The Obamagelical Revolution

Cristina Page

The surge of Evangelical support for Obama reflects stunning changes among voters who have traditionally voted for the most right-wing of Republicans. Are these culture warriors laying down their swords?

It will take years to fully grasp the tsunami that swept Barrack Obama
into the presidency. "It’s the first time" or "not since" or "historic"
have punctuated most coverage of it – even President Bush called it
"awesome." It reconfigured electoral politics and created "never before
seen" voting blocs. One new and powerful wave of support for Obama came
from the most surprising of groups: evangelicals.

Incredible as it sounds, exit polls show
that the number of white evangelicals (ages 18-44), the base of the
Republican party, supported Obama in double the numbers that came out
for John Kerry in 2004. (Even Catholics were more enthusiastic
about protestant Obama than they were for Catholic Kerry-Obama won the
majority, 54%, of Catholic voters; Kerry got 47%.) Nationally, 25% of
white evangelicals voted for Obama. In certain key states, the numbers
were higher. He saw a 14% increase in support from white evangelicals
in crucial states like Colorado, 8% in Indiana, 8% in North Carolina
and 4% in Ohio. Most important, he won 32% of young evangelicals
(doubling the 16% for McCain).

The surge of Evangelical support
for Obama reflects stunning changes among voters who have traditionally
voted for the most right-wing of Republicans. Democratic strategists
should hear this message loud and clear: many morality voters have
party-hopped. Are these culture warriors laying down their swords? The
2008 election may mark the moment religious voters put reason above
rhetoric. The birth of the Obamagelical.

Clearly
Obama’s inclusive approach resonated with many Evangelical voters–but
to only credit the candidate is to miss the bigger story. According to a poll taken by Beliefnet.com,
Obamagelicals believe the Democratic party platform holds the greatest
potential for progress on the most intransigent issues. Take, for
example, abortion. Of evangelicals who voted for Obama only 8% believed
that restricting abortion would lead to reductions in the abortion rate
(61% of Evangelicals for McCain did). A whopping 86% of Obamagelicals
believe that instead "the best way to reduce abortion is by preventing
unintended pregnancy (through education and birth control), or
providing financial assistance to pregnant mothers." This is in direct
opposition to the "pro-life" agenda, which seeks to ban many forms of
contraception along with abortion.

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Obamagelicals have
re-priortized what they consider the critical issues our nation must
address. For McCain’s evangelical supporters, abortion is their top
issue; 65% select it as one of the most important issues of the
election. Only 10% of Obamagelicals think this. Most list, in order of
importance, the economy, Iraq war, reducing poverty, character of the
candidate, the environment, cleaning up government, access to
healthcare as the more critical issues facing our country. For McCain’s
evangelical voters abortion is the number one issue facing our country,
and "reducing poverty" weighs in at #13 in importance.

That 75% of women having abortion
list financial reasons as the basis of their decision doesn’t click for
McCain’s evangelicals. For Obamagelicals it apparently does.

As the Washington Post reported,

It
could be we’re at a tipping point in this culture," said R. Albert
Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"Ignoring the obvious will not help."

President-elect Barack
Obama and other Democrats have promised to work to make abortion rare,
so long as it remains legal. "Maybe it’s time to take them up on the
offer" instead of "bashing our heads over and over again against the
same wall," writes Paul Strand, a blogger for the Christian
Broadcasting Network.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, an influential
megachurch pastor in Florida, sees a new willingness among pro-life
activists to cooperate with pro-choice forces in search of a middle
ground. He traces that openness in part to the flourishing of crisis
pregnancy centers. As volunteers meet women struggling with unplanned
pregnancies, they begin to view abortion less as an absolute evil and
more as a practical challenge: How do we get this single mother a job,
or help that college student with child care so she doesn’t feel as
though abortion is her only option?"

No less than a
third of white evangelicals under 30 favored Obama. These young
evangelicals come to long intransigent issues like abortion with a
fresh, results-oriented approachttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifh,
and for the Republican party and the pro-life movement as a whole, this
is bad news. Prevention of unwanted pregnancy was important enough to
make it into the Democratic party platform this year (and previous ones). That platform states:

The
Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family
planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which
empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also
recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of
unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

The Republican platform
is silent on the subject pregnancy prevention. It has no strategy to
prevent unintended pregnancy, only to ban abortion. There is not one
"pro-life" organization in the United States that supports
contraception, though it’s the only proven way to reduce the need for
abortion.

