A few thoughts on yesterday’s elections…

November 4, 2009, 4:22 pm | Posted by

–Although the religious opposition to gay marriage in Maine garnered most of the attention, it’s important to recognize that faith leaders worked hard to protect the state legislature’s marriage equality law. Given recent national polling showing majority support for relationship recognition (civil unions and/or gay marriage) among all religious demographics — including white evangelicals, Catholics and black protestants — as well as majority support for gay marriage among young people, this issue is hardly settled.

Dan Gilgoff and Mark Silk have interesting takes on what the NY-23 race means for conservative religious groups who backed the hard-right third-party candidate against a moderate Republican who didn’t share their positions on social issues. Short take: it wasn’t a great night for the religious right.

–In my home state of Virginia, Bob McDonnell had the interesting challenge of downplaying his well-documented religious right background, which he addressed in part by ignoring hot-button issues. Judging by his performance among self-identified moderates and independents, it worked.

–It’ll be interesting to see whether the Virginia strategy or the upstate New York plan predominate in 2010. The religious right’s role in a changing GOP hangs in the balance.

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All (Faith and) Politics is Local

October 9, 2008, 11:14 pm | Posted by

All politics is local: one of the great truisms in American public life. In the new issue of Religion in the News, Mark Silk shows that when it comes to faith and presidential campaigns, it’s all regional.

Since 2001, Mark’s been part of a project examining the role of faith in eight separate regions of the U.S. The series has displayed ways in which regional attitudes toward faith affect presidential races. This time around, he concludes that “every regional religious culture with the exception of New England has helped shape the outlooks of the four politicians running for national office.”

Mark classifies McCain’s interaction with faith as typical of the “the competing impulses that beset” the Southwest (unfocused when it comes to faith: loyal when it comes to his church yet unable to embrace the “moral values agenda). Obama, he labels a “hybrid character,” whose faith story reflects his diverse upbringing and ultimately a Midwestern sense of community and pluralism.

Mark also identifies the VP candidates as products of their regions. Joe Biden comes from the mid-Atlantic, “a place where individuals understand themselves as belonging to one or another swatch of an ethno-religious tapestry made more worthwhile by the presence of others” while Sarah Palin’s “public career reflects the kind of tension” that comes from practicing Southern-fried evangelicalism in a largely unchurched, frontier state.

The big question, as Mark sees it, is

How the presidential race turns out will, as in the past, open the door to regional religious influences. Will it be a libertarian/evangelical ethos out of the West, or a species of Midwestern communitarianism? And how, after eight years of George Bush’s Southern Crossroads, will the country react?

Having lived in all of these areas, I’m especially curious.

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Debate thoughts

October 7, 2008, 10:55 pm | Posted by

Agenda-setting theory, in a nutshell, is this — the media can’t control what you say, but it can control what you talk about. Debates are agenda-setting writ large. For 90 minutes, a very few people decide what topics the candidates will talk about in front of millions of viewers. There is great power in that. So, given the electorate’s justifiable concern with economic issues and the media’s understandable if not laudable preoccupation with the race’s day-to-day blow-by-blow, I find it heartening that two consecutive debates have had questions about genocide in Darfur. Framing the discussion around US military intervention surely gives short shrift to the nuanced approach Darfur demands, but forcing the candidates to talk about this issue that isn’t at the top of The National Agenda seems to me like a self-evident good. If nothing else, it builds a bridge from the activist community to the public at large and helps us keep Darfur from slipping off of the national radar.

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Wish list for tonight’s debate

October 7, 2008, 2:05 pm | Posted by

Tonight’s “town hall” presidential debate comes at a moment of high acrimony in the campaign. Speaking for myself, a few weeks ago I thought surely, surely, we’d seen the worst, but it was just a foretaste of the feast to come.

So it’s a particular relief that tonight’s questions will come mostly from audience members who do something other than gossip about the presidential campaign for a living. Since the pre-primary debates, time and again we’ve seen better questions from audiences than moderators or pundits. (With obvious exceptions, of course.)

Granted, the network gets to choose who asks the questions, and followups aren’t allowed, but it’s still likely to be a different universe of questions than we’d get from a pundit-only panel. I doubt any faith leaders will get airtime, but a person can hope. I’m picturing clergy in garb stepping up with a call for repentance for false witness. Won’t happen, but it’s fun to indulge the fantasy for a minute.

I can’t promise a full-fledged liveblog, but I’ll at least have some post-debate comment.

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A Hearing for Compassion Issues in the VP Debate

October 3, 2008, 11:20 am | Posted by

Kudos to Gwen Ifill for asking questions about Darfur and climate change at last night’s debate. Darfur in particular was a pleasant surprise. It’s very easy to let the genocide fade from the campaign as it falls out of the news and economic anxiety mounts, so putting it on the agenda for a nationally televised debate was an important and deliberate decision. Notice the streaming line graph at the bottom of the screen gauging approval ratings among undecided voters — they respond overwhelmingly to the call for action to stop the slaughter.

Next week, let’s have some questions about climate change as a moral issue. The policy questions are most important, but these debates are also a teachable moment for the American public about climate change’s catastrophic, disproportionate impact on the world’s most vulnerable people.

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