"God Talk" and the Democratic Party

Article excerpt

In the wake of John Kerry's defeat in last November's presidential election, and further losses in both the House and Senate, considerable attention was paid to exit poll results placing "moral values" as the number one interest of a plurality of voters, especially those who voted for President Bush. This has opened a substantial debate within the Democratic Party on the role of "God Talk" in politics. Some religious progressives who identify with the Democratic Party on a number of issues have loudly expressed their feeling that the party is disdainful of religious people, is too secular and should frame its policy positions in religious terms. They argue that policy makers should talk about their religious and faith belier; and that the party should either modify its position on abortion to include support for parental consent and notification laws and a ban on third-trimester abortions or shift from a strong emphasis on supporting the status quo on legal abortion to one that emphasizes preventing abortion through support for abstinence-only sexuality education, adoption law reform and use of family planning. There have also been calls for the Democratic Party to be more supportive of leadership from Democrats who are "prolife." Conscience asked several commentators to give us their views.

Piety Anxiety

Wendy Kaminer

WENDY KAMINER, a lawyer and social critic, writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture. Her latest book is Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today and her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal, the American Prospect, Free Inquiry, Dissent, the Nation and Newsweek. Her commentaries have aired on NPR's "Morning Edition."

GOD DOESN'T SEEM TO LOVE DEMOCRATS, if recent electoral results are a measure of Divine affection, but Democrats have long been trying to demonstrate they love God. There's nothing new about the belief that Democrats need to correct an excessively secular bias, but there's also nothing true about it. Which leading Democrats have been disdainful of religion? Not Al Gore, who discussed his relationship with Jesus during the 2000 campaign, chose the aggressively pious Joe Lieberman as a running mate, and embraced proposals for public funding of sectarian social service programs. Not Bill or Hillary Clinton, who always made their religious faith clear. Not former altar boy John Kerry who often stressed his religious beliefs during the 2004 campaign and took to quoting scripture.

Still, even Democratic conventional wisdom persists in holding that Democrats lost the 2004 election because they were insufficiently religious and considered weak on moral values. Democratic anxiety about values was based partly on a poll taken shortly after the election, which was quickly shown to be spurious but is still cited nonetheless. The election didn't turn on the values debate; it was won and lost over concern about terrorism and the war in Iraq, as many had predicted it would be. Voters who are naturally hesitant to change leaders during wartime simply didn't view Kerry as a sufficiently strong alternative commander in chief.

The basis for the longstanding myth that Democrats are hostile to religion is equally flawed. It stems partly from the frequently cited fact that people who attend church regularly are more likely to vote Republican, while people with more secular orientations are more likely to vote Democratic, as a 2005 survey by the Pew Fontm confirmed. But as the Pew report noted, this is not a "God gap" between the parties; it's a "church attendance gap." "The vast majority of support for Democratic as well as Republican candidates comes from people who believe in God and consider themselves religious." [Pew Forum, "A Faith-Based Partisan Divide," January 2005.]

Democrats who believe that their political revival requires a religious one are probably doing Republicans a favor. …