The Evangelical Vote: ABT

Who will conservative evangelicals vote for? Over the past forty years, it has become a common assumption that the “Religious Right” can make or break a presidential campaign. Among some evangelical pollsters and opinion-makers, a new “ABT” attitude—anyone but Trump—seems to be emerging.

For lots of WORLD's evangelical insiders, it's ABT...

For lots of WORLD’s evangelical insiders, it’s ABT…

Thomas Kidd of Baylor University made his position clear. “I will not support Trump under any circumstances,” Professor Kidd wrote,

and I would use what little influence I have to stop him from being elected president. If that means that Hillary Clinton or another Democrat gets elected by default, I am fine with that.

Russell Moore, too, the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention, denounced Trump in no uncertain terms:

We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society.

At evangelical WORLD Magazine, J.C. Derrick recently defended his survey of evangelical attitudes. The WORLD poll, Derrick explained, does not sample randomly from the population. It picks 103 people who have substantial claim to the label “evangelical insiders.” Who do THEY think should be president?

Ann Coulter accused the WORLD survey of being an anti-Trump set-up. Only Trump, Coulter fumed, displayed “real Christian courage.”

WORLD’s evangelical insiders disagreed. These days, they prefer Marco Rubio. Most telling, more than a third of respondents said they would either vote Democrat or stay away from the polls if Trump were the GOP candidate.

Ouch.

Similar stories emerge from another evangelical poll from the National Association of Evangelicals. NAE leaders were not in agreement about whom they thought best represented their values, but they seem heading toward the ABT camp. As the NAE report put it,

Trump did not perform well in the NAE poll with some leaders specifically noting ‘Not Trump’ or ‘Anyone but Donald Trump.’

With primaries and caucuses just around the corner, I wonder if this sort of evangelical ABT will catch on among conservatives.

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What’s Left? Bernie Sanders on Education

It doesn’t really matter. But it has become a central part of the process nonetheless.

Even though the vast majority of thinking and funding of public schools is still done at the state and local levels, presidential candidates these days spend a good deal of time sharing their plans for fixing America’s schools. On the right, we’ve heard from all the GOP contenders. This week, Forbes Magazine summed up a few of Bernie Sanders’s positions on education. Some of the ideas are predictable, but some are surprising.

...and to my left...

…and to my left…

On the conservative side, candidates have a few hoops to jump through. Whatever their personal beliefs, contenders have to sound at least friendly to creationism. And these days—though as I argued recently this has not always been the case—GOP hopefuls have to denounce furiously any federal role in local schools.

Senator Sanders has a little more wiggle room. As a self-declared socialist representing the Peoples’ Republic of Vermont, Sanders has no real chance of snatching the nomination from front-runner Hillary Clinton. So his campaign can be more about ideas than votes.

What does the Socialist Senator say about schools?

First—no surprise—he has denounced the “privatizing” tendencies of vouchers and charter schools. Also, in February Senator Sanders suggested a federal program to cut college tuition in half. The federal government, Sanders thinks, must stop making profits off of student loans. More radically, Senator Sanders wants to make public universities tuition-free. Beyond higher education, Sanders has pushed for better pre-school options for all. And he has decried the fact that “the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than the combined income of 425,000 public school teachers.”

It all fits. But there are some ideas that are conspicuous by their absence. Unlike other progressive pundits, we don’t hear from Senator Sanders an attack on the dehumanizing standardized tests that have taken over so many public schools. Nor do we see a strident defense of teachers’ unions.

Here in the Great State of New York, we’ve seen how protest candidates in the Democratic Party can win votes by adopting those popular positions. It’s still early days, of course, but we can’t help but wonder why Senator Sanders has not made more noise about these issues.

Conservatives, Evolution, and “The Question”

“Do you believe in evolution?”

That’s the question GOP presidential candidates dread. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is the latest to hem and haw his way through an awkward press conference on the subject.

Of course, some GOP contenders have no need to fear. Ben Carson, for example, is a loud and proud young-earth creationist. But other potential nominees have had to dodge, duck, dive, and dip when the question comes up. Bobby Jindal, a former biology major at an Ivy League college, has confessed that he wants his own children to learn evolution. That doesn’t mean schools must teach it, though. Jindal wants “local schools” to decide what’s right for them. And Marco Rubio famously told GQ magazine that he was “not a scientist, man.”

Walker is the latest GOP notable pressured to answer “The Question.” At a London press conference, Walker did his best to avoid it. In the end, though, Walker felt obliged to clarify that he strongly believed that humanity was created by God, and that faith and science are compatible.

It has become such a staple of GOP press conferences that conservative pundits cry foul. Writing in the pages of the National Review, for example, Jonah Goldberg says these evolution questions are a cheap stunt, a way to make conservative candidates squirm. As Goldberg put it,

To borrow a phrase from the campus left, Darwinism is used to “otherize” certain people of traditional faith — and the politicians who want their vote.

As fellow conservative writer Kevin D. Williamson correctly pointed out, leading mainstream scientists will also insist that they don’t “believe in” evolution. Rather, they simply know it; they take it to be the best current explanation and model for understanding the way species have changed and developed.

Yet no matter how you slice it, “the question” has become a defining feature of Republican presidential candidates. Even candidates who seem personally to embrace mainstream evolutionary science are loath to alienate conservative religious voters. For many of those religious voters, evolution has become a moral litmus test, not just a statement of personal belief.

Rubio’s College Fix: Make Students Profitable

Vouchers. Charters. Conservatives these days like to offer “market” solutions to school problems. In the pre-run-up to the 2016 presidential contest, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is offering a market fix for college students: Sell shares in yourself.

