It's a dilemma, all right

One of the most freeing things about not being religious anymore is that I don't have to have to balance this kind of stuff. Even though I didn't start voting until I left the church, my early political opinions on a lot of issues were still formed by my time as a Jehovah's Witness, and yet, unlike the evangelicals mentioned in this story, I never felt pulled by my stance on social issues to vote for one party over another.

They lean right on abortion and marriage, left on immigration and the economy.

This election season, Hispanic evangelical voters are caught in a moral tug of war that has their Republican loyalties slipping, religious leaders say.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric in the GOP has estranged many in the fast-growing group of conservative Latinos, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. That leaves significant numbers facing a dilemma, he said: "Will I walk into the voting booth as a Christian or Latino?"
I never had to deal with that tug. I don't know if it's my natural temperament or if it was because Jehovah's Witnesses adhere to a strict neutrality in governmental matters--they don't vote or serve in the military--but my attitude, once I inserted myself into the political world, was very much one of "let God handle the sin and government handle the day-to-day."

Here's a little of what I mean. Conservative evangelicals tend to support candidates who oppose same-sex marriage and abortion, among other things, and in those two cases, their opposition to those issues is predicated on the idea that those actions are sinful. They argue that to not oppose them with everything they have is abetting the sin, and makes them culpable.

As for me, I was always more of a "vengeance is mine, saith the Lord" kind of Christian, a firm believer that when the end came, God would punish all the unrepentant sinners--which included women who had gotten abortions and GLBT people--and so it made little sense for me, or for the political system in general, to get involved. Give them enough rope to hang themselves, in other words, (yeah, I was a real winner at the time) and God will act as a better hangman than anyone else ever could.

Which is frankly what I think happens in the minds of the voters described in this article when economic times get really tough. When the choice is supporting the person or party who will lead the two minutes hate on abortion or gays or the one who will make it easier for you to put food on the table in tough times, suddenly there's an increased reliance on God to take care of the sinners, while the government takes care of more immediate needs.

I don't think that it's a coincidence that the evangelical right reached the height of its powers during relatively good economic times. They showed some power under Reagan, and the 80s, while not as good as Republicans like to claim, were better in many ways than the 70s, and they really drove the Republican machine through the 90s culminating in the close-enough-to-steal election of 2000, which was at the end of the biggest economic expansion in history. I think inertia pushed them through the 2004 election, but the tough economy has had people rethinking their priorities for the last couple of years. The evangelical right had very little pull during the Republican primaries, and while the pick of Sarah Palin as running mate is certainly a nod to their power inside the Republican party, it's also a signal that they're currently on the wane, as Palin was certainly not the most adept or experienced social conservative to put on the ticket--her gender and relative youth had as much to do with the pick as her social stances.

And here's the most important thing. Even with the socially conservative base motivated, the Republicans are still getting their butts kicked. In tough times, when it comes to choosing between hating abortion and gays or getting some government aid, hating hits the road, at least temporarily.

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