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Seattle Times Political Caucus

The Seattle Times Political Caucus is an online community aimed at adding diverse voices to our coverage of politics. How we'll use the Caucus will evolve over time. But the idea is to create a conversation with people of various backgrounds and political beliefs. As the election season unfolds, we'll ask participants to weigh in on key political questions and then post their comments here.

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July 31, 2008 11:20 AM

Evangelicals' newest political movement: environmental stewardship

Posted by Richard Wagoner

University of Washington professor David Domke, an expert on the intersection of faith and politics, writes today about evangelicals embracing environmentalism.

By David Domke

In the late 1970s, white evangelical Protestants changed American politics. For decades these citizens had largely sat outside the mainstream culture, believing that their role was solely to preach the Christian gospel and not to engage in social issues of the day.

That changed in the 1970s.

In response to civil rights clashes, urban upheaval, sex and drugs, governmental lies, economic recession, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions banning prayer in public schools and legalizing abortion, conservative religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye (who later co-wrote the multimillion-bestselling Left Behind books) led a political revival.

In the minds of these leaders, salvation was no longer just a personal matter; instead, it had become a national issue. Falwell declared that his reading of Old Testament prophets prompted him to see personal sin as tied to a nation's character, and in his view the United States had become "one of the most blatantly sinful nations of all time." In decades since, white evangelicals have sought to persuade the majority of Americans that they should adopt traditional - that is, politically conservative - positions on issues such as abortion, school prayer, flag burning and same-sex relationships.

These issues have now been joined by one that might transform American politics anew, beginning with this November’s election. And in this case, it is white evangelicals who are adopting the mainstream opinion.

The issue is the environment.

White evangelicals have traditionally held a "dominionist" perspective, in which nature and animals are thought to exist for the pleasures and pursuits of humans. In recent years, some leading conservative evangelicals - yes, conservatives - have discarded this view and embraced a "stewardship" outlook, in which humans are called to preserve and care for God's creation.

Perhaps the most important voice for this movement is Richard Cizik, a vice-president and chief governmental lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, which through its member organizations represents more than 60 denominations. Cizik in 2002 attended a conference at Oxford University and had what he describes as a "conversion experience" on global warming and the environment. Since then, he's declared loudly and unflinchingly that evangelicals have a moral responsibility to become stewards of the Earth.

In 2007, in a special Newsweek issue on global warming, Cizik said this:

"The protection of the environment is a Biblically rooted epic task straight from God... Instead of looking at global warming as Jerry Falwell has called it, 'Satan's diversion,' we should see it as a note from God that says, 'I said to be a steward, my children. Sin has consequence, and if you pollute this earth there will be a price to pay. But it's not too late, and with my help you can restore Eden.' Environmentalism is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century, and one doesn't have to look too far back to see that evangelicals sat on their hands when it came to civil rights for blacks. I refuse to sit on my hands and allow the evangelical heritage to be sullied again, because the very reputation of the evangelical witness is at stake. It's crucial that we not make the mistake of our fathers."

That's throwing down the gauntlet. Or in Cizik's view, the gospel.

Cizik has received enormous criticism from James Dobson and other power-brokers of the religious right, who have tried to get the NAE to fire Cizik. But Cizik is unbowed, and he is taking his message far and wide - including to Seattle, where he spoke last week as part of a panel tied to the "Last Polar Bear" exhibit at the Burke Museum (full disclosure: my wife, a Presbyterian minister, also was on the panel). As part of his visit, Cizik said that addressing global warming will be difficult, and will "necessitate a cultural and spiritual transformation."

That transformation appears to be underway - at least among evangelicals.

Exhibit A: In early 2006, presidents of 39 evangelical colleges and dozens of other evangelical leaders - many of them residing in the western part of the United States - created the Evangelical Climate Initiative, which declared:

"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority. Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough... Love of God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action."

Exhibit B: A massive, landmark study of the religious beliefs and outlooks of Americans was released recently by the Pew Research Center. On abortion and same-sex relationships, Americans who attend evangelical churches continue to hold positions that are much more conservative. But on the issue of environmental protection, 54 percent of evangelicals agreed that "stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost."

