Foreign Policy May Eclipse Religious Issues in '08

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

Virginia Beach ( - "Anything is possible" in the 2008 presidential race because a new cycle in American politics appears to be taking hold, journalist Michael Barone told a symposium at Regent University here.

Both parties could wind up with nominees who differ with the party base on various issues, he told the audience of mostly Christian conservative students, faculty members and activists.

Issues that have assumed a heightened prominence in the past 10 years often have their roots in core religions beliefs, but that could change in a new political cycle where national security concerns overshadow social issues to some degree, Barone argued.

"My sense is this period of close correlation between religious belief and of the great importance of issues that are explicitly religious may be coming to an end."

Barone also pointed to the absence of an heir-apparent to the presidency. For the first time in recent memory, there is no sitting president or vice-president standing as a candidate, he said. For that reason large blocs of the electorate could shift their voting patterns.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) foreign policy voting record, especially with regard to Iraq, is "out of step with the anti-war left," Barone noted (see related story).

On the Republican side, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain both must navigate their way through Republican primary system dominated by conservative voters.

However, the "oomph" may be going out of cultural issues such as abortion that would work to the advantage of candidates who do not have a strong identity in this area, Barone said.

"Abortion is not going to be criminalized in the U.S. anytime soon," even though abortion is falling out of favor with a growing number of Americans, he said. A federal ban on "partial birth abortion" could win approval now that Samuel Alito has replaced Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, Barone added.

On the question of "who can protect this country best," Barone said a candidate like Giuliani or McCain may have an advantage they would not otherwise have over someone like Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who opposes President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq.

Economic issues also may emerge as a greater force in some parts of the country as abortion begins to lose salience, Barone speculated.

Other speakers at the symposium, which examined the future of religion in U.S. politics, included Darryl G. Hart of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), who said a new generation of evangelicals is interpreting the Bible in a way that lends itself to more liberal policies on a range of domestic and foreign issues.

Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told listeners the Democratic presidential candidates will be making a serious play for religious voters in the 2008 election. To this end, he noted, they have hired "faith gurus" to help them close the "God gap."

At a time when it will be "easy for candidates to be superficial," Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World Magazine, told Christians it will be imperative for them to distinguish between discussions that involve a genuine "religion of reality" that acknowledges the human condition, and a "religion of niceties" rooted in "utopian claims."

Natalie Jeter, a Regent alumni, told Cybercast News Service the annual event highlighted the special place Regent University occupies among Christian conservatives who are working to preserve a better future for America.

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