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Gotta Have Faith

Part one of a debate between yours truly and my faith-based colleague Ayelish McGarvey is now up on the Prospect site. I'm trying to throw some cold water on the recent Kerry must be more religious meme. Paul Waldman recently had a good article defending my POV that went up on the Gadflyer site while McG and I were working on our slice which makes some good points near the end that I didn't get around to about who, exactly the attendance gap is supposed to be a problem for.

In what I regard as a related development, a new Democracy Corps poll shows plummetting support for Bush among under-30 whites (although let me register my official upset at DC's habit of referring to this group as "young voters" -- a big part of the real young voters story is that relatively few young people are white) and among single whites. The postmodern coalition of single whites, African-Americans, and Latinos isn't a majority in America, but all three groups are growing, while GOP support is growing only among shrinking demographic categories.

July 16, 2004 | Permalink


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» Kerry's religion and the Bush brand from Kingdom Come
Kerry's religiosity, or lack thereof in public, is the topic du jour, with Waldman's article (linked below) being only one in a number of them that have come out recently. Following up on this, the American Prospect is hosting a [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 17, 2004 1:04:39 PM

» Kerry's religion and the Bush brand from Kingdom Come
Kerry's religiosity, or lack thereof in public, is the topic du jour, with Waldman's article (linked below) being only one in a number of them that have come out recently. Following up on this, the American Prospect is hosting a [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 17, 2004 1:05:58 PM

» American Prospect Online - ViewWeb from Outside The Beltway
Matt Yglesias and Ayelish McGarvey debate the proposition that John Kerry must broaden his appeal to religious voters to win the presidency in a TAP piece entitled, "Gotta Have Faith?." It's an interesting read. I addressed the question a couple... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 17, 2004 2:39:24 PM

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Sweet Blessings, a new Christian-based online shop featuring cookie bouquets, candy bouquets and gift baskets, opens with a campaign to donate a portion of all profits to Habitat For Humanity. The devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while not a... [Read More]

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Seems as if you are talking past each other.
The one thing she does raise in response: is this an opportunity for a big switch of evangelicals to the Democrats via social justice concerns, as Reagan was for conservative evangelicals?
Hard to say; she might be right. However, the religious people that are going to be attracted to the Democratic party are the ones that think religion is very important, but that it should not be connected to government policy. Republican christians seem to want the government to weigh in on their side.
I am willing to swallow a lot of rhetoric, but I do object to religion being explicitly used to craft policy.

Posted by: theCoach | Jul 16, 2004 12:52:51 PM

a big part of the real young voters story is that relatively few young people are white

"Young people" are not the same as "young voters".

Young people who don't vote are, consequently, not "young voters".

Posted by: cmdicely | Jul 16, 2004 1:18:51 PM

Thomas Frank

Saw Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter with Kansas" on Charlie Rose Wednesday night. Was impressed. He basically says that the Republican Party since Nixon has redefined "class war" as a war between cultures>/b>, and thus managed to get working class people to vote against their economic interests. He is very critical of the DLC strategy of targeting professionals; yes, he disapproves of NAFTA and welfare reform. His prescription for Democratic resurgence is a return to economic populism and overt economic "class war" rhetoric. I think.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 16, 2004 1:25:28 PM

sorry about the html error; gotta preview

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 16, 2004 1:26:24 PM

Ayelish seems to be saying that there is an opening to the religious right on social issues. It hasn't been long since the Republican Governor of Alabama used Christian rhetoric for the purposes of trying to reform Alabama's horrendous tax system. He got absolutely nowhere. instead, he got some support from a few religious leaders, but rank and file evangelicals (to say nothing of the state chapter of the Christian Coalition) chose their pocketbooks over their supposed newfound social conscience.

Also, let's not forget the evangelicals are aligned with the GOP chiefly because of "no compromise" issues like abortion.

So, if Kerry wants to start going to daily mass, quoting scripture, and carry rosery beads around, that's fine. Convincing evangelicals to come back to the Democrats will take more than rhetoric--the Dems would need to offer actual policy shifts. The Democrats can't and shouldn't cave in on abortion, school prayer, etc.

Yes, Democrats should be respectful of religious folk. Democratic candidates should feel free to invoke their spiritual beliefs if they inform their political beliefs, but that's it.


Posted by: catfish | Jul 16, 2004 1:48:17 PM

My response here at my blog.

Short version: I don't much care what Kerry does during this election cycle; if pandering to the religious is going to get him in office, then pandering to the religious it shall be.

But at some point we're going to have to go back to actually having a division between church and state in this country, and the Republicans aren't going to lead the charge. It's going to have to be us.

Posted by: G C | Jul 16, 2004 1:51:16 PM

agree with Ayelish but she gives no solutions.

the religious people that are going to be attracted to the Democratic party are the ones that think religion is very important, but that it should not be connected to government policy. Republican christians seem to want the government to weigh in on their side.
but can't we change that? it's a LOT of voters. what's wrong with the government protecting widows and orphans, and being good stewards of the earth?

Posted by: justa grata honoria | Jul 16, 2004 1:57:39 PM

sorry, didn't look like that in preview

Posted by: justa grata honoria | Jul 16, 2004 1:58:17 PM

"I am willing to swallow a lot of rhetoric, but I do object to religion being explicitly used to craft policy."

