Val­ues ad­vo­cates rally fol­low­ing ’06 elec­tion set­backs

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Ch­eryl Wet­zstein

The midterm elec­tions that swept con­gres­sional Democrats into power sparked fresh obituaries for the re­li­gious right.

Are the obit­u­ary writ­ers cor­rect? Is the tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment de­clin­ing? Has the na­tion had enough of “mor­al­iz­ing busy­bod­ies,” as Newsweek’s Jonathan Al­ter put it, in­flu­enc­ing pol­icy?

In a three-part se­ries, The Wash­ing­ton Times looks at the fu­ture of the tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment, in­clud­ing the sta­tus of the abor­tion de­bate and the role of women.

Ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts on the left and right, the tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment isn’t dead or even dy­ing. In fact, four of its largest groups — Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil Ac­tion, Fo­cus on the Fam­ily Ac­tion, Amer­i­can Val­ues and Al­liance De­fense Fund — are plan­ning their sec­ond “val­ues vot­ers sum­mit” in Oc­to­ber.

All 2008 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have been in­vited to the event, which should ri­val the groups’ first sum­mit, which drew more than 1,700 peo­ple in Septem­ber. That gath­er­ing was sim-

ilar in size to the “Road to Vic­tor y” Chr is­tian Coali­tion of Amer­ica con­fer­ences of the 1990s.

This year’s val­ues sum­mit will fo­cus on is­sues such as the sanc­tity of life, mar­riage, re­li­gious free­dom, bioethics, im­mi­gra­tion re­for m, health care, rad­i­cal Is­lam, ju­di­cial ac­tivism, geopol­i­tics, na­tional se­cu­rity, Hol­ly­wood and the press.

Chris­tians and so­cial con­ser­va­tives are “mo­ti­vated by is­sues,” not par­ti­san pol­i­tics, Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Tony Perkins ex­plained at a press break­fast on April 11 spon­sored by the Chris­tian Science Mon­i­tor. “They have a clear sense of right and wrong, and when they see wrong, they want to cor­rect it.”

Many tra­di­tional-val­ues ac­tivists think that the 2006 midterm elec­tions were a wakeup call for their move­ment and that they must do some re­trench­ing and re­think­ing of its strate­gies. Ma­jor top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion in­clude changes in the move­ment’s lead­er­ship and lead­er­ship style; greater out­reach to mi­nori­ties, women, youth and re­li­gious vot­ers; and, at least some tra­di­tional-val­ues lead­ers say, po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence.

“The tra­di­tion­al­ists have to make their case more clearly and strongly,” said Robert Knight, di­rec­tor of the Cul­ture and Me­dia In­sti­tute at the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter, a con­ser­va­tive watch­dog group. “They also can’t be de­pen­dent on one po­lit­i­cal party. They have to be in­de­pen­dent. That’s how you have po­lit­i­cal clout.”

Paul M. Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foun­da­tion, also thinks the tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment needs to be po­lit­i­cally in­de­pen­dent.

So­cial move­ments must change be­cause “if you try to keep the move­ment ex­actly the way it was, you’ll never suc­ceed,” said Mr. Weyrich, an icon in the con­ser­va­tive move­ment.

Mr. Weyrich helped or­ga­nize a “third force” sum­mit held in Wash­ing­ton ear­lier this month for so­cial con­ser­va­tives and their al­lies in the are­nas of de­fense and eco­nomics.

The sum­mit’s goal was to get con­ser­va­tives “on the same wave­length,” Mr. Weyrich told The Times. In the 1960s, he wrote in a De­cem­ber col­umn on the Free Congress Foun­da­tion’s Web site, the civil rights coali­tion was viewed as an in­de­pen­dent voice that worked with both Repub­li­cans and Democrats “to pull both sides in its di­rec­tion.”

The tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment was once such a “third­force” power-bro­ker, and it is time to re­turn to that po­si­tion and not be “owned” by the Repub­li­can Party, Mr. Weyrich said.

“This,” he added, “is a rather new con­cept.”

Af­ter the sum­mit, Mr. Weyrich said there was “a great deal of en­thu­si­asm about cre­at­ing this in­de­pen­dent move­ment. Peo­ple have vol­un­teered to help with var­i­ous as­pects of it. And I think it will hap­pen.” Night­mare for the right

The past two years were tough for tra­di­tional-val­ues ad­vo­cates and their Repub­li­can al­lies.

