Uncivil Unions: October 2006: Archives

October 12, 2006

Poll Shows Voter Moral Compass Shifting To Dems genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Bridging the gap

Logic should tell us that no one group has a lock on morality...but don't look at the last decade to discern that conclusion. Nonetheless, the GOP stranglehold on values voters seems to be on the wane as evidenced by Frank Newport's analysis at the Gallup News Service which reviewed recent polling trends. I'm reminded of the well know adage of, "It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time". If this new Gallup analysis is accurate, then this insightful quote from Abe Lincoln may well be the undoing of the Republican Party's efforts to rewrite the equation. Perhaps an exaggeration on my part but one intended to emphasize the GOP's years of successfully pushing the envelope.

PRINCETON, NJ -- An analysis of USA Today/Gallup poll trend data indicates that while Democrats have made gains across the board on the generic Congressional ballot in the latest Oct. 6-8 survey, the change has been greater among religious whites than among less religious whites and among non whites. At this point, religious whites are equally as likely to say they will vote Democratic as Republican, a marked change from their strong tilt towards the Republicans in surveys conducted June through September.

The Democrats made gains across all groups in the October poll compared to the averages in previous months. But the Democratic gain (or Republican loss depending on how one looks at it) is more significant among religious whites than among the other two groups. Religious whites went from an average Democratic disadvantage of 23 points across the June through September months, to dead even in October. Less religious whites shifted only seven points across these two time periods, while the group of "all others" shifted 9 points.

A comparison of the September average to October shows a 22-point gain for the Democrats among white frequent churchgoers, a six-point gain among white less frequent churchgoers, and a 14-point gain among all others.

The fact that the largest percentage shift towards the Democrats seems to come from the most religiously defined group harkens another well known adage, "Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me". As a good friend once told me, the best way to change someone's mind or their behavior is to put them in a situation where retaining their opinions or their actions might make them appear to be stupid. Before anyone is offended, I am not suggesting anyone is stupid...but I am arguing that many values voters were manipulated by a Republican Party that has mastered the art of lip service.

One plausible explanation for the broad drop in Republican support in the most recent poll is the Mark Foley scandal in Congress. Since this situation involved issues of morality on the part of Foley, and allegations of a cover-up on the part of Republican leadership, it appears plausible that religious whites may have become disproportionately disillusioned with the Republicans and as a result lost more of their fervor for voting Republican than others in the population.

I realize that values voters on the far right and those secular voters on the far left are unlikely to narrow their divide in order to reach many points of agreement...but that is why they call it a bell curve. Fortunately the vast majority of people fall somewhere in the middle because they are reasonable and thoughtful and they understand that our social contract can only succeed if we demonstrate a healthy measure of tolerance for opposing views. In return, the same social contract provides each of us the opportunity to equitably hold the views we choose so long as they conform to law. That's an amazingly practical and efficient construct based upon an appreciation of human nature.

At the same time, it acknowledges that the notion of values is much broader than two or three volatile issues like abortion rights or same-sex marriage. Finding oneself in agreement with another on two critical issues doesn't necessarily mean that both parties share the same values. Even the very cornerstone of many American voters’ beliefs, the Bible, offers numerous examples to support that observation. I don't know if we're on the verge of enlightenment or if someone has found a new way to fool more of us...but I do know that all that is required to maintain a rational balance is a willingness to take the time to learn enough about others such that an accurate and honest evaluation can prevail when confronted by the all too frequent rhetoric of partisan political absolutism. I think a wise man from our distant past had it about right when he coined another famous adage, "Moderation is the key".

Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 1:59 PM | link | Comments (0)
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October 9, 2006

GOP Strategy: Blame The Gays, Not The GOP genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Blame the gays

In the wake of the Mark Foley scandal, the GOP has struggled to offer a plausible defense for what appears to have been an effort to cover up the congressman's outrageous communications with underage male pages. While the situation is certainly not what the Party would have wanted to happen with barely a month until the midterm elections, I have my reservations as to the impact the scandal will have on the evangelical vote.

Two new articles offer some insight into how the GOP will attempt to spin the scandal and into the mindset of the evangelical when confronted by such a scandal. The New York Times headline reads, "Evangelicals Blame Foley, Not Republican Party", while the Washington Times article closes with a quotation from a senior Republican campaign official, "The only anger we're hearing from our grass roots is anger aimed at one man -- Mark Foley."

In mulling over both articles as well as reading and listening to the many Republican operatives who have been discussing the issue, a clear GOP strategy appears to be emerging. More importantly for the Democratic Party, this scandal should once and for all provide them with insight into the way evangelicals think as well as just how successful the GOP has become in tuning into that mindset in order to retain their support. At the core of that understanding is the adoption of what I would call the politically correct notion of hate the sin, not the sinner.