They were not alone. Among every single religious grouping in the survey - from devout to "unaffiliated" - a majority of respondents adopted the same position. This is nothing short of an emerging environmental consensus.

Whether it impacts voting patterns is something we'll soon know.

David Domke, a former newspaper journalist, is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. His latest book, "The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America," was published in January. He can be reached at domke@u.washington.edu.


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July 29, 2008 2:35 PM

Campaign contributions: What do they tell us?

Posted by Katherine Long

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are waging what will be the most expensive presidential campaign ever. What issues and concerns are raised by the money being raised, and where it's coming from?

We asked members of The Seattle Times Political Caucus to do a little sleuthing on OpenSecrets.org, a non-profit, nonpartisan Web site that examines contributions to national political campaigns. Here are their answers.

Kristi Brown also used Huffington Post's Fundrace 2008. In her West Seattle neighborhood, she found, 27 Republicans have donated a total of $15,408, compared to 228 Democrats who donated a whopping $189,244.

Brown was intrigued to learn that actor Kelsey Grammer (Frazier Crane, of the Seattle-based sitcom Frazier) is a Republican, who donated $2,300 to Rudy Giuliani in 2007 and $2,000 to Bush in 2004.

She also took a look at campaign contributions made by the CEOs of Washington's largest companies. Surprises? "Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has not specifically donated to either Obama or McCain, but he has donated $1,000 to the ERICPAC -- Every Republican Is Crucial PAC." (Editor's note: We noticed that Ballmer has spread his contributions around, giving money to both Democratic and Republican candidates for Congress and the Senate, as well as to Republican and Democratic PACs. But as Brown discovered, he has not contributed to any presidential campaigns.)

Brown learned that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz donated $2,300 apiece to Sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards. Costco Wholesale CEO James Sinegal has donated heavily to Democratic causes since 2004, "and a noteworthy amount of $28,500 was donated in 2007 to the DNC alone."

Scott Kastelitz of Bothell was surprised that "almost $65 million is coming from the Lawyers/Law Firms category (with 76% going to Democrats). This completely dwarfs any other category except Retired ($62.9 million), which is pretty evenly split. It's amusing to me to see that this is 17 times the amount of money donated from those in the oil & gas industry ($3.8 million). Kind of makes you wonder who really runs (or is trying to run) Washington D.C, doesn't it?"

Paul Graves of Olympia, a law clerk for a state Supreme Court justice, has a theory about that. "Democrats tend to support the expansion of laws allowing individuals to file (and win) more lawsuits, to oppose caps on non-economic damages available to plaintiffs, and are more willing to attempt to punish large companies generally, and with lawsuits specifically. In this cycle, lawyers have given $106M to democrats and $35M to republicans, a 75-25 ratio."

Graves points out that defense lawyers -- "even those representing those same large companies" -- tend to give heavily to Democrats as well.

"Two explanations come to mind for this anomaly, although I am sure there are more. First, lawyers at these law firms are very well paid and have generally strong job security. Thus, they are free to give against the economic interests of their clients to support their core values (lawyers tend generally to be liberal, especially on social issues.) Second, if democrats get elected and enact more plaintiff-friendly policies, companies will pay more for elite legal representation because the cost of losing a case will be higher. As the potential cost of a lawsuit goes up, so does the cost of defending against those lawsuits. In this way, both plaintiff and defendant lawyers have an interest in seeing plaintiff-friendly laws enacted. In fact, if this is true, then defense lawyers are not giving against their own self-interest at all."

"I work in the banking industry and it is no secret to me why the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate industry is donating more money for a change in administration," wrote Patrick Allen of West Seattle. That sector contributed about $42 million to Sens. Obama and Clinton to date, versus $16 million to Sen. McCain. "The shocker for me was that more than double is being donated from the Health industry. My initial thought was that the Health Care industry would be firmly behind McCain and the Republican's backing of a free market Health Care system."