Scan­dals brought down prom­i­nent Chris­tian lead­ers Ralph Reed and the Rev. Ted Hag­gard, as well as con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can Reps. Randy “Duke” Cun­ning­ham of Cal­i­for­nia, Bob Ney of Ohio, Don Sher­wood of Penn­syl­va­nia and Mark Fo­ley of Florida. The lat­ter’s sex scan­dal in­volv­ing for­mer con­gres­sional pages raised ques­tions of cul­pa­bil­ity for the en­tire Repub­li­can House lead­er­ship.

A fur­ther blow was dealt in a book by David Kuo, in which the for­mer deputy di­rec­tor in the White House Of­fice of Faith­Based and Com­mu­nity Ini­tia­tives said Pres­i­dent Bush’s faith-based ini­tia­tive was more sop than strat­egy. Be­sides this, said Lisalyn Ja­cobs, vice pres­i­dent for gov­ern­ment re­la­tions at women’s rights group Le­gal Mo­men­tum, the de­ba­cle over Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina re­lief and Repub­li­can over­reach­ing in the Terri Schi­avo right-to-die case helped fuel a back­lash at the polls.

“The val­ues vot­ers didn’t feel they were be­ing heard or taken se­ri­ously,” she said.

“The real wal­lop came with the Iraq war,” said Joseph Cella, pres­i­dent of Fi­delis, a Catholic tra­di­tional-val­ues group in Chelsea, Mich. “If there ever was a per­fect storm in the po­lit­i­cal sea­son, I think we had it in 2006.”

The re­sult was a Demo­cratic pickup of 30 Repub­li­can House seats, six Repub­li­can Se­nate seats and con­trol of Congress. Many Repub­li­cans who lost were tra­di­tional-val­ues al­lies.

De­feats came in state is­sues as well.

Vot­ers re­jected a mar­riage amend­ment in Ari­zona and em­braced fund­ing for em­bry­onic stem-cell re­search in Mis­souri. In South Dakota, they voted to re­peal a law that vir tu­ally banned abor­tion, and in Kansas, they sent home a cru­sad­ing pro­life at­tor­ney gen­eral.

“This was re­ally a re­bel­lion in the heart of red-state, pro-life Amer­ica — the heart of the north­ern Bi­ble Belt,” Sarah Stoesz, head of the Planned Par­ent­hood chap­ter that over­sees South Dakota, told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

So what hap­pened with “val­ues vot­ers”?

A De­cem­ber anal­y­sis by the Pew Fo­rum on Re­li­gion & Pub­lic Life found that vot­ing shifts in cer­tain re­li­gious de­mo­graphic groups be­tween 2004 and 2006 were small but sig­nif­i­cant.

Most white evan­gel­i­cals and white main­line Protes­tants voted Repub­li­can, al­though by slightly smaller num­bers. White Catholics, who in the past have strongly sup­ported Repub­li­cans, voted for Democrats in 2006 by a bare ma­jor­ity.

“Non­white” vot­ers of any faith, who tend to vote Demo­cratic, backed their party in higher num­bers. The big­gest Demo­cratic surge came from three small re­li­gious groups that skew Demo­cratic — white “un­af­fil­i­ated,” white “other faiths” and white Jews.

“Thus, the Democrats made gains ev­ery­where in 2006, but they made the big­gest gains in groups al­ready most in their fa­vor,” John Green, a se­nior fel­low at the Pew Fo­rum on Re­li­gion & Pub­lic Life, said at a con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber.

“Huge num­bers of re­li­giously ob­ser­vant Amer­i­cans voted for Democrats, re­vers­ing a 14-year trend,” ac­cord­ing to the lib­eral Peo­ple for the Amer­i­can Way (PFAW). “There are hugely hope­ful signs that the pen­du­lum in Amer­i­can pub­lic life is swing­ing back from the far-right ex­tremes.”

The elec­tion was “a real shot across the bow for so­cial con­ser­va­tives and the Repub­li­can Party,” Mr. Cella said. New al­liances

Al­though tra­di­tional-val­ues lead­ers may not be in agree­ment about how to strengthen sup­port among Repub­li­cans, some say in­roads can be made with de­mo­graphic groups such as blacks, His­pan­ics, Asians, women and youth — all of whom pulled far more lev­ers for Democrats than Repub­li­cans in 2006.

“I don’t think there’s any ev­i­dence that there’s been a shift in the coun­try on so­cial val­ues,” said Gary Bauer, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­can Val­ues. How­ever, there could be “some in­ter­est­ing new coali­tions on spe­cific is­sues” with blacks and His­pan­ics, he said.

