Friday, April 08, 2005

Shaky Political Coalitions: Christians and Conservatives*

After the last election cycle, conservatism took on a whole new religious meaning. We think less of simply the "right" but more so of the "religious right." With instances like the Schiavo case, pharmacists refusing to give birth control for moral reasons, missionary zeal to spread "freedom" and "democracy," it has seemed at times like this theocratic impulse might make some deep and lasting impressions on the current American democratic formation.

Just when disbelief is about to become the normal emotion when reading the news, those pesky Christians start making some noise for another cause. No, not on reproductive politics or another war. This time it's about poverty and justice.

Eric Schlosser's op-ed
A Side Order of Human Rights discusses the boycott of Taco Bell and the groups involved:
At first Taco Bell tried to ignore the protests and to deny responsibility for the behavior of its suppliers. "We don't believe it's our place to get involved in another company's labor dispute," Jonathan Blum, the Yum Brands executive, said in an interview with The New Yorker. Asked about the possible link between slavery in Florida and Taco Bell's food, Mr. Blum replied, "It's heinous, but I don't think it has anything to do with us." The company's attitude gradually changed as the boycott gained support not only from students, but also from the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the National Council of Churches, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and former President Jimmy Carter, among others. (Disclosure: I supported the boycott, too, and spoke out on behalf of the coalition.)

With coalition members conducting hunger strikes and staging demonstrations in front of Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif., it seemed increasingly unwise for the nation's leading purveyor of Mexican food to be publicly linked with the exploitation of poor Mexicans. And the coalition's wage demand was by no means outrageous. It was asking for a pay raise of one penny for every pound of tomatoes picked - the first major wage increase in Immokalee since the late 1970's.

As part of the agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers last month, Taco Bell vowed to help "improve working and pay conditions for farm workers in the Florida tomato fields." It promised to give the penny per pound increase to its Florida suppliers, so that migrant wages could be raised by that amount. It invited the coalition to monitor the new labor policies. And it said it would reward those suppliers that treat farm workers well. The penny-per-pound supplement will nearly double the wages of migrants picking tomatoes for Taco Bell. And though there is some debate about the final cost to Yum Brands, the figure will most likely be a few hundred thousand dollars a year - not a huge sum for a fast food company with annual sales of about $9 billion worldwide.

Servitude and exploitation continuing on in the U.S. taken on by none other than the students, the christians, and the few politicians. Dorothy Day would be pleased, I think. So the radical Christians are still out there working for economic justice. OK.

Then there are the disenchanted conservatives tiring of their patience for the continued infringment of religion into the government and personal lives.
Common Dreams
WASHINGTON -- The controversy over Terri Schiavo has raised concerns among many Americans about the moral agenda of the Republican Party and the political power of conservative Christians, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds.

In the survey, most Americans disapprove of the efforts by President Bush and Congress to draw federal courts into the dispute over treatment of the brain-damaged Florida woman. She died last week.

Some old stereotypes about the two parties have been reversed:

* By 55%-40%, respondents say Republicans, traditionally the party of limited government, are “trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans” on moral values.
* By 53%-40%, they say Democrats, who sharply expanded government since the Depression, aren't trying to interfere on moral issues.

The debate over Schiavo has spotlighted the central role “values” issues — abortion, stem cell research, same-sex marriage and the right to live or die — now play in politics.

Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia who studies religion and politics, says the case has created a “clear backlash.”

“It's one thing to look at religious conservatives as part of a broad coalition that makes up the Republican Party,” he says. “It's entirely another if people think that religious conservatives are calling the shots in the Bush administration for what was a deeply personal situation.”

What's happening here? Are the less conservative christians, who have always been around doing their activism for issues like poverty, not so excited with the way the "religious right" is using christianity politically? Are less religious conservatives disenchanted with the federal government's long fingers reaching into our most private affairs? This was an unhappy marriage from the start. Let the backlash ensue; this is what my dreams are made of.

*The idea from this post came from a discussion with a professor (who wanted no credit, although this has been an argument of hers I think for quite some time) and another graduate student.


At 5:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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