Mike McCurry Blamed Jews For Dem. Party's "Faith" Problem ?
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 12:04:04 PM EST
"I had a fascinating chat this morning with Mike McCurry, Clinton's former press secretary", wrote Beliefnet's Steve Waldman, in a July 28, 2004  Beliefnet post entitled Clinton's Press Secretary Diagnoses the Faith Problem. The "Faith Problem" referred to the inability of Democratic Party politicians, and of John Kerry -- who was then running for president against George W. Bush, to express personal religious and philosophical beliefs in a manner that came across to voters as credible and authentic. Waldman wrote:

I had a fascinating chat this morning with Mike McCurry, Clinton's former press secretary. Turns out he's become intensely interested in this question of how to get the party to express its religious side....

...McCurry believes the Kerry campaign has come around to the need to show a little spiritual leg. "All of a sudden, values is big in the campaign. So there's a realization that they can't tip toe around it."

Why has the party struggled so? McCurry believes it's that Democratic hyper-sensitivity to offending minority groups, especially, in this case, Jewish voters. "Because we want to be politically correct, in particular being sensitive to Jews, that's taken the party to a direction where faith language is soft and opaque."

Why is this significant in 2007 ? - Well,  many in the Democratic party look to Mike McCurry as a leader and guide in navigating the murky waters of that murky realm called "faith"...

McCurry seemed to be blaming the inability of the Democratic Party to appeal to so-called "values voters" on Jews instead of on the party itself, and as Bill Clinton's former press secretary, one might have thought Mike McCurry would have developed by then an internalized, little voice that kicked in prior to public pronouncements and warned "#1 - don't blame Jews. #2 don't blame Jews. #3 don't blame Jews....". One might also have guessed McCurry's accusation would have set off a scandal given that he was advising the Kerry campaign's religious outreach effort.

In the first place, one might also have assumed that Steve Waldman, who seemed to be on fairly congenial terms with McCurry at that point, would have privately advised McCurry, prior to posting his writeup of the interview, something like this:

"Psst.... Hey Mike! Do you really want to be seen as blaming Jews for large scale, sort of amorphous problems ? First of all, if Jews are a bit prickly about religious language there might be some historical reasons for that, and the accusation risks getting labelled as sympathetic to a whole mess of fringe "Jewish secular one world government" conspiracy theories and --in any case-- is it smart for the Democratic Party to been seen passing the buck rather than taking its lumps ? Maybe the party should just, you know, stop complaining and learn the religious idiom ? And, by the way, didn't Carter and Clinton talk about their religious beliefs an awful lot ? That's my recollection anyway."

Well that didn't happen, and apparently Waldman's judgement wasn't too out of whack (in terms of possible negative PR anyway, and perhaps he didn't see that as his role in the matter) because no one, up until now at least, seems to have noticed McCurry's odd "diagnosis" that appeared to blame what's become known as "The God Gap", the preference of Americans who were regular churchgoers to vote Republican and which had emerged around 1988-1992, on Democratic Party hyper-sensitivity to Jews.

McCurry seemed to be yearning for "strong" expressions of religious belief from Democratic Party politicians and from Kerry in particular, but  his diagnosis --given the history of Jewish secularism and of conspiracy theories accusing secular Jews of promoting vast, shadowy, sinister conspiracies-- was at least in bad taste.

Several years have passed now, and McCurry has been dubbed by some observers privy to deeper levels of party gossip such as Amy Sullivan, as the "unofficial spokesperson" for the Democratic Party on religion ( AKA "faith" ).  So, where does the Democratic Party stand now on "faith" ( religious belief, that is. ) ?

Well, for one thing, there has been a Democratic Party push, in the lead up to the 2006 election, to appeal to socially conservative voters. This looks like a classic Clintonian triangulation move, and it has been advanced by, among other things, appropriating some of the language and themes of the hard US conservative and Christian right such as, for example, the demonization of secularism. "Secularism" for some top leaders on the Christian right such as Tim LaHaye, signifies a vast, satanic, crypto-socialist conspiracy. As Chip Berlet writes:

For Tim LaHaye, the term "Secular Humanism" is elastic enough to include the sins of abortion and homosexuality; the fact of creationism over the theory of evolution; the dangers of comprehensive sex education, the subversion of public schools, the myth of separation of church and state; the moral depravity of liberalism, and the moral superiority of Free Market economics. And that is just the "A" list.

It is unclear whether or not McCurry undertands the history and ideological resonances of secularism bashing, but that's not even relevant ; given his stature, if he doesn't he should.

