Summary: Religion has always been a powerful factor in American politics. So it has been, and so it today. Today’s we have an excerpt from the always-interesting Foreign Affairs looking at the Tea Party, IMO the more interesting of the two protest movements that have arisen since America went off the rails in 2001. At the end are links to other articles about the tea party, and about the green religion (the faith of the Left).
By David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, from Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012
The full article is gated, but very worth reading. It explains why the Tea Party movement might be a poisoned chalice for the GOP, attractive but toxic. The full article puts these events in our historical context, looking backwards and forwards. This essay is adapted from the paperback edition of their book, American Grace (Simon & Schuster, 2012).
In the wake of the Great Recession it would seem natural that the 2012 election would be fought over economic issues. Yet so far in the Republican primaries, we have seen social issues, and religion especially, move to the forefront. Rick Santorum is only the latest in a series of Republicans who have infused their campaigns with talk about God. Even Mitt Romney, a Mormon who has generally tried to avoid discussing religion, has recently pledged to defend “religious liberty” against the Obama administration. Increasingly, the rhetoric of the leading Republican contenders echoes the Republican fringe of 20 years ago. Then, we heard Pat Buchanan — the quintessential protest candidate — bombastically declare that America was in the midst of a culture war. Today, the frontrunners all play to the Republican base by describing the White House’s “war on religion.”
Deepening the mystery of the GOP’s turn to God is the emergence of the Tea Party, which ostensibly formed to shrink government with a relentless focus on fiscal issues. … Even this ostensibly secular movement has strong religious undertones. A large, nationally representative survey that we first conducted in 2006 (before the Tea Party was formed) and repeated with the same respondents in 2011 casts doubt on the conventional wisdom about the movement’s origin. In its early days, the Tea Party was often described as comprising nonpartisan political neophytes who, hurt by the Great Recession, had been spurred into action out of concern over runaway government spending.
This is a triple myth. In reality, those Americans who support the Tea Party were (and remain) overwhelmingly partisan Republicans. They were politically active even in the pre-Tea Party days, and they were no more likely than anyone else to have suffered hardship during the recent economic downturn.
Indeed, it turns out that the strongest predictor of a Republican becoming a Tea Party supporter is whether he or she evinced a desire in our 2006 survey to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And that desire does not simply reflect members’ high religiosity. Tea Partiers are, on average, more religiously observant than the typical American, but not more so than other Republicans. Rather, they are distinctively comfortable blending religion and politics.
Tea Partiers are more likely than other Republicans to say that U.S. laws and policies would be better if the country had more “deeply religious” elected officials, that it is appropriate for religious leaders to engage in political persuasion, and that religion should be brought into public debates over political issues. The Tea Party’s generals might say that their overriding concern is smaller government, but the rank and file is after a godlier government.
Tea Partiers’ views in this respect are increasingly out of step with those of most Americans. According to Gallup polls, as early as 1984, just as the alliance between religious and political conservatives was crystallizing, most Americans opposed the idea of religious groups campaigning against specific candidates.
Moreover, according to the widely respected national General Social Survey, as the public visibility of the religious right increased between 1991 and 2008, growing numbers of Americans expressed the conviction that religious leaders should not try to influence people’s votes or government decisions. In 1991, 22% of those surveyed said they “strongly agree” that religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions; by 2008, that figure had nearly doubled, to 38%. In our 2011 survey, 80% of respondents said that it is not proper for religious leaders to tell people how to vote, and 70% said that religion should be “kept out of public debates over social and political issues.”
It should thus come as no surprise that many Americans have negative views of the Tea Party. In the same 2011 poll, the Tea Party ranked at the bottom of a list of two dozen U.S. religious, political, and racial groups in terms of favorability. (It was even less liked than Muslims and atheists, two groups that regularly meet with public opprobrium.) One of the few groups approaching the unpopularity of the Tea Party was the religious right. Both movements (which overlap heavily) might have won the staunch support of a minority of American voters, but they have also won the staunch opposition of a much larger group.
This shift has created a dilemma for Republican candidates seeking the Tea Partiers’ support. Not only must Republicans toe the conservative line on fiscal issues, immigration, and national security, but Tea Party sympathizers (who compose barely a quarter of the national electorate but more than half of the Republican primary electorate) also expect them to favor a fusion of religion and politics.
The problem for the Republican Party is that this fusion is unpopular among the general electorate and is becoming more so. Thus, as culture warriors fire up the Republican base, they leave independent voters cold. In contrast, more centrist candidates are attractive to the moderate middle but win only tepid support among the activists who want more God in government.
About the authors
David E. Campbell is John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C. Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame.
Robert D. Putnam is Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University.
Other perspectives on the role of religion in American politics today
(a) “The Right Wing’s Election-Year Islamophobia“, By John Feffer, TomDispatch, 29 March 2012 — Excerpt from the introduction by Nick Turse:
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if you can’t stop your forces from repeatedly blowing up wedding parties, conducting airstrikes on unarmed children, massacring villagers, urinating on dead locals, and burning their holy book, all efforts at employing sophisticated cultural knowledge to win hearts and minds and “counterac[t] enemy propaganda that portrays Coalition forces as oppressive foreign invaders that do not respect Islamic life in Afghanistan” are likely to fail in spectacular fashion. Instead, Americans might be better served by conducting analyses of cultures closer home as TomDispatch regular and co-director of the Foreign Policy in Focus website John Feffer does today in his illuminating (and chilling) look at election year Islamophobia in America.
And if you really want to understand Second Wave Islamophobia in all its intricacies and the many peculiarities twenty-first century America — a “superstitious culture” if ever there was one — you need to read Feffer’s new book, Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam. It covers the bizarre American campaign against Muslims, foreign and domestic, real and imagined, from the moment President George W. Bush first brought the word “crusade” back from the dead to this very moment in the Obama age.
(b) “Why We Got Ayn Rand Instead of FDR: How Tea Party ‘Populism’ Derailed a New New Deal“, Thomas Frank, AlterNet — ” After a brutal recession was brought on by Wall Street greed, it looked for a moment like we’d rejected the Right’s economic mythology. Then the “Tea Party” came along.” Frank wrote What’s the matter wth Kansas? (2005)
For More Information
About the green religion, the faith (often fanatical) of the Left:
- A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009
- Lies told under the influence of the Green religion to save the world, 30 July 2010
About the Tea Party Movement:
- Are the new “tea party” protests a grass roots rebellion or agitprop?, 1 March 2009
- More examples of Americans waking up – should we rejoice?, 10 October 2009
- Does the Tea Party movement remind you of the movie “Meet John Doe”?, 27 January 2010
- The Tea Party movement develops a platform. It’s the Underpants Gnomes Business Plan!, 8 March 2010
- About the Tea Party Movement: who they are and what they believe, 19 March 2010
- The Tea Party Movement disproves my recommendation for the path to reforming America, 20 April 2010
- At last we see a Tea Party political platform, 13 May 2010
- Kinsley – “My Country, Tis of Me – There’s nothing patriotic about the Tea Party Patriots”, 15 May 2010
- Why has wild man Mark Williams become a top leader of the Tea Party movement?, 13 June 2010
- More people participating in politics: is this good for America?, 20 June 2010
- Obama scores again against the Constitution. The Tea Party is right about the battle, but AWOL., 28 September 2010
- Today’s tea party propaganda: the wonderfulness of slavery, 8 July 2011