Sunday, June 8, 2008
As this year's election campaign shifts into higher gear, today's New York Times (McCain Extends His Outreach, but Evangelicals Are Still Wary) reports that one of Senator John McCain’s biggest challenges in the current presidential campaign is this: a continued wariness toward him among evangelicals and other Christian conservatives, a critical voting bloc for Republicans that could stay home in the fall or at least be decidedly unenthusiastic in their efforts to get out the vote.
The Times article compares the relationship between President George Bush and the evangelical community with that of the community and Senator McCain, noting that in 2004, President Bush's openness about his personal faith and stances on social issues earned him a following among evangelicals, who represented about a quarter of the electorate that year. Indeed, exit polls found that 78 percent of white “born again” or evangelical Protestants voted for President Bush.
On the other hand, article states, Senator McCain’s relationship with evangelicals has long been troubled. For example, in 2000, when he was running against President Bush for the Republican nomination, the Arizona Senator castigated evangelical ministers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance.” The article continues:
In a sign of the lingering distrust, Mr. McCain finished last out of nine Republican candidates in a straw poll last year at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, a gathering for socially conservative activists.
James C. Dobson, the influential founder of the evangelical group Focus on the Family, released a statement in February, when Mr. McCain was on the verge of securing the Republican nomination, affirming that he would not vote for Mr. McCain and would instead stay home if he became the nominee. Dr. Dobson later softened his stance and said he would vote but has remained critical of Mr. McCain.
The wariness Senator McCain faces among evangelicals is summed up in the words of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council:
“For John McCain to be competitive, he has to connect with the base to the point that they’re intense enough that they’re contagious. Right now they’re not even coughing.”
Notwithstanding the wariness among evangelicals, the Times reports that a small group of McCain staff members and surrogates have begun stepping up -- largely behind the scenes -- his outreach to evangelicals and other social conservatives. Additionally, about a dozen people, including staffers and socially conservative leaders who are advising the campaign, have reportedly begun a weekly conference call to plot strategy on reaching the evangelical/social conservative voting bloc for Senator McCain.
At last week's "High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bio-energy" held at FAO headquarters in Rome, the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., read out a message from Pope Benedict XVI in which the head of the Roman Catholic Church stated that
...hunger and malnutrition are unacceptable in a world which has, in fact, levels of production, resources and knowledge sufficient to put an end to such dramas and their consequences. The great challenge of today is to 'globalise', not just economic and commercial interests, but also the call for solidarity, while respecting and taking advantage of the contribution of all components of society.
The Pope went on to call on the 50 heads of State and government officials attending the conference to "collaborate in an increasingly transparent way with ... organisations committed to closing the growing divide between rich and poor" and to "continue with the structural reforms which, at the national level, are indispensable in order to face the problems of underdevelopment, of which hunger and malnutrition are direct consequences."
The Pope also stated that
Poverty and malnutrition are not a simple fatality, provoked by adverse environmental situations or by disastrous natural calamities, [and that] purely technical and economic considerations must not prevail over the duties of justice towards people suffering from hunger.
Referring to the current problem of rising prices of agricultural products, the Pope called for the drawing-up of "new strategies to fight against poverty and to promote rural development, ... through structural reform processes which enable the challenges posed by security and by climate change to be faced".
According to the Pope, modern technologies are not enough to meet shortfalls in food. Rather, he stated, there is a global need for "political action which, inspired by those principles of natural law written in man's heart, protects the dignity of the individual. ... Only by protecting the person, then, is it possible to combat the main cause of hunger."
The Pope concluded his message by calling on the delegations gathered for the conference "to take on new commitments and set themselves to pursue them with great determination."
Today's New York Times reviews a report on the current spirit of volunteerism in America. In That Spirit of Volunteerism, 60 Million Strong Phyllis Korkki writes that accoridng to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the period September 2006 to September 2007, more than 60 million Americans volunteered through or for an orgainzation. These volunteers spent a median of 52 hours on their volunteer work. As to the identity of these volunteers, a higher percfentgae of women volunteer than men, and people between the ages of 35 and 54 are more likely to volunteer than those younger or older. Even with more than 60 million Americans volunteering during the period, the volunteer rate has fallen from 28.8 percent from 2003 through 2005, to 26.2 percent in 2007.