Democrats Still Don't 'Get It' On Religion
2004 election, many prominent Democrats agreed that they had to
learn to talk the language of religion and show respect for religious
voters if they were to broaden the party's appeal.
But the minute
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) signed on to participate
in a religious-right rally against the Senate filibuster, prominent
Democrats such as Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and Senate Minority
Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) flew into a rage.
before Frist had said a word that he would "appeal to religious
division" and "invoke faith to rewrite Senate rules
to put substandard, extremist judges on our bench."
- also ahead of time - that Frist was a "radical" for
agreeing to participate in the televised "Justice
Sunday" rally, which billed the filibustering of President
Bush's judicial nominees as "against people of faith."
As it turned
out, Frist didn't say a word about religion. He defended himself
against the "radical" charge and promoted up-or-down
Senate votes on judicial nominations.
But the level
of outrage expressed by Democrats and various liberals over the
rally could only lead religious conservatives to conclude that,
despite their 2004 vows to respect people of faith, the Democrats
still don't get it.
commentators, led by New York Times columnist Frank
Rich, were contemptuous of the rally, its participants and,
by implication, religious conservatives in general. Rich dubbed
the rally "humbug," dismissed participants as a "mob"
and likened Frist to Sinclair Lewis' 1920s evangelist phony, Elmer
groups, including the National
Council of Churches, also protested the rally. At a counter-rally,
liberal evangelical Jim Wallis called it "a declaration of
religious war" and "an attempt to hijack religion."
no question that Democrats should object when some conservatives
- House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), in particular - threaten
the independence of the federal judiciary.
have not just a right but an obligation to stand up for their
beliefs when conservatives try to limit abortion rights, enact
anti-gay legislation, limit stem-cell research or ban the teaching
of evolution. And they should oppose federal judicial nominees
they deem "extremist," although, instead of filibustering
them on a routine basis, they should persuade a majority of the
Senate to their side.
right or wrong, Democrats have had considerable success in raising
questions about the fitness of Undersecretary of State John Bolton
to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. If they defeat Bolton,
it won't be by filibuster. The system will have worked.
way to avoid the GOP-dictated "nuclear option" is for
Senate Democrats to stand down from their own de facto rules change
- their use of the filibuster - and fight Bush's judicial nominees
For a tutorial
on the role of religion in the judiciary and politics, Democratic
Party leaders should have listened to a symposium called "Values
and Legislation" held last week in the Capitol and sponsored
by The Economist magazine (a corporate sibling of RollCall) and
Sessions (R-Ala.) noted that one of Bush's appointees, Alabama
Attorney General William Pryor, a Roman Catholic, was being opposed
by Democrats for his "deeply held beliefs" against abortion
- even though he ruled that the state's late-term abortion law
clearly," Sessions said, Pryor "could follow the law
even though he disagreed with it." He implied that Democrats
opposed Pryor because they disagreed with his religious views.
"We can't have a democracy with a religious test," he
said that, with exceptions, it's "totally bogus" that
religious voters want to "impose their views on everybody."
Rather, "they feel disrespected and misunderstood, especially
by the media." And, they think that the courts are determined
to "secularize America far beyond what the people want to
In the last
election, he said, Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee,
"seemed to say, 'I am a religious person. I have religious
values, but I am not going to let them impact what I do.' President
Bush said, 'I have religious values. They are important to me
and they help guide my decisions.' It became a big deal in the
the point, Economist correspondent Adrian Wooldridge said that,
during the 2004 campaign, Bush got his best crowd response by
declaring that "'the Democratic Party believes that Hollywood
people represent real American values.' People went crazy. That's
why Republicans have a lock on the presidency."
co-author of the 2004 book "The
Right Nation," said that Democrats had three options
for recovery. The "stupidest," he said, was to "follow
Frank Rich" - to "be the party of liberal values and
denigrate the opposition. The party will basically be reduced,
on that liberal fundamentalist strategy, to Manhattan and Manhattan
strategy, advocated by Thomas Frank in his 2004 book "What's
Wrong with Kansas?," is to "treat values as a distraction
from the 'real issues' of economics and 'who gets what.'"
said, "That's wrong for two reasons. People care about God.
They care about their faith. They just aren't going to ignore
values. And, values and material success actually go together.
The single biggest predictor of poverty is the breakup of a marriage,
politically, this Brit suggested, "what Democrats need to
do is occupy the middle ground. They need to put themselves on
the side of ordinary families who are worried about the values
of the country. The middle ground is there for the taking. The
Democrats can move the opposition into the extreme. But unless
they realize that moral values are essential to what makes America
different, they are going to keep losing."
this recent performance, the Democrats are going to keep on losing.
They haven't proved that Bush's nominees are extreme. They haven't
made the case that blocking filibusters is extreme. They said
that participating in a religious rally was extreme. They just
don't get it.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.
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