There are cycles in American political life, argued historian Arthur Schlesinger. Spells of conservativism and private purpose alternate with periods of liberalism and public-spiritedness - with turbulent years of transition in between. If the Schlesinger thesis has any validity, the US looks as if another such transition is just beginning. One signal of change is that the opinion-poll leader for the Republican party nomination, Rudy Giuliani, is a three-times married man who has marched in New York gay rights parades. Yet another is that the Democrat front runner is Hillary Clinton.I will, as always, hold off on an outright statement of preference and I need to look at a bunch of other things, but it is possible that Obama is the one who will best surf the tide as it swings.
Behind these changes, as so many times in the past, is a swing in the cultural pendulum. The key indicator is religion, always important in the US. For the last 25 years, an evangelical, militant, right-wing Christianity has been making the political and cultural weather. The high-water mark was November 2004 when nearly half the Senate and two-fifths of the House of Representatives could be claimed by the fundamentalists as fully bought in to their agenda - from anti-abortion to anti-stem cell research.
Yet since then, the Christian right has found progress tougher, in part because of an embarrassing string of scandals, in part because secular America has begun to reassert itself and in part because a growing number of American Christians are uneasy about allowing religion to become so politicised and so closely associated with one party. Fundamentalist Islam has also made a difference; it has reminded the bulk of Americans of the wisdom of the American constitution - keeping religion and state firmly apart.
...And politicians are feeling the mood swing. Mormon Republican Mitt Romney's bid for the Republican Presidential nomination is floundering despite his otherwise impressive credentials. That he is the best candidate Christian social conservatives can mount is very revealing.
One of the key speeches Barack Obama made last year before announcing he was running for the Democrat nomination was at the Call to Renewal convention, a Christian group which declares independence from radical conservatism and focuses on the alleviation of poverty. The best American leaders of the past had faith, Obama argued; but they had not tried to evangelise the nation, recognising that a plural society had to be based on tolerance and universally applicable laws that cannot be theocratic. His standing soared.
Religion is not the only indicator. Other tipping points have been reached and exceeded; for example, the consensus that the US needs to act both individually and with others to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases. It seems, with a little under two years to go, that the Democrats have the presidency for the taking - just so long as they make no disastrous gaffes and read the cultural runes properly.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
The Swing From The Fundamentalist Right
Sometimes it takes someone outside looking in to see what's there. Read the whole thing. All bold emphasis is mine.