Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Reformation Continues

Not enough people understand power politics the way I do, which is good, as I'd lose a big chunk of my material if this stuff was common knowledge.  And so Carpetbagger has a post about how religious leaders are upset that the "New & Improved" Republican rebranding excluded culture war issues on abortion, gays, and government-sponsored religion.

And several commenters gave the typical logic that the religious right has no choice, because they can't vote for Democrats.  But this completely misunderstands the picture.  Because the mistake these religious leaders made was in ever turning to politicians to solve their problems.  The solution isn't for them to start voting Democrat, but rather, to get out of politics all together.  While they could still support their kind of candidate, they need to pick and choose their battles, rather than being seen as outright Republicans.  And they need to establish that being Republican isn't enough to win their support.

While it helped Republicans in the short term, it was a lead weight that's now really dragging them down.  And I can't see what religious leaders ever got out of this, beyond the illusion of power; based upon their ability to schmooze with Republican politicians who were only using them.  And the ones who were genuinely interested in winning these culture wars got absolutely nothing in return, and I suspect that quite a few of their numbers have now flipped sides and are now more aligned with the party than the religion.  They came in as Christians, but they're now diehard Republicans.

It's about time these religions leaders realized the limitations politicians have in terms of winning these battles.  And if they know of any omnipotent beings that might want to help them out, this would be the time to go that route instead.

More Irrelevancy

Below is the comment I wrote on this, starting with the quote I was responding to:
Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether the Republicans put the culture-war agenda on their platform. The religious right will support them because they are the religious RIGHT.
This is absolutely wrong. What you're suggesting only makes them more irrelevant. Religious leaders screwed up royally by getting too close to Republicans, as they stay more powerful if they're the sole voice for a "victimized" minority. Because by cozying up to politicians, they gained real power, thus denying them the victimhood they required. And worse for the religious leaders, their followers started looking to the government to solve their problems, rather than looking to the religion. Big mistake. And so they ended up losing power to the Republican Party, and now that the party is failing, losing even the appearance of power. BTW, this isn't dissimilar to what happened during the Reformation, when governments realized that they now had the power that the Church once owned.

And as for the religious right caving in and supporting McCain, that was a TREMENDOUS blunder. They couldn't have made a worse move last year. McCain was going to lose, and had they abstained from supporting him, they could have claimed that it was their distaste for him that caused his defeat and used that as a club to keep the Republican Party in-line. As it is, they ended up betraying their cause and looking impotent, which only made things worse. But again, much of that stems from the fact that they were already too closely associated with the party to begin with. They needed to be critics pushing the government from the outside, not allies pulling from the inside.

And while that made sense for the politicians, who realized they were putting these people in their own pockets, it was also a stupid move in the long run, as they became too closely associated with a fervent minority with an insatiable desire for power and no willingness to compromise. Overall, this was a huge blunder for everyone involved. And the longer the religious leaders keep supporting Republicans, the worse it will be. They'd do best if they took their flocks and left.


inkadu said...

Damnit, Biobrain, I wanted a more historical comparison with the Reformation! That sounded really fascinating.

This thing with religion and the Republicans is a great model of religion and politics. In the 70's, a lot of churches stayed out of politics... they held to the view that if you politicize religion, you tarnish religion. This makes perfect sense from a protestant standpoint, as the Catholic Church, as a politically powerful institution, was as pure and shining an example of how worldly concerns leads to corruption.

Maybe the lesson that evangelicals are slowly (re)learning is that to throw full-throated support behind candidates that really don't share your concerns cheapens religion both politically AND spiritually.

FWIW, I think evangelicals haven't lost their taste for political power. Huckabee got far too close. Maybe Huckabee was the pinnacle -- evangelicals held such sway in the party they thought they could finally have a candidate of their own in the REPUBLICAN party, with an actual shot of winning a national election. Third-party candidacies obviously have zero chance of winning and so likely would not generate much excitement at all.

As an aside, I actually rather liked Huckabee. He was remarkably genial and positive. He was a kooky, but he just wasn't very nasty. I mean, he's the candidate who thinks he has a mandate from God, and yet he was the least polarizing of the Republican candidates. It's a really interesting dynamic.

KIND AND GENTLE101 said...

You still have to admire the political power of the right leaning preachers Doc. Every president and presidential candidate since we were born had to make a spectacle out of praying with Billy Graham. This time is was pastor Warren.

And pastors are just as subject to human foibles and envy as the rest of us. Each town has it's big time religious leader that has to lead us in prayer at every event. All the politicos have to kiss his, ahem, ring.

These guys have tasted power. Had lips planted on their buttocks. They're going to do whatever it takes to hold on to that. If they have to support Democrats now that the Republican Party is in decline, they will.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Kind and Gentle - You're mistaken when you refer to this as "political" power. This is the exact opposite of power. They're being paid lip service and getting a bit of fame, but they're not getting any actual power from it. If anything, they're trading their power in exchange for fame. By giving Obama his prayer, Warren helped delegitimize Obama's critics who said he was anti-religious. So Obama gained power from this, but all Warren got was a stupid speech.

Think of them as the Frenchies who received lavish treatment in the court of King Louis the whatever it was who lavished great treatment on his courtiers (or whatever it was, I'm not good on details and I'm drinking right now). They were allowed to hang with the King and receive great treatment, but in exchange, they had no power. And that's why the King gave them that treatment, so they couldn't work against him. Same deal here. Religious leaders already have the power, and they can either choose to use that power to force politicians to obey them, or they can trade that power for fame and attention. These guys all seem to be going for the fame.

Warren gave his blessing to Obama, thereby negating religious attacks on Obama; but Warren didn't gain any new converts from Obama. And now Warren has lost ability to criticize Obama. And the religious right made the same mistake with Bush. The Bushies paid them lip service and they went into Bush's pocket, which is why they got nothing out of Bush. You get much more out of someone when you're negotiating as an enemy than when you've already agreed to be their ally.