“There’s no doubt” that the tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment must do a bet­ter job with mi­nori­ties, Mr. Weyrich said.

“The sin­gle most pro-life sub­set in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is black males,” he said. “His­pan­ics are the big­gest-ex­pand­ing com­mu­nity in the United States. If you approach them on eco­nomic is­sues, you are go­ing to lose. But if you approach them on fam­ily is­sues, they are very strong on fam­ily is­sues.

“Asians are very, very pro-fam­ily,” Mr. Weyrich added. “[They are] strong in their dis­ci­pline and fam­ily ori­en­ta­tion. They should be our peo­ple, but a lot of them don’t vote that way. So yes, we have got to have an ex­pand­ing base or we lose.”

The “un­der-30” youth vote is dicey, es­pe­cially be­cause it has be­come “sig­nif­i­cantly pro­gres­sive,” ac­cord­ing to re­search by PFAW’s Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Val­ues in Pub­lic Life.

From 1998 to 2002, the youth vote was evenly split. But in 2004, it widened in fa­vor of Democrats, then grew to a gap­ing chasm in 2006 with 60 per­cent of youth sup­port­ing Democrats and 38 per­cent back­ing Repub­li­cans, the cen­ter said in a Novem­ber re­port.

It is “too soon to tell whether the in­creas­ing Demo­cratic ad­van­tage among youth con­sti­tutes a trend,” the cen­ter added. How­ever, 30 per­cent of young Amer­i­cans iden­tify as lib­eral, 58 per­cent say they are po­lit­i­cally “pro­gres­sive” and 63 per­cent sup­port ho­mo­sex­u­als’ adopt­ing.

But con­ser­va­tive an­a­lyst Jan­ice Shaw Crouse sees sup­port for tra­di­tional val­ues in youth whose life­styles she said have led to lower rates of teen preg­nancy, teen births, abor­tion and sex­ual ac­tiv­ity in high school.

“We have made re­ally good head­way,” said Mrs. Crouse, who di­rects the Bev­erly LaHaye In­sti­tute at Con­cerned Women for Amer­ica.

She agrees that there is some en­trenched an­tipa­thy to­ward tra­di­tional val­ues in the baby­boomer gen­er­a­tion and among the twen­tysome­things. A real bat­tle is un­der way for “the hearts and minds of twen­tysome­things” and “whether we are gain­ing or los­ing will be re­vealed in the next elec­tion,” she said. New lead­ers, new is­sues

Lead­er­ship, mis­sion and out­reach to re­li­gious vot­ers are also hot top­ics in tra­di­tional-val­ues con­ver­sa­tions.

The tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment has long been as­so­ci­ated with iconic lead­ers such as the Rev. Jerry Fal­well, who led the Moral Ma­jor­ity from 1979 to 1989 and re-cre­ated it in 2004 as the Moral Ma­jor­ity Coali­tion, and the Rev. Pat Robert­son, founder and for­mer head of the Chris­tian Coali­tion of Amer­ica. In their hey­days, both men were pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ences: Chris­tian Coali­tion straw polls were early tests for Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls — and Mr. Robert­son sought the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 1988. Mr. Robert­son fin­ished ahead of Ge­orge Bush in the Iowa cau­cus, but dropped out of the race af­ter poor per­for­mances in sub­se­quent pri­maries.

How­ever, Mr. Fal­well died on May 15, Mr. Robert­son and many other tra­di­tional-val­ues lead­ers are in their 70s, and lead­er­ship is shift­ing to younger men and women. There’s also sup­port for the idea that the next gen­er­a­tion of tra­di­tional-val­ues lead­ers will not be larger-than-life house­hold names, but lo­cal pow­er­houses whose strength comes from grass-roots al­liances.

“We are in the midst of a steady, gen­er­a­tional change, and it’s a nat­u­ral cy­cle,” said Mr. Cella, adding, “When peo­ple see who’s com­ing up through the ranks, they should be very, very ex­cited.”

As for mis­sion pri­or­i­ties, Mr. Cella and other tra­di­tional-val­ues lead­ers said the three bedrock is­sues are — and will re­main — tra­di­tional one-man, one-wo­man mar­riage; the sanc­tity of life; and re­li­gious lib­er­ties.

Ques­tions have arisen about whether th­ese is­sues are the right mix for a pub­lic that has grown less church-ori­ented.

