Republican candidates scare off voters with appeals to religion
A couple weeks ago, Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016 (he has not yet announced, but there is much speculation), headlined a prayer rally in his home state entitled “The Answer,” at which he was quoted saying, “Our God wins.” As can be expected, this whipped up a media frenzy, and understandably so.
This week, I depart from my usual concern of local politics to deliver a message to Mr. Jindal and the conservative religious factions who back him: your God does not win elections. At least not the presidential ones, not anymore.
The appeal to religion is an understandably tempting political move for a Republican politician. The religious right is a powerful and vocal sect of the population, and it makes up a huge swath of the vote needed to get the coveted Republican nomination, which is the first step to the presidency.
This is the danger: Americans are wary of candidates who are overly religious, and even if one such zealot does not wind up with the Republican nomination, these figures cloud the discussion and provide an easily mocked and discredited image of the party to which the Democrats can cling.
When pressed by news anchor George Stephanopoulos to defend his comments, Jindal turned to history as a precedent, claiming that presidents in the past, as far back as Washington, have turned to God for guidance in troubled times.
Yes, perhaps, but there is a difference between turning to God and taking the stage to preach His word. Let’s look a little further back to see why that might scare Americans — 1789, to be exact.
The French Revolution, founded on nearly identical principles to our own, had two enemies: the crown and the state-sanctioned church. For the French people, democratic values could not survive in a society in which religious leaders held power because religious leaders do not answer to the people, they answer to something with which they have a special connection, something that offers them a privileged position. Even if most Americans don’t understand it, this is the reason we tend to value a separation of church and state at the highest levels. The French feared religious rule, and the intensity of this fear was one of the things that contributed to the violence of the French Revolution. This fear is the logical extension of the philosophy and ideologies that produced our government, and it has not left us today.
What is at issue here is that this fear, which pervades all but the pocket of this country labelled the “Christian right,” makes Jindal a dangerous figure for the Republican party. If the Republicans want to be relevant again, they need to work to emphasize their philosophies that really and truly resonate with current voters, especially younger ones. Many young voters value libertarian ideals of freedom and limited regulation of markets but are scared off by old men hocking religion as a basis for governance.
Bobby Jindal serves only to remind the nation that such politicians exist in the Republican party. When he draws votes in the primary, voters will note that the Republican party still supports such politicians.
Mr. Jindal, I reiterate, your god doesn’t win. He simply scares off voters and, more often than not, hurts your party.
In France, it is illegal to ask a politician’s religious affiliation. Perhaps the Republican party would fare better there.
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