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2006-11-02

Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters and the Culture Wars in 2006

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A new article looks at how the 2004 strategy of the religious right has been revived for this election. Co-authors Chip Berlet and Pam Chamberlain write: "Although leaders of the Christian Right almost universally deny it, the goal of this revived campaign is to elect Republicans to office. The enemy being denounced is sometimes generic: gays, liberals, secularists, the left-leaning media and Hollywood; and sometimes specific: Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Rosie O’Donnell and the ACLU, but the actual target is the Democratic Party and its candidates." Chip Berlet joins us from Boston. [includes rush transcript]

As we approach the mid-term elections next Tuesday, our Democracy Now! election coverage continues. On November 7th, several states will vote on ballot measures to ban same-sex marriage. Republicans are hoping that this will boost turnout of conservative Christian voters in crucial congressional races. In the 2004 Presidential elections, the Christian Right mobilized voters to come out and vote for President Bush. According to exit polls, white evangelical or born-again Christians made up a quarter of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted Republican.

This September, 1700 Christian Right grass roots activists gathered in Washington D.C for the Values Voter Summit which was built around the slogan "Family, Faith, and Freedom." Speakers like James Dobson of Focus on the Family openly boasted of meeting with Republican leaders in the prior weeks and reminded the audience of the major role the Christian Right played in electing Bush. The event also showcased 2008 Presidential hopefuls and Senator George Allen who has been running in a very close race in Virginia.

A new article looks at how the 2004 strategy of the religious right has been revived for this election. In 'Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters and the Culture Wars in 2006,'–writers Chip Berlet and Pam Chamberlain write: "Although leaders of the Christian Right almost universally deny it, the goal of this revived campaign is to elect Republicans to office. The enemy being denounced is sometimes generic: gays, liberals, secularists, the left-leaning media and Hollywood; and sometimes specific: Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Rosie O’Donnell and the ACLU, but the actual target is the Democratic Party and its candidates."

  • Chip Berlet. Senior analyst at Political Research Associates in Somerville, Massachusetts. He is co-author of the report "Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters and the Culture Wars in 2006."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Chip Berlet now joins us from Boston, senior analyst at Political Research Associates and co-writer of the article. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Chip.

CHIP BERLET: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is most important now to understand about evangelical voters?

CHIP BERLET: Well, first, that not all evangelical voters are part of the Christian right, but the Christian right hasn’t gone away, even though the Christian Coalition has collapsed. There’s a new coalition that’s been formed to mobilize voters to get out and vote for Republicans. And while there was some confusion after the 2004 election about the role of conservative Christian evangelical voters, in Ohio and some other states they clearly did make a difference, and some recent more in-depth statistical work has shown that it’s geographically defined, that in some key states the Christian right did make a difference in that election.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the various sectors of evangelicals? Who comes out to vote? Who doesn’t? And what are the different concerns of these sectors?

CHIP BERLET: Well, like most Americans, many evangelicals just don’t vote at all. So that’s pretty much similar with the entire population. If you look at evangelicals in general, you have to make a distinction between black evangelicals who vote 95% for Democrats versus white evangelicals who, as you pointed out, are more in the 75-78% range for Republicans. But there is a portion of these voters that generally vote Republican who can be swing voters in certain elections, primarily if they think issues like the economy or healthcare or poverty trump issues like abortion and gay marriage.

AMY GOODMAN: And how important are the anti-gay marriage initiatives in the country right now in this election to get out evangelical voters?

CHIP BERLET: Well, it seems that in 2004 they did draw voters to the polls, and those voters generally voted for Bush. So I think the strategy has been to launch these referendums across the country and use that as a maneuver to bring conservative evangelicals to the polls. And then, these two conferences, the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., in late September and then Liberty Sunday here in Boston in October are designed to ramp up the rhetoric.

And there was really some nasty rhetoric at the Values Voters Summit. A group of us from Political Research went down there, and we were very shocked by the really nasty homophobic rhetoric that was coming out. And it was clear that there had been a decision made to go back to the earlier nasty rhetoric that you could see in the Christian right in the early 1980s, for instance, that had kind of been suppressed for a while with a more kinder, gentler kind of anti-gay organizing. And they’ve really launched a vicious campaign this time around.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Chip Berlet, who co-authored a piece called "Running Against Sodom and Osama," Sodom being S-O-D-O-M. Why did you title the piece this?