Talk to Action co-founder Frederick Clarkson has also written on the recent history of the demonization of secularism:

For a generation, the notion of the secular; secularism, secular humanism, the secular left, and most recently (and oxymoronically) secular fundamentalism, and other variations, has become the bogeyman to be opposed. For this, we can thank the works of such religious right theorists as Frances Schaefer, R.J. Rushdoony, and Tim LaHaye,

This is part of a central framing of the nature of what some consider to be a war going on in society: a war between religion and non-religion; between Christianity and religious pluralism; between the once and future Christian Nation and those in league, wittingly or unwittingly with the forces of Satan. All too often secularists, secularism, secular humanism, the secular left, and secular fundamentalism, are synonymous.  This is because the underlying concepts are seen as Satanic in origin, and so the terms are literally terms of deomonization.  

Recently Democrats, and leaders who have been dubbed by the media as representing the religious such as Jim Wallis of Sojourners, have enthusiastically taken to "secularism bashing" and "secularist baiting, and
the rhetoric has become so exaggerated that its often next to impossible to distinguish between statements attacking secularism - a foundational principle of American government by the way - coming from Christian right leaders, Demcratic Party politicians, or moderate-left religious in the close favor of the party such as Jim Wallis ; Clarkson has lampooned this in a series of three quizzes - "Who's secular bashing now ?" - in that challenges readers to match up secular-bashing ( or baiting )q uotes with the leaders who said them ( 1, 2, 3 ).

Even Jewish leaders have engaged in secular bashing, and the practice has been picked up (hopefully not for good) by leading lights of the Democratic Party such as Barack Obama. Above all, Jim Wallis has been one of the most egregious, repeat offenders in making secular bashing statements ( 1, 2 )

This December, however, a new variant of attack on secularism  -- associated in part with Mike McCurry -- has come to light. Mike McCurry and Mara Vanderslice worked together advising the 2004 Kerry campaign on religious outreach, and McCurry, along with Jim Wallis, appears to have been a major influence in the thinking of Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp, the co-founders of the hot new consulting firm "Common Good Strategies" that's recently become controversial for advising Democratic politicians to stop using the phrase "separation of church and state" because that specific term does not appear in the Constitution.

Once again -- as with previous outbreaks of secular bashing, baiting, and demonization -- statements from Democrats have begun to mirror those coming from the far right, as I've recently illustrated on Talk To Action. Here is the introduction to my piece entitled Meet Your New "Faith Based" Democratic Party, and the ideological drift should be of concern not only to Democrats but to all on the American left and to Americans across the political spectrum who value secular government and religious liberty :

"In case anyone doesn't know, "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution. It shouldn't be in our vocabulary as Democrats either.... Our Constitution guarantees everyone a right to freely exercise their religion and forbids the state from establishing a single religion.  On the other hand, the "separation" language used by many Democrats implies the complete exclusion of faith from the public square, thereby creating restrictions on the free exercise of religion. " - Common Good Strategies co-founder Eric Sapp, October 7, 2006, on the Faithful Democrats website

"That language says to people that you don't want there to be a role for religion in our public life" - Common Good Strategies co-founder Mara Vanderslice, explaining in a NYT interview why she advises political candidates to avoid using the phrase "separation of church and state"

"We get trapped very often saying that there's separation of church and state in America. There is, but there was no separation of faith and politics in the very founders who wrote it in the Constitution." - Former Clinton Adminstration Press Secretary and Faithful Democrats Advisory Council member Mike McCurry, July 23, 2004, Religion and Ethics Weekly interview

"I'm not worried about separation of church and state, I'm worried about the poor. I'll leave it to you to worry about separation of church and state." - Sojourners Founder Jim Wallis, April 1996, to a group of key evangelical leaders gathered in Houston to discuss welfare reform and "Charitable Choice"    

The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. They've had to contrive the basis of these things, and then talk about them as if they're a fact." - Focus On The Family founder James Dobson"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute" - John F. Kennedy from a September 1960 speech in Houston, TX

There are real policy implications at stake. To be continued...

I wonder if those who feel that faith-based politics is so important realize, that to a majority of the population, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans.  I, for one, base my vote on the track record of the candidate.  If he or she is an idiot, all the faith-based beliefs they profess have no meaning whatsoever - Case in point -  Mr. Bush, Pat Robertson and some of the other faith-based closet creeps.

by Concerned on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 04:10:39 PM EST

about the dangers of inviting religious excess of the right into the Democratic Party. Perhaps we should do a little brainstorming on just what that virus should sound like.

by tikkun on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 01:15:08 PM EST
The faith community that supports SEPARATION should stop foward and make a very loud noise about this.  

McCreery is, in essence, throwing the proressive Christian  and Jewish Democrats under the bus.

by tikkun on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 01:17:52 PM EST

One thing that people who are concerned and knowledgable can do is to make a point of asking Democratic candidates for office about where they stand on separation and related matters, and be prepared to ask thoughtful follow-up questions.

Candidates are usually interested in what constituents are asking about. And if they don't like the advice they get from consultants, they get new consultants.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 01:22:04 PM EST

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