A recurring theme of my posts is that Republicans play "values voters" for chumps. Every election cycle, Republican candidates call up leaders of the religious right, find out what they're freaking out over these days, then go out on the campaign trail and join in the freaking out. George W. Bush was a great example of this. In 2004, Bush used opposition to same sex marriage to bring the fanatics to the polls and, once elected, stopped caring about it. He went right to work on privatizing Social Security. The values voters fell for a bait and switch. This wasn't a huge surprise to most observers, because the values voters always fall for a bait and switch.
As a result of championing campaign promises over actual policy, the religious right has managed to get very little done other than electing Republicans. Roe v. Wade is still the de facto law of the land, marriage equality is expanding -- as well as support for it -- and evolution still hasn't been declared a godless lie. Since Nixon got cozy with Jerry Falwell, the evangelical movement has been a high-profile player in Washington. And, since Nixon got cozy with Jerry Falwell, the evangelical movement has been ineffective. They get thrown a bone occasionally, but the big issues -- the most important ones -- really haven't gone anywhere. They get Republicans elected to make abortion illegal or to protect them from the Homosexual Menace and the Republicans go right to work on tax cuts, union busting, and privatizing everything under the sun. For the values voter, the Republican candidate is a fairweather friend.
Turns out that some on the right, after all these decades, have come to accept the fact that this isn't working at all.
Leading evangelicals have admitted that their association with George W. Bush has not only hurt the cause of social conservatives but contributed to the failure of the key objectives of their 30-year struggle.
James Dobson, 72, who resigned recently as head of Focus on the Family -- one of the largest Christian groups in the country -- and once denounced the Harry Potter books as witchcraft, acknowledged the dramatic reverse for the religious Right in a farewell speech to staff.
“We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action,” he said.
“We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”
In other words, the religious right has lost the culture war. Dobson isn't alone in that conclusion. "It's hard to admit defeat, but this one was self-inflicted," E. Ray Moore, founder of the Exodus Mandate, told the Baltimore Sun's Kathleen Parker in an email. "Yes, Dr. Dobson and the pro-family or Christian right political movement is a failure."
If this assessment becomes widespread, it could mean bad news for the Republican party, who relied on religious fanatics to make up its "base."
"Whether James Dobson's admission of failure... foretells a crackup of the older Christian right remains to be seen," writes Parker. "But something is stirring, and it sounds like the GOP may be losing its bailout money. God apparently has his own stimulus plan."
This isn't to say that the leaders of the Christian Right are folding up shop and going out of business. Right Wing Watch reports, "In listening to the audio of his address we find that, contrary to the Telegraph's interpretation, Dobson was not so much conceding defeat as he was vowing not to give up."
The battles that we fought in the Eighties now, we were victorious in many of those conflicts with the culture, trying to defend righteousness, trying to defend the unborn child, trying to preserve the dignity of the family and the definition of marriage. We fought all those battles and really it was a holding action.
Dr. Mohler mentioned the pornography struggle; we made a lot of progress through the Eighties but then we turned into the Nineties and the internet came along and a new president came along and all of that went away and now we are absolutely awash in evil. And the battle is still to be waged. And we are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say that we have lost all those battles, but God is in control and we are not going to give up now, right?
The world has turned colder for the family in recent years and there is such hostility to anyone who holds to a faith and we're going to take the heat. But I have been assured by the board and by many of you that we're not going to cow, we're not going to be discouraged. We're going to continue to express the love for the Scripture and the principles that we find there and if we are made fools for Christ, that's okay too because our purpose is to serve him and that he be pleased.
So "we lost the war" isn't as accurate an interpretation of Dobson's address as "we're losing the war." Still, if this isn't a wake up call for the religious right, then that war will continue to be lost. What they've been doing isn't working. Even when Republicans controlled the White House, both houses of Congress, and had a majority on the Supreme Court, they really didn't get much for their support. Bush did things like his stem cell funding ban, sure, but that was an executive order and was easily reversed when Barack Obama took office. The rest of his presidency was devoted to tax cuts and war -- it was the killingest "culture of life" ever.
If this marks the moment when the values voters finally wise up, then this marks the moment that the Republican party got the worst news of its institutional life. The base is going away, wandering off to find some strategy that actually works.
Or, at least, candidates who actually care.
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