As the controversy over the impeachment of President Clinton continues to swirl over the nation, respected observers and pollsters are finding a generation gap to be a major source of the conflict on the issue.
The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, (Jan. 11) reports that “deep divisions across social, political and generational lines” are brought on not so much by Clinton’s actions as by his baby boomer generation. The struggle within America is not over issues brought on by sexual misconduct and lying under oath but by the boomers’ commitment to a non-judgmental attitude with its roots in the 1960s.
Baby boomers often see morality as a private matter, evidenced by the fact that among those polled, only 11 percent had actually contacted their representative in Congress over their views of the hearings. The pollsters conclude that people believe that if no harm is done to the nation or the constitution, then officials as high as the President should be given freedom to choose their own private morality. Don Eberly, of the Civil Society Project in Pennsylvania is quoted as saying “the people just don’t see the answer to our moral condition coming predominantly from lawmakers . . . Americans tend to be generous towards sinners and hard on hypocrites.”
Meantime, in Washington, the House vote in December to impeach Clinton suggests the “growing influence of evangelical Christianity in American politics,” according to specialists on religion and politics. The Washington Post (Jan. 9) reports that evangelical House members are increasingly distributed in such mainline bodies of Presbyterian and Methodist churches as well as in Pentecostal, non-denominational backgrounds. These house members who identified themselves as “Christian” voted 11 to 3 for impeachment.
However, evangelicalism “is not as widely distributed” in the Senate as in the House (where it is approaching the national average), so it is difficult to predict how the former may vote on Clinton’s censure or removal from office, says political scientist James Guth. The Clinton scandal is not only showing evangelical and fundamentalist strength but also reviving divisions between these Christians and Catholics, writes Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 6). The scandal has re-established the “very partisan divides that [Clinton’s] centrist, New Democrat politics once promised to erase.”
This is true among blacks and senior citizens who have rallied strongly behind Clinton, mainly out of fear of a conservative Republican resurgence if he is ousted from office. But nowhere is the revived divide clearer than among evangelicals and fundamentalists and Roman Catholics. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll showed that “fundamentalists” (by which they mean conservative Protestants) are almost twice as likely to call for the president’s removal from office as are Catholics (47 percent versus 25 percent).
Seib concludes that “there are many reasons for this. But surely one is the fact that Christian conservatives have tended to call the Republican Party home, while Catholics, despite some wavering in the 1980s, have long tended to be more of a Democratic constituency.”
— This article was written with RW contributing editor Erling Jorstad.