Last-minute appeal to evangelical voters paints dire picture of the future in ‘Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America’
NEW YORK — Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts.
All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called "Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America," produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.
The imagined look into the future is part of an escalation in rhetoric from Christian right activists who are trying to paint Obama in the worst possible terms as the campaign heads into the final stretch and polls show the Democrat ahead.
Although hard-edge attacks are common late in campaigns, the tenor of the strikes against Obama illustrate just how worried conservative Christian activists are about what should happen to their causes and influence if Democrats seize control of both Congress and the White House.
"It looks like, walks like, talks like and smells like desperation to me," said the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of Houston, an Obama supporter who backed President George W. Bush in the past two elections.
The Methodist pastor called the 2012 letter "false and ridiculous." He said it showed that some Christian conservative leaders fear that Obama’s faith-based appeals to voters are working.
Like other political advocacy groups, Christian right groups often raise worries about an election’s consequences to mobilize voters. In the early 1980s, for example, direct mail from the Moral Majority warned that Congress would turn a blind eye to "smut peddlers" pushing pornography to children.
"Everyone uses fear in the last part of a campaign, but evangelicals are especially theologically prone to those sorts of arguments," said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University political scientist. "There’s a long tradition of predicting doom and gloom."
But the tone in this election year is sharper than usual and the volume has turned up as Nov. 4 nears.
Steve Strang, publisher of Charisma magazine, a Pentecostal publication, titled one of his recent weekly e-mails to readers, "Life As We Know It Will End If Obama is Elected."
Strang said gay rights and abortion rights would be strengthened in an Obama administration, taxes would rise and "people who hate Christianity will be emboldened to attack our freedoms."
Separately, a group called the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission has posted a series of videos on its site and on YouTube called "7 Reasons Barack Obama is not a Christian."
The commission accuses Obama of "subtle diabolical deceit" in saying he is Christian, while he believes that people can be saved through other faiths.
But among the strongest pieces this year is Focus on the Family Action’s letter that has been posted on the group’s Web site and making the e-mail rounds. Signed by "A Christian from 2012," it claims a series of events could logically happen based on the group’s interpretation of Obama’s record, Democratic Party positions, recent court rulings and other trends.
Among the claims:
• A 6-3 liberal majority Supreme Court that results in rulings like one making gay marriage the law of the land and another forcing the Boy Scouts to "hire homosexual scoutmasters and allow them to sleep in tents with young boys." (In the imagined scenario, The Boy Scouts choose to disband rather than obey).
• A series of domestic and international disasters based on Obama’s "reluctance to send troops overseas." That includes terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that kill hundreds, Russia occupying the Baltic states and Eastern European countries including Poland and the Czech Republic, and al-Qaida overwhelming Iraq.
• Nationalized health care with long lines for surgery and no access to hospitals for people over 80.
The goal was to "articulate the big picture," said Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of public policy for Focus on the Family Action. "If it is a doomsday picture, then it’s a realistic picture," she said.
Obama favors abortion rights and supports civil unions for same-sex couples, but says states should make their own decisions about marriage. He said he would intensify diplomatic pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions and add troops in Afghanistan.
On taxes, Obama has proposed an increase on the 5 percent of taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year and advocates cuts for those who make less. His health care plan calls for the government to subsidize coverage for millions of Americans who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
One of the clear targets of this latest conservative Christian push against the Democrat is younger evangelicals who might be considering him. The letter posits that young evangelicals provide the margin that let Obama defeat John McCain.
But Margaret Feinberg, a Denver-area evangelical author, predicted failure.
"Young evangelicals are tired — like most people at this point in the election — and rhetoric which is fear-based, strong-arms the listener, and states opinion as fact will only polarize rather than further the informed, balanced discussion that younger voters are hungry for," she said.
In an interview, Strang said there are fewer state ballot measures to motivate conservative voters this election year and that the financial meltdown is distracting some voters from the abortion issue. But he said a last-minute push by conservative Christians in 2004 was key to Bush’s re-election and predicted they could play the same role in 2008.
Kim Conger, a political scientist at Iowa State University, said a late push for evangelical voters did help Bush in 2004, "but it is a very different thing than getting people excited about John McCain," even with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential pick.
Phil Burress, head of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values, said the dynamics were quite different in 2004, when conservative Christians spent some energy calling Democrat John Kerry a flip-flopper but were mostly motivated by enthusiasm for George W. Bush.
Now, there is less excitement about McCain than fear of an Obama presidency, Burress said.
"This reminds me of when I was a school kid, when I had to go out in the hall and bury my head in my hands because of the atom bomb," he said.