Posts tagged with: Campaign 2008

I came across a troubling essay in this month’s issue of Grand Rapids Family Magazine. In her “Taking Notes” column, Associate Publisher/Editor Carole Valade takes up the question of “family values” in the context of the primary campaign season.

She writes,

The most important “traditional values” and “family values” amount to one thing: a great education for our children. Education is called “the great equalizer”: It is imperative for our children to be able to compete on a “global scale” for the jobs that fund their future and provide hopes and dreams for their generation.

So far, so good. But from the somewhat uncontroversial assertions in that paragraph, Valade moves on to make some incredibly unfounded conclusions. (I say “somewhat” uncontroversial because it’s not clear in what sense education is an “equalizer.” Do we all get the same grades? Do we all perform as well as everyone else?)

Valade simply assumes that an emphasis on “education” as a “family value” means that we ought to push for greater government involvement in education, in the form of funding and oversight. “Education funding should be the most discussed topic of the campaign; it should be the focus of budget discussions,” she writes.

Let’s be clear that the immediate context for these comments are the national primary elections. It’s thus fair to conclude that Valade is talking primarily about the role of the federal government. This is underscored by her claims that “Head Start and pre-school programs are not a ‘luxury’ in state of federal budgets; they are an absolute necessity.”

The problem with Valade’s perspective is that it equates concern for education with concern for political lobbying: “Who will ask for such priorities if not parents? Who will speak on behalf of our children’s well-being if not parents?”

It is the case that the great concern that so many parents have for their children’s education have led them to move them into private schools and even (gasp!) to home school them. There is no facile and simple connection between valuing education and valuing government involvement in education. Given the performance of public schools in general compared to charter schools and private schools, there is an argument to be made that greater government involvement in education weakens rather than strengthens our children’s education.

Placing a high priority on a child’s education leads some parents to want their kids to be instructed in the truths about God and his relation to his creation, and this is instruction that by definition is excluded from a government-run public education. So there’s at least as strong a case to be made that valuing education means that we should lobby for less government involvement rather than more, or at least not think of education as primarily a political issue but rather a familial and ecclesiastical responsibility.

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce,” said Lord Acton. “It must leave them to the enterprise of others.” One of those “good purposes” is an education centered on Christian moral formation.

See also: “Too Cool for School: Al Mohler says it’s time for Christians to abandon public schools.”

And: H-Net Review, Religion in Schools: Controversies around the World (Westport: Praeger, 2006).

It’s fun to watch as layers are gradually peeled away from the conventional wisdom to reveal that the CW is, well, wrong. Old CW: Evangelicals are marching in lockstep behind Mike Huckabee; Emerging CW: Evangelicals are just as fragmented in their opinions at this point in the nominating process as anyone else.

Mr. Huckabee did well with churchgoers [in Michigan], but the bigger story is so did other Republicans. According to exit polls, of the 39% of Michigan voters in the GOP primary who described themselves as born-again or evangelical, Mr. Huckabee won 29%. A full 57% instead voted for either Mr. Romney (34%) or Mr. McCain (23%). Of those who said a candidate’s “religious beliefs matter a great deal or somewhat,” Mr. Romney won 36%, Mr. McCain 26% and Mr. Huckabee 25%…

…The conventional story line has also ignored the problem of Mr. Huckabee as a candidate. The former governor did well in Iowa in part because he surged late and stayed a few steps ahead of a critical examination of his positions and record. The evidence in South Carolina suggests that as religious voters have learned more about him — and as they’ve started to meditate on the economic and national-security stakes in this race — they’re taking a good, hard look around.

They’ve got plenty of choices. Mr. Thompson has been successfully pounding Mr. Huckabee in debates and ads as a “liberal” on economic and immigration. Mr. Romney, at a rally in Columbia on Wednesday, ran hard on his promise to “strengthen families.”

Even Mr. McCain — who is benefiting from this social-conservative dogfight (leaving him with much of the independent and moderate vote that went for him in 2000) — rolled into South Carolina with a belated pitch for the core Republican base. At an event in Greenville, the Arizonan unveiled an endorsement from conservative Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, and highlighted his pro-life record and his promises to appoint strictly conservative judges.

I suppose you could call me one of those evangelical voters, and I’ve never been sold on Huckabee – primarily because of economics and foreign policy. With all the media hype over Huckabee’s “evangelical-powered” Iowa win, I was beginning to feel a bit lonely. It’s nice to be able to look at the real numbers and find out that I was never really alone. But even beyond that, it’s nice to know that evangelical voters are not necessarily going to give a candidate a pass on taxes, big government and wartime policy simply because he or she is a Christian.

