Much has been said about Karl Rove’s success in bringing the religious right out to vote in the 2004 presidential elections and the Democrats’ need to find ways to address moral issues in the public forum in the hopes of attracting religious voters away from the Republican Party. In my view, the Democrats are not likely to be successful; and the Republicans are not likely to keep the religious right engaged for long. The religious right simply has no stomach for politics, no staying-power. Insofar as politics is largely about collective action to solve collective human problems, involvement in it is overshadowed by individualistic concerns about one’s relationship with God. To the degree that one is concerned with the general human condition, that concern is for its spiritual well-being, concerns best addressed by the Church, not the government. Hence, the religious right’s political involvement tends to be episodic, short-lived, and organized around moral issues that happen to emerge at a propitious moment.
For its part, the far left will not retreat from politics. In contrast to the religious right, which places its hopes in the life to come, the far left is thoroughly wedded to this world and in particular expansion of the government as the premier instrument for achieving the public good. Hence, the left is always to be found active in politics. It is, after all, their source of hope for a bright future. The far left is particularly fervent in its belief in and devotion to politics. When it loses a political contest, it is not to be expected to be a good loser. By the same token, it can never be dealt a final blow. That would mean the very negation of hope for the left.
Hence, political parties appealing to the religious right will have a great deal more latitude than those appealing to the far left. In contrast to the far left, the religious right is not likely to hold politicians accountable. It simply lacks the long-term commitment and focus necessary to do so. However, a party supported by the far left can not even attempt to move to the center without incurring significant defections. This was apparent in the last election. Candidate Kerry was unable to jettison the label as a “waffler” in part because he had to appeal to those on the far left utterly opposed to the war in Iraq simultaneously with those on the moderate left and center who favored continuing the war. President Bush had no such problem. Even on sensitive issues related to border control, he was able to outrage significant elements on the right at no real political cost. In the end, the Republicans will be able to rule from the center, the Democrats will not.