A faith and politics 2008 election round-up

Even the political junkies among the editors of the Lead are ready for election day to come and go. Nonetheless, this has been a very interesting campaign season. Barack Obama is not merely the first African-American nominee of a major party. His campaign is the first Democratic campaign for President in decades to make an intentional outreach to so-called “values voters”–and with some success.

U.S.A. Today offers a good summary of the focus of the Obama campaign on faith voters:

When she was director of religious outreach for John Kerry’s Democratic presidential campaign four years ago, Mara Vanderslice could hardly have seemed lower on the campaign totem pole.

“I had one unpaid intern who didn’t have a phone,” she said. “We didn’t have a budget, and they never let me talk to the press.”

Her low status reflected a widely perceived unease in the Democratic Party at reaching out to voters on religious grounds.

Political observers say the changes are evident in advertisements on Christian music stations, biblical references in stump speeches, and networking with pastors, as Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and others in his party try to appeal to people who might view the party as hostile to religion.

“It could not have changed more in only four years,” Vanderslice said. “The Obama campaign has six staff people (on religious matters). Josh DuBois (Obama’s head of religious outreach) is actively speaking to the press. They’re doing ‘Faith and Family’ tours.”

For her part, Vanderslice has formed a political action committee called The Matthew 25 Network, choosing the name from a well-known biblical passage in which Jesus prods people to help the “least of these” — the poor. The group has raised about $300,000 and is working on behalf of Obama.

The Matthew 25 network has run three different advertisements on Christian radio. The first, “Sources of Hope” can be heard here. Another advertisement features pro-life conservative Douglas Kmiec defending Obama’s position on abortion, and can her heard here.

Are these efforts working? It appears that Obama is getting support from values voters–most notably observant Catholics and members of mainstream denominations:

For a while this summer, Obama polled like a typical Democrat among this group—which is to say, he polled quite poorly compared to John McCain, who until late summer enjoyed an 18-point advantage among voters who attended church weekly or more. But as the race moves to a close, Obama is doing better than either John Kerry or Al Gore among religious voters: in mid-October the Pew Center released a poll suggesting that white mainline Protestants prefer Obama to McCain by 48-43, and that white Catholics prefer Obama 49-41. (With the same voters, Bush beat Kerry by 10 points and 13 points, respectively.) And, as Morris and others won’t let you forget, Obama is working uphill—against the 12 percent of the country that still believes he is a Muslim.

Read it all here.

Perhaps one reason that Obama has done well with values voters is that he has not bought into myths about what these voters are all about:

We use the term “values” to talk about deep things — what is most important to people, what organizes their lives. “Family values,” by contrast, is the term for a collection of transient political positions that began their prominent political life as “wedge issues” in the campaigns of the 1980s: opposition to abortion and gay marriage or support for prayer in school and teaching creationism.

Traditional values in the United States, Baker found, are very different than in other nations. Unlike nations where collective identity is based on common ancestry, in the United States, he wrote, the imagined community is “a shared set of ideas.” These are the ideas of the Constitution: personal liberty, equality, democracy and the rule of law. America was invented, not inherited. Our traditional values don’t come from the fatherland, the volk or an ancient regime. Nor are our most basic shared values a selection of moral positions held by conservative American Christians.

Seen in this way, it is clear that traditional American values are alive and well. Constitutional ideals have unchallenged legitimacy, as do the worth of family, religion (or spirituality) and national pride. This is a stark contrast to the countries that have radically rejected their traditional values: Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the former Eastern Bloc nations.

Read it all here.

Past Posts