Winter 2008

Election 2008 Reconsidered: A Political Road Not Taken

by Benjamin Domenech on February 6, 2009

An article from a conservative perspective in our Winter 2008 issue this morning, from Ryan T. Anderson. We shall pair it on Monday with one of our articles from an evangelical Democrat in the same issue.

There are, of course, many things that conservatives generally and the Republican Party specifically must do to recover after the losses of 2008. Given space and time limitations, I’ll focus on just one. Or really, just one that they shouldn’t do—and then propose the alternative.

Immediately following the general election of 2008, moderate Republicans and liberal pundits who seemed oh so eager to help the GOP recover argued that the solution was for the party to kick social conservatives—described by one as “social fundamentalists”—to the curb. John McCain’s defeat—even though it came in the wake of a campaign that was the least engaged in the culture-wars of any modern race for the presidency or any leadership position within the party, led by a candidate who rarely, if ever, drew attention to the gaping chasm separating himself from Barack Obama—was somehow to blame on the hicks in flyover country, the pro-lifers and marriage advocates.
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The Tantrum

by Benjamin Domenech on January 31, 2009

Struck with grief you were, though only four,
The day your mother cut her mermaid hair
And stood, a stranger, smiling at the door.
They frowned, tsk-tsked your willful, cruel despair,
When you slunk beneath the long piano strings
And sobbed until your lungs hiccupped for air,
Unbribable with curses, cake, playthings.
You mourned a mother now herself no more,
But brave and fashionable. The golden rings
That fringed her naked neck, whom were they for?
Not you, but for the world, now in your place,
A full eclipse. You wept down on the floor;
She wept up in her room. They told you this:
That she could grow it back, and just as long,
They told you, lying always about loss,
For you know she never did. And they were wrong.

© A. E. Stallings. From Archaic Smile, University of Evansville Press; originally printed in the Formalist; reprinted by permission of the author.

The New Evangelical Scandal

by Matthew Lee Anderson on January 15, 2009

Our second article from the Winter 2008 issue comes from Matthew Lee Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy, and concerns the political, cultural, and theological evolution of young evangelicals.

In the 2008 Presidential campaign, the dominant story once again focused on how the evangelical voting bloc would align itself. In late 2007, amidst stories that the influence of the so-called “values voters” was waning, evangelicals launched Mike Huckabee’s previously struggling campaign into the national limelight. Though Huckabee’s inability to move beyond his evangelical base ensured his influence would not last, his politics and campaign drove a wedge not only between the evangelical public and the evangelical elite, but between the evangelical public and the Republican intelligentsia, most of whom offered nothing but loathing for the Arkansas governor.

As Huckabee’s campaign faded, Barack Obama’s ascension kept evangelicals and religion in the public eye. In 2004, John Kerry ignored the so-called “faith based community” until it was too late—so Obama started his courtship early. In 2006, he had shared a stage with Sam Brownback at Rick Warren’s influential Saddleback Church for a Global Summit on Aids and the Church. In 2008, he returned to Saddleback along with Republican nominee John McCain to discuss with Warren the issues evangelicals care about.

While Obama was expected to perform wonderfully on stage, McCain was not to be outdone. The aging Senator delivered what was unanimously considered a stellar performance on Saddleback’s stage, and then acknowledged evangelicals even further by selecting one of their own, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Palin’s status was solidified during her speech at the Republican National Convention, where she established herself as a formidable political force in spite of attacks from many in the establishment media.

For the most part, evangelicals were overjoyed by the selection of Palin, a mother of five who clearly lived out her pro-life principles. But prior to her selection, many of Obama’s supporters fueled increased speculation that evangelical voters—especially the younger generation—are no longer captive to the “religious right” or the Republican Party. It is a story that seems to write itself every election cycle—as author Hannah Rosin wrote in 2000, the focus of the religious right was, in her words, “maturing”:

Like many who start out as political gadflies, Christian activists are blurring into the mainstream. Where once pollsters found solid agreement among those who identify themselves as religious right, they now find disagreement, even on fundamental questions such as prayer in schools. Where once they found a single-issue focus, they now find distractions; religious conservatives define their top priorities for candidates as anything from their morality to their education policy to their tax plan. They still care about abortion, but many care about other issues more.

This trend, if real, wasn’t reflected to a great degree at the ballot box in November. According to the 2008 exit polls, even a dynamic figure like Obama was unable to break evangelical voters to the left. A total of 26% of evangelicals voted for Obama, compared to 23% for Kerry—a statistically insignificant change. But upon closer examination, Rosin’s description might finally be coming true.

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Faith, Fear & Cormac McCarthy

by Benjamin Domenech on January 7, 2009

Good morning, friends. Our first posted article from the Winter 2008 issue comes from Christopher Badeaux. Enjoy!

When I was a kid, I went creekwalking across what is now the President George [H.W.] Bush Expressway, and was then a mix of woods, streams, sewer runoffs, and railroad lines. Because I was a teenage boy, I knew I was actually invulnerable to mere physical harm, and so decided to cross one particular chasm by marching across a fallen tree.

Above, a beautiful, cold, North Texas February sky. Below, cascading water. Between, one fourteen year-old idiot using a bamboo staff to balance himself like some brain-damaged trapeze artist.

It was the water that did me in. A thing boys know that men forget is that streams, viewed in bright morning sunlight from just the right angle, look crystalline and explosive at the same time. One instant, it’s as if you’re staring at a ribbon of diamond; the next, it’s an explosion of light and fractal wonder. It’s an incredible thing to behold from a safe vantage, and a stupid thing to behold when balanced across a thin tree with just a fresh-cut staff of bamboo from twenty feet above.

As I sat, freezing, wet, and knowing that my rear would soon be hurting as much as my lungs, I realized two important things: First, that it is stupid to walk across a fallen tree supported only by one’s own questionable balance and a bamboo staff when there is near-freezing water twenty feet beneath you; and, second, that disorder can be beautiful, but it can hurt, too.

As you get older, you come to realize that the beauty of disorder is an illusion. Disorder is a bad thing, spreading pain and misery in concentric ripples from the source of the disorder. But you never forget how breathtaking disorder can be.

With all of that in mind, I think it’s fair to say that Cormac McCarthy’s novels increasingly reflect a deeply disordered universe.

That requires some elaboration, and a brief excursion into natural law. A full exposition on that topic is beyond the scope of this essay, and frankly beyond my abilities, but in brief: The Lord made the Universe according to a set of hidden but largely discernable rules, and those rules produce specific, predictable outcomes once the rules and variables are known. Furthermore, all things are made ordered—oriented, if you prefer—to not only the Lord, but also to decent and right outcomes.
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