Robert McNeill of Kent, a recent transplant from Illinois, was curious to compare his former home state's contributions to those being made by people in Washington. "The huge difference in dollars was a bit surprising. My Illinois home was a diverse suburban district, with a strong Republican core and a Democratic base that features a mixture of "old" and "new" money, tempered by a strong African-American voting bloc; my Washington home is more evenly divided, but still with traditionally strong GOP and Democratic voting blocs. What the numbers tell me is that while passions are running equally high, the dollars flowing into the ground-breaking Obama candidacy may well bode the difference between a close election and an old-fashioned rout."

A number of caucus members expressed dismay at the role of money in politics.

"I think campaign contributions are one of the most troubling aspects of the election process we face today," wrote Allen, of West Seattle "How can a candidate accept millions of dollars from a company, industry or lobbyist and not feel some sort of obligation to listen to their pleas, vote their way or worse yet, let them write legislation themselves as has happened in the past?"

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July 17, 2008 4:51 PM

What to do about soaring energy prices?

Posted by Katherine Long

The Labor Department says consumer prices shot up in June at the fastest pace in 26 years, and two-thirds of the surge is blamed on soaring energy prices. We asked the Seattle Times Political Caucus: Assuming that oil prices are still breaking records and causing further economic woes when January rolls around, what steps should the next president take in his first 100 days in office to address the nation's energy crisis? Are there steps that the state Legislature and governor should also take? Here's a link to all of the answers we received.

Many caucus members were enthusiastic about solar, wind and hydrogen, while others wanted to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling and push for nuclear power. A number favored tax breaks to individuals and businesses who use solar power, hybrid cars, carpooling, or public transporation; some suggested better long-term land-use planning, and a few wanted employers to embrace a four-day work week or expand telecommuting.

"The most pragmatic among us advocate for more oil drilling; the most idealistic advocate solar and wind power; and the most scientific advocate nuclear power. However, the true answer to our nation's energy crisis is: ALL of them, " said Alex B. Berezow of Seattle, a strong advocate of nuclear power.

Matt Helmer of Ballard believes that now is the time to begin "wholeheartedly moving our society toward greener sources of energy. The first step for the next president is to publicly ask Americans to join him in this Green Revolution by conserving, recycling, using public transporation, and adopting other environmentally friendly behaviors."

Asking people to do with less could be tricky. "I realize that neither candidate wants to repeat (President) Carter's mistakes (and ask for sacrifices from the electorate) but it seems to me that that is precisely what is needed," wrote Fatema Karim of Richland. "Towards that end, I would like to hear them express support for public buses, trains and ferries."

Jeff Grubb of Panther Lake thinks that federal benefits to oil companies, such as tax breaks and leases should be redirected "to turn the energy companies towards non-oil based strategies (wind, solar, etc.) There is willingness among the energy companies to go in that direction (T Boone Pickens is pushing windpower, for heaven's sake), but our regulatory infrastructure is supporting the old ways."

Kristi Brown of Seattle thinks that restrictions should be lifted on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the state gas tax should be reduced. Long-term, she and a number of other caucus members called for the construction of new oil refineries, and an emphasis on developing nuclear power.

"Price signals and market forces will do a far better job than government meddling," argues Paul Graves of Olympia. "High prices have encouraged both additional exploration for oil and have made investment in alternatives more economically viable. In the same way, consumers are reducing their demand for oil by heating and cooling their homes less, switching to more efficient cars and processes, and substituting. Over time, both of these developments will tend to lower oil prices."

Don Manuszewski of Cibolo, Texas, also thinks the market will take care of much of the problem. "I'm no economist but the way I understand supply and demand it seems obvious to me - the excessive lifestlye many people enjoy, even though it's out of their economic means, has to be cut off. Personal responsibility has to make a comeback."

David Iseminger of Seattle wants mass transit projects to become a high priority for the state's leaders. "With an ever increasing state population the need for more transportation capacity will only continue to grow as will oil dependency/demand. Designing mass transit that runs on more energy efficient fuel sources would address many concerns - fuel dependency, transportation congestion, and green house emissions to name a few. It seems a no brainer to make this sort of investment."

Sarah Everett of Seattle writes, "It's odd to me that our nation can put an intelligent rover on the surface of Mars, yet it can't streamline the flow of traffic, nor develop alternative means of fueling our vehicles. We need a coordinated strategy and the people to implement it. That's what the next president can provide."

