately had a Presidential candidate who was born with a silver spoon and his left foot in his mouth. Democrats were defeated in Congressional elections, yet picked up notable positions, namely the Governorship in Montana. Religious conservatives seemed to win the day once more, but it wasn't to last long.
In Ohio, different dynamics drove the Republican party to the brink of disaster by mid-2005. Between a lagging economy and a state administration that was one of the most corrupt in recent memory, Republican Governor Bob Taft witnessed his approval ratings drop into the low teens. Democrats seized upon this opportunity. In May 2006, Democrats chose Congressman Ted Strickland as their candidate for Governor.
A brief summary wouldn't do Ted Strickland the justice he deserves. He is a former minster with the United Methodist Church and a Professor of Psychology. Ted Strickland was a man that the religious left felt they could get behind. The Republicans and religious right picked the condescending and disingenuous Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell, to be their standard-bearer. Why disingenuous? From the beginning of the campaign, Blackwell made it clear that he was going to pander to the religious right. And he did. He spewed statements to create fear and draw support to him from his base, but drove away mainstream voters.
In the 2006 elections, the self-described religious right composed roughly 24% (white protestant-evangelical) of the electorate, 70% of whom voted for the Republican. Blackwell certainly captured his base. But he didn't even muster 40% of the popular vote. Why? Blackwell drove away people who could be described as religious moderates or religious liberals. Catholics and mainline Protestants voted in large numbers for Ted Strickland. Of course, this wasn't all of Blackwell's doing. The Ohio Democratic Party and Ted Strickland themselves helped motivate voters into voting for Strickland and other Democrats. Result: Democrats took all of the elected executive offices except for Auditor. The Auditor's race, was a different story that deserves its own post.
Democrats would also pick up the Senate and the House of Representatives. Was this the result of a religious shift or a general disgust with perceived Republican corruption? Again, that is a topic for a another post at another time.
"It seems to me we had shrillness before bloggers."
-Dr. John Green, 11/15/2006