Dr. Jay Richards made an appearance on Studio B with Shepard Smith on the Fox News Channel this afternoon. If you didn’t catch it live, we have the clip right here, courtesy of Fox News:

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Friday, January 11, 2008


The Acton Institute is proud to unveil the first edition of our brand new audio podcast, Radio Free Acton! We’re excited about the possibilities of taking our podcast to the next level, and we hope that if you haven’t already subscribed to our feed, that you’ll do so now. Just add this link to whatever podcasting program you use, or subscribe through iTunes right here.

For our first show, I’m joined by Jordan Ballor, Ray Nothstine, and John Couretas to discuss the upcoming Republican primary in Michigan. This particular race has provided a rich vein of material for those interested in the intersection of religion, economics, and politics, and we dig into all of those issues as they relate to candidates Romney and Huckabee especially. Additionally, we hear from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse on how Marxist thinking about the traditional family still influences the modern left.

To download the podcast, click here (13.6 mb mp3 file).

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some of the most extensive discussion of a very extensively discussed subject here in the U.S.—religion and politics—occurs at the Pew Forum. The online proceedings of an early December conference on the subject were just brought to my attention. Of particular interest is the transcript of the presentation by John Green. Green, who cooperated with Acton years ago on our survey of economics in seminaries, is arguably the most respected and most widely quoted authority on religion and electoral behavior. Personally, I approach the whole polling industry with a large dose of skepticism, but with all the requisite caveats in place, Green’s work is indeed among the best in the business.

The transcript, with full Q&A, gets rather lengthy, so I’ll focus on a couple points. One is that it is remarkable how the distinction between “active” or “churchgoing” and less active, non-regular churchgoers has assumed preeminence in analysis of religion and politics. Green suggests that the distinction may not be as politically significant this year (and he may be right, although I think that depends greatly on which two candidates end up with the nominations). Yet the difference has clearly become a focus of investigation, a significant (and positive) change from the days when most analysts approached the subject with the blunt categories of “evangelical Protestant,” “mainline Protestant,” and “Catholic.”

The second is that EJ Dionne, with whom I frequently disagree, makes some of the most salient and incisive points. The section begins here. A sampling:

I believe, and this will be a controversial statement, that the era of the religious right is over. Now, as Bill Clinton would say, I suppose that depends on what the meaning of the words “religious right” is, but I believe the religious right, viewed as a conservative political movement within the Republican party that rose from 1978 or 1980, is breaking up, in significant part because the evangelical community itself is changing and also because the issues confronting the country are changing. Again, I’m not predicting that this group will suddenly shift overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, but I think we’re going to see a very different style of politics in the coming years.

If you put untroubled and troubled skeptics together, that’s 26% of the electorate. So if anyone wonders why Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, and all those folks have sold so many books, 26% is a very significant number of Americans. If you combine that 26% with the reluctant believers group, that is over a majority. It is simply not true that if you go out and say how religious you are and talk about it all the time, you are automatically appealing to a majority of the electorate.

But also, I think Huckabee is very interesting because Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who does have strongly conservative positions on the social issues, has actually been broadening the evangelical agenda. He speaks critically of Wall Street; he has linked his Christian commitment to a concern for the poor and their access to education and health care. I think Huckabee may understand better than most politicians how much the religious conversation is changing within his own evangelical community. I think the most interesting criticism of Mike Huckabee came from Fred Thompson, who called him a pro-life liberal. There are, indeed, times when Mike Huckabee sounds a little bit like our friend Jim Wallis.

There are also fascinating differences by state, and I had a long list of these, and I won’t belabor you with them, but I actually once took apart the 2004 exit polls to look at how the religious question played state-by-state. You’ll find that the religion gap barely exists in Louisiana; is enormous in Minnesota and Washington State; and that California was the only state in which Bush failed to secure a majority among weekly churchgoers. Now, all these may have demographic explanations. In Louisiana, the Democratic share among regular church attenders was boosted by African Americans and, to some degree, Cajun Catholics. Minnesota and Washington have relatively small African-American populations, and in California the Democratic vote is boosted by Latino Protestants.

Blog author: mvandermaas
posted by on Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A few radio appearances to let you know about today:

  • Michael Miller made an appearance today on the Accent Radio Network to discuss the role of faith in the public square, especially in light of the ongoing presidential primary process. You can listen to the audio from The Right Balance with Greg Allen by clicking here (2.2 mb mp3 file).
  • On Monday, Dr. Jay Richards joined host Jim Brown on WRNO in New Orleans, Louisiana to discuss the impact of religion on Mike Huckabee’s win in the Iowa Republican Caucus last week. If you haven’t had a chance to check out that audio yet, you can do so by clicking here (1.4 mb mp3 file).