The Crackup: Not all It Is Cracked Up to Be?

A couple of skeptical followups, from politically divergent but intellectually compatible perspectives, on David Kirkpatrick's piece "The Evangelical Crackup," from the New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks ago.

First, Jeff Sharlet notes that "The New York Times Declares the Religious Right Dead. Again." In it, he finds a merging of "social" and "market" conservatism, precisely the blending that Lisa McGirr traces in Suburban Warriors -- she calls them "normative" and "libertarian" conservatism. Sharlet believes Democrats will lean rightward to capture evangelicals concerned with "values" but disenchanted by the current administration, under a sort of "One Market Under God" paradigm. An excerpt:

Kirkpatrick writes of the "new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers." Left and right do compete to offer the best answers on those issues. And the new moderate evangelicals are weighing in heavy for the right. The difference between this new narrative and the old spittle-flecked Falwell rants is that the issues involve technocratic responses from both the left and the right. Most significantly with regard to the environment -- much has been made of the "green evangelicals." They're not "environmentalists" mind you, they're interested in "creation care." Six of one, half dozen of the other? Not at all.. Creation care proposes free market solutions to environmental problems. One market under god, as Tom Frank puts it. Evangelicals now sound more like the economic conservatives establishment media has always been more comfortable with.

I kind of doubt they would like being cast together here in the same blog post, but Naomi Riley makes some complementary points in her piece in today's Wall Street Journal, where she explores the history of evangelical anti-communism (in the process quoting our friends John Wilson, Mark Noll, and Darren Dochuk to good effect), and how Giuliani fits that model now that Islam is the enemy. If you want to know why Pat Robertson endorsed Giuliani, Naomi Riley provides a succinct answer that corresponds with the now-famous conversation about the key role of Israel that Giuliani and Robertson had on some long plane trip back from the Middle East. An excerpt:

In a recent New York Times Magazine piece, David Kirkpatrick describes the "evangelical crackup"--pastors being pushed out of churches for placing too much emphasis on protesting abortion and not enough on combating poverty. It is a liberal's sweetest dream, this idea that the evangelical rank and file is longing for a return to the social gospel. But Mr. Kirkpatrick's acknowledgment that Mr. Giuliani was easily the most popular candidate among the evangelicals he interviewed should put that notion to rest. The former New York mayor is many things, but Dorothy Day he's not. . . . .

[Mark] Noll notes that in the 1950s "you would find Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, as well as all of the religious leaders, basically saying the same thing, promoting the virtue of Judeo-Christian civilization over against the communist menace." Indeed, in his quintessential Cold War account, "Witness," Whittaker Chambers (a serious Christian, though not an evangelical) describes communism and freedom as "the two irreconcilable faiths of our time."

No reader in 1952 would have found a religiously tinged call for engagement against freedom's enemies remarkable. The same could not be said today. Most Americans no longer use the language of faith to describe our foreign conflicts. But luckily for Mr. Giuliani, some still do.

Whether Robertson's endorsement will prove "lucky" or not remains to be seen, since Robertson, for my money, more or less embodies the worst vices of a pinched, parochial, and pseudo-intellectual evangelical bigotry, lacking even the down-home and occasionally self-effacing humor that took a little bit of the edge off Jerry Falwell. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Also related: the New York Times yesterday on Mitt Romney's mission in France during the height of the Vietnam War, and how his experience gave him a "great appreciation of the value of liberty and the value of the free-enterprise system." It's a fascinating look at the young Romney, chafing at the bit to use his obvious business acumen to get the Mormon mission organized and energized, and the resistance he felt from his elders. Romney's letters home may be compared to the previously published NY Times piece on Hillary's letters to a friend during her years at Wellesley. The two moved in different political directions during those years -- Hillary from Goldwater Republican to moderately liberal Democrat, Romney from Stanford moderate to a confirmed Republican -- but the two evince a winsome tandem of idealism and frustration in their youthful strivings.

Faith, free enterprise, and a foreign policy that combats demons abroad still form a potent combination, one with deep appeal to a considerable body of the electorate.


Anonymous said…
I thought the NYT piece on Romney's mission and time at BYU was excellent. One of their better efforts on Romney.

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