Evangelicals Won't Stay Home
I don't want to ruin Michael Tomasky's revelry atop the mountain of schadenfreude, but history conspires against his prediction that Evangelical Christians might soon "just stay home" and desist from political involvement due to the Republican Party's moderation on social issues.
Every iteration of politics since the founding of America has been fueled by active, committed Christians: from the black robe regiment of the Revolutionary War to the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements to the Reagan Revolution and, most recently, the Tea Party. Evangelicals are not leaving public life because Evangelicals are devotedly American.
Tomasky and others who yearn for the GOP and Evangelicals to abandon one another set up a false dichotomy: a certain morphing of the GOP will send religious conservatives out of public life altogether. What he is really predicting is a divorce between religious conservatives and politics; and there's simply no precedent for that. The very entity of "evangelicals" did not coalesce politically before the mid-1970's, because it was still in its nascent form as an identifiable group in American Christianity. Evangelicalism, as it is broadly understood today, grew out of the post-war crusades of Billy Graham and the seminal writings of Francis Schaeffer, among others. It's not that they existed and were not voting, it's that there was a revival in the late '60s and early '70s that created a movement of lively and committed Christians. And this translated to their politics.
Even as droves of Evangelicals assert themselves by affiliating as independents on the voting roles, plenty of them vote Republican when the Party produces solidly conservative candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Even in a post-Christian culture where "ground is lost" on moral issues, Evangelicals are savvy enough Americans to fight for their most basic, constitutional rights and to work against the encroaching control of big government. What this means about their future relationship with the GOP, I can't say; yet I am confident that Evangelical Christians will remain engaged in the public realm.
I am not only confident of this, I am optimistic about a reformation of "conservatism." I have grounds for hope, because I already see a strengthening alliance of activists and voters who are committed to genuine liberty, individual responsibility, and limited government. These people have been dubbed, variously, Conservatarian, Teapublican, and Teavangelical; and they function rather fluidly within and between the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party, the Tea Party, and no party at all. This is a coalition with great potential to coalesce on common ground and effectively abate the slide towards more oppressive statism and collectivism -- even that cultivated within the ranks of the GOP.
I am optimistic because, being raised by a Christian father and an atheist, Ayn-Rand-following stepfather, I have spent my life understanding the discrepancies between these ideologies and identifying their notable points of agreement. Politics creates the strange bedfellows of secular libertarians and conservative Christians. But these strange companions are, at their core, people of reason. Ayn Rand appeals to "advocates of reason" and of "the free mind" when she writes: "If men of good will wish to come together for the purpose of upholding reason and establishing a rational society, they should begin by following the example of the cowboys in Western movies when the sheriff tells them at the door to a conference room: 'Gentlemen, leave your guns outside.'"
Perhaps the only way to truly apply this advice to the barriers that separate libertarians and conservatives is to cease reliance on a political party per se (let alone the government!) to settle our disputes. Instead, we must come together as men and women of good will, as rational beings, and focus on the principles valued by both constituencies: The rightful role of government is not to control the means of production or to distribute wealth and compromise an individual's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The only system of economics that can accommodate both human nature and human survival is capitalism.
I distinctly remember each of my fathers teaching me about capitalism. I can hear my stepfather yelling at the imaginary governmental body behind the television image of the Capitol. "A collectivist government gets away with stealing!" he would say. "And that, in the name of 'compassion!' Where's the compassion in taking away an individual's hard-earned value!" His tone demanded an answer to what was obviously rhetorical. "No one gets to trample on the rights of another individual. The government should be protecting my rights, not trampling on them."
When my Christian father spoke about economics, he said, "You know, capitalism is the only system that makes room for people being inherently selfish. It doesn't depend on the kindhearted benevolence of humanity (even if people can certainly be benevolent). Socialism depends on that, so left to people's nature to pursue their own self-interest, Socialism either crumbles or requires coercion by those in power." In very practical terms, Dad also saw that government overreach usurps the role of the church. Rev. Franklin Graham, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour of ABC News, said this:
A hundred years ago, if you didn't have a job, you'd go to your local church and ask the pastor if he know somebody that could hire him. If you were hungry, you went to the local church and told them, "I can't feed my family." And the church would help you. And that's not being done. But the government took that away from the church. They had more money to give and more programs, and pretty soon, the churches just backed off. And as a result, now you have generation after generation of pastors in churches that have not done that.
In my own, sometimes bifurcated, life with evangelical Christian and secular libertarian parents, I learned that there is agreement on both the role of government and the importance of free markets to promote individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the success of individuals in a civil society. And it's this kind of agreement that any good marriage counselor would remind a couple to come back to: What made you fall in love in the first place? What attracted you and brought you together? Libertarians and conservatives are among the men and women of principle who look to our country's Founding Entrepreneurs to be reminded of what brings them together.
While we may not have yet overcome the substantial barriers to cooperation such that we can craft a unifying political agenda, the disarray of the Republican marriage will find its healing when we do just this: engage with one another on first principles, overcome the barriers that divide us, and work together.