Magazine article The American Prospect

Keeping the Faith

Magazine article The American Prospect

Keeping the Faith

Article excerpt

Once again, Democrats are "rethinking" what they stand for. After previous defeats, such "rethinkings" resulted in rightward drifts. Democrats courted upscale suburban swing voters and steadily distanced themselves from the party's working-class roots.

They urged tax cuts for the middle class, welfare reform, and fiscal responsibility. After John Kerry's defeat, though, moving right could take on new meaning--accepting more restrictions on abortion, less tolerance for gays, more God in public places, and a more unilateral and militaristic foreign policy. No matter how cowed and dispirited they may be, Democrats mustn't succumb to this. But it is surely time for Democrats to take a moral stand for what they believe.

A moral stand is different from a religious one. George W. Bush conflated the two into a moralistic agenda--not just God and gays but also true grit in fighting the evils of Saddam Hussein and global terrorism. Kerry's was a policy agenda--middle-class tax cuts and fiscal probity along with affordable health care and a more "nuanced" strategy for combating terrorism. Bush spoke about right and wrong as matters of righteousness and faith. Kerry spoke of right and wrong as matters of strategy: He had the right way to get the economy moving again and to fight al-Qaeda; Bush was heading the wrong way.

Americans didn't reject Kerry's policies. They just didn't pay much attention to them. It was Bush's moral vision that was more compelling. Kerry kept saying he had a "plan" for this and that, but after 40 years of mounting distrust in government, voters no longer take plans very seriously. It's when candidates speak with righteous indignation--with passion and conviction about what is morally right to do or morally wrong--that they can in spire. Kerry was more correct than Bush on policy, but Kerry's policies didn't inspire. Bush was wrong on policy (most Americans disagreed with him about the war in Iraq and the economy), but his conviction did inspire.

The lesson for Democrats is not to bring religion into politics. Religion must remain a personal matter. (One caveat: Democrats should be clear they want fewer abortions--not by prohibiting them but by giving young people access to contraceptives, family-planning counseling, and other social services. …

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