The Vanishing ‘Values Voter’


From a distance, Alabama’s special election can seem like a liberal caricature of conservative Christians brought to life. The Republican candidate is a gun-toting, Bible-quoting, cowboy-hat-wearing ex-judge who has been accused of sexually abusing multiple teenage girls. Rather than recoil at the credibility and multiplicity of the accusations against him, his God-fearing supporters have rallied valiantly to his defense.

“This is a spiritual battle we’re fighting,” they say.

“As Christians, we believe in second chances,” they say.

There’s Biblical precedent, they say—just look at Mary and Joseph!

To many on the secular left, the race has only confirmed all the worst things they’ve long assumed about social conservatives. But what’s taking place in Alabama is actually the product of a dramatic, and relatively recent, shift in the political ethics of the religious right—a shift that could have far-reaching consequences in American politics.

For decades, the belief that private morality was essential to assessing the worthiness of politicians and public figures was an animating ideal at the core of the Christian right’s credo. As with most ideals, the movement did not always live up to its own standards. So-called “values voters” pursued a polarizing, multi-faceted agenda that was often tangled up in prejudice and partisanship. They fiercely defended Clarence Thomas when he was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, for example, and then excoriated Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

But even when they were failing to hold their own side accountable, they still clung to the idea that “character counts.” As recently as 2011, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Politics

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