Michael Gerson deftly explains another dashed hope of the Obama administration:
As a candidate, it was a measure of Barack Obama’s political innovation and ambition that he set out to win religious voters, including evangelical Christians. As president, his failure in this effort is equally revealing. … It was a beginning — that quickly ended. Growing percentages of Americans have described the Democratic Party as “unfriendly” toward religion.
Gerson identifies some reasons for the collapse of Obama’s religious outreach:
There are a number of reasons for the believers’ remorse. Social issues blurred during a campaign naturally become more vivid and divisive in the process of governing. Obama’s campaign appeal to reconciliation — which impressed many religious voters — has dissolved into prickly partisanship.
But the failure of Obama’s religious appeal is also ideological. … By identifying with expanded government, Obama fed long-standing evangelical fears of the aggressive, secular state.
There is another explanation, of course. Obama was never serious or sincere about faith-based outreach, any more than he was serous about going “line by line” through the budget or pursuing a traditional, pro-Zionist Middle East policy. The proof is not only in policies that are overtly hostile to the concerns of evangelicals (e.g. stem cell research, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell) but also in the contempt he displays for those who holds opposing views. He sneers at those who “didn’t respect science,” and he scorns those who he claims don’t respect “religious freedom” (i.e., opponents of a Ground Zero mosque).
It is also his laxity and indifference to promoting and protecting religious freedom abroad, which impacts, in particular, Christians in Muslim countries. (See here and here and here.) And I would also suggest that Obama’s animus toward Israel has been a further affront to evangelicals, who are among Israel’s most fervent supporters.
In sum, what is at work here is more than a failure to fulfill the campaign expectations of some trusting faith-based voters. We have also seen the unveiling of a president who personally doesn’t speak the language of faith, whose rhetoric is often insulting to religious voters, and whose policies are hostile to their concerns. As with so many other disappointed voters, faith-based voters, it is fair to conclude, were misled by candidate Obama, who has turned out to be, as his critics predicted, a run-of-the-mill leftist.