How did it happen? How did the Democrats so easily capture the House and Senate just two years after many pundits pronounced the Democratic Party dead? There were clearly many contributing factors. The unpopularity of the Iraq War was a primary concern. The failure of the Republicans to enact their agenda frustrated many. The decidedly un-conservative spending habits of the Republican Party over the last few years also contributed.
While all of these concerns played a role, there is another key factor that has received less attention. At the end of the day, the party that identified itself as the defender of "traditional values" became synonymous with corruption and scandal.
Many examples come to mind. There was the Abramoff scandal last year, which involved a number of prominent Republicans. Tom DeLay was one of them. Bob Ney another. Ralph Reed a third. Additionally, Duke Cunningham resigned from Congress amid scandal. The recent Mark Foley uproar revealed that some party leaders were willing to keep indefensible conduct under wraps, perhaps for political reasons. So much for traditional values!
To make matters worse, Republican leaders seemed to think of social conservatives as easy dupes. A couple of months ago the Republican leaders of the House and Senate put on a show for us, bringing to the floor a number of bills they knew would fail. The flag burning amendment and the federal marriage amendment are examples. It would be one thing if the leaders really believed in these bills, if they put time and effort into passing them, but that hardly seemed to be the case. Instead, the whole thing came off as a charade to keep the social conservatives voting Republican for another cycle.
History will record that in 2006 the Republican Party ran on a record of lip-service and corruption. Predictably, this record did not go over well among social conservatives, and the Democrats now control the House of Representatives and Senate.
In addition to asking "How did this happen?" many people will wonder "Who is to blame?" Unfortunately, it is clear that Christian conservative leaders contributed to the Republican defeat, and in the process they’ve lost credibility. When Tom DeLay’s excesses were exposed, Christian political groups closed ranks to support him. When congressional Republicans put on their phony legislative parade, Christian political leaders were willing accomplices. When the Mark Foley scandal hit, Christian groups faulted everyone but Republican leaders.
Why have prominent Christian organizations and leaders behaved in this way? The sad reality is that many have been seduced by the Washington, D.C., political culture. They have identified themselves so closely with persons and parties that they have lost sight of principle. By excusing the behavior of the Republican Party, Christian conservatives set the party up for the 2006 defeat.
If social conservative leaders had loudly, forcefully, and prophetically criticized the party at the first sign of corruption, if they had stood on principle, then chances are that Republican politicians, fearful of losing their jobs, would have cleaned up the mess. That’s not what happened. Instead, Christian conservatives became enablers of corrupt Republicans. They stood by some Republicans in spite of their corruption. They made excuses for the GOP in the midst of scandal. They supported the GOP in their legislative charade. Now that the GOP has collapsed, the "Christian right" should recognize that it bears part of the blame.
Even worse than political failure, however, is moral failure. The week after an election is always a time for reflection and soul searching. As Christians engaged in the public square, let us use this time to examine our own consciences. Why are we involved in politics? Is it to fight for justice, stand on principle, and give voice to the voiceless, or is it to deliver votes for the GOP every other year? Are we called to be faithful, or politically expedient? Have we defended and excused wrong doing and wrong doers for the sake of our honorable goals? Are we more concerned with the opinion of "our guys" in Washington, D.C., or with our God in Heaven?
Many things died on November 7. Twelve years of Republican control of the House. Six years of electoral success for President Bush. Four years of GOP Senate control. Perhaps the "inside the beltway" mindset of Christian conservatives will also die. However, death, for the Christian, is certainly not a bad thing, because death always points toward resurrection. Christianity teaches that redemption is always possible, no matter how bleak things appear.