Saturday, December 09, 2006

The AAR: Religion and the 2006 elections

I'm finally reviewing my notes from a session at the AAR on The Role of Scripture in the 2006 Elections. (Actually, it was an SBL session, if I recall correctly, and it was more on religion in general in the 2006 elections, but you get the idea.) The panel, consisting of Anna Greenberg, Terry Eastland, John Podesta, Missy Daniel, and Shaun Casey, said a lot of substantive things, and I'll just mention what I found most interesting and memorable.

  • The panelists agreed, as most people have agreed, that the 2006 elections didn't indicate a fundamental shift to the left on the part of the electorate, but rather a combination of disenchantment with the Republicans and the Democrats' success at targeting candidates to specific races without the expectation that they'll meet all the usual criteria of the party platform.

  • A number of Democratic candidates, such as Heath Shuler and Ted Strickland, were able to convey their religious convictions in an authentic and persuasive way and were clearly comfortable speaking religious language, in contrast to most Democratic candidates in recent years. (There's Obama, too.)

  • Shaun Casey (whom I liked a lot) made a few good points: that evangelical youth culture is more pliable and less focused on wedge issues than their parents; the hope for swinging the electorate is in the middle (yay!) (rather than invigorating the base, I guess); Republicans overreached on immigration and lost ground to Democrats (true, especially given that Catholics are the swing vote and we tend to be pro-immigration and other social justice-y things); and the concept of framing according to George Lakoff (whom he refused to name) has a "highly frustrating and demeaning" view of religion, but fortunately that moment seems to be past.

  • John Podesta noted than when Kerry was asked in the 2004 debates about how his religion would inform his public service, he gave exactly the same sort of answer that Kennedy did, i.e. he tried to play down the influence of his Catholicism on his political action. Except that, oops, it's not 1960 anymore. That is, now nobody's worried a Catholic candidate will be too Catholic, but not Catholic enough. (Although it remains to be seen whether the same holds true for a Mormon candidate.)

  • Terry Eastland noted there aren't any obvious evangelical candidates on the right. He named Frist (who's decided since then not to run) and Brownback (who evidently is) as outlying possibilities. John Podesta was the first and I think only person to mention Giuliani (whom Justin likes), but seemed convinced that he's too out of step with the religious right to get the nomination and might cause a third-party break. (Which, if it's a centrist party, is fine with me. But I think McCain's more likely than Giuliani to run as a third-party candidate if he doesn't get the nomination and a very conservative Republican does.)

I went to another panel on religion and politics called "Progressive Politics and Religion: Has the Left 'Gotten It'?" (an allusion to panelist Jim Wallis' book God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, which I'm just beginning to read), but I don't feel like talking about it at the moment because 1. what the heck am I doing anyway? it's past midnight, 2. my notes are much more fragmentary, and 3. I was alternately very intrigued and very frustrated, probably because, you know, I'm not really a progressive. But I'm on their email list now, so I'll see where that gets me.

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