Friday, July 21, 2006

A higher standard

I get this email letter/essay in my inbox every month or so, and this one just struck a cord with me on how Christians deal with their own in politics.

So Read on!

The Window by Deal W. Hudson
on July 20, 2006
A Catholic Look at Society, Culture and Politics

Reed Loss No Defeat for Religious Conservatives by Deal W. Hudson

From Atlanta:It was only 8:15 p.m. on election night at the InterContinental Hotel in Atlanta, and Ralph Reed knew he had lost. Eighteen months ago when Reed announced his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, he was considered the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination. Now, with fewer than 5,000 votes recorded on the Georgia Secretary of State Web site, Reed and his advisors realized that the trend lines were already going in the wrong direction.

Cobb County, a conservative enclave of suburban Atlanta, was supposed to be a Reed stronghold, but his opponent, State Senator Casey Cagle, already held an impressive lead. And the strong grassroots support expected from the rural counties of Georgia was not materializing either. He would eventually win in Augusta, Savannah, and Macon, but not by enough of a margin to make a difference. By 8:30, Reed was already making plans to go downstairs, greet his supporters, and make his concession speech.

The Georgia Republican primary has been in the national news since Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, had announced his intention to run for office. To the national media, Reed symbolized not only the political power of religious conservatives but also the potent marriage between those same conservatives and the Republican Party that resulted in the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

In both national elections, Reed had played a key role as political adviser and grassroots organizer for Bush. In between those elections, as chairman of the Georgia GOP, Reed found the time to lead the state Republican Party to control of the statehouse and the governor's mansion for the first time since the Reconstruction.

But only four years after the historic 2002 success in his home state, Reed has lost the election to a little-known state senator. Why?

The word I heard uttered throughout that evening to explain Cagle's victory was "atmosphere." For over a year, the scandal surrounding Reed's dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff had consumed Washington, D.C., the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the radical left. Cagle had relentlessly attacked Reed, the charge being hypocrisy. Cagle's message against Reed was not only amplified by the media but also by half a million dollars of attack ads and direct mail paid from out-of-state sources, such as billionaire Democrat George Soros.

Neither the media nor the U.S. Senate committee that looked into the matter found that Reed engaged in any wrongdoing, but his critic's attacks, especially the barrage of articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, poisoned the atmosphere of the Georgia electorate against Reed. Unable to clear the air, his campaign struggled to make up ground in the final days of the campaign, only to lose by 12 percentage points.

During the campaign, Reed repeatedly admitted his mistake of not insuring the source of the money he was paid to lobby against casino gambling. Those monies, it turned out, came from the gambling revenues of rival casino owners. By election day, only one newspaper in the state -- the Waycross Journal-Herald -- had endorsed him.

It was predictable that the media would make Reed's defeat a referendum on the power of the Religious Right. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution front page story (July 19) the following morning contained the following:

"Reed's defeat has set a limit on the influence of Christian conservatives in Georgia's growing Republican Party," said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. "They may be the tail now, but they're not the dog anymore," he said.

But the moral of the election is quite different. The Religious Right, which has evolved well beyond the days of Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, will continue to exert its influence and send its army of foot soldiers to the polls. And it will continue to demand a great deal from its leaders.

The lesson of Reed's election is not that the Religious Right is in decline, but rather that its leadership will always be held to the highest standard of behavior. Perhaps, some would say, that is as it should be.

Reed himself foresees no future attempts to run again for office, but it's a safe bet he will soon become involved in the 2008 presidential election. Far from being "the final implosion of Ralph Reed," as the Atlanta paper went on to say, his defeat will open up other doors, and he will remain a political player at the national level. His political gifts and resources are too extraordinary to be denied.

Reed's ability, for example, to communicate effectively in the toughest circumstances was fully displayed by his concession speech. His pledge to work for Cagle and the rest of the Republican ticket was a model of conciliatory graciousness.

Reed, I will say, took his loss very well. The civility he displayed that evening in front of the television cameras was no different from his response to the bad news as he watched the election returns in the privacy of his hotel room.

This demonstrates what the critics don't get about Ralph Reed: He is not a man who puts politics first in his life. Consequently, what the same critics will not be able to see is that Reed's priorities -- faith, family, country -- will keep him at the hub of where religious conservatives engage the political process.

(Readers may have noticed that I have published fewer Windows this summer than in previous months. I have been focused on the book I am writing on religion and politics for Simon & Schuster. I am making good progress and will be able to resume reporting on a more regular basis in September. --DH)

The Window is published by the Morley Institute for Church & Culture.

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At July 21, 2006 12:22 PM, Blogger Mr Bob said...

Excellent writing here and I agree. The left will not understand this view because they will attempt win at ANY cost using any sleeze imaginable and any candidate electable, no matter what his background.


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