Tell us what you think:





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July 16, 2008 3:27 PM

John McCain's social conservative dilemma

Posted by Richard Wagoner

University of Washington professor David Domke, an expert on the intersection of faith and politics, writes today about John McCain and the social conservatives in his party.

By David Domke

In 1992, the Clinton campaign adopted a mantra that became so famous it's now a wikipedia entry: it's the economy, stupid! In response, the Republican Party developed its own approach: it's the social issues. For more than a decade now - beginning with their landslide victories in 1994 - GOP politicians have unsheathed topics like abortion and gay marriage to bury Democrats.

In 2008, however, social issues won't work for Republicans. In fact, these topics might just sink the party's presidential nominee.

This is partly due to evolving attitudes among Americans. Consider the example of gay marriage. In mid-May, the Supreme Court of California declared state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Opponents immediately vowed to place a constitutional amendment on the state ballot this fall, but in mid-May a Field Poll found that by a 51-to-42 margin California voters support legalizing same-sex marriage - a sea change from a few decades ago. On the other side of the continent, the state of New York is moving toward recognizing same-sex marriages enacted in other states, while Massachusetts legislators Tuesday took the first step toward allowing out-of-state same-sex couples to marry there.

Public opinion is not the only changing dynamic. Just as important is who's leading the GOP charge this time around. When it comes to cultural warfare, John McCain is no George W. Bush.

In 2004 and 2006, conservative organizations pushed anti-gay-marriage legislation to rally the faithful. It was crucial, for example, in helping put Bush over the top in Ohio in 2004. Such an approach won't work for McCain, because whereas Bush has consistently supported amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, McCain has strongly opposed such a measure. In 2004 McCain called such legislation "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans."

McCain also faces a dilemma on abortion. During the 2000 Republican primary, McCain took on Bush over the GOP platform's pro-life position, which makes no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life. McCain wanted to change the platform to include these exceptions, and he excoriated Bush for supporting the exceptions while refusing to seek to alter the platform.

Now McCain is open to exactly the same criticism that he leveled at Bush. He still supports exceptions to the pro-life position but will alienate the social conservative base if he tries to alter the platform. In a shot across McCain's bow, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins told ABC News: "If he were to change the party platform I think that would be political suicide. I think he would be aborting his own campaign because that is such a critical issue to so many Republican voters and the Republican brand is already in trouble."

And even if McCain somehow mollifies social conservatives on gay marriage and abortion, some hardliners will still be concerned by his support of embryonic stem cell research.

Last autumn, James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, said that he would never vote for McCain. Now he's mulling it over, but wants something - several somethings - in return. In March Dobson wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "I have seen no evidence that Sen. McCain is successfully unifying the Republican Party or drawing conservatives into his fold. To the contrary, he seems intent on driving them away…. He still believes, for example, that federal money should be allocated for laboratory experiments with tiny human embryos, after which they would be killed when they are no longer useful."

McCain is between a rock and a hard place because he wants to maintain his appeal to moderates yet must draw in evangelicals. In 2000 Bush regularly won evangelical Protestants by margins of more than 50 percent in the Republican primaries - over McCain. This primary season McCain won the GOP nomination but still consistently lost these voters, who preferred Mike Huckabee in most instances.

This is no small matter, because McCain cannot win the presidency without this constituency. In 2006, Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, declared that "white evangelicals are approaching the same degree of political solidarity with the GOP that African-American voters accord the Democratic Party."

Not in 2008, not with Barack Obama rallying African Americans and not with McCain on the defensive with evangelicals. Today one presidential nominee is on the cover of Newsweek in a story about his religious faith and one is stumbling over what he believes about adoption by same-sex parents. Guess which one is the Republican?

In 2008 the Republican Party in 2008 is going to need a new slogan.

David Domke, a former newspaper journalist, is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. His latest book, "The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America," was published in January. He can be reached at domke@u.washington.edu.

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July 10, 2008 2:06 PM

Obama's move to the center?

Posted by Katherine Long

Political pundits, bloggers and newspaper columnists cite Barack Obama's vote on Wednesday in favor of expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as an example of how he is moving to the political center to capture votes. We asked the members of our online political caucus: Is this a good strategy for Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, to follow? Will it make you more likely or less likely to vote for him in November?

