The New Religion-Friendly Democratic Party
Marvin Olasky's World magazine has a new article
out along the lines of the recent article by Amy Sullivan
in the Washington Monthly. How are the Democrats doing copying the winning "religious" formula of the Republican party? Some excerpts from the World's perspective:
In Georgia, state Sen. Kasim Reed in January introduced a bill authorizing school districts to teach courses derived from The Bible and Its Influence, a textbook released last year by the Bible Literacy Project.
In Tennessee, Reps. Rick Nelson and Bob Damron are sponsoring legislation that would allow postings of religious documents such as the Ten Commandments. In Virginia, Timothy Kaine rode religious campaign themes and Christian radio ads to victory in the governor's race last fall.
All that would be business as usual for the GOP. But these Bible-thumping, faith-stumping pols are all Democrats--and part of their party's emerging effort to reconnect with religious voters. [ ]
Former Vermont governor and current Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, who once said his favorite New Testament book is Job and last June slammed the GOP as "pretty much a white, Christian party," now says the Bible should be taught as literature in public schools. [ ]
During the final hour of the House budget debate last November, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tried a little old-time religion, saying any vote for the GOP-brokered budget amounted to "a sin." This January, following President Bush's State of the Union address, Sen. Reid, a Mormon, stayed on-message. In a Beliefnet.com response to the president's speech he alluded to the Good Samaritan and the book of Matthew, chapter 25: "I and many of my colleagues came to public service . . . to serve our neighbors, and to help the least among us."
He went on to state that he's spoken with many religious leaders who say that today's Republican leadership "seems unfocused and unfazed by the needs of our brothers and sisters," and had in 2005 passed an "immoral budget that would deprive so many . . . in order to pay for tax cuts that benefit so few." That rhetoric typified the new Democratic approach to faith: A "social justice" agenda reframed as a question of morality. [ ]
Some Republicans and legions of liberals saw "compassionate conservatism" as PR, but the concept reflected the long involvement of biblical conservatives in poverty-fighting and other efforts on behalf of the needy. So, too, Democrats' attempt at religious reinvention should not be dismissed merely as political calculation, for the Democrats' "social justice" agenda matches the mission of many mainline Protestant churches. As Mr. Bobb put it, the Democrats' new faith-based approach "repackages the social gospel for the 21st century. Their problem is how does this translate into something other than throwing more money and more bureaucracy at social problems?" [ ]
In reconnecting with religious voters, Democrats face other hurdles. First, the party will alienate part of its core--secularists, libertines, feminists, and homosexuals--if it substantively moderates its positions on the very issues of personal morality that drove many religious voters across the aisle in the first place.
Second, the Democratic Party is in solid alliance with ardent church-state separators such as People for the American Way (PFAW) and the ACLU. While Mr. Thompson said that Democrats do not "agree on every issue" with such groups, he declined to disavow Democratic alliance on the church-state issue, and said there's "very little daylight between us and some of the groups we're talking about."
Finally, the traditionally Democratic, but now disaffected, religious voters the party needs to woo back into the fold may now be more skeptical of biblical cherry-picking as a basis for public policy. As conservative blogger and author Patrick Hynes put it, Democrats "cannot call Republicans 'theocrats' for trying to save Terri Schiavo while they also claim John the Baptist endorsed their welfare state when he said, 'He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none.'"
The Democrats' best hope may be the GOP: As Mr. Bobb noted, "Republicans are squandering their capital with evangelicals" over ethics debacles and apparent greed.