Of course, not every conservative is a free-marketeer. “Traditionalist” conservatives (for good examples, check out the Imaginative Conservative or the American Conservative) decry the dehumanizing effect of ruthless commodification. But there has been a long tradition in these United States of tying traditional values to an apotheosis of the free market.

In education, the most influential voice for marketization has been the late Milton Friedman. As he remembered in the 1980s, when he started advocating vouchers, it was “far out of the mainstream.” But by the twenty-first century, such market ideas had become dominant. Parents should all have the right to choose the right school for their children, Friedman insisted. The only reason they could not, he wrote, was because self-interested teachers’ unions had seized control of education and forced an “excess of conformity.”

Rubio’s plan expands on this principle. In a recent talk organized by the National Journal, Rubio worried that the “American dream” of college education has become unaffordable for many. The danger, Rubio warns, is an increasing opportunity gap between those who have advanced education and those who do not. His plan will help narrow that gap by making it possible for everyone to go to college. Our “new economy,” he says, is still working with a higher-ed system built for the “old economy.”

Sell yourselves, students...

Sell yourselves, students…

Tuition costs have shot up far faster than the rest of the economy. Students from less-affluent backgrounds have been forced out of college, or saddled with impossibly huge debt burdens. Colleges are getting fat on these hefty tuition bills, largely financed by federal student loans. And, according to Senator Rubio, many “high-skilled, high-paying industries suffer from a shortage of labor.”

His solution? Among other ideas, Rubio wants students to sell shares in themselves. Instead of borrowing a fixed amount, students could promise investors, say, four percent of their earnings for ten years after graduation. Students might end up paying far more than they borrowed. Or they might pay less. But that is all part of the promise and peril of the market.

As Rubio notes, this will pusher higher education in “practical” directions. It will push students to pursue “the right degree, geared toward the right industry.” Not a lot of investors will jump at the chance to invest in a philosophy major. But students in “engineering, health services and education,” Rubio thinks, will be a good bet.

There are plenty of conservatives, I think, who would be aghast at this marketization plan. The purpose of education, many conservatives insist, is to humanize.

Rubio’s brand of conservatism is different. He wants to let the market work its magic.

Creationism in the Business World

Forbes Magazine is not known for its religious fervency.

Yet, thanks to the all-seeing eye of the Sensuous Curmudgeon, we see that Forbes has welcomed to its pages some creationist commentary.

Just as we saw last month an odd creationist duck with Virginia Heffernan’s “postmodern creationism,” we now see a surprising sort of CPA creationism.  Forbes commentator Peter J. Reilly describes the tax difficulties of controversial creationist celebrity Kent Hovind.

This is not the first time Reilly has commented on Hovind’s tax dilemmas for Forbes readers.

But in his most recent column, Reilly does more than cover the Hovind tax story.  In his recent contribution, Reilly admits, “I’m probably something of a creationist myself.”  Though Reilly hedges a little bit by putting himself “at the far left of the creationist spectrum,” it is intriguing to see “creationism” embraced in this way.

Of course, conservative politicians have long gone to great lengths to support creationism.  Marco Rubio’s recent waffle in his GQ interview is just one example.

But it has been less common for conservative writers and commentators outside of the circles of evangelical Protestantism to embrace creationism.  Non-Protestant conservative intellectuals often maintain a polite silence on the issue, or assert a bland sort of openness to the idea of divine creation.

Reilly’s statement, like Virginia Heffernan’s, seems more provocative.

Could it become fashionable for pundits to embrace “creationism” even if they don’t represent the stereotype of “fundamentalist” Protestant believer?

 

 

2016, Rubio, and the Age of the Earth

Senator Marco Rubio’s comments to a GQ reporter have attracted more than their share of attention lately.  When asked about the age of the earth, Rubio hedged:

“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell  you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I  think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of  the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our  economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to  answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple  theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country  where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents  should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says.  Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll  ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

This answer certainly sounds like a dodge from a 2016-conscious politician.  Keenly aware of the thinking among the GOP base, and with an eye to the 2016 presidential primaries, it seems, Rubio carefully gave an answer designed not to offend the sensibilities of young-earth creationists.  Rubio’s language here clearly differentiates him from the true GOP creationist politicians like US Representative Paul Broun.  Good science?  Definitely not.  But is it good politics?

Writing in the New York Times, Ross Douthat offered a politician’s answer that might serve the GOP better in the long run.  Aspiring GOP leaders, Douthat suggested, could respond to gotcha questions in this way:

“I’m not a scientist, but I respect the scientific consensus that says that the earth is — what, something like a few billions of years old, right? I don’t have any trouble reconciling that consensus with my faith. I don’t think the 7 days in Genesis have to be literal 24-hour days. I don’t have strong opinions about the specifics of how to teach these issues — that’s for school boards to decide, and I’m not running for school board — but I think religion and science can be conversation partners, and I think kids can benefit from that conversation.

Douthat makes the excellent point that this is more a crisis of Christianity than of the GOP.  The notion of a young earth has only been used as a litmus test for fundamentalist Protestantism in the last fifty years or so.  For centuries before that, Bible Christians could legitimately disagree about the age of the earth without being accused of backsliding away from true faith.

However, for someone like Rubio with his eyes on the White House, Douthat’s suggestion does not fit.  Politicians don’t win national office by moral or intellectual courage.  They win by offering a recipe of ideological notions that satisfy their constituents.  And these days, like it or lump it, the GOP base has strong feelings in favor of a young earth.