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Church, state, and the 1996 election.


The Standard Bearer: Robert Dole

Kansan Bob Dole has been an enduring fixture on the national political stage for 35 years, since his first election to the House of Representatives in 1960, the year John F. Kennedy won the presidency. winning a U.S. Senate seat from the reliably Republican Jayhawker State in 1968, Dole served as Senate majority leader during the Reagan years [1981-1987] and from 1995 until his surprise resignation this past summer. As such, he had to compromise on many occasions, though rarely deviating significantly from conservative orthodoxy. His granite-rock conservatism was clearly a factor in his selection as President Gerald Ford's running mate in 1976, since he was seen as acceptable to the Reaganite wing of the GOP. As a candidate for the number two spot that year, Dole is best remembered for his partisan, acerbic rhetoric.

Unsuccessful in bids for his party's presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988, Dole finally succeeded in his third bid by positioning himself as a "moderate" alternative to Pat Buchanan's populist isolationism and Steve Forbes' supply side economic optimism. By selecting Jack Kemp as his running mate and proposing massive new tax cuts, however, Dole has repudiated much of his past and has embraced the Kemp Forbes formulas.

Despite Dole's image as a midwestern moderate, his congressional voting record is staunchly conservative. He has usually supported conservative positions on economic, foreign policy, and social issues 90 percent of the time during his long career. (One exception is support for civil rights legislation, which one would expect from a native of western Kansas.)

While Dole has sought to portray himself as a relative moderate on abortion rights, he is actually an uncompromising opponent of freedom of choice for women. His support for the most vigorous anti abortion position was evident in his tough 1974 reelection campaign, the first post Watergate election, in which Republicans were on the defensive because of President Richard Nixon's resignation to avoid impeachment and revelations of wrongdoing at the highest level of the executive branch. Voter anger was particularly directed at Nixon loyalists, among whom was Dole, who hailed Nixon as his mentor and remained a resolute defender of the embattled president to the end. (Dole's fondness for Nixon was evident 20 years later when he wept during his eulogy at Nixon's funeral.)

Dole trailed Democrat William Roy during the 1974 senatorial campaign until Dole accused his opponent, a physician, of having performed abortions during his medical practice. Roy, who delivered thousands of babies, admitted to performing a few abortions for medically necessary reasons. The Dole campaign proceeded to smear Roy during the campaign's closing days. Church parking lots were swamped with anti Roy literature on the Sunday before Election Day. Dole's narrow re election was hailed by "right to lifers" as their most visible triumph at the polls just a year after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion.

Dole remained a fierce supporter of a constitutional amendment (the "Human Life Amendment") to outlaw all abortions--a position he has since repudiated, though it remains in the 1996 GOP platform. Dole's voting record on a host of abortion-related issues has placed him in the forefront of opposition to choice. Dole now says he would accept abortion for rape, incest, or serious threat to a mother's life. But his constant waffling on the issue and his attempt to divert attention from it during the 1996 primary has satisfied neither wing of his party. And his position still threatens to produce defectors to Bill Clinton from pro-choice GOP women.

Dole favors school prayer, supporting President Ronald Reagan's 1984 constitutional amendment proposal, and he wants vouchers to support private and parochial schools. Dole was even the sponsor of a voucher demonstration proposal, which failed to win Senate approval on July 27, 1994. Dole's Republican nomination acceptance speech on August 1S, 1996, reiterated his support for vouchers and "school choice" plans. His attack on public school teachers and their organizations was also pronounced and even unexpected.

Dole is generally popular among evangelical and Christian right voters. He solidified their support during the primaries when he claimed that critics of the religious right wanted to exclude religious people--a category much broader than the religious right--from the political process. His attacks on Hollywood films resonate favorably among the puritanical sector of a religion that loathes much of modern culture and favors more censorship of the entertainment industry. As a result, Dole won more votes than Buchanan among Christian conservatives in the primaries.

Dole is a lifelong Methodist, as is his second wife Elizabeth, who has taken a temporary leave of absence from her position as director of the American Red Cross and was a cabinet official during the Reagan Bush years. But both Doles recently severed their connection with Washington's Foundry Methodist Church, the congregation also attended by First Lady Hillary Clinton, allegedly because its pastor, Philip Wogaman, is too liberal.

The Doles now attend the National Presbyterian Church, once the home parish of President Dwight Eisenhower. Elizabeth Dole is known for recounting her discovery of evangelical Christianity during a mid life crisis a decade ago, which reportedly delights evangelical audiences. She is considered a political asset among evangelicals, especially in her native South.

The Jack Kemp Factor

The surprise selection of former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and nine term congressional representative Jack Kemp as Bob Dole's running mate solidifies conservative control of the party, despite lingering animosity toward the ticket from the extremist Buchananite wing.

