WASHINGTON-The religious left's Jim Wallis and the religious right's Richard Land disagree on a lot of policy issues. But on Wednesday evening the two leaders came together for an event in the nation's capital to agree on one thing: the campaigning in next year's election could set a new benchmark for negativity.
Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, predicted it would be the "ugliest campaign since 1800." That is when, according to Land, New England Federalists buried their Bibles to hide them over fears that the new Thomas Jefferson administration would confiscate them.
"There is vitriol out there. Ugly vitriol," added Wallis, the head of Sojourners.
The two men held this event to model civil discourse nearly one year ahead of Election Day 2012. For much of the night the two talked about their agreements on clean energy, immigration reform, marriage, and foreign aid. They both predicted that jobs would overshadow social issues in the upcoming debates.
"When the economy is not well that takes up most of the oxygen in the room," Land said.
They both praised President Barack Obama for being a devoted husband and father. They both argued that Mitt Romney's Mormon faith should not matter in the public square.
Land predicted that the "vast majority" of evangelicals would vote for Romney. Wallis added that it would be hypocritical for liberals who stand for the separation of church and state to attack Romney for his beliefs in the general election.
Both agreed that Washington's hyper-partisanship has broken the system.
"They don't govern here anymore," Wallis said. "They just campaign all the time."
Land, who warned lawmakers to "quit acting like politicians and act like statesman," predicted there would be "a lot of shocked incumbents" on the first Wednesday of next November.
But, as if to prove their dire predictions for 2012, the men could not hide their differences for long. Wallis said the energy for the nation's economic woes came from Wall Street's "reckless, greedy, selfish behavior." He called the economy unfair and the income inequality greater than ever before.
Land countered that the "biggest problem is Washington" and its focus on wealth redistribution.
"The problem began in Washington and will be solved in Washington," Land asserted.
In the end, the two men couldn't even agree on why the 2012 election could get so ugly. Land argued that Obama's policy record is so bad that the only chance he has is to make the other guy look worse. Wallis, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to his organization from some of Obama's top supporters, would only say that the Democrats' strategy would involve more than that.
The two managed to grin and bear their partisan disagreements for most of the evening. But it may have foreshadowed that worse is ahead. As Land admitted, "Politicians in this country don't usually turn the other check."