By Joseph L. Conn
Religious Right influence over the nation’s presidential election process ought to be of deep concern to all Americans who value individual freedom and the separation of church and state.
The New York Times reported yesterday that right-wing religious forces in Iowa have extraordinary control over political life in the Hawkeye State.
Says reporter Jeff Zeleny, “The ailing economy and the Tea Party’s demand for smaller government have dominated Republican politics for two years, but a resurgent social conservative movement is shaping the first stage of the presidential nominating contest, complicating the strategy for candidates who prefer to focus on fiscal issues over faith.
“Here in Iowa, whose caucuses next winter will open the campaign,” he continued, “social and religious conservatives are pressing the likely candidates on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rather than on jobs, the budget deficit and other economic concerns that leaders of both parties expect to dominate the general election.”
Doug Gross, a GOP activist, told The Times, “We look like Camp Christian out here. If Iowa becomes some extraneous right-wing outpost, you have to question whether it is going to be a good place to vet your presidential candidates.”
Zeleny says Religious Right forces “have the only established political structure in Iowa, with churches, home-schooling groups and a variety of competing organizations providing ready-made lists of voters. There is no comparable network for fiscal-minded or moderate Republicans.”
In other words, GOP presidential hopefuls are forced to appear before a veritable Court of the Inquisition in Iowa when they’re running for office. Candidates are more likely to be grilled about their understanding of Genesis than their position on jobs. This is a travesty.
Public opinion polls show that Americans are overwhelmingly concerned about pressing national problems.
In a Gallup Poll reported March 21, Americans listed the economy, federal spending and the budget deficit, availability and affordability of healthcare, unemployment and the social security system as issues they personally worry about a great deal. Republicans’ top issues were federal spending, the economy, the size and power of government, unemployment and illegal immigration. (Social security was sixth on the GOP respondents’ list.)
Notice what didn’t make the lists. Yup. No sign of banning abortion or denying civil rights to gay people or “restoring” America as a “Christian nation” or any other Religious Right agenda item. Not on the list for all Americans. Not on the list for Republicans. Other polls find similar results.
I know Iowa is only one state. And as the presidential campaign moves forward, residents of other parts of the nation will have a chance to ask candidates about other issues.
But Iowa sets the stage for the presidential race and, right now, the stage has been set up in a fundamentalist revival tent.