Rudy & The Christians

I have a couple of theories about Rudy Giuliani’s continued high support among conservative Christians. Pat Robertson’s endorsement is only the latest evidence that Rudy’s softness on abortion and other social issues isn’t a deal killer.

First, most evangelicals and conservative Catholics really don’t think about these things very much. A substantial minority are very devoted and active in pro-life causes, of course. These are the people who stage the sidewalk prayer vigils, staff the crisis pregnancy centers, and write blogs. They make a lot of noise but in the big picture there aren’t that many of them. Most people are far more concerned about things that they think relate to their everyday lives.

Rod Dreher recently quoted a CBS News survey of white evangelicals which found that the four most important elections issues were health care, the Iraq war, immigration and the economy. Abortion is way down the list. With these priorities, it’s not hard to see why people are willing to overlook Rudy’s weak spots.

The second point is something I can’t prove with hard data but it makes intuitive sense. Most people hate to make important decisions by themselves. They would much rather be told what to do and what to think. As the World War II “Greatest Generation” leaves the scene and people who grew up with LBJ’s welfare state take control, there is a common attitude that the government will take care of us. People look to the president as a kind of National Dad who gives us money so we can go out and party.

Because the terrorists threaten our right to party, we need Dad to protect us from them. We feel better when Dad is a tough guy who can beat up anyone who gets in his way. Rudy Giuliani looks, talks and acts like a tough guy. Therefore, people want him to be their Dad.

The same is true, to a lesser degree, for John McCain and Fred Thompson. The non-tough guys like Romney, Huckabee and Paul don’t have this image, and that’s why they aren’t likely to win. The objective fact of whether a candidate promotes the right policies is just not important. Retailers have long known that packaging is what sells. It’s equally true in politics - and Giuliani has great packaging. As long as he makes a few noises about being a religious guy, even most Christians won't look much deeper.

In fact, I could argue that evangelical Christians are even more likely than the general public to fall into this category. Just look at the "megachurches" that draw in thousands of people every Sunday. Many - and perhaps most - are built around a pastor with a strong personality who uses his sermons to tell people what they want to hear. They "vote" for this pastor by choosing to attend his church instead of another. These churches are a tiny microcosm of the American electorate.

We’ve all had the experience of buying a product that looks great on the shelf, only to find after we open it that it doesn’t do the things we thought it would. We find the same thing with politicians after we elect them. Christians who vote for Giuliani because they think he will keep them “safe” may find themselves in more danger than ever. Too bad presidents don't come with a warranty.

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