Myths of the evangelical crackup

0904CHRISTIAN RIGHT wideweb  470x297 0 01Like the Divine Mrs. M.Z. said, that Pat Robertson guy is really a character, isn't he? Whatever.

This Rudy story, however, has got to be an example of when reporters might want to avoid the "strange bedfellows" image in a lede. Don't you think? Here's the top of one version of the New York Times report by David D. Kirkpatrick and Michael Cooper:

They could compete for strangest bedfellows of 2008.

Rudolph W. Giuliani is a supporter of gay and abortion rights who is building his Republican primary campaign around his response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Pat Robertson, the Christian conservative broadcaster, once said permissiveness toward homosexuality and abortion led to God's "lifting his protection" to allow those attacks.

So what is going on?

Back in 2000, I heard veteran D.C. politico Michael Barone make an interesting observation during a forum at the Ethics & Public Policy Center. We were talking about major news stories in the cliffhanger election and he said that one of the most interesting stories that no one covered that year was the silence of the great evangelical superstars -- meaning Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Either they were locked out of the Bush inner circles or they elected to be quiet. Either way, it was a big story.

My guess is that Robertson is determined not to be locked out again.

09But here is my question to GetReligion readers. Is the Robertson endorsement of Giuliani a sign that the Great Evangelical Crackup Thesis is right or wrong?

Over at Slate, a bright young journalist -- with roots at Patrick Henry College -- is convinced that the whole New York Times Magazine thesis is a myth.

Here is a bite of David Sessions' piece:

To hear the press tell it, the so-called values voter is disenchanted with the Republican Party and will stay home and pray for our country on Election Day '08 if the GOP nominee ends up being a cross-dressing home wrecker or, God forbid, a Mormon. ...

But rather than pinpointing a genuine political trend, the piece just triggers a nagging sense of deja vu, one confirmed by a search of the Times archives: In a February 2000 Times Magazine cover story, Margaret Talbot concluded that "it cannot be denied that as a political force, the religious right is flagging" and described "a newfound disillusionment with politics." Now, in 2007, Kirkpatrick calls 2004 the zenith of evangelicals' influence and says that the religious right is once again "cracking up," facing "end times." If this convoluted chronology is to be believed, then no other political demographic has ever vacillated as impressively between retreat and triumph.

Now, personally, I don't think the "evangelicals," whoever they are, are a tower of cultural unity anyway. And, when it comes to politics, I don't think that we have seen much of a collapse of the white evangelical values vote, yet. It was cut, a bit, by Iraq and, a bit, by disappointment with Bush. The Democrats also ran some old-fashioned, culturally conservative candidates in a few key races in 2006. And there is some evidence that younger evangelicals are tired of the GOP, but are not flocking to the Democrats. This is complex.

So things are in flux, maybe. We will have to see.

But what about the Robertson story? Is that sign of a crackup or a sign that the old Religious Right mojo is still there? What say ye?

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