Saturday, November 20, 2004

Democrats Need to Champion Their "Moral Values" and Reach out to Religious Left, Middle

One lesson we all learned on Nov. 2 was that the Religious Right reached out and compelled more voters than the Religious Left.

That has led to two sets of actions. The Religious Right wants to use its "political capital" to help shape President Bush's second-term agenda. And the Religious Left wants to introduce their "moral values" on the national conscience.

If the Democratic Party wants to have better results in 2006 and 2008, they should pay attention to the needs of the Religious Left and the so-called "Religious Middle." To cede these voters to the GOP is suicidal, but that's what the Democrats apparently did in 2004, by failing to reach out and energize these voters, and by failing to present their "moral values" in a clear and concise way. Essentially, they allowed the GOP to dictate the nation's moral agenda, even though a poll taken this month suggests that the "moral values" of the Religious Right are not those of the broader populace of religious Americans.

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The agenda of the Religious Right -- often defined as a mix of evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics -- is well known.

The rallying cry in this election cycle was opposition to same-sex marriage, as evidenced by 11 state resolutions that passed banning such marriage. Were the 11 resolutions necessary? No, because same-sex marriage was not legal in any of those states. Was it a political tool to increase voter turnout among the Religious Right? Almost certainly.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the Washington Post that same-sex marriage was "the hood ornament on the family values wagon that carried the president to a second term." But social conservatives also told the Post that concern about the Supreme Court, abortion, school prayer and pornography were other motivating factors.

The Religious Right was also more than happy to blur the lines between church and state. Roman Catholic leaders refused to give Sen. John Kerry communion because of his abortion rights stance -- a political act unheard of in recent years. Other religious leaders pushed their congregations to register to vote, and to vote Republican. For example, Rev. Bruce Moore of Clearcreek Christian Assembly in Ohio gave two sermons on the responsiblity to vote and the political issues at hand, then passed out voter registration cards and sent his congregation out to spread the word. You can imagine which party his congregants were told to support.

Controversial Rev. James Dobson created a separate nonprofit, Focus on the Family Action, which organized six stadium-size rallies to urge Christians in battleground states to "vote their values."

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I'll be frank. I didn't realize there was a Religious Left (let alone a "Religious Middle") this year. I don't remember hearing any Religious Left leaders defend the Kerry-Edwards ticket. I don't remember seeing any religious leaders -- other than Al Sharpton -- at the Democratic convention.

While I am well aware of James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Bob Jones, I couldn't name for you a Religious Left leader, without Googling first.

I don't know if that's my fault, the media's fault, or the Religious Left's fault.

According to Tom Perriello, an organizer at Res Publica, liberal religious groups registered 500,000 new voters, made 400,000 get-out-the-vote phone calls, and raised $1.75 million for newspaper and radio ads during the campaign. But he said a Zogby poll of nearly 11,000 voters, conducted after the election and released last week, found that 71 percent of voters had heard from the religious right while 38 percent said they had heard from the religious left.

As a result, the Religious Left appears eager to do better in time for the 2006 political season. They feel the "moral values" question has been hijacked by the Relgiious Right, and as a result, the majority of Americans are following the agenda of the few.

The Zogby poll seems to agree with the Relgious Left: 33 percent of voters said the nation's most urgent moral problem was "greed and materialism" and 31 percent said it was "poverty and economic justice." Sixteen percent cited abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage.

The poll also found that 42 percent of voters cited the war in Iraq as the "moral issue" that most influenced their choice of candidates, while 13 percent cited abortion and 9 percent same-sex marriage. Asked to name the greatest threat to marriage, 31 percent said "infidelity," 25 percent cited "rising financial burdens" and 22 percent named same-sex marriage.

Perriello said the poll shows that "while there may be a solid 20 percent who are very focused on abortion and gay marriage, for most Americans of faith, there are other moral issues of greater urgency, and that's where the religious middle is." The middle includes "progressive evangelicals," "resurgent mainline Protestants" and "socially conservative African Americans," he said.

If the Democratic Party were to "welcome pro-life Democrats, Catholics and evangelicals and have a serious conversation with them" about ways to reduce teenage pregnancy, facilitate adoptions and improve conditions for low-income women, it would "work wonders" among centrist evangelicals and Catholics, Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal evangelical journal Sojourners, told the Post.

Wallis continued: "One of the things a few of us are talking about is a reassessment of how the Democrats deal with an issue like abortion -- could there be a more moderate ground, where even if they retained their pro-choice stance, they talked about uniting pro-choice people together to actually do something about the abortion rate?"

"The values that were promoted most within the conservative religious community were almost always tied to a fear factor, and that was not necessarily the case in the Democratic strategy, and I would say should not be the case," the Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, told the Post.

***

Bob Somersby of dailyhowler.com looked at Bill Clinton's autobiography, My Life, last week (he focused on the poor, and he believes uninformed, review that appeared in June in the New York Times).

Much of what Somersby reviews is how Clinton discusses religion (and how the Times reviewer found such discussions "eye-crossingly dull")

Somersby highlights Clinton's annual visits to a summer camp meeting of the Pentecostals in Redfield, Ark., from 1977 to 1992.

CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.

CLINTON (page 252): Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, seeing people live their faith in a spirit of love toward all people, not just your own, is beautiful to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, don’t miss it.

The two passages are relevant in not only understanding how Clinton succeeded in two runs for the presidency, but to future Democratic candidates at the local, state and national election. Democrats cannot simply be the secular party, as Republicans wish to portray them. There are many people of faith -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim and a host of other religions -- who need to see the Democratic Party champion the broad spectrum of "moral values" in which they believe.

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