Thursday, October 30, 2008

Freakonomics Takes on Gay Marriage

Noted economist Justin Wolfers (who does very interesting workonthe economics of happiness) has a moving essay on gay marriage at Freakonomics:

It wasn’t meant to be political.

In fact, Saturday night, while beautiful, was pretty conventional: two of my dear friends from graduate school were getting married. They are fellow economists who have spent 18 years together; they have supported each other through their careers, each has followed the other to different cities, and they provide each other with support in their personal lives.

The only difference is that Jed and Eric are both men.
In many respects, their wedding followed the script I’ve celebrated as my other graduate school buddies have married. Friends and family were assembled, and the lucky couple were excited and busy hosts, making sure that all the details were in place.

But there were differences. The timing of their wedding had little to do with the progress of their relationship. It is pretty unusual for a couple to wait 18 years to marry. But in this case, their choice reflects the fact that they were legally unable to move ahead until the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Constitution recognizes their right to marriage. And they were forced to rush their wedding ahead of next week’s election, as a ballot initiative (Prop 8) seeks to take away this right by amending the constitution.

And so circumstances dictated that their love and their wedding, while being intensely personal, was also somehow public and political.

. . .

The thing that struck me about their ceremony was how viscerally it changed my own feelings about gay marriage. I had always supported gay marriage, but it was an abstract, intellectual support; now it’s personal. And so a friend’s wedding became, for me, the most compelling political event of the year.
Here’s an interesting thought: How has the recent wave of same-sex weddings changed the political landscape? There have now been thousands of same-sex weddings, each enjoining scores of invited friends and family to re-examine their thoughts and feelings. There’s a pretty good chance that one of these folks might be the pivotal voter on Tuesday. And I suspect that this is a much more motivating political force than the tens of millions being spent on political advertising.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama Supported on Christian Radio

David Brody is reporting that an independent expenditure group, Matthew 25, will be running a series of pro-Obama ads on Christian radio:

If you listen to Christian radio, get ready to hear Barack Obama talking about his Christian journey. And it's coming to a red state near you.

The Matthew 25 Network political action committee is coming out with new pro-Obama radio ads that highlight his Christianity. One of them is called, “Source of Hope.” You can listen to it here.

There will be two other radio ads as well on Christian radio including one from the pro-life conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec who defends Obama’s position on abortion. Listen to that one here.

These radio ads will be on Christian music stations in the following states: Michigan, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. Did you notice how many red states are in there?

Read it all here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jesus Attack Ad

What if Jesus ran for President? Here is the attack ad we would face.

Hat tip to Zack at Revolution in Jesus.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Obama 08/Micah 6:8

This is from Zach at JesusLand, who thinks it is the best campaign bumper sticker he has ever seen.

Micah 6:8 (NIV):
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Read it all here.


I have given this some thought and have decided that theis bumper sticker, while funny, is also dangerous. I am pleased to see that Obama is getting support from the faithful--and for the right reasons--but such a direct linkage of faith with a particular politician should be as disturbing when done by the left as it is when done by the right. We should be praying that we are doing God's will--not proudly announcing to the world that a particular political position is what God wants. Theocracy by the left is as dangerous as theocracy by the right.

Obama Friendlier to Religion?

David Brody of the Christian Broadcast network notes the recent Faith in Public Life poll showing that voters view Obama as friendlier to faith than McCain, and then offers his own observations about why this may actually be true:

Imagine if I told you four years ago that voters felt John Kerry was friendlier to religion than George Bush? You would say that is crazy and you’d be right. But in 2008, a new poll published by Faith in Public Life shows that voters actually think Barack Obama , a Democrat, is slightly more friendlier to religion than John McCain. Read some of the findings below:

Forty-nine percent of Americans say Obama is friendly to religion, while 45% say McCain is friendly to religion. More than seven-in-ten (71%) say it is important for public officials to be comfortable talking about religious values.

The greatest shift in candidate preference between 2004 and 2008 has occurred among voters who attend religious services once or twice a month, moving from 49% support for Kerry in 2004 to 60% support for Obama in 2008. McCain maintains a significant advantage among voters who attend more frequently, while Obama has a nearly identical advantage over McCain among those who attend less than a few times a month or never.