Now young evangelicals appear to be turning away from
the monolithic fights of their elders. They support prevention because
it delivers the results they seek. Bill Clinton, the nation’s first
pro-choice president, inherited high abortion rates from the previous
two "pro-life" Presidents, Reagan and Bush Sr. Clinton presided over the most dramatic decline in abortion rates
in the recorded history of our country. He backed prevention and
financial support for the most at risk; the pro-choice approach.
Banning abortion, the "pro-life" movement’s approach, has little effect
on its prevalence, study after study shows. The countries with the highest abortion rates
in the world are those that have already adopted our Republican party’s
platform and banned abortion. This includes most of Latin America where
abortion rates are equal to the US and in several countries twice as
high.

Conversely, the strategy Obama promises to implement is what has proven to work in the countries where abortion is most rare.
These countries, like the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, have adopted
the strongest pro-choice policies-abortion is legal, often free,
contraception is widely available and abstinence-only education exists
only as an oxymoron.

Obamagelicals have moved beyond the
righteous rhetoric and political hyperbole to focus a wider array of
issues that impact rates of abortion, like poverty, education and
prevention. They may be the common ground movement pro-choice people
have long been praying for.

Commentary Politics

Democrats’ Latest Platform Silent on Discriminatory Welfare System

Lauren Rankin

The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

While the Republican Party has adopted one of the most regressive, punitive, and bigoted platforms in recent memory, the Democratic Party seems to be moving decisively in the opposite direction. The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. It calls for a federal minimum wage of $15; a full repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care; and a federal nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

All three of these are in direct response to the work of grassroots activists and coalitions that have been shifting the conversation and pushing the party to the left.

But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the party platform draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton proudly declared that “we are ending welfare as we know it” when he signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 implemented dramatic changes to welfare payments and eligibility, putting in place the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the two decades since its enactment, TANF has not only proved to be blatantly discriminatory, but it has done lasting damage.

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In one fell swoop, TANF ended the federal guarantee of support to low-income single mothers that existed under the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. AFDC had become markedly unpopular and an easy target by the time President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law, with the racist, mythic trope of the “welfare queen” becoming pervasive in the years leading up to AFDC’s demise.

Ronald Reagan popularized this phrase while running for president in 1976 and it caught fire, churning up public resentment against AFDC and welfare recipients, particularly Black women, who were painted as lazy and mooching off the government. This trope underwrote much of conservative opposition to AFDC; among other things, House Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America,” co-authored by Newt Gingrich, demanded an end to AFDC and vilified teen mothers and low-income mothers with multiple children.

TANF radically restructured qualifications for welfare assistance, required that recipients sustain a job in order to receive benefits, and ultimately eliminated the role of the federal state in assisting poor citizens. The promise of AFDC and welfare assistance more broadly, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) benefits, is that the federal government has an inherent role of caring for and providing for its most vulnerable citizens. With the implementation of TANF, that promise was deliberately broken.

At the time of its passage, Republicans and many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, touted TANF as a means of motivating those receiving assistance to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, meaning they would now have to work while receiving benefits. But the idea that those in poverty can escape poverty simply by working harder and longer evades the fact that poverty is cyclical and systemic. Yet, that is what TANF did: It put the onus for ending poverty on the individual, rather than dealing with the structural issues that perpetuate the state of being in poverty.

TANF also eliminated any federal standard of assistance, leaving it up to individual states to determine not only the amount of financial aid that they provide, but what further restrictions state lawmakers wish to place on recipients. Not only that, but the federal TANF program instituted a strict, lifetime limit of five years for families to receive aid and a two-year consecutive limit, which only allows an individual to receive two years of consecutive aid at a time. If after five total years they still require assistance to care for their family and themself, no matter their circumstances, they are simply out of luck.

That alone is an egregious violation of our inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, TANF went a step further: It also allowed states to institute more pernicious, discriminatory policies. In order to receive public assistance benefits through TANF, low-income single mothers are subjected to intense personal scrutiny, sexual and reproductive policing, and punitive retribution that does not exist for public assistance recipients in programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs, programs that Democrats not only continue to support, but use as a rallying cry. And yet, few if any Democrats are crying out for a more just welfare system.