On the positive side, it is said that Kemp is one of the few Republicans who feels comfortable in African American and other minority communities, because of his espousal of affirmative action, bans on assault weapons, and a moderate approach toward immigration. (Even before delivering his acceptance speech, however, Kemp reversed his position on affirmative action in California, endorsing the so called California Civil Rights Initiative.) Kemp is also a positive campaigner who generally reJects character based campaigns.

Still, the record indicates that Kemp, who has made his public image by espousing supply side economics and enterprise zones for inner city neighborhoods, is an opponent of church state separation. As a first term senator from suburban Buffalo, New York, in 1971, Kemp supported a constitutional amendment authorizing school prayer.

Kemp is strongly anti abortion. He has consistently op posed any federal financing of abortion and has sought to limit abortion availability. Kemp opposed Title X family planning services and sought to exclude abortion services from a variety of government programs. In addition, he has long advocated vouchers and tax aids or incentives for private and religious schools, apparently oblivious to the impact of such diversions from the under funded public schools in the nation's inner cities.

In the past, Kemp has made comments suggesting that he supports the religious right on some issues. On one occasion, he said, "God is the author of the Constitution" (which would have come as a surprise to James Madison). As a presidential contender in 1988, he said he would "protect the unborn" by appointing only judges who "uphold the Judeo-Christian values." He was also forced to remove Tim and Beverly LaHaye, ultra conservative fundamentalists who had made anti Catholic and anti Semitic statements, as his national chairpersons.

The GOP Platform

While the Republicans took great pains to package their 1996 product in the most ap' pealing way, their platform was largely dictated by the Buchanan wing of the party. Far from being a conservative document, it is in many ways a profoundly radical one, calling as it does for six constitutional amendments, including one supporting school prayer and another advocating a total ban on abortion. The abortion amendment includes no exceptions--even for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. A profoundly nativist tone is evident in repeated attacks on immigration and on a call for the removal of automatic citizenship for all children born in the United States to non U.S. citizens. (Those born to illegal immigrants or to legal immigrants whose status is not permanent would no longer be U.S. citizens under the Republican plan.) They also endorsed "the official recognition of English as the nation's common language"

On education, the platform supports vouchers and "pro grams of parental choice among public, private, and religious schools, as well as the option of home schooling." The Republicans state that they will "abolish the Department of Education and end federal meddling in our schools and call for prompt repeal of the Goals 2000 program."

The GOP platform also endorses (albeit in purposely bland and coded language) fresh incursions on the principle of church state separation:

We condemn attempts by the EEOC or any other arm

of government to regulate or ban religious symbols from

the work place, and we assert the right of religious leaders

to speak out on public issues. We condemn the

desecration of places of worship and are proud that congressional

Republicans led the fight against church arsons.

We believe religious institutions and schools should not

be taxed. When government funds privately operated

social, welfare, or educational programs it must not discriminate

against religious institutions, whose record in

providing services to those in need far exceeds that of

the public sector.

The Republicans called for a reappraisal of state divorce laws, which are, of course, not a federal responsibility: "We urge State legislators to review divorce laws to foster the stability of the home and protect the economic rights of the innocent spouse and children" (Presumably, this would not apply to Bob Dole or Newt Gingrich, who both ended long marriages with children and selected another spouse.) And though a Republican Senate refused to do so, the GOP platform "encourages states to stop cash payments to unmarried teens and to set a family cap on payments for additional children."

On another non issue, the Republicans "endorse the efforts of congressional Republicans to halt the sale, in military facilities, of pornographic materials."

The Republicans addressed and rejected several key concerns of many gay Americans: "We oppose any legislation or law that legally recognizes same sex marriages and allows such couples to adopt children or provide foster care. Unlike the Democratic Party and its candidate, we support the continued exclusion of homosexuals from the military as a matter of good order and discipline"

As in 1992, the GOP specifically calls for government action to ensure common moral values, which smacks of cultural fascism: "Government has a responsibility, as well, to ensure that it promotes the common moral values that bind us together as a nation. We therefore condemn the use of public funds to subsidize obscenity and blasphemy masquerading as art."

The plank on abortion is uncompromising:

We believe the unborn child has a fundamental individual

right to life that cannot be infringed. We therefore

reaffirm our support for a human life amendment to the

Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear

that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to

unborn children. We oppose using public revenues for

abortion and will not fund organizations that advocate

it. We commend those who provide alternatives to abortion

by meeting the needs of mothers and offering adoption

services. We reaffirm our support for appointment

of judges who respect traditional family values and the

sanctity of innocent human life.

An adoption tax credit is also encouraged.