. . .

As for Brody File analysis, do we really think these numbers are so surprising? In one sense they are startling because who would have “thunk” a Democrat running for President would lead a Republican on being “friendlier to religion”? Wasn’t all that religious talk supposed to be Republican domain? But these numbers make sense because Obama has engaged the faith community in public and McCain has pretty much stayed away for the most part.

Remember, this is not about social issues like abortion and marriage. These polls are not suggesting that Obama’s views on public policy are necessarily more “religious” than McCain’s positions. That is not what we are talking about here. Don’t mistake these polling numbers as a referendum on who’s the more religious man.

Let me also address a larger point. Americans overall are fairly religious. Worshipping God and going to Church matter in this country. (And not JUST with conservative Evangelicals) The point here is that Obama has done something very smart. By discussing his faith publicly and engaging in God talk, he’s been able to relate to millions of voters in a very real and emotional sort of way. In other words, people in America like to hear you talk about your relationship with God. They want to feel like you have a moral compass somewhere inside of you and what better way to express that than through faith?

The McCain campaign wants to show the World that Obama is a true blue liberal and indeed his voting record reflects liberal positions. But Obama’s zest to discuss morality, God and faith has positioned him differently than a John Kerry four years ago. Kerry came across as a secular northeast liberal and couldn’t shake that label. Obama hasn’t been defined that way and the faith aspect is a central reason why.

Read it all here. The study itself is here.

I think that Brody's analysis is right on. I also understand that this has also caused many of my atheist friends like the Exerrminator to have real doubts about Obama. I think, however, that Obama offers the best of both worlds--he is respectful (and yes, "friendly" to faith) and he can certainly takl the faith talk in ways that church-going folks like me can relate to. Yet, on critical First Amendment issues that should really concern the secularists among us, Obama has a very good and thoughtful record that recognizes the importance of a separationof church and state.

By the way, be sure to check out Ruth Gledhill's own poll on "Who is the better Christian" here. Last time I checked yesterday afternoon, Obama was winning with Sarah Palin in a close second, and Biden a close third. McCain came in dead last well behind Biden.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stephen Waldman on Abortion Reduction

I have argued several times on this blog that it is time for politicians on both sides of the abortion debate to get serious about abortion reduction. (You can find all of these posts collected here. Steve Waldman of Beliefnet has a very interesting essay that argues that a serious effort to reduce abortion would likely do more than efforts to overrule Roe v. Wade:

Some Democrats are now making an unusual argument about abortion: that a Democratic administration might actually reduce abortions more than a Republican administration.On the surface, this seems preposterous. Republicans oppose abortion rights, Democrats support them. How could it possibly be that a Democratic approach would reduce abortion more?

. . .

When Democrats refer to an "abortion reduction strategy" they mostly mean efforts that keep abortion legal but help prevent pregnancy through family planning and/or making it easier for women who do get pregnant to carry the baby to term. (A few examples: Matthew 25 Network and Democrats for Life's 95-10 strategy)

A new study indicates that a variety of non-coercive measures could have a real impact on abortion rates. Two social scientists recently looked at abortion rates in different states during the period in the 1990s when abortion rates were declining. They concluded that economics did affect women's decisions (what has long been suspected) and that therefore social welfare policies can have demonstrable effect. For instance, if you increase payments for Women, Infants and Children, more women come to think they'll have the means to birth and raise a child. They also found that when male employment improved, that reduced the abortion rate as well. Conversely, if you have Medicaid funding for abortions - something Obama supports -- that increases the rate of abortion.

The authors concluded that the right package of financial incentives could therefore reduce the number of abortions by several hundred thousand.

. . .

I'm not one who believes that all unintended pregnancies occur because of a scarcity of birth control. But there is solid evidence that greater sex education - including abstinence education -- and birth control does lead to fewer unintended pregnancies and therefore abortions. According to an Alan Guttmacher Institute study, 46% who had abortions had not used contraception during the month they got pregnant, largely for reasons of ignorance. 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy. 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods. 8% had never used contraceptions. All in all, "about half of unintended pregnancies occur among the 11% of women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives."

