The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Faculty, professors debate the ‘politics of morality’

Panel discusses religion’s relevance, importance in campaigns today

With the battle for the White House intensifying in its finalweek, a number of debates have been sparked across the nation,featuring celebrities, students and average citizens — eventhe presidential candidates themselves.

The Office of the Chaplain served up a unique deliberationWednesday afternoon, as the second of two installments of”The Politics of Morality: Faith, Values and the Campaign of2004″ took place in the Hughes-Trigg Student Centertheatre.

The panel discussion featured Bill Bridge from the Dedman Schoolof Law, Dr. Robin Lovin from the Perkins School of Theology and twoprofessors from the Political Science Department — DennisSimon and Matthew Wilson.

One of the main issues discussed was taken right from the titleof the event — the delicate line between church andstate.

Bridge argued that, with religion playing an increasinglyimportant role in politics, candidates’ openness and honestyabout their religious beliefs have taken a downward turn.

According to professor Wilson, the political discrepanciesbetween Catholics and Protestants are being shed in favor of a morediverse religious outlook on the political scene.

“Some polls,” he explained, “show [the twodenominations] are voting for the same candidate.”

A recent trend, Wilson said, has been the emergence of secularvoters as a political power.

The seculars, he said, “have driven people from differentevangelical backgrounds together on issues. “This wasuncommon 50 years ago.”

While on the topic of faith, political science professor JoeKobylka posed a question to the panelists — is a”religious issue” the same as a “religiousperspective”?

“The two phrases are asking different things,” saidDr. Lovin. “‘Religious perspective’ asks‘Can I trust this candidate…is he enough likeme?’ while ‘religious issues’ pose questions onpublic policy.

“The problem with today’s campaigns,” hecontinued, “is they feature too much about ‘religiousperspective’ and not enough about ‘religiousissues.'”

While the line between Catholics and Protestants has dwindledwith each election, as panelists discussed, time has fostered amore polarized society when it comes to the two major politicalparties.

“The majority of the public,” Simon said, “iseither on the right or left [of the political scale].”

This growing division, he continued, set some politicalparties’ viewpoints in a quickly drying pool of politicalcement.

“Republicans, for example, will never elect a pro-choicecandidate,” he said. “The same goes for Democrats and apro-life candidate.”

As Dr. Lovin said, “traditional denominations are nowdivided into liberal or conservative.”

As panelists shared opinions on ethics in the role of thecandidates, the election process itself also drew attention,beginning with professor Bridge’s view on a changing campaignmodel.

“Today’s candidates,” he said, “areleaving the ‘classic model’ this year in order toenergize their own groups.” This transition, Bridgeexplained, includes an increased number of “closed-off”speeches which feature cued applause.

By reducing the number of public speeches, Bush and Kerry havefocused on getting the votes out in their respective parties.

As Wilson explained, candidates must also be wary of sparkingfire among the opposition.

“Bush,” he said, “won’t make a pitchagainst gays because that would energize the liberal activists andgay voters.”

Similarly, “Kerry won’t make a pitch forabortion,” so as not to pro-life activists to rise up.

Panelists ended with a discussion on what will be necessary towin this year’s presidential election.

“Iraq will be decisive,” stated Dr.. Lovin,”which is a problem because we can’t define a clear setof opposing values.”

Bridge touched on what he called the “framing of thedebate,” which magnifies the candidates’ choice ofwords on specific topics.

“Kerry, for example, may call [the current conflict]‘the war in Iraq,'” he explained, “whilePresident Bush may say ‘war on terror.'”

As Simon illustrated, a candidate’s approach to theelection has undergone a makeover over the past three decades,today targeting much more specific groups.

“In 1970,” he said, “two things were needed towin the election — you needed electability and you needed toassemble your party leaders.

“Now, candidates must appeal first to activist groups,then go after the groups already in their favor.

“Bush and Kerry,” Simon continued, “must alsogo after the average voters, who tend to clump together in themiddle of different issues.”

Wilson stressed the importance of “wedge issues,”those that will tap into voters’ religious and moralvalues.

“Candidates,” he said, “can make an appeal tothe middle voters of one side, which would simply fire up the baseof the other side.”

As panelists wrapped up their discussions, Simon offered histake on why this year’s election will be such a tightrace.

“Every other incumbent president in history has eitherbeen heavily favored or considered ‘out of it’ whenrunning for reelection,” he explained.

Bush, however, does not fit into either category, as thecandidates have remained neck-in-neck for much of the race.

According to, the most recent Gallup Poll [Oct.22—24] of 793 “likely voters” shows Bush with a 5percent lead over Kerry, though the Massachusetts senator was ontop as recently as Oct. 10.

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