The 1996 GOP platform is suffused with religious piety. It invokes a deity a number of times, even though Republican platforms from 1856 through 1944 refused to do so. According to the platform, Bob Dole "walks humbly with his God" while Bill Clinton "lied about the condition of Medicare and lied about our attempts to save it." The document calls for "moral clarity in our culture and ethical leadership in the White House" and "appeals to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions." The platform concludes "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence."

Bob Dole has said that he hasn't read the platform. And well he shouldn't. But then again, maybe he should. He has already repudiated the plank calling for removal of citizenship for children of non citizens. He may be forced to disavow other passages as time goes by.

The Democrats

The Clinton Administration

The Clinton administration has won high marks from supporters of church state separation and religious liberty. President Clinton has held the line on abortion rights, rejecting the efforts of those who seek to eliminate this fundamental right. He has vetoed attempts to restrict the procedure or to deny access to it. One of his first actions in 1993 was to reverse the "gag rule," which prohibited all discussion of options available to pregnant women in counseling sessions that involved public funding for the poor. At the same time, the president has sought to expand family planning and prenatal care in his efforts to make abortion itself "safe, legal, and rare." His administration has tried to protect medical personnel at clinics where abortions are performed, in spite of a shameful increase in violence aimed at them and indifference toward their plight by a Republican Congress.

The president has supported public education and has opposed vouchers for private and church related schools. His administration's emphasis on education and retraining of workers displaced by technological change and corporate downsizing has won plaudits.

Clinton has steered a moderate course on school prayer and religious activities in public schools. While opposing constitutional amendments designed to "restore" prayer and religious devotions to public schools, the Clinton administration issued a directive in 1995 to school administrators stressing the positive role for religion in education through academic courses in the curriculum, released time for religious education, and a respect for religious diversity. He is the first U.S. president to address these concerns, and his proposals were seen as an attempt, in part? to head off a full scale assault on religious neutrality in education mounted by religious conservatives and fundamentalists.

Clinton also signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act early in his presidency. The RFRA was passed overwhelmingly by Congress in a bipartisan manner to overcome a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision authored by Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia which scaled back government guarantees and protections for religious free exercise. Clinton won praise from all segments of the religious community for his handling of the RFRA.

Clinton is a Southern Baptist who attends his wife's Methodist church in Washington. His decisions on religious issues and his easy familiarity with evangelical idiom have made him popular with religiously moderate and liberal voters in many faith traditions as well as African Americans. But his policies have received little or no support from evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants or from conservative Catholics. Indeed, his policies on abortion and world population issues have brought him some highly publicized and politically unwelcome clashes with the Vatican. His appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court have also strengthened constitutional protections of church state separation and religious liberty.

The Democratic Platform

The Democratic platform opposes vouchers and supports abortion rights. On vouchers, it says: "We should expand public school choice, but we should not take American tax dollars from public schools and give them to private schools." On the abortion issue, the platform is strongly pro choice. That platform affirms:

The Democratic Party stands behind the right of every

woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and

regardless of ability to pay. President Clinton took executive

action to make sure that the right to make such decisions

is protected for all Americans. Over the last four

years, we have taken action to end the gag rule and insure

safety at family planning and women's health clinics. We

believe it is a fundamental constitutional liberty that

individual Americans--not government--can best take

responsibility for making the most difficult and intensely

personal decisions regarding reproduction.... We support

contraceptive research, family planning, comprehensive

family life education, and policies that support

healthy childbearing.

Mainly as a result of these issues, the so called gender gap in American politics has become a yawning chasm: polls indicate that, while Clinton and Dole have generally run nearly even among white men, Clinton has consistently maintained a 25-point lead with women voters. This message has not been lost on many women in the Republican Party. Conservative columnist Arianna Huffington stated that the gender gap "points to a basic flaw in the Republican message." And Ann Stone, chair of the moderate Republicans for Choice, was even more blunt: "Women increasingly feel that Republicans don't understand their problems, don't value their part in society, and want to put them back in the kitchen."

Finally, there is Ross Perot. Perot's Reform Party has not addressed church state issues, nor has Perot himself. In 1992, Perot was pro choice on abortion rights, as were most of his supporters. He has always been a strong public school advocate and did not endorse government support for private schools. On organized school prayer, he suggested that efforts to restore it would lead to lawsuits and would thus be costly and fruitless. Governmental reform and economic issues remain the thrust of the Perot campaign; social and cultural issues are seen as ancillary to the nation's central problems.

Albert J. Menendez is the research director for Americans for Religious Liberty and the author of Evangelicals at tee Ballot Box, Church and State in Canada (both Prometheus Books, 1996), and 30 others books.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Humanist Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Menendez, Albert J.
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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