CHIP BERLET: Well, it’s a pun, because you can think of Saddam Hussein and Obama. But Sodom was the town which, in the Bible, the conservative evangelicals who don’t support gay rights say is an example of God’s punishment for sexual wickedness. So what we have here is a connection being made at these meetings between Osama bin Laden and Islamic terrorism as a threat to the American family, just like at home, domestically, homosexuals and gay marriage are a threat to the American family. And it’s this pairing of the idea that just like a bomb tears apart the family, so does gay marriage. Now, it’s nonsensical to most people who support gay rights, but within the conservative evangelical context, it provokes a very powerful image of protecting hearth and home domestically from, you know, rapacious and, you know, child-molesting gay people, which is the stereotype that is a subtext of much of this, and the increasingly bigoted framing of Muslims as all terrorists and perhaps even part of the Antichrist reign in the End Times that a lot of conservative evangelicals have adopted.

AMY GOODMAN: Chip Berlet, how does the whole scandal around former Congressmember Foley fit into this, which brings together all of these different issues? Also just heard that, you know, his 30 days in alcohol treatment is over, but he’s not going to leave. I mean, obviously, it’s right before the election, and he would be getting a lot of attention if he walked out of a clinic right now.

CHIP BERLET: Well, like everyone else, evangelicals are shocked by his actions, and it causes a kind of a split. But it can go two ways. It can get some conservative evangelicals angry at Republicans for having tolerating it, but what’s the alternative? Vote for Democrats who support gay rights? So, it may just get them motivated to come out and vote for new Republicans. So it’s really not clear.

This is a very complicated election. A lot of conservative evangelicals support the idea of the war on terrorism, especially when it’s tied to this stereotype of Muslim terrorism, but they’re really not happy with the war in Iraq, because so many of the people that are in their family have gone over there and they don’t see it working very well as a war effort. So it’s really kind of hard to tell how either the Foley scandal or the war in Iraq is going to play among conservative evangelicals at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Chip Berlet, the issue of is the support dropping, even in the most core group that the Republican Party has so long depended on. According to the Pew Research Center, 57% of white evangelicals say they’ll likely vote Republican this year, a 21% drop from two years ago.

CHIP BERLET: And that’s one reason why this campaign has been launched. There has been polling that shows a tremendous dissatisfaction with Republicans. But what religious right leaders who put together this conference — it was, you know, James Dobson from the American Family Association, Tony Perkins with the Family Research Council, Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, Gary Bauer of Americans United to Save Marriage — all of these groups have got together to say, "Yes, you’re unhappy with the Republicans. So are we, but what’s the alternative? And just like those people, you know, who faced down the terrorists in the planes on 9/11, you should go to the polls and vote Republican." And they literally said that. They used the image of 9/11 in saying, "Just as Americans stood up against terrorism on 9/11, you need to stand up against gay marriage in this election." So, the last few days are very important, and there are these networks of evangelical pastors that have been formed in several key states, and they may play a very important role in turning out voters at the last minute. It’s really, again, hard to guess, but people shouldn’t write off the power of the Christian right to mobilize evangelical voters.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think that the left has something to learn from the organizing within the evangelical movement, and what is that?

CHIP BERLET: Well, that grassroots organizing is key and that too many political organizations and progressive social movement organizations have given up on door-to-door kind of neighborhood organizing and local organizing, and that really, when it comes to the real social change, that grassroots organizing makes the difference. Social movements pull political parties in their direction when they’re strong. If you don’t have a powerful progressive movement, it doesn’t matter how much you want the Democrats to do what you want them to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Chip Berlet, I want to thank you very much for being with us, senior analyst at Political Research Associates in Somerville, Massachusetts. We’ll link to the report. It’s called "Running Against Sodom and Osama: The Christian Right, Values Voters and the Culture Wars in 2006."

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