Thursday, November 02, 2006

Democrats Get Right With God

A number of Democrats running in this election are openly discussing their faith and reaching out to religious voters. Now, I’m sure some would say this is a ploy engineered by conniving secular Democrats trying to steal votes from the Republicans. But, in reality, you can’t fake faith. This is, I believe, another sign that the Democratic party is changing for the better.

Religion is an important part of American life. You can argue it shouldn’t be that way but you can’t deny our nation’s strong spiritual core. Over the past few decades, Democrats have moved slowly away from that core. The reasons for this are varied but the consequence is clear: party leaders are no longer able to fluidly speak in the language of hope.

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Most religious Americans believe in a religion of hope. Call it naïve or willfully ignorant, but most religious Americans hold it as a matter of faith that our best days are ahead, assuming we do what’s right. And “what’s right” is a matter not just of policy but of morality—a morality informed through religious texts.

When you remove the religious undertones and touchstones from political rhetoric, you remove the spirit of hope. I’m not talking about quoting the Bible. I’m talking about being able to speak in a manner that interweaves politics with the themes, wonders and moralities of faith. Bill Clinton can do it. Barack Obama can do it. But most Democrats can not.

Democrats, for the most part, offer a secular hope of plans and policies and humanist justice. That’s all valid, but it lacks the sweep, the crescendo and the depth of religious oratory. Spiritual hope, on the other hand, offers something more. It offers vision and righteousness and divine justice. I’m sure secularists who view religion as an opiate or a mind control will find my preference for religious rhetoric to be worrisome if not down-right dangerous. But for the majority of Americans who are comfortable in their duel role as Christian and American (or Jew and American, or Muslim and American), spiritually rich political oratory is inspiring.

Over the last few decades, Republicans have pulled in voters by acknowledging the importance of faith and its moral impulses. Even though they have too often reached for the intolerant extremes of American Christianity, Republicans have still bested Democrats in their ability to speak in a way that resonates with the religious.

But Republicans have erred in focusing too specifically on social conservatism while ignoring other highly important religious tenants—specifically the call to help the least of us and not needlessly enrich oneself. In that arena, Democrats have the higher ground. Imagine if they had the right rhetoric to go with it? Imagine if Kerry, instead of droning on and on about “his plan” for this and that had been able to, like Dr. King, speak convincingly about his dreams?

There are those in the Democratic party who will cringe when they realize how many religious Democrats are running and winning this year. But the over-reliance on secularism has hurt the party. It’s good that some Democrats are trying to reverse that trend.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democrats secular? Not a single Democrat in living memory has so much as taken a crap without invoking God; the civil rights movement of the 60s, while standing on the shoulders of secular socialists, Wobblies, and communists, draped itself obstreperously in the flag of fundamentalist Christianity; the Democrats gave us our first-ever born-again Xtian prezzinut (Jimmy Carter).

The Democrat party we know is the creation of psalm-singing, church-going, God-praising anticommunists who are far more deeply committed to the stock market than to social equality. The fact that Repuglican right-wingers lie about this simply proves that they are liars.

The real novelty would be a Democrat Party that dared NOT to pay lipservice to the hypocrisy of organized religion that has been so disgustingly exposed of late.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous terrance said...

That's something I don't get? Since when has a Democrat been able to get elected so much as dog catcher without declaring his/her religious faith? It's almost like you gotta have Jesus as a running mate in order to qualify, unless you're Jewish, in which case you still gotta make with the god talk.

It would be virtually impossible to get elected if one were a known atheist or even agnostic. Don't think so? Kindly name more than one who's been able to do so?

That's why I don't buy claims that religion has been "shut out of the public square." It dominates the public square and discourse. It always has. And those of us who are non-religious or who don't share the majority faith know enough not to make too much noise about it.

6:57 PM  

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