Courting the so-called Awakened vote

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

In The “Me” Decade and the Third Great Awakening, Tom Wolfe takes his time getting around to declaring the 1970s the Me Decade:

In 1972 a farsighted caricaturist did a drawing of Teddy Kennedy captioned “President Kennedy campaigning for re-election in 1980… courting the so-called Awakened vote.”

The picture shows Kennedy ostentatiously wearing not only a crucifix but also (if one looks just above the cross) a pendant of the Bleeding Heart of Jesus. The crucifix is the symbol of Christianity in general, but the Bleeding Heart is the symbol of some of Christianity’s most ecstatic, nonrational, holy-rolling cults. I should point out that the artist’s prediction lacked certain refinements. For one thing, Kennedy may be campaigning to be president in 1980, but he is not terribly likely to be the incumbent. For another, the odd spectacle of politicians using ecstatic, nonrational, holy-rolling religion in presidential campaigning was to appear first not in 1980 but in 1976.

The two most popular new figures in the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown, are men who rose up from state politics… absolutely aglow with mystical religious streaks. Carter turned out to be an evangelical Baptist who had recently been “born again” and “saved,” who had “accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior” — i.e., he was of the Missionary lectern-pounding amen ten-finger C-major-chord Sister-Martha-at-the-Yamaha-keyboard loblolly piny-woods Baptist faith in which the members of the congregation stand up and “give witness” and “share it. Brother” and “share it, Sister” and “Praise God!” during the service.

[Carter is not, however, a member of the most down-home and ecstatic of the Baptist sects, which is a back-country branch known as the Primitive Baptist Church. In the Primitive Baptist churches men and women sit on different sides of the room, no musical instruments are allowed, and there is a good deal of foot-washing and other rituals drawn from passages in the Bible. The Progressive Primitives, another group, differ from the Primitives chiefly in that they allow a piano or organ in the church. The Missionary Baptists, Carter’s branch, are a step up socially (not necessarily divinely) but would not be a safe bet for an ambitious member of an in-town country club. The In-town Baptists, found in communities of 25,000 or more, are too respectable, socially, to be called ecstatic and succeed in being almost as tame as the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists.]

Jerry Brown turned out to be the Zen Jesuit, a former Jesuit seminarian who went about like a hair-shirt Catholic monk, but one who happened to believe also in the Gautama Buddha, and who got off koans in an offhand but confident manner, even on political issues, as to how it is not the right answer that matters but the right question, and so forth.

Newspaper columnists and newsmagazine writers continually referred to the two men’s “enigmatic appeal.” Which is to say, they couldn’t explain it. Nevertheless, they tried. They theorized that the war in Vietnam, Watergate, the FBI and CIA scandals, had left the electorate shell-shocked and disillusioned and that in their despair the citizens were groping no longer for specific remedies but for sheer faith, something, anything (even holy rolling), to believe in. This was in keeping with the current fashion of interpreting all new political phenomena in terms of recent disasters, frustration, protest, the decline of civilization… the Grim Slide. But when the New York Times and CBS employed a polling organization to try to find out just what great gusher of “frustration” and “protest” Carter had hit, the results were baffling. A Harvard political scientist, William Schneider, concluded for the L.A. Times that “the Carter protest” was a new kind of protest, “a protest of good feelings.” That was a new kind, sure enough — a protest that wasn’t a protest.


  1. Lu An Li says:

    “Carter turned out to be an evangelical Baptist who had recently been ‘born again’ and ‘saved,’ who had ‘accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior’”

    While preaching to Spanish speakers in Philadelphia he reported an intense religious experience. A one time encounter with JESUS?

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    Actually, the Cross is the universal symbol of Christianity, and more specifically Protestantism. The Crucifix is specifically Roman Catholic, not Protestant. The difference is the Protestant focus on the risen Christ vs. the Catholic focus on the suffering Christ.

    I thought everyone knew that.

  3. Isegoria says:

    I had the same response initially, but the crucifix is common in Episcopal churches, too, and Wolfe did go to an Episcopal school in Virginia.

  4. Kirk says:

    Any analysis of something that uses Jimmy Carter as a part of the analysis has got to take into account the man’s essentially hypocritic nature, and his corruption.

    Carter is an insidious little sanctimonious freak; he spoke out one side of his mouth with all these “Christian” pieties, and held out both hands for Arab money. You want to know about him, look at where all his money came from, and who paid for his BS library and post-Presidential shenanigans. He was bought and sold by BCCI and through them, to the Arabs. His decisions to oust the Shah? Those did not come out of the blue, or for any such thing as “humanitarianism”: Carter gave Iran to the mullahs, at the behest of the Arabs who bought him, and then acted like he was doing it for “humanitarian” reasons. Meanwhile, the Saudis were far more cruel, and the Mad Mullahs eventually killed their millions of Iranian youths in futile attacks against the Iraqi Arabs. Carter has responsibility for all those deaths, and his hypocrisy has no bounds. My guess is that the cancer he had awhile back left him alone out of professional courtesy…

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