. . .

So what? you might be thinking. The pro life forces have ignored abortion reduction in favor of abortion elimination -- a much more desirable result if you're a fetus.

But the traditional pro-life strategy has not resulted in any difference in abortion rates during Republican administrations. Why?

In general, pro life activists have followed a two-pronged strategy that emphasizes a) high-impact but politically unpopular steps and b) low-impact but politically popular steps. An example of their high-impact-low-likelihood efforts: having the Republican platform endorse a Constitutional amendment banning all abortion in all states at all levels of gestation. It certainly would cut the number of abortions but it's not going to happen.

Efforts to require parental consent have borne more fruit. They provide tactical wins for the pro life movement and there is evidence that they help reduce the abortion rates among some teens. But teens account for a minority of abortions.

Meanwhile, pro-life forces push hard on issues like late term abortion which are morally egregious. They hope that these examples help turn public opinion against abortion in general, and they may have: public opinion has become more concerned about abortion since the 1980s. What these efforts don't do is directly reduce the number of abortions very much, since far less than 1% of abortions are late-term.

On balance, the evidence is strong, therefore, that as long as Roe v. Wade is on the books, a comprehensive abortion reduction strategy of the sort advocated by progressive pro-life activists could reduce abortions more than that approach traditional taken by the pro-life community.

But what if Roe v. Wade is overturned? We may be just one Supreme Court justice away from such an outcome. Surely that would lead to a massive drop in abortions, no?

Not necessarily -- because the states where public opinion is pro-life are already the states with lower abortion rates. So when those states ban abortion, the impact on abortion rates won't be dramatic. Joseph Wright, a visiting professor at Notre Dame, estimated that if abortion bans were enacted in states where a majority of the population is now pro life, that would lead to a 10% reduction in abortions nationally.
This is a possibility acknowledged by neither pro-life forces (which have placed all their eggs in the Roe basket) nor pro-choice forces (which like to cast such an event as doomsday).
So we're left with this stunning possibility: a comprehensive abortion reduction agenda of the sort advocated by pro-life progressives could reduce abortions by twice as much as overturning Roe v Wade.

Read it all here (it is well worth reducing the whole essay--most notably for its discusion of the fact that Obama has not yet really endorced the abortion reduction agenda).

As I have said repeatedly before, for most candidates for office, the abortion debate (on both sides) has been more about constituencies and fundraising than a real issue about real lives. The result has been that political leaders are forced into two sharply divided camps with few politicians (Joe Biden being one exception, by the way) willing to be in the middle. What attracks me about the abortion reduction movement is that it offers true progress. Apparantly, Waldman agrees.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Twelve Tribes of Politics

Steve Waldman of and University of Akron's John Green offer their latest "12 Tribes" analysis of politics, which focuses on the political beliefs of twelve different categories of religious belief and practice:

Moral issues are dramatically less important this year than in previous years – even among the most religiously observant voters, according to the 2008
edition of the Twelve Tribes of American Politics.

Just 13% listed social issues first, half the number who did in the summer of 2004. 61% listed the economy first compared to 32% in 2004.

The Twelve Tribes were introduced in 2004 as a collaboration between Beliefnet and John Green of the Bliss Institute at University of Akron, based on the National Surveys of Religion and Politics. The premise: most political reporting acted as if there were two groups – the Religious Right and Everyone Else. So we crafted a new set of groupings, inspired by the twelve tribes of Biblical Israel, but formed
around similarities in religious beliefs and practice.

The 2008 Twelve Tribes survey, conducted from June-August, also found:

  • A massive shift among Latino Protestants is what has fueled the hugely important move of Hispanics to the Democratic Party (more).

  • The centrist Tribes – Convertible Catholics, Whitebread Protestants and Moderate Evangelicals – have moved to the left on some social issues but have become more suspicious of government spending programs. Republicans remain strong with these groups groups (more).

Read it all here. You can also find the McCain-Obama breakdown, the full survey results, the methodology or Steven Waldman's full analysis.