What are the religious implications of Super Tuesday? Obviously, many of my thoughts are speculative. But this is my best shot at explaining part of what’s going on.
As I write, The Denver Post reports that John McCain leads the Republican race with 525 delegates, more than twice as many as Mitt Romney’s 223 delegates, and more than the delegates of Romney and Mike Huckabee combined. Romney might still come back, but at this point it seems that McCain has the momentum. Why is that? I suspect that a large part of the reason is that many Republicans are shying away from the strong religious overtones of Romney and Huckabee. And that is a very good sign. Generally I don’t care what religion a president professes, but I do care when candidates for president promise to impose religious doctrine by force of law.
Yet, as I’ve pointed out, McCain has also cozied up to the religious right. Republicans, though, know that McCain is not as dedicated to faith-based politics as are his main competitors. From my perspective, though, McCain’s turn remains deeply troubling. McCain knows that he cannot win without the evangelical wing of his party. And, once in office, McCain will face constant pressure to deliver the goods to this wing.
Even though Barack Obama seems much more interested in faith-based politics than does McCain, Obama also faces obvious restraints by his party. For example, while Obama rushed to give an interview to Christianity Today, he also made it clear that he wants to keep abortion legal.
Therefore, the way I see it, even though Obama seems to be more seriously religious, McCain is a much more dangerous threat to the separation of church and state. That is why I will vote for either of the two Democrats over any of the Republicans.
That said, as much as I personally dislike Hillary Clinton and strongly disapprove of most of her policies, I believe that she is the best candidate for preserving the separation of church and state.
The Republicans have made their bed, and I for one refuse to sleep in it. Clinton is about as strange a bedfellow as I can tolerate.
But how do I explain the results in Colorado? As I have argued at length, the Interior West tends to be more secular in orientation. Why, then, did Colorado go for Obama and Romney, two of the more religious candidates, with such high numbers? The Post reports early figures of 67 percent for Obama and 59 percent for Romney.
I’ll take the Democrats first. David Montero argues for the Rocky Mountain News that Obama’s message resonated with voters skeptical or tired of the war in Iraq. Montero adds, “It was also a conscious strategy by the Obama campaign to zero in on caucus states such as Colorado to pick up delegates and keep the overall race tight between himself and Clinton.” Beyond that, I think there’s something about Clinton’s condescending, smarty-pants manner that rubs Westerners the wrong way.
What about Romney? For starters, the Post endorsed Romney, and the Post’s libertarian-conservative David Harsanyi pounded McCain. As Lynn Bartels of the Rocky points out, Romney “had a campaign presence in Colorado for months.” I personally detest McCain, as I consider him an enemy of the Bill of Rights. The fact that McCain is from Arizona only rankles me all the more; he gives the Interior West a bad name. So it’s not much of a surprise to me that Republicans in my state rejected him.
Obviously Romney stomped McCain in Utah, but even in Arizona early returns show McCain unable to win even half the votes. And Montana also went for Romney.
In Colorado, Romney’s Mormonism isn’t a big deal. Here, Mormons are more than guys in white shirts and ties pedaling bicycles; they are our friends and neighbors. In addition, because Coloradans are on the whole somewhat more secular, voters here don’t get quite as excited by doctrinal differences. Even though nobody likes to discuss it, Romney’s religious background did hurt him, not only among some urbanites, but among some evangelical Christians.
One more thing hurt McCain in Colorado: James Dobson of Focus on the Family came out swinging against McCain. Christa Marshall writes:
“Should John McCain capture the nomination as many assume, I believe this general election will offer the worst choices for president in my lifetime. I certainly can’t vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama based on their virulently anti-family policy positions. If these are the nominees in November, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life,” Dobson said through a prepared statement read on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”
Dobson singled out McCain’s support for embryonic stem-cell research and opposition to a “constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.” He also chastised the GOP presidential candidate for saying once that Hillary Clinton would make a good president and being a potential 2004 running mate for Sen. John Kerry.
Dobson seems to dislike McCain even more than I do, though for completely different reasons. Dobson attacked McCain even though McCain tried to appeal to evangelicals on the issues mentioned:
The family represents the foundation of Western Civilization and civil society and John McCain believes the institution of marriage is a union between one man and one woman. It is only this definition that sufficiently recognizes the vital and unique role played by mothers and fathers in the raising of children, and the role of the family in shaping, stabilizing, and strengthening communities and our nation. …
John McCain opposes the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes. To that end, Senator McCain voted to ban the practice of “fetal farming,” making it a federal crime for researchers to use cells or fetal tissue from an embryo created for research purposes.
What this dispute indicates to me is that Republican candidates must seek to appease the religious right, but politicians who stop short of completely adopting the religious right’s political agenda will always struggle with that group. While the Democratic Party is, most deeply, the party of pragmatic, watered-down socialism, the Republican Party is, most deeply, the party of faith-based politics.
In other words, Clinton is the rock to McCain’s hard place.
Is there any way to dodge these charging horns? The only way out that I see is for the secular, free-market Republicans to abandon the religious right and find new friends among the free-trade and “blue dog” Democrats. The religious right already seems to be merging with the religious left. I’m not bothered by the prospect of the (non-Christian) socialist wing of the Democratic party finding itself without a coalition.
It would be nice if, in some future election, I actually had a reason to vote for a candidate.