AMID THE VOLUMINOUS coverage of yesterday's caucuses, the Washington Post ran a feature photo today of a family from Rock Rapids, Iowa, next to a headline "Witness Politics: Their Faith is in Santorum." It's the sort of 'glimpse of the inner world of voters' that attempts to offer a little authenticity to the volumes of blather that pundits produce to fill so much air time.
Both the husband and wife who were featured told the photographer they would vote for Rick Santorum, and the caption describes them as "emblematic of evangelical conservatives."
The extended caption (I'm going with the text in the printed edition, which is slightly different from the online copy) goes on to say that the husband and wife said :
[T]hey couldn't vote for Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) because she is a woman, for Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) because of his anti-war views, for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon, for former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) because of his infidelity and for Texas Gov. Rick Perry because he didn't get past the surface of the issues.
Assuming this couple is truly "emblematic of evangelical conservatives" (and let me point out that the Post owes readers and their subject a bit more to prove this is empirically true -- a snapshot of two people does not a demographic profile make), I'm a bit startled to see that they would make this sort of admission publicly, let alone think it in the first place.
Now, there are a truckload of reasons not to vote for Michele Bachmann. But to say categorically that she is unfit to be President because she is a woman, well, wow. Forgive my precious naivete, but are there still a lot of people in America who think this? And do they really think it's no big deal to say it out loud without any apparent embarrassment ? Haven't we gotten past that one out?
And then what about their view on Romney? Believe me, I'm aware of the theogical (and maybe it's even social and cultural) discomfort many evangelical Christians have when it comes to Mormons. But are we still living in a country where religion is a make-or-break factor in some people's judgment of their fitness for higher officer, or, presumably, anything else? (Well, when it comes to Muslims in particular, as I have discussed frequently in this blog, yeah.) Would I be justified in dismissing a candidate of a certain faith (say, an evangelical Christian), even if that person is clearly qualified and completely in synch with my own political views?
The comment about Paul is slightly more complicated, I think, though it raises questions. It's tempting to conclude that the couple here is "pro-war" because they rule out Paul for his "anti-war" views. But they could mean that, while war is undesireable and should be avoided at all cost, it is sometimes an option we have to choose. (Paul is, apparently, categorically against any sort of military action, or so I understand.) That's not such an unreasonable position, but I personally would not have been comfortable characterizing my vote so simplistically, knowing how much misunderstanding might be lurking in the vagueness. Maybe the journalist owed them a little more clarity than this. Or maybe she got them just right.
As for their objection to Gingrich: no surprise. Same for Perry, though I would argue (as The New Republic has in this excellent essay) that none of the Republican candiates got "past the surface of the issues." (Democrats are not immune from this at times, either, by the way.)
I'm hesitant to make any broad-sweeping generalizations about evangelical Christians based on this isolated example. Indeed, much as I may disagree with many on certain issues, I sincerely believe most evangelical Christians are representative of the whole of society, which is to say they have good and decent intentions. And this could be a case of bad translatiby the newspaper.
But, not that any will listen to me, but if I were an evangelical Christian, I would step up and say that these two are not at all "emblematic" of their community. And, if I were Rick Santorum, I would do the same. Otherwise, we're left with the feeling that they embrace pretty unfortunate views. And Santorum would need to prove to me that as President of the United States, he will represent all the American people.