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Blocking and tackling

The GOP, supported by Christian conservative voters, can hit hard

Issue: "The Bush mandate," Nov. 16, 2002

Smack! Whack! Wallop! Election night in Austin, Texas, began with bodies slamming into each other at full speed. These were not polling places in South Dakota where charges of election fraud flew. These were the playing fields of Pop Warner football, and lessons learned there will determine who will win the political Waterloos of the next generation.

During practice Coach David Contreras alternately thundered and coaxed, pressing for intense effort and team bonding. He has succeeded; as 12-year-old tailback Ben Olasky put it, "We're like brothers. We hit each other hard but we don't get angry." Would that our other national collision sport, politics, were like that.

On the morning after Republicans gained control of the Senate, liberals stayed angry at conservatives and each other. "Too many people in my party ran as Bush-lite," Democrat prognosticator Paul Begala moaned. "The knives will be out," MSNBC chatterer Chris Matthews predicted. Mediacrats frequently insisted that Democrats lost because they did not hit and tackle hard enough.

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That analysis is suspect, but what's clear is that big media folks were surprised by the GOP surge. "We are sitting here with our mouths hanging open," Judy Woodruff of CNN said on election night. "I would never have guessed that things would go so well for the Republicans," The Washington Post's Juan Williams said on Fox.

Many secular liberals guessed wrong because they underestimated the continued significance of the oft-reviled "religious right." In Colorado, where Republican Wayne Allard held onto a Senate seat many predicted he would lose, exit polls showed the "religious right" turning out and going 85-12 in his favor. In Georgia, evangelical voters gave a surprise Senate victory to Saxby Chambliss. So it went across the country.

A nonscientific but interesting poll on one Christian conservative website,, showed fewer than 5 percent of respondents saying "this election is not important" or "Christians should not be involved in politics." The vast majority were praying about the election and encouraging others to vote-and not always Republican. In Arkansas, conservative Christians rightly turned away from Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who swept into office on a family-values platform but then divorced his wife and married a staffer. Mr. Hutchinson lost.

Once again, those who expected the pesky Christian conservatives to go away have been shocked. The frequent assumptions of future irrelevance remind me of the story of an elderly, dying man who suddenly smelled the aroma of chocolate-chip cookies wafting up to his bedroom. He gathered his remaining strength, forced himself down the stairs, and gazed into the kitchen. Spread out upon platters on the kitchen table were hundreds of his favorite chocolate-chip cookies. Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table and reached out, but-smack!-a spatula came down on his hand. "Stay out of those," his wife growled, "they're for the funeral."

The funeral for Christian influence in American politics is still a long way off. Providentially, millions of Bible-oriented voters did not listen to those who advised giving up on politics. And now Republicans, with both Senate and House majorities, need to remember that politics is a collision sport.

George W. Bush, Sen. Trent Lott, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert should tell their team what Coach Contreras said to his players during election night tackling practice: "Do not slow down. Run up there and knock him on his butt. You've got to take him down. This is football. There you go, son. That's what we're talking about. Nice work. You time it, then you step up and nail his rear end. Get there. Get there. You've got to wrap up. Nice work. Good job, son."

The context of those words and actions is important. Coach Contreras emphasizes that injuries and penalties are most likely to occur when players have not learned the fundamentals of correct blocking and tackling. So it is in politics. Red-faced, veins-popping bellowing leads to voter disgust. Calm determination-biblical meekness, with "meek" properly understood not as weak but as obedient to God-can lead to victories.

Coach Contreras runs tough practices, and the results are impressive: His team is undefeated and his players are learning that hard work yields results. Coach Bush now has the opportunity to put together a second-half victory by getting the economy moving again with a pro-growth economic plan that builds on his first-half tax cut. Then he can keep the winning streak alive on judicial appointments long held up by pro-abortion Democrats. Republicans can pass bills to enhance national security and domestic energy production. They can end federal discrimination against faith-based charities and stay the course on welfare reform.


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