From The New York Times:

“This is Foley’s lifestyle," said Ron Gwaltney, a home builder, as he waited with his family outside a Christian rock concert last Thursday in Norfolk. “He tried to keep it quiet from his family and his voters. He is responsible for what he did. He is paying a price for what he did. I am not sure how much farther it needs to go."

The Democratic Party is “the party that is tolerant of, maybe more so than Republicans, that lifestyle," Mr. Gwaltney said, referring to homosexuality.

Most of the evangelical Christians interviewed said that so far they saw Mr. Foley’s behavior as a matter of personal morality, not institutional dysfunction.

But as far as culpability in the Foley case, Mr. Dunn said, House Republicans may benefit from the evangelical conception of sin. Where liberals tend to think of collective responsibility, conservative Christians focus on personal morality. “The conservative Christian audience or base has this acute moral lens through which they look at this, and it is very personal," Mr. Dunn said. “This is Foley’s personal sin."

The concept of morality from the religious perspective is a powerful force that is derived from a more or less literal interpretation of Biblical teachings. In the last thirty years, as the religious right has sought to become a political force, they have honed their message into a salable partisan strategy. Specifically, the strategy is to satisfy the desire of religious voters to maintain the appearance of Christian compassion coupled with the larger goal of opposing and extinguishing those behaviors they reject through the imposition of laws designed to achieve that outcome.

The key to the successes achieved by this powerful movement rests in the alliance of influential religious leaders like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, and countless others with a Republican Party looking for a winning voter coalition. This symbiotic merger provides both groups what they seek. For Dobson and his ilk it allows them to raise huge sums of money and expand their influence as the voice of the devout and a broker for achieving their political objectives. For the Republican Party, in exchange for the occasional legislation and the all too frequent pledge to make values a fundamental political objective, they gain the perpetual support of this significant and stable voting block.

The instinctive reaction to the Foley scandal is to presume that these religious voters will conclude that the GOP has failed to uphold its end of the bargain. Supporting that assumption are the measured remarks of disappointment from a number of these powerful religious power brokers as well as the typical one dimensional media analysis that sees these issues in terms of their utility during the next 24 hour news cycle. Unfortunately, this simplistic analysis suffers from an abundance of shortsightedness.

Let me offer an alternative perspective. Despite the risk of angering religious and political insiders, the leadership within both camps is staffed with opportunists. Further, they also realize that they can best exploit opportunity if they act in concert. I would equate the handling of the Foley scandal with the adage that states, "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade". Here's the equation. The Republican Party, seemingly caught with their pants down, immediately pivots to make comparisons to the Democrats handling of a similar scandal in 1983...an effort to demonstrate two things.

One, Democrats tolerated the outrageous behavior of one of their own because they politically support the homosexual lifestyle and they didn't want to alienate their constituents. In other words they failed to sufficiently punish the sin because they embrace the underlying lifestyle. Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that Democrats embrace pedophilia. What I am suggesting is that the religious argument being used against Democrats seeks to show that supporting the gay lifestyle already accepts sin...which makes it possible to assert that the current Democratic outrage is primarily a partisan strategy.

Two, Republicans can argue that, in an effort to not hate the sinner, they probably used bad judgment in not addressing the Foley scandal more aggressively. They can suggest that they used caution to avoid being seen as lacking compassion...even though they view the homosexual lifestyle as sinful. In other words, they tried to avoid jumping to conclude that Mark Foley had committed a sin beyond the fundamental sin of his lifestyle. They can argue that his behaviors...limited to those they contend they were aware of...were objectionable such that he was confronted and asked to cease his actions...but not so outrageous that they would warrant unduly punishing Mark Foley, the sinner.

They can contend that if they had been given any reason to believe that Foley had intended to act (as the "newly" revealed instant messages now seem to suggest) or had actually acted upon his lifestyle and committed a crime, then it would have been a far different situation and resulted in a far different reaction. In fact, they have argued that once they knew the scope of the behavior, they did act swiftly and far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts.

From The Washington Times:

But before the House page scandal broke, igniting a finger-pointing fight among conservatives over who was to blame, polls had shown the political environment slowly improving and the election tightening in the House and Senate races.

Republican campaign officials talked of "turning the corner" in their campaigns and a change in the nation's political mood. Elections forecaster Stuart Rothenberg reported at the end of last month that "GOP polling has shown dramatically improved prospects for the party in a number of districts."

