Since early in the campaign, I have been writing about how Barack Obama has the potential to realign American politics in a way not seen since the Reagan revolution. Key to this are demographic changes in the western US, and generational changes in the population in general and in particular among key constituencies like evangelicals and Cuban Americans.
Many have scoffed at the idea that a Democrat could win significant evangelical support, but polling data shows that issues like gay rights hold dramatically less weight for young evangelicals, while other issues, in particular the environment and global warming, as well as economic justice, are much more important. Huckabee's campaign, which was not supported by the evangelical establishment, was another indicator that there is seismic activity going on in this region.
This month, [Senator Obama] held a closed-door meeting in Chicago with almost 40 Christian leaders, including evangelical heavyweights such as the Rev. Franklin Graham, publishing magnate Steve Strang and megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes.
Obama's campaign is also launching a grassroots effort, tentatively called Joshua Generation, with plans to hold concerts and house meetings targeted at young evangelicals and Catholics.
A political action committee set to launch this month, the Matthew 25 Network, plans to direct radio advertising and mailers to Christian communities while talking up Obama in the media. The group is not officially tied to the Obama campaign.
The "Joshua Generation" refers to the Biblical story of Moses and Joshua. Though Moses led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and through the Red Sea to wander in the desert for 40 years, he did not enter the Land of Israel. It was Joshua, the "next generation" of leadership, that did that.
This idea that the new generation, the so-called Millennials, are the "Joshua Generation," is an idea shared by Obama and many young people on the Christian right, though they take the idea in very different directions. For Obama's version of the "Joshua Generation," see his speech at the Selma Voting Rights March Commemoration on March 4, 2007. (To my mind, his best speech to date.) For a right wing take on the same notion, check out the organization by the same name, Joshua Generation.
The fact that Obama and young conservative evangelicals speak of their mission in similar terms is being noticed. "The impressive thing about Obama is that he knows this," says evangelical author Stephen Mansfield, who wrote The Faith of George W. Bush. "This is language you expect to hear at a youth rally, not from the presidential campaign of the most liberal member of the Senate."
I am not predicting a mass exodus of young evangelicals from the Republican Party into the Obama fold But a mass exodus is not required. Given the razor thin margins of the last two presidential elections, even a small movement could have a big consequence. And if Obama wins on the basis of such a small shift, and then moves in a smart way to consolidate this support, a small change next November could grow into something much larger.