On Saturday, October 13 Senator Ted Cruz won the presidential straw poll at the Values Voters Summit with 42% of the vote, nearly 30% higher than the next two choices. The Summit, organized by the right wing religious conservative organization Family Research Council, is an annual gathering that provides a good indicator of which political figures are attracting support from the evangelical Christian community.
Senator Cruz has a long-standing association with conservative causes. From his days at Princeton he was an advocate for strengthening the guarantees of the ninth and tenth amendments, which limit the power of the federal government. More recently Senator Cruz has made his mark on American politics by his strident opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). But that wasn’t the reason he won the poll: Obamacare was only the third-ranked issue affecting votes. “Religious freedom” was the top concern, a fear whipped up by the Family Research Council itself.
Since his days as a candidate for Texas Solicitor General much of his public posture has involved attacking interpretations of the first amendment to would lower the barrier between church and state.
Senator Cruz has leaped into the middle of every one of the hot-button “religious oppression” issues, always with great public fanfare. Cruz successfully argued in the Supreme Court on religious expression in the schools and Christian symbols on public lands. He is quick to enter the fray on gay-lesbian discrimination issues as well.
Cruz co-authored a bill based on the claim of persecution against Christians in the military, which has been a staple of the “oppressed Christians” industry, even though the evidence for it is scant, and often the claims fall apart when investigated.
Naturally, when speaking to a group of right wing evangelical Christians, Cruz emphasizes the claim that Obamacare infringes on religious liberties. This is another of the narratives of the Christian oppression industry, which they hope will add to support for their claims (and, of course, add to the number of adherents and donations to their cause).
This recent vote underscores the degree to which the evangelical Christian right wing has isolated itself from the larger population. They, and Cruz, exist in an opinion bubble in which they constantly find reinforcement for the rightness and superiority of their views. They become incapable of seeing validity in other arguments, or even in seeing people of different views as being their equals, and their views become ever more extreme.
In fact, once you get out of the “Christian oppression” opinion bubble, the American people do not agree that mandatory contraception coverage in health insurance is a religious liberty issue. The American people, and most responsible members of Congress, do not see the shutdown of the government orchestrated by Senator Cruz as good for America. But groups that are part of, or support, the Christian oppression industry continue to push candidates and policies that are validated by their own preconceptions and confirmation bias, and very little else. The paralysis we see in Washington DC is in part a symptom of the isolation that our more extreme elements have become mired in.