Michael Gerson: Obama’s faith-based campaigning has lost steam

Michael Gerson, President Bush’s head speechwriter for most of his time in office, argues that while President Obama successfully courted religious voters during his campaign, those same voters have now turned against him. Here are Gerson’s reasons for why this has happened:

There are a number of reasons for the believers’ remorse. Social issues blurred during a campaign naturally become more vivid and divisive in the process of governing. Obama’s campaign appeal to reconciliation — which impressed many religious voters — has dissolved into prickly partisanship.

But the failure of Obama’s religious appeal is also ideological. It is true that evangelicals are generally not libertarian. They admit a place for government in encouraging values and caring for the needy. Yet they do not believe that governmental elites share their values or have their best interests at heart. Among conservative Christians, government is often viewed as a force of secularization — a source of both bureaucratic regulation and moral deregulation. By identifying with expanded government, Obama fed long-standing evangelical fears of the aggressive, secular state.

It sounds then like the issue may be that while voters liked what they were hearing, they don’t particularly like the way this was to be carried out through an increased role for government. Putting these values from the campaign into practice has proven to be a difficult task.

But it is interesting to note that Gerson concludes that religious voters, a good number of whom are conservative, cannot break from their views on the size of government to support Obama’s faith plans. Gerson suggests that many of these voters have been pushed by Obama into an ideological choice: big government or faith concerns. Why do these two concerns have to be so linked? This is a bigger issue that Gerson touches on by suggesting that “There are a range of options between government as the first resort and government as the enemy — options that few in our political debate seem willing to offer.”

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