Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The God Strategy in contemporary politics

I'm reading David Domke and Kevin Coe's fantastic book The God Strategy (Oxford, 2010), which covers the historical development of the "four signals" we've grown accustomed to politicians giving when running for office:
  1. Acting as political priests, by speaking the language of the faithful
  2. Fusing God and country, by linking America with divine will
  3. Offering acts of communion, by embracing iconic religious elements
  4. Engaging in morality politics, by trumpeting bellwether issues. (19)
These signals work best when you have a politically-active evangelical base (30% in 2004) and a dizzying information glut that compels overwhelmed voters (I hear you, Lippmann!) to cling to concise short-hand public signaling, esp. on moral issues.

The God strategy (GS) is bi-partisan, though obviously skewed Right since, as Domke and Coe point out, it was used most heavily after Jerry Falwell brought the fundamentalists out of political hibernation in 1979. (Non-trivial trivia from the authors: From FDR to Carter, presidents invoked God in around 50% of their speeches, on average; Reagan invoked God in 96%. Quite a leap!)

Whether GS will be effective in the future is a mystery. Since 2008 there have been significant shifts in religious preferences, especially among young people, as a response to the hyper-religiosity of conservative politics on the Religious Right. The biggest sign of this change, according to Robert Putnam and David Campbell in American Grace (Simon and Schuster, 2010), is the "rise of the nones"--the 17%+ of the population who do not identify with any specific religion. It will be a relief, I argue, to cast aside some of the "taken-for-grantedness" of the GS in a pluralistic culture.

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