Copyright 2006 David C. Loebig
Anatomy of a Political Countertrend...Maybe
These days religion and politics are mixed together. Politicians are using faith to garner votes, and it works well. I was thinking about that trend, and I got to thinking about the possible counter trend. It’s almost certain that for every trend there is a counter trend. It’s just a matter of how it plays out.
In this case, voter reaction to the right’s use of religion is not altogether positive. A voter with no party affiliation told me she doesn’t like the melding of religion and politics. To her, religion is a personal decision. It shouldn’t be part of government or politics.
A Democrat who is a Christian told me he’s uncomfortable with what he sees in politics. He said, “What troubles me is that there are groups out there right now who are judging other people and groups by whether they agree with their religious and moral beliefs. These same people are trying to impose their religious beliefs and morals on the rest of us. I respect everyone’s right to believe in whatever God or supreme being or higher force that they choose. And I think this country is built on that freedom. There is not one correct or acceptable belief. That freedom to believe or not believe is what makes this country great. And I think that’s something that’s being lost.”
And being overly righteous can come back to bite Republicans, who as a group are coming under more suspicion for corruption and proving that they are just as corruptible as any other. It’s looks worse because the party has positioned itself as the party of values and upstanding morals. The hypocrisy, perceived or real, won’t be lost on the public. It will work against Republicans.
Democrats, for their part, aren’t ignoring the appeal to faith. During the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial race Democrat Timothy Kaine spoke about his service as a missionary and his faith. In his victory speech he said, "We proved that faith in God is a value we all can share regardless of party." In Pennsylvania, faith is now playing at least some part in the 2006 U. S. Senate race between incumbent Rick Santorum (Republican) and Bob Casey Jr. (Democrat).
As Democrats learn lessons from these campaigns and others, they will find ways of expressing their faith and reversing some of the Christian based advantage Republicans have enjoyed. Then as long as one party employs faith to get votes, so will the other. It will balance out, so neither party will have a significant advantage with it.
Now let’s project this political atmosphere onto today’s five- to twenty-year-olds. Not all of them, just those who will vote in 15 years. Even as youngsters, future voters are the more socially aware members of their age groups and are more likely to pay attention to current affairs including the use of faith in politics.
In the coming years they will witness the development of religion as a political commodity. It’s easy to imagine significant skepticism for and suspicion of religion in the public realm tainted by politics even while they hold their own personal beliefs in God. In their minds they will distinguish between their own personal religion and political religion. If you think such a dichotomy is impossible, I hold up Christmas as precedence.
Of course the harder prediction is the degree of skepticism and the effect, but it certainly won’t be good for pols invoking faith to get votes. At best it will be neutral. At worst voters will see them as disingenuous.
If religion is thus established with the 20- to 35-year-old voters of 2020, and once it is an offsetting asset for the left and the right, it’s not hard to imagine an astute politician drawing distinction by overtly keeping his or her religion out of politics. When that tactic works, others will follow, and politicians will strive to establish their own religious neutrality in public. Thus a counter trend will be born.
So I think that in 15 years politics will be more secular and possibly more liberal than Tom DeLay, Bill Frist and George Bush could imagine. It might be a classic case of unintended consequences.
Will all of this happen exactly like this? There’s no way to tell. Will there be unintended consequences of invoking religion to get votes? Probably. For every trend, is there a countertrend? Most of the time.
Dave Loebig writes and banters out of the Tampa, Fla. area. You can
banter with him at RandomDigressions.com.