Can Democrats Fashion An Environmental Appeal To The Evangelicals?
A couple of related stories over the weekend that I think bear some attention can also lead to an interesting message in next year’s midterm elections. A story in yesterday’s Washington Post reveals that right wing Christians are starting to see the need to protect the earth and challenge the Bush Administration while doing it. These voters, who are routinely led like sheep by the GOP into voting against their economic self-interests as long as they are pandered to on abortion and gay marriage, are apparently adopting a more “green” attitude when it comes to the use of natural resources. The story indicates that this voting block, which is the underpinning of the entire GOP electoral strategy, is paying more and more attention to Bush’s cavalier industry friendly approach towards the environment, and some amongst the evangelical community feel that man must be the protector of what they feel God has given, not simply a consumer of natural resources while waiting for the end times.
According to the story, these evangelicals are not happy at all with many recent Bush moves especially the disregard for mercury poisoning brought about by Bush’s gutting of those standards in his falsely named Clear Skies Initiative, reinforced Friday by the EPA inspector general’s report which concluded that the Administration allowed industry to bulldoze scientific evidence to the side in the drafting of regulations which would allow an unsafe level of mercury into the environment to please power plant operators. It is the issue of mercury poisoning that has some in the evangelical community upset about the harm caused by such poisoning to children and the unborn. The story also notes that the evangelicals are not ready to sit down and break bread with environmentalists yet, because the evangelicals feel that the environmental community is more concerned with the scientific rationale for environmentalism than they are about the protection and preservation of our natural resources arguments. In other words, the injection of moral values into the environmental debate would appeal to evangelicals. Go figure.
If evangelicals are focusing on a public safety and preservationist argument for environmentalism, then there might be common ground if the environmental community could find a way to modify its message to fit in with the moral concerns of the evangelicals. Obviously continuing the focus on the scientific rationale behind environmentalism will not appeal to this voting bock, but a retooling of the message towards the moral values behind preservation, conservation, and public health could strike a chord. This piece in yesterday’s New York Times reports that some in the environmental community are already considering how to change the focus and message of the environmental community towards a broader construct, which may allow for a big enough tent so that many can unite behind a preservationist and public health agenda that works in opposition to the Bush "consume at all costs" corporate agenda. Ironically, the stories indicate that at a time when the public at large wants a more positive, less scientific, less black and white environmental message, the poll among Christians indicates that more and more evangelicals are embracing the conservationist and public safety mindset and rejecting the notion that economic growth and environmentalism cannot coexist. You can see how these two developments could yield a political payoff if the Democrats and their allies in the environmental and progressive faith movement can refocus their arguments away from science and towards moral values, conservationism, and public health.
Focusing on the environment may not have been an issue of any consequence last year, when the race came down to what people thought of the two candidates themselves. But in an off-year congressional election when it is easier to label the GOP as corporate toadies bent on destroying the environment and damaging our public health for the sake of corporate profits, the Democrats may find that by working with progressive churches and the forward-looking elements of the environmental community, they can fashion a message that may resonate with those evangelicals next year who are more and more concerned with the moral values behind preservation and protection. Sure, it won’t draw a large number of evangelicals away from being scared once again by the GOP on abortion or gay marriage, but in a midterm election where many in the evangelical community are already suspicious of the Administration’s commitment to their concerns, any peeling off of votes from the GOP to the Democrats could tip many local congressional elections away from the incumbent party.