There are so many aspects of TANF that should motivate progressives, but perhaps none more than the family cap and forced paternity identification policies.

Welfare benefits through the TANF program are most usually determined by individual states based on household size, and family caps allow a state to deny welfare recipients’ additional financial assistance after the birth of another child. At least 19 states currently have family cap laws on the books, which in some cases allow the state to deny additional assistance to recipients who give birth to another child. 

Ultimately, this means that if a woman on welfare becomes pregnant, she is essentially left with deciding between terminating her pregnancy or potentially losing her welfare benefits, depending on which state she lives in. This is not a free and valid choice, but is a forced state intervention into the private reproductive practices of the women on welfare that should appall and enrage progressive Democrats.

TANF’s “paternafare,” or forced paternity identification policy, is just as egregious. Single mothers receiving TANF benefits are forced to identify the father of their children so that the state may contact and demand financial payment from them. This differs from nonwelfare child support payments, in which the father provides assistance directly to the single mother of his child; this policy forces the fathers of low-income single women on welfare to give their money directly to the state rather than the mother of their child. For instance, Indiana requires TANF recipients to cooperate with their local county prosecutor’s child support program to establish paternity. Some states, like Utah, lack an exemption for survivors of domestic violence as well as children born of rape and incest, as Anna Marie Smith notes in her seminal work Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation. This means that survivors of domestic violence may be forced to identify and maintain a relationship with their abusers, simply because they are enrolled in TANF.

The reproductive and sexual policing of women enrolled in TANF is a deeply discriminatory and unconstitutional intrusion. And what’s also disconcerting is that the program has failed those enrolled in it.

TANF was created to keep single mothers from remaining on welfare rolls for an indeterminate amount of time, but also with the express goal of ensuring that these young women end up in the labor force. It was touted by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans as a realistic, work-based solution that could lift single mothers up out of poverty and provide opportunities for prosperity. In reality, it’s been a failure, with anywhere from 42 to 74 percent of those who exited the program remaining poor.

As Jordan Weissmann detailed over at Slate, while the number of women on welfare decreased significantly since 1996, TANF left in its wake a new reality: “As the rolls shrank, a new generation of so-called disconnected mothers emerged: single parents who weren’t working, in school, or receiving welfare to support themselves or their children. According to [the Urban Institute’s Pamela] Loprest, the number of these women rose from 800,000 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2008.” Weissmann also noted that researchers have found an uptick in “deep or extreme poverty” since TANF went into effect.

Instead of a system that enables low-income single mothers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, what we have is a racist system that denies aid to those who need it most, many of whom are people of color who have been and remain systemically impoverished.

The Democratic Party platform draft has an entire plank focused on how to “Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class,” but what about those in poverty? What about the discriminatory and broken welfare system we have in place that ensures not only that low-income single mothers feel stigmatized and demoralized, but that they lack the supportive structure to even get to the middle class at all? While the Democratic Party is developing strategies and potential policies to support the middle class, it is neglecting those who are in need the most, and who are suffering the most as a result of President Bill Clinton’s signature legislation.

While the national party has not budged on welfare reform since President Bill Clinton signed the landmark legislation in 1996, there has been some state-based movement. Just this month, New Jersey lawmakers, led by Democrats, passed a repeal of the state’s family cap law, which was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California was more successful, though: The state recently repealed its Maximum Family Grant rule, which barred individuals on welfare from receiving additional aid when they had more children.

It’s time for the national Democratic Party to do the same. For starters, the 2016 platform should include a specific provision calling for an end to family cap laws and forced paternity identification. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of reproductive freedom—demonstrated by its call to repeal both the federal Hyde and Helms amendments—that must include women who receive welfare assistance. But the Democrats should go even further: They must embrace and advance a comprehensive overhaul of our welfare system, reinstating the federal guarantee of financial support. The state-based patchwork welfare system must be replaced with a federal welfare assistance program, one that provides educational incentives as well as a base living wage.

Even President Bill Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both acknowledge that the original welfare reform bill had serious issues. Today, this bill and its discriminatory legacy remain a progressive thorn in the side of the Democratic Party—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time for the party to admit that welfare reform was a failure, and a discriminatory one at that. It’s time to move from punishment and stigma to support and dignity for low-income single mothers and for all people living in poverty. It’s time to end TANF.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.