- Stumping God: Reagan, Carter, and the Invention of a Political Faith by Andrew P. Hogue
In his book Stumping God: Reagan, Carter, and the Invention of a Political Faith, Andrew P. Hogue details the rise of Christian conservatism in America. This rise led to the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan and ushered in a modern presidency in which religion and politics have become thoroughly entwined. After describing the rise of the religious right, from early musings beginning in the 1940s to the watershed election of 1976 to the realization of the full revolution in the 1980 election, Hogue predicts a shifting future for the relationship between religion and politics that could come with the presidency of Barack Obama.
Readers of Rhetoric & Public Affairs will appreciate the attention to detail that Hogue puts into examining the discourse of this movement, both of the political elites who ushered it in and the religious leaders who advocated for and created it, while giving ample discussion to political and cultural factors as well. He “aims to decipher the origins of religious argument in contemporary politics, to demonstrate the ways in which this rhetoric has functioned, and to explore its enduring legacy” (3). To do this, he examines books, speeches, and policy decisions made by important conservatives and other religious politicians, several of whom attempted and attained the presidency. His broad purpose is to “understand and explain the ways presidential candidates have used religion in pursuit of the White House in the modern era” (3). In doing this, he documents a historical shift in opinion toward, and expression of, religious ideas in politics, culminating in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan and how that election shaped the future of religious discourse in American politics.
The book is divided into six chapters, each of which documents a stage in this shift represented by the rhetoric of the influential religious leaders and [End Page 349] politicians of the time. He begins with a broad overview of Religion and American Conservatism, giving a “close reading” of what he considers “the movement’s seminal discourses” (17)—Friedrich A. Hayek, 1944; Richard Weaver, 1948; William F. Buckley, 1951; Whitaker Chambers, 1952; and Barry Goldwater, 1960. These represent the spectrum of conservatism from traditionalists to classical liberals (libertarians) to anti-Communists, and helped form the “framework of a new religious strategy” (59) that Reagan ultimately used to his advantage.
Next, Hogue sets out to “determine when, why, and how religious conservatives began to engage in the political process on the basis of particular religious beliefs.” He details five reasons this shift in involvement may have come about: the “emergence of evangelical Christians from the backwaters to the mainstream of American life” (66); the “rise of interest group politics in the 1970s” (67); the Watergate scandal; church-state relations; and the increased involvement of Christians in politics to fight the “culture war.”
Chapter 3 covers the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter. This election was the first to put the elements detailed in the previous chapters together to usher in religious rhetoric and make it a permanent fixture in the campaign for the presidency. During the Carter presidency, the New Religious Right was formed, along with the Moral Majority, fronted by popular evangelical leader Jerry Falwell. Carter missed many opportunities to reach out to these groups and they eventually ended up finding a more comfortable home in the Republican Party. Chapter 5 depicts the 1980 election through the lens of the varying religious discourses of the three candidates, Reagan, Carter, and John Anderson. Hogue argues that Reagan and Carter constructed the religious rhetoric of their respective parties that would be used for decades to come.
Finally, Hogue brings all this together to talk about the legacy of the 1980 election and the normalization of religion in politics. The rhetorical strategies crafted by Reagan and Carter have largely been used by all successful candidates of both parties. In this final chapter, Hogue predicts another shift in religious politics, one ushered in by Barack...