Charlie Crist and Ted Haggard are more alike than not: both have enabled and in some cases pushed an anti-gay agenda, only to be dogged by gay rumors; both are former right-wing darlings who fell out of favor; and both are leading their respective flocks into relatively inclusive territory: Crist’s moved left on gay issues, and Haggard’s new church welcomes the same-sex set. Are Crist and Haggard a new breed of moderate leader, or are they just yanking our chain?
As Florida’s primary nears, Governor Crist has slowly drifted toward the left: he vetoed a conservative-approved law requiring women to get ultrasounds before an abortion, he’s also shifted gears on energy policy: the oil disaster taught him that we need a greener future. Now Crist has changed his tune on gay adoption and marriage.
Crist has previously remained mum on gay adoption and in 2007 declared that Republicans shouldn’t spend money trying to ban same-sex marriage, although wouldn’t outright oppose it. Now he’s saying we need to have a “live-and-let-live attitude” on both. From Time magazine:
I’ve always felt that marriage is a traditional [thing] between a man and a woman. If you want to have couples or partners who want to reside together [in civil unions], I don’t have a problem with that. It’s also important that you have a live-and-let-live attitude as regards adoption. I’ve always supported civil unions, but I think marriage in the traditional sense is what I believe in.
He later skirted away from the gay adoption issue a bit, telling reporters, “I think that’s a decision best left to judges. A better law would be to allow judges to make that decision on a case-by-case basis.”
Many claim Crist, who’s going toe-to-toe with Tea Party-approved Marco Rubio, simply wants to woo Democrats, who will give him the boost he needs to beat Rubio. Democrats, of course, would be thrilled to let him get the nomination and then pull the carpet out from under him by voting for their candidate in November. And some may sincerely like Crist as a candidate: a recent poll says that 37% of Democrats said they would vote for Crist in the August primary. Fifty-one percent of Independents said the same. Crist needs to maintain these numbers, and he knows it. But that doesn’t mean his shift isn’t significant. In fact, it mirrors something Haggard recently wrote.
Disgraced preacher man Haggard, who went into exile after admitting to dalliances with a male hooker, sprang back into the spotlight earlier this month when he announced that his Colorado new church would welcome gay people, although still wouldn’t condone same-sex marriage. Whatever. Keeping with today’s traditions, Haggard joined Twitter and has been churning out some remarkably wise remarks, “I believe we are at the end of what church historians will, in the future, call the Billy Graham era.” He also wrote, “I believe we are also nearing the end of the ‘Religious Right’ representing Evangelicalism.” I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but Haggard’s right.
As I noted yesterday, America’s conservatives are splitting into two camps: the upstart Tea Party and the more traditional right wing, including Evangelicals and social conservatives who support mainstream Republican candidates. But the ideological ground’s shaky, and by no means finite: social issues will continue to be inflamed, yes, but most Americans have come to their senses, like Haggard and Crist, to see that economic, environmental and policy are far more pressing than gay families. Having former ideologues like Haggard and Crist shift to the center, regardless of their motivations, may very well help form a phalanx against the fringe right-wing that wants to rise up in Washington.