The Podium, the Pulpit, and the Republicans: How Presidential Candidates Use Religious Language in American Political Debate. By Frederick Stecker. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011. 229 pp.
As an Episcopalian minister with a doctorate from a seminary and an additional doctorate in psychoanalysis, Frederick Stecker appears well suited to analyze how politicians utilize religious rhetoric to influence electoral behaviors and citizens' perceptions of reality. At times, The Podium, the Pulpit, and the Republicans accomplishes this difficult, critical task. Stecker's book provides illuminating analytical insights, fascinating textual examples, and even some interesting personal anecdotes. However, the book gradually becomes mired in minutiae and simultaneously degrades into a journalism-style recounting of presidential debates. It is also undermined by underdeveloped arguments and methods as well as by a number of unsubstantiated claims and opinions.
Stecker grounds his analysis in linguist George Lakoff's notion of examining politics through the lens of familial metaphors--with conservatives following a "strict father" framework (which Stecker instead calls "strict parent" [p.2]) and liberals adopting a "nurturant parent" (p. 3) values system. The first chapter of the book provides an excellent summary for those unfamiliar with Lakoffs work on "moral politics" (p. 4). In part, Stecker uses such insights to explain the political success of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, in mobilizing voters through appeals to fear, as well as President Barack Obama's ability to inspire voters with his lofty rhetoric. The primary drawback to Stecker's use of Lakoff, however, is that such insights too rarely break into the narrative.
Chapters 2 to 4 offer the book's most in-depth analysis of religious-political figures and arguments. Stecker treats the reader with sections focusing on various individuals who helped spark the rise of the Religious Right, with particular attention given to Moral Majority cofounder Paul Weyrich, political direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie, chief Equal Rights Amendment opponent Phyllis Schlafly, Christian Reconstruction leader R. J. Rushdoony, Left Behind author Tim LaHaye, Fellowship Foundation head Doug Coe, President Ronald Reagan, and then-Representative Newt Gingrich (prior to his 2012 presidential run). These sections provide a solid foundation for understanding key religious-political figures, their...