Kerry and Religion
Steve Waldman’s Slate piece, “John Kerry’s dubious approach to religion,” is creating a stir.
As you may already know, one of America’s two political parties is extremely religious. Sixty-one percent of this party’s voters say they pray daily or more often. An astounding 92 percent of them believe in life after death. And there’s a hard-core subgroup in this party of super-religious Christian zealots. Very conservative on gay marriage, half of the members of this subgroup believe Bush uses too little religious rhetoric, and 51 percent of them believe God gave Israel to the Jews and that its existence fulfills the prophecy about the second coming of Jesus.
Liberals could read these statistics and sneer about “those silly Republicans” were it not for the fact that it’s the Democrats who hold these beliefs. And the abovementioned ultrareligious subgroup is not the so-called “Religious Right” but rather the so-called “African-Americans.”
If you’re surprised it’s probably because we’ve been hearing a lot about the religion differences between the parties. Republicans are the party of the faithful and Democrats the party of secularists, goes the C.W. There is, according to Time magazine, a “Religion Gap.” That’s not exactly right, however. What exists is a church-attendance gap, not a religion gap or a “God gulf.” More Republicans do indeed go to church regularly, and the most secular folks are more likely to be Democrats. Both tendencies have, in fact, become more pronounced in recent years. But in general, most Republicans and most Democrats are pretty religious. The stark differences are at the extremes of each party, and, as so often is the case, the big question is whether the extremes will define the party as a whole. Most Republicans aren’t conservative fundamentalists, although it sometimes seems that way given the proclivities of the leadership. And the Democrats have their own version of that same dilemma, and it’s affecting the most important arena there isÃ¢€”this year’s presidential race: Will Kerry’s Democrats act like the Party of Secularists even if they aren’t?
More likely, the Kerry campaign suffers from the fact that while most Democrats are religious, many liberal Democratic activists are not. Perhaps the real problem with the paucity of African-Americans at senior levels of the Kerry campaign is not that he doesn’t understand racial language but thatÃ¢€”forgive the gross stereotypingÃ¢€”the white aides tend to be more tone deaf about religion than the black ones.
There’s quite a bit more to the piece, which I commend to you. A line of particular note, though, is this one: “If Kerry’s really secular, he’s abnormal.”
Atrios is apoplectic.
Let’s see how these sound:
If Kerry’s really Muslim, he’s abnormal.
If Kerry’s really Jewish, he’s abnormal.
Yah, those sound great, and they’re just the same.
Yah, if Kerry were running for president of Pakistan or Israel, respectively.
Atrios actually makes Waldman’s case for him. Democratic activists are much more likely to be secular–indeed, hostile to religiousity–than their Republican counterparts. If they want to win on a national level, however, they have to be cognizant of the fact they are, indeed, abnormal. The word “abnormal” isn’t a slur here, merely a statement of fact. I’m abnormal in this sense, too. Indeed, as a secular anti-theist who usually votes Republican, I’m more abnormal than Atrios, who presumably votes Democrat.
Nick Confessore is right:
This piece . . . should be required reading for everyone on John Kerry’s campaign. I share the opinion of Waldman, Amy Sullivan (here), and others that Kerry’s unwillingness to reach out to religious constituencies in a meaningful and respectful way is one of this biggest strategic errors so far. It may well cost him the election.
The last two Democrats to win the presidency, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, wore their faith on their sleeve.
UPDATE: Bush gets it: WaPo – Churchgoers Get Direction From Bush Campaign
The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives. Campaign officials said the instructions are part of an accelerating effort to mobilize President Bush’s base of religious supporters. They said the suggested activities are intended to help churchgoers rally support for Bush without violating tax rules that prohibit churches from engaging in partisan activity.