In 2006, only 55 per­cent of vot­ers who at­tend weekly re­li­gious ser­vices voted Repub­li­can, com­pared with 59 per­cent in 2004. This “so-called ‘God gap’ ” — a 20-point ad­van­tage Repub­li­cans held for a decade with re­li­giously de­vout Amer­i­cans — was “vir­tu­ally cut in half” in 2006, Robert P. Jones, for­mer di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Val­ues in Pub­lic Life, said in Novem­ber.

One rea­son for the shift is that rel­a­tively few peo­ple choose abor­tion or ho­mo­sex­ual rights as their top po­lit­i­cal is­sues, said Peter Mont­gomery, the cen­ter’s new di­rec­tor. Poverty and health care are far more im­por­tant now, he added.

Also, Demo­cratic can­di­dates were mak­ing com­pelling ar­gu­ments, say­ing that “it’s OK to worry about the fam­ily is­sues, but we also need to worry about the com­pas­sion is­sues — poverty, en­vi­ron­ment, health, in­ter­na­tional aid, Dar­fur, and so on,” said Eric Sapp, of Com- mon Good Strate­gies, a Demo­cratic con­sult­ing group. This theme, he said, helped many of his Demo­cratic can­di­dates win in 2006.

Tra­di­tional-val­ues groups, how­ever, are wary of tak­ing the fo­cus off of fam­ily is­sues — or sub­sti­tut­ing feel-good val­ues for bib­li­cal val­ues.

Tra­di­tional-val­ues vot­ers are go­ing to have to watch out for “poseur Chris­tians” — “lib­er­als try­ing to sound like quote, ‘evan­gel­i­cals,’ “ said An­drea Shel­don Lafferty, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the con­ser­va­tive Tra­di­tional Val­ues Coali­tion. “They are not us. They are not tra­di­tional val­ues. They are pro-abor­tion. They are pro-ho­mo­sex­ual ‘mar­riage.’ ”

Dr. Randy Brin­son, a physi­cian and founder of Re­deem the Vote, a non­par­ti­san grass-roots voter-reg­is­tra­tion and ed­u­ca­tion group that fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on Chris­tian youth, said both par­ties have some soul-search­ing to do.

A 2006 In­ter­net sur­vey of 400,000 con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cals showed a “huge shift” from Repub­li­can to “nei­ther” party — and the Alabama elec­tion is a good ex­am­ple of how the tra­di­tional-val­ues vote is in play, Dr. Brin­son said.

Alabama is very con­ser­va­tive, with a high con­cen­tra­tion of evan­gel­i­cals, he said. But they be­gan to per­ceive Repub­li­cans as be­ing more in­ter­ested in power and big busi­ness, and not sup­port­ive of things the vot­ers wanted, such as al­low­ing high schools to carry elec­tive classes in Bi­ble lit­er­acy. Mean­while, he said, Democrats met with pas­tors and lay lead­ers, and en­dorsed Bi­ble-lit­er­acy classes and talked about “9-to-5” is­sues such as pen­sions, gro­ceries, jobs and health care.

Peo­ple be­gan to think: “ ‘Hey, maybe this won’t be so bad, es­pe­cially when we see how cor­rupt the Repub­li­cans have be­come,’ “ Dr. Brin­son said. The re­sult is that Alabama voted in a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor and at­tor­ney gen­eral — and a Demo­cratic lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and chief jus­tice of the state Supreme Court.

Dr. Brin­son’s ad­vice is for politi­cians, Repub­li­cans in par­tic­u­lar, to for­get about re­ly­ing on na­tional “gate­keep­ers” to lead the flocks. Now the best out­reach tool is to meet with pas­tors and speak to evan­gel­i­cals di­rectly, through town­hall meet­ings, the In­ter­net and ra­dio.

The doors are open to Democrats, too, he said. If Democrats can get a cen­trist can­di­date through the pri­maries and are not per­ceived as hos­tile to re­li­gion or ea­ger to em­brace the failed “Great So­ci­ety” agenda of Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son, “they can res­onate” with some of th­ese mid­dle-class evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers, he said.

And the “third-force” strat­egy for the tra­di­tional-val­ues move­ment?

Says Mark J. Rozell, a pub­licpol­icy pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity who stud­ies re­li­gion in pol­i­tics: “There are many, and I will in­clude my­self, that think that the re­li­gious con­ser­va­tive move­ment may have made a mis­take some years ago by adopt­ing a one-party strat­egy, that they should have done more to play the par­ties off each other.

“I think they’re com­ing to that re­al­iza­tion, and that may ac­tu­ally be ben­e­fi­cial to the move­ment,” he said.

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