Today, Cannick and Perlstein discuss the compatibility between progressive politics and religious values. Previously, they debated reasons for the Democratic Party's apparent strength. Later in the week, they'll discuss national security, whether the party's core values have shifted and more.
Don't fake it, DemsBy Jasmyne Cannick
One thing in which Democrats can take comfort as we head toward November's election is that Republican mastermind Karl Rove, President Bush's former chief political advisor, is missing in action. But that doesn't mean GOP strategists won't try a repeat of the 2004 election that saw Republicans courting the evangelical vote and dividing the nation over same-sex marriage, abortion and stem cell research.
Nowhere was that more apparent than with African Americans, who without a doubt are the most religious and the most Democratic-oriented constituency. Consequently, our last presidential election saw many black preachers reading from the Bible as much as white conservatives, willing to stand with the KKK if it opposed gay marriage and urging their parishioners to throw common sense out the window and support President Bush because he'd protect the institution of marriage.
While the Democratic Party may be painted as having a "God problem," let's not forget that all evangelicals aren't Republican and that all Democrats aren't Christian. So there's no easy way for Democrats to speak to evangelicals without alienating part of their own base.
And let's be honest, the Republican Party has its own issues with morality -- lest we forget Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Bob Allen and Glen Murphy Jr. I am not suggesting that Democrats engage in a competition with Republicans on which party is more God-like, let's be clear that each party has had its share of struggles. There are no saints in Washington.
For me, what it comes down to is that Democrats cannot have it both ways.
We can't be the party that is known for our progressive, diverse ideologies that embrace liberal positions -- including a woman's right to choose, stem cell research and the legal recognition of same-sex marriage -- and then want to change our message depending on what part of the country we're reaching out to on a particular day. Unless we're willing to change the philosophies that make us Democrats, we need to accept the fact that we aren't going to win the popular vote with the hard-core "holier than thou" evangelicals. Any attempt to do so would be seen as patronizing.
A perfect example of transparent pandering is the now infamous speech Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton gave last year at a black church in Selma, Ala.: "I don't feel no ways tired. I come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy." She was accused of adopting a Southern black drawl as her own.
Democrats can speak to religious voters without comprising our values and coming off as fake. We just need to be honest with ourselves about the situation.
As a Democrat who is a black, female and a lesbian, I don't like the fact that my party can't fully support marriage rights for lesbians and gays or reparations for African Americans. However, I accept the fact that it's more important right now to look at the bigger picture. We must put an end to the conservative era by electing a Democrat as our next president. From there, we must work to put our country back together.
Heading into November, religious voters -- both Democratic and Republican -- have to make the same decision. They have to choose which is more important: protecting marriage from gays, and women from their right to choose, or being able to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. It's as simple as that.
If Democrats won't adopt new principles, then the Democratic leadership should spend less time "Jesus-ing up the party" in an effort to appeal to religious voters, some of whom will never vote Democratic even if Jesus himself were on the ballot, and spend more time telling the American voter the following truth:
There will be only two choices for president on your November ballot, both of whom will be Christians. Only one of them will have what it takes to bring this country out of its recession, provide your children with healthcare and an affordable way to college, protect our nation and get us out of Iraq. The choice is clear; the choice is yours.
Jasmyne Cannick is a critic based in Los Angeles who writes about pop culture, race, class and politics as played out in the African American community. She is a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "News and Notes."
The shrinking Christian rightBy Rick Perlstein
First, a point of information: Rove ain't MIA! The Politico reports that he will be "informally advising" Sen. John McCain, as will Bush's 2004 campaign manager Ken Mehlman. Which is why some folks are calling the Republican nominee "McSame" -- McSame as Bush.
But on to the matter at hand.
I profoundly agree with you that instinctively calling religious voters "Republican," as the question The Times poses to us today does, is misleading. I'd go further. It's insulting and, by rendering black evangelicals invisible, even racist.
It's also propagandistic -- or, at the very least, lazily acquiescent to Republican propaganda -- because an estimated 80% of Democrats are church-goers (or synagogue-goers, or mosque-goers). Back in 1970, the number was quite a bit higher than that in a place like Tennessee -- which didn't keep the Republican candidate for Senate that year from distributing a flier with the name of his opponent, Al Gore Sr. (a devout Southern Baptist) and a graphic of a crossed-out Bible. His political sin was following the Constitution, which the Supreme Court had ruled forbids organized prayer in school. That's not anti-Christian. That's what the Founding Fathers intended. And yet the slur persists: The same sort of pamphlets circulated in West Virginia from the Bush campaign in 2004. Every time an elite newspaper repeats the question, "How can Democrats lure religious voters with the same success as Republicans?" it's falling for the Republicans' swindle that "religious voters" are all of a piece -- conservative.
I am, it is true, secular myself. But what's more, I'm a devout student of the electorate. I know that the kind of Christians who support conservative policy positions are less relevant to winning elections every year. As Ruy Teixeira and John Judis concluded in their statistical study, "The Emerging Democratic Majority," "Trends among the religious do not favor Republicans over Democrats. If anything, they favor Democrats." Americans who attend church one or more times a week indeed favored George W. Bush in 2000. But the Americans who don't -- a clear majority -- favored Al Gore. The vaunted "Christian right" is, demographically speaking, a stagnant pool: 17% of voters in 1996 and shrinking. The really dynamic voting bloc is made up of those who darken a church's doorstep once a year or less. In 1972, they were 18% of voters; in 1998, 30%. That number's still growing -- in fact, it's one of the fastest growing chunks of the electorate. And predominantly, they don't like Republicans. (What to do about the Republicans' secular gap?)
For what it's worth, I also am a Democrat with a profound respect for the majesty of faith who never misses Bible study -- which is why I know what conservative preachers desperately wish their flocks won't figure out on their own: that Scripture is far more censorious of adultery than it is of homosexuality, and several orders of magnitude more censorious of usury than it is of anything having to do with sexual morality. Regarding usury: In its 1978 Marquette National Bank decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not regulate usury. During the years of the ascendancy of supposedly "conservative" Christians in our politics, states began removing their caps on interest rates with abandon, such that some payday loans now charge 2,000% interest.
Republicans, want more Christianity in politics? Start there. You'll have my foursquare support.
Rick Perlstein is the author of the forthcoming "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" and a senior fellow at Campaign for America's Future.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times