Generally speaking, Obama supporters defended their candidate -- although some were disappointed by the vote -- and his detractors criticized him for pandering to voters. A few also questioned whether this really represented a move to the center. To see all the responses we received, go to our caucus response page.

Cathy Wittel of Redmond says she's "often tried to get on board with Obama and keep getting pushed back by his drastic change in ideology regarding campaign reform, women's right to choose, and government right to spy on its own people. If he keeps up this thrust toward center, he may end up losing the vote of his core supporters and the vote of middle America who will perceive him as a candidate who cannot be depended on to take a strong stance on any issue."

Michael Kerr of Redondo, a McCain supporter, sees it this way: "Barack Obama's new hawkish approach is a complete contradiction of everything he stands for. He can't win a general election without the swing voters, so he has to employ the strategy."

Ben Lukoff of Seattle calls it "a good strategy, since the U.S. tends to prefer candidates who run to the center. It shows he's a good politician -- but still just that, a politician." Still, Lukoff is standing by Obama, although "things like this make me wish even more we had real electoral choices in this country."

T.R. Perez of Seattle thinks Obama should be allowed to modify his policy as he sees fit. "As a Clinton supporter I am warming up to Obama and feel his recent views on topical issues are starting to make me feel more inclined to vote for him. I am not someone who will be easily swayed by right-wing attacks and media bias."

Brasten Sager of Kirkland thinks "Obama obviously believes he can dodge charges of being 'just another politician' much more effectively than he can charges of being 'soft on terror.' Whether or not it's a good strategy depends on the McCain campaign's ability to make the flip-flop accusations stick -- something that hasn't seemed to work terribly well, thus far. As for me, his vote makes me much less likely to vote for him."

Jason DesLongchamp of Seatac says all candidates make a real or perceived move to the center. "The only thing he has to be careful of is looking like a completely disingenuous pragmatist; he knows that, so we should see a moderately progressive policy assertion issue from the campaign soon. He's not going to lose his base no matter what he does, so what does he have to lose? As a Republican I find the idea of voting for him more and more palatable everyday, though I am still very far from ever voting for him."

A few caucus members were especially bothered by the FISA vote. Nicholas, writing from Tokyo, calls it "not a typical left/right issue, but an anti-constitution move that lets clear criminal behavior by the Bush Administration as well as the telecom companies become legal...Barack Obama's vote is intended, I suspect to provide some inoculations against being 'weak on terror,' as if they won't find some other way to pin that label on him. With this vote he simply looks weak -- and like a typical flip-flopping politician. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that the so-called anti-government Republicans are the ones most blindly supporting this kind of raw government power...But then again, perhaps even more amazing is that the Democrats can always be counted on to capitulate to the most unpopular president in modern history."

For the last word, we'll turn to Dave Workman, writing from New York: "I have a hard time getting too worked up over his change of stance. I do think that the liberal bloggers, many members of the media, and the same political pundits were pushing for Barack Obama to be a progressive knight in shining armor...The truth was always going to be much more interesting than that. If you looked at Senator Obama's stances and limited record, you saw someone that was as centrist as Bill and Hillary Clinton ever thought about being. You saw someone that had a record that showed he was more than willing to compromise the heart of a bill to say that he was willing to work across the aisle and get things done. Or you saw someone that, if not presented with an option that he could agree with, would vote "present" so as not to dirty his hands with the tough decision of voting "no" if he didn't agree...

"But as far as a move to the center goes, Senator Obama was always in the center compared to all the other Democratic candidates. Now that the Obama myth is being matched up to the Obama reality, perhaps people are maybe having buyer's remorse because of something that they had convinced themselves that they had in Senator Obama."


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Recent entries

Jul 31, 08 - 11:20 AM
Evangelicals' newest political movement: environmental stewardship

Jul 29, 08 - 02:35 PM
Campaign contributions: What do they tell us?

Jul 17, 08 - 04:51 PM
What to do about soaring energy prices?

Jul 16, 08 - 03:27 PM
John McCain's social conservative dilemma

Jul 10, 08 - 02:06 PM
Obama's move to the center?

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