Saturday, September 15, 2007


Thompson: Serving God And Government

“We still get our basic rights from God, not government”—this is a phrase that Fred Thompson has been pronouncing a lot lately. Upon hearing this mantra my first impulse was to pop it into a large file labeled “Unfortunate and Not Entirely Logical Things Politicians Say When Playing the Faith and Values Game.” (Perhaps it should rest next to Joseph Lieberman’s ill-advised 2000 proclamation that “Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.”)

Upon deeper reflection, however, it struck me that the remark was, at the very least, quite strategically astute. In less than a dozen words Thompson’s credo manages to assure two key Republican constituencies that he is with them. Conservative Christians, who are not as of yet convinced that he is with them, are clearly his primary target.

On the backstroke, the former senator’s credo is also a gesture to the libertarian component of the GOP. By setting the state against God (an uneven competition if there ever was one) Thompson manages to cut government down to size, so to speak. Upon hearing this, Republicans who value personal freedom and minimal state intervention will be reminded that the former senator from Tennessee has very solid libertarian credentials.

By the standards of political sloganeering that’s pretty good work. But it does call attention to a pretty bad tension among Thompson’s two audiences, if not the Republican Party itself. For the Conservative Christian and libertarian wings of the GOP would appear to be headed on a collision course (see, for example, Ryan Sager’s The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle to Control the Republican Party).

Many Evangelical leaders seem hellbent on using the power of the state to regulate and curtail individual liberties. Whatever one might think about outlawing abortion or prohibiting marriage among consenting adults of the same-sex, it is undeniable that such measures constitute a massive imposition of state power upon personal freedom.

The Evangelical embrace of politics and its associated apparatus can also be seen in their burgeoning “foreign policy” interests. On issues like the spread of AIDS in developing nations, eradicating poverty, human sexual trafficking, religious freedom, Conservative Christians have shown themselves to be concerned (and upstanding) global citizens. Of course, these initiatives require statecraft, maximal government intervention, and extensive coordination among nations. Here too the agenda of Conservative Christians clashes thunderously with that of small-government Republicans.

God may indeed trump government for many Americans. But what must be understood is that many Evangelicals, flush with a sense of electoral power, no longer see a contradiction between the two. They have no qualms about using the full force of government to secure what they view as rights given by God.

Posted by Jacques Berlinerblau on September 12, 2007 9:50 AM

Jacques Berlinerblau

The God Vote

Jacques Berlinerblau

Jacques Berlinerblau is program director and associate professor of Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of "The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously" and the forthcoming "Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics." The God Vote is a critical look at the religious rhetoric, activity and theology behind the 2008 presidential campaign. Full bio »


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