After House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's press conference last week, Republican officials now think their party has regained the offensive on the page scandal after beginning a two-pronged investigation by the House ethics committee and the FBI.

At the same time, I have no doubt as to how the incident is going to be characterized in churches around the country prior to the election. It will go something like this. Yes, our Republican leaders have been far too tolerant and they likely failed to pursue the issue with sufficient tenacity...but they didn't do so because they embrace the gay lifestyle. In their efforts to love the sinner, they may have afforded too much compassion to Mr. Foley in order to be abundantly fair as well as to honor their prevailing Christian religious beliefs. In other words, there was a risk of personally hurting Mr. Foley by unnecessarily exposing his chosen sinful lifestyle.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear ministers attempt to minimize the less than satisfactory reactions to the revelation of the initial emails and to draw comparisons to minimize the offense committed in those documents. The best one I can offer would be for a minister to ask the congregation to consider how fellow congressman might react to an accusation that a member made a comment to a female page, while in his office, that she looked especially lovely today in her new outfit. Inappropriate? Probably so..and it would likely warrant a word of caution to that member...and the public exposure of such behavior might draw frowns and criticism from many as an instance of bad judgment...but in comparison to the possible very negative reaction to the outing of a closeted gay congressman (Congressman Foley), there is a difference that should be considered.

The minister, in offering this example, can contend that good intentions may have led to a poorly handled situation...but it should in no way be viewed to impugn the values of the Republican Party. On the contrary, the minister can argue that the GOP may have, in attempting to live their Christian beliefs, simply been too compassionate in wanting to avoid personally hurting Foley by exposing the fact that he is gay.

At that point, the minister could pivot to a discussion of the need to prevent the institutionalization of the homosexual lifestyle and its agenda. He or she could suggest that we have to be compassionate towards the sinner but we need not embrace the sins he or she may be inclined to commit. In other words, the gay lifestyle is wrong and we Christians must redouble our efforts to reject it...and that can best be achieved by supporting politicians that are opposed to gay marriage, that want to put an end to judicial activism, that want conservative Supreme Court justices, and that hold sound Christian values that honor the teachings of the Bible and seek to write our laws accordingly.

In my hypothetical sermon, the conclusion would suggest that this incident is a wake up call to the complacency that can result from failing to clearly interpret right from wrong in our attempts to be compassionate. Those who support the gay lifestyle have been effective in shifting blame to Christians and that must be resisted and basic values must be preserved...which can only be achieved by Christian leaders who are committed to enacting laws that honor these fundamental beliefs.

While I am opposed to conspiracy theories, it wouldn't be difficult to conclude that, in the waning effectiveness of using opposition to gays as a wedge issue, the GOP has once again found a means to elevate the topic in order to motivate their fundamentalist evangelical base. By bringing voters to witness how complacency in reaction to the onslaught of the homosexual agenda may have led to this troubling incident, the GOP may have stumbled upon the next best thing to constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. In my cynical scenario, it all comes down to those sinful gay people who, rather than repent and seek redemption, continue to push a militant agenda determined to force the full acceptance of the gay lifestyle upon a nation and a world already struggling to maintain its moral compass.

From The New York Times:

To a person, those interviewed said that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois should resign if he knew of the most serious claims against Mr. Foley and failed to stop him. They said the degree of Mr. Hastert’s responsibility remained to be seen. Many said the issue had not changed their view of Congress because, in their opinion, it could not sink any lower.

But all also noted that the swift Democratic efforts to broaden the scandal to Mr. Hastert and other Republicans had added more than a whiff of partisanship to the stink of the scandal.

Still, many conservative churchgoers said that what stood out for them was not the politics but the individual sin. “It is not going to affect my vote because I don’t live in Florida," said Scott O’Connell, a mechanical engineer who described himself as a fundamentalist. “But there is a bigger moral issue which I would say is the prism I view this through: I do not believe in homosexuality."

David Thomas, a father taking his family to the concert, said that he, too, was leaning toward voting Republican and that the scandal only reinforced his conservative Christian convictions. “That is the problem we have in society," Mr. Thomas said. “Nobody polices anybody. Everybody has a ‘right’ to do whatever."

In an interview on Friday, Pastor Anne Gimenez of the 15,000-member Rock Church here said the scandal “doesn’t change the issues we are voting on," like abortion, public expression of religion and same-sex marriage.

Many have called the Foley scandal the October surprise...and while that may be an accurate assessment...if my fears are confirmed, it may turn out to be the Democrat's October surprise that suddenly became the GOP's Election Day surprise. I certainly hope I'm wrong.

Daniel DiRito | October 9, 2006 | 8:07 AM | link | Comments (1)
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