Religious Conservatives and the Republican Ghetto

Ever since the Moral Majority helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, the religious conservatives have heard the same lines over and over again. "Be patient and wait your turn." "Change takes time." And my personal favorite, "Trust us." But the attitude of the party leaders has mostly been, "Please come and vote for us, and then shut the @#$* up." Of course they never say that last part, because after all, they're talking to religious conservatives--a group of people whose values they often do not understand or share, but whose votes they crave. Yet that unspoken attitude exists.

I remember 1988 when I was working as the Treasurer of the Republican Party for my home county. When the Pat Robertson people wanted to buy tickets for the fundraiser, the leadership was thrilled. When they wanted a voice in the party operation, the leadership was aghast. I'm no Pat Robertson fan--wasn't then, and the passage of time has only confirmed my opinion. But the way his supporters were treated was pathetic.

Still, like faithful sheep, the religious conservatives have marched to the polls and dutifully cast their votes in hopes that sometime in the sweet by and by, they would reap their promised reward. Folks, it's time to admit this just ain't working.

It may still work for the Republican Party on election day, but what has it done for the religious conservatives? Look at the current makeup of the Supreme Court. Leaving out the retiring O'Connor, four members--Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas were appointed by Reagan and Bush 41. Two conservatives, one near liberal and one complete liberal. Has anything changed regarding Roe v. Wade? Yes, it has become more settled. Has anything changed regarding religion in public life? No, it still depends on the direction of the wind on voting day whether the Ten Commandments are legal or not. Has anything changed regarding public morality? Yes, now there's a constitutional right to sodomy as well as privacy. I could go on and on.

The bottom line is that religious conservatives have allowed themselves to be consigned to the Republican ghetto through 25 years of empty promises. But we thought Bush was different. We thought that he was the real deal. We worked, prayed (and believed that mattered), gave, registered, and voted for him in record numbers. He was going to be the one who finally made a real difference.

And finally, in the fifth year of his presidency, the long-awaited Supreme Court vacancies came to pass. Did we get the proven conservatives in the "mold of Scalia and Thomas" that Bush promised? No we did not. We got the brilliant but unproven John Roberts and were told "trust me." Then we got the way less brilliant but equally unproven Harriet Miers and were told "trust me." (After all, she takes donuts and coffee to her church. What else do you need to know?)

The reality is that Bush 43 is no different in practice than Reagan or Bush 41. They talk the talk. They go to church (well not so much Reagan, but you get my point). They pray out loud. But they don't take the concrete actions that would change the things that matter most to people of faith. They do not care about moral values nearly as much as they care about motivating voters. So they say what we want to hear and count on us to keep living in blissful ignorance of the fact that nothing ever happens. It's time for that to change.

It's time to send a message loud and clear to the White House and the Republican leadership. "The elections of 2006 are coming. You're going to be counting on us. That shows real faith on your part--but a faith that this time may be misplaced. It's time to stop taking us for granted. It's time for you to deliver on 25 years of promises." If they do not respond, we must leave the ghetto--even if it means that "our" party loses seats or even control of the Senate and/or the House. That result would be preferable to another 25 years of being lied to and taken for granted. But the attitude of the Republican leadership will never change until this reality is brought home to them.

For what shall it profit a man if he gain temporal political power and lose his own soul?


At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

Bob, to much of this is so true and so sad. But isn't politics a game of incremental steps? No doubt we haven't advanced as much as we should have, but the general direction on many fronts has been positive. Sometimes it seems like 200 steps forward, 199 steps back.
I remember that particular dinner in 1988 and you are exactly right. But staying home for the Robertson supporters would not have been any more effective or right then, then it would be for us to stay home in the next election. Perhaps what we should be doing is concentrating on expanding our participation at every level of the political process; voter, worker, candidates, and elected officials.


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