The GOP ascendancy has spawned an anthropological smorgasboard on the strange creatures who populate the American right. The latest offering is Andrew Denton's God On My Side, in which Australia's least-flappable journalist tours an NRB convention to discover how these infamous Evangelicals really think. After sitting through this 90-minute parade of nice people explaining with absolute conviction that we're living in the End Times, that Islam is the devil's counterfeit and that separation of Church and State is not part of America's constitutional heritage, born-and-bred progressives may think that Denton has done Al Gore one better on the 'scariest film you'll see this year'.Having been raised in an offshoot of this culture, I didn't learn much from Denton's suave but somewhat bland feature-doc. I would have liked to see more time spent on the relationship between faith and politics, which is what really concerns those who aren't offended by what evangelicals believe per se but do care once it starts affecting the rest of us. Australians haven't yet had to deal with drives to bring creationism into classrooms or amend state constitutions to ban gay marriage. But with federal money earmarked for chaplains in state schools and a church-based party holding the senate's balance of power, we ought to start thinking about the use of worldly power to advance God's Kingdom.
It's surprising that Denton didn't push his subjects on this question, given the mounting evidence that faith and politics haven't mixed well under the evangelical presidency. David Kuo's expose of the GOP party machine's real attitude towards its Christian base has been followed by scandal upon scandal among the leaders pledged to bring morality back into government. Throw in the run-of-the-mill misgovernance that has pissed off the non faith-based community, and one would expect a hint of disillusionment on the religious right with the Bush administration and the Republican congress.
Indeed, one can discern in the polls a growing sense among 'moral conservatives' that they've been led by the nose - that the Republicans of '94 and the 'Compassionate Conservative' of 2000 have proved devoted to nothing more than the political (occasionally sexual) bottomline. Concerns have been raised that Christ's elect have gone sheeplike into the wolf-infested den of politics without heeding His caveat, viz. to be shrewd as snakes while doing so (Matthew 10:16 - as said, I was raised on the Word). We're now hearing the old refrain that the Church's lack of spiritual grounding has led it to follow wolves in sheep's clothing, who talk the talk of values while walking the political lowroad, which currently involves painting Democrats as pro-paedophile or as miscegenating Playboys.
So the average Republican strategist has reason to fear David Kuo's call for Christians to take a 'sabbatical from politics'. One can picture their party's base walking out through the various -Gates (Abramoff, Foley, Haggard) that have opened in the GOP edifice over the past year. The danger is not that these people will morph into Democrats on Tuesday but that they won't turn out to vote Republican, at least not in the numbers that clinched victory in 2000 and 2004.
And yet, 48 hours out from D-Day, word has it that the Master Strategist sleeps soundly. You don't have to be Karl Rove, or to indulge in conspiracy theories about his perfidy, to understand why the GOP can still depend on the constituency that Bush staffers reportedly mock with four-letter expletives. It's fun to watch partisans of the 'moral majority' tie themselves in knots defending each new impropriety - to the point of extolling hypocrisy as a virtue - but at the end of the day the values crowd is unlikely to accept the alternative, whatever the intellectual arguments. The tribal character of US politics is what got the GOP into power and it's the only thing, under current circumstances, that will keep them there. Just listen to the House Speaker, he of the cybersex-coverup:
"If I fold up my tent and leave," Dennis Hastert [said], "then where does that leave us? If the Democrats sweep, then we'd have no ability to fight back and get our message out."
It's depressing that this bankrupt, purely partisan appeal may underpin another Republican victory. But that's the only way by which America's evangelicals will stem the tide of other-people's-choices threatening their self-conception, and fight their war against the judiciary and sundry other organs of atheistic government, notwithstanding all those Biblical verses about obeying authorities that the Lord puts over you and rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. To paraphrase the elderly Texan speaking to a polite but mystified Andrew Denton, they know what they know what they know, and no number of scandals or mismanaged wars is going to change that.
So while half of America will treat Tuesday's vote as a referendum on Iraq, the other half is likely to view it as just another battle for the soul of God's own country (did you think that was New Zealand?). With the row over Family First preferences still smouldering, Australians could observe and learn a thing or two. But in true national character, most of us will be watching the races instead.
Of course, not everyone approves of how we Aussies spend the first Tuesday in November.