Every couple of years, journalists and pundits proclaim the death of the red-state/blue-state divide in American politics.
In 2004, political expert Charlie Cook rejected the idea that cultural issues would influence the presidential election. Last year, E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote that “the old red-state-blue-state maps are becoming obsolete.” And this morning, Daniel has written that the hot moral issues that pulled “the pew voters into the Republican big tent are seeming to disappear in the face of the economic downturn.”
Yet those comments have never jibed with my own interviews with voters. When I spent days knocking on doors in Western Pennsylvania, I would frequently get one of two responses: I could never vote for a candidate who supported gay marriage or abortion; or I could never support a candidate who opposed environmental protections. Fewer than a fifth of voters made such remarks, but there were enough of them to swing elections, usually in favor of a socially conservative candidate.
Barack Obama is often depicted the candidate of “purple America,” the candidate who transcends the red-state/blue-state divide. Indeed, Obama conducted two interviews recently about his views of faith, religion, and politics. But all the interviews served to highlight was that journalists continue to proceed from a red-state/blue-state mindset.
Reporter and author Dan Gilgoff interviewed Obama for Beliefnet. Although Gilgoff wrote an acclaimed book about Dr. James Dobson, practically the religious leader of red-state America, his talk with Obama was less than rigorous. In fact, Gilgoff asked about Obama’s well-known line that blue-staters actually are religious and received the following response:
Your 2004 Democratic National Convention speech introduced you to the nation. And perhaps the most repeated line from that speech was, simply, “We worship an awesome God in the blue states.” Did you think that line would have as much resonance as it wound up having?
Yeah, I did. That’s why I put it in there. I thought it was an important message to send to the country as a whole, but also to my fellow Democrats that nobody has a monopoly on religious belief.
No one of course has a monopoly on religious belief. But what types of beliefs are those? To my disappointment, Gilgoff seems to have failed to pin Obama down. The interview makes no mention of Obama’s answers to the tmatt trio and makes no mention of Obama’s views of controversial cultural issues. The absence of such responses might play well in blue states, but it doesn’t in red states.
Case in point: Christianity Today‘s interview with Obama. Interviewers Sarah Pulliam and Ted Olsen asked Obama his views of abortion. Instead of pulling their punches, Pulliam and Olsen asked the culturally liberal candidate a tough question:
For many evangelicals, abortion is a key, if not the key factor in their vote. You voted against banning partial birth abortion and voted against notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. What role do you think the President should play in creating national abortion policies?
Obama’s answer did not go beyond the usual Democratic talking points on the issue. Perhaps Pulliam and Olsen should have asked a follow-up question. But Obama’s answer made clear that on this issue, he has not transcended the red-state/blue-state divide.
The CT interview also contained one more piece of news. If elected, Obama might scrap President Bush’s faith-based initative:
So would you keep the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives open or restructure it?
You know, what I’d like to do is I’d like to see how it’s been operating. One of the things that I think churches have to be mindful of is that if the federal government starts paying the piper, then they get to call the tune. It can, over the long term, be an encroachment on religious freedom. So, I want to see how moneys have been allocated through that office before I make a firm commitment in terms of sustaining practices that may not have worked as well as they should have.
While Gilgoff failed to ask Obama about his positions on cultural issues, Pulliam and Olsen failed to ask Obama about his positions on poverty or his health-care plan. I would like to have known whether Obama considered his stands as consistent with his Christian faith.
To his credit, Gilgoff asked about Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, a black nationalist; and like Pulliam and Olsen, he asked whether Obama considered himself born-again. So the red-state/blue-state divide is not the second coming of the Berlin Wall.
Even so, reading both interviews, you can’t help but think that journalists are as much part of the red-state/blue-state divide as voters.