I agree with this, sort of, but most liberals have had no problem with, say, Jimmy Carter's use of religious rhetoric to support the idea of government concern for the poor. Just saying that depending on the circumstances, it might not sound so objectionable once it's on your side.

"Ayelish seems to be saying that there is an opening to the religious right on social issues."

This is an unfair characterization of her argument. She specifically excludes from her target audience "southern fundamentalists or rural Pentecostals -- most of them wouldn’t vote for Kerry if their lives depended on it." Those are the people that the term "Religious Right" refers to. "Religious Right" does *not* refer to all theologically conservative Christians - a fairly substantial percentage of that larger group is basically apolitical, but you just wouldn't know that from watching the news because by definition, they're not politically active and they don't *make* news.

As for the Alabama tax debate, you have to remember that: (1) Political rhetoric doesn't typically produce results overnight. You have to keep drumming your point in for an extended period of time, and Riley's campaign was the first time in a long while that those tactics had been tried, and (2) It was Alabama. Kind of an extreme case there.

Posted by: JP | Jul 16, 2004 2:02:49 PM


In any case, I thought the article from Paul Weldman was a bit better than anything else in this.

However, I have one serious..not really a reservation, but a further point. Actually it's going off a ledge, but whatever.

The Republican idea of the "Northeastern Liberal Elite", is a Big Lie. It's a lie that's told in order to redirect from the same thing you're doing. In this case, it's to redirect from the fact that the real elitests are not the liberal side..who more or less don't give a fuck about what anybody else is doing. No, the real elitism comes from the Religious Right, who want to dictate that everybody lives the way that they want them to.

In essence, the argument here basically says that Democrats should pander to that inherent elitism created by cultural conservatives.

Myself, I think it would be much more well..uniting, to explain how different people like different things, and it doesn't make someone any more of a good or a bad person.

Posted by: Karmakin | Jul 16, 2004 2:14:40 PM

I think Weldman sums it up here:

Different people's faith leads them to different conclusions about what government should and shouldn't do; Kerry can talk all he wants about Jesus' concern for the poor, but if you think the prospect of two women getting married is clear evidence that Armageddon is right around the corner, you're not voting Democratic.

And I agree with Catfish that if the Democrats give in on abortion, women's and gay issues in general, school prayer, etc., then they're not the Democrats I want to vote for.

Posted by: galnoir | Jul 16, 2004 2:49:00 PM

OK. I want to clarify that I'm not opposed to "reaching out" politically to evangelicals, but it is completely unclear to me how this will work. It doesn't seem like just a matter of changing up the rhetoric a bit.

Then what? What can Democrats offer?

I don't know--swinging evangelicals to the left sounds like a job for religious groups themselves, not the Democratic Establishment.

Posted by: catfish | Jul 16, 2004 2:56:02 PM

Exurban America is growing. But that's mitigated by several forces

(1) Exurban America isn't that big to begin with.
(2) Exurbanites are probably just Republicans relocating either from "Cosmopolitan States" or the suburbs. They're unlikely to be new people who are suddenly Republican. Now, it does help their GOTV efforts that they can go to Boise County Idaho and just drivebell the whole place, rather than spend months figuring out who is a Republican and who isn't. But this just balances the advantage Democrats have doing their GOTV in minority city neighborhoods.

Posted by: niq | Jul 16, 2004 3:04:52 PM

Hey, I could agree that the Black religious leaders helped a lot in the 60's civil rights battles.

But the New Deal and Great Society were not enacted as an expression of liberal religious values.

There are a lot of working-class evangelicals who believe Democrats aren't offering them anything economically, so why not vote based on religion. They used to be Democrats, with pictures of Jesus on black velvet, JFK and Bobby right beside them. Republicans sure aren't going to satisfy them on economic issues. If Democrats try to fight on Repub turf, they will lose.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 16, 2004 3:08:16 PM

While I'm not 100% against expressions of faith by candidates, Kerry has a huge problem here: he's a (somewhat) liberal Catholic.

As such, his expressions of faith may very well be seen not positively, but negatively, by the very voters he would be trying to attract -- moderate mainline and evangelical Protestants and somewhat more conservative Catholics. If you're a Catholic who believes that good Catholics *must* oppose reproductive choice, Kerry has little to gain with you by expressing his faith more publicly.

If Kerry were a member of a mainline Protestant denomination, I don't think this would be a problem, but the contrast between Kerry's views and the views of the vocal conservative minority of American Catholic bishops makes his increasing his religious expression problematic.

Posted by: Alex R | Jul 16, 2004 3:10:32 PM

I think you got schooled, son.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 16, 2004 4:44:52 PM

Please kill the word 'meme' from your vocabulary, Matt.

Everyone knows its out there, but nobody with brains but you is using it.

Posted by: djangone | Jul 16, 2004 6:48:50 PM

If you're interested in this topic, I'd encourage you to check out our blog where we've got far too many posts dicussing it.

Posted by: Shankar D | Jul 16, 2004 7:32:49 PM

JP: "Religious Right" does *not* refer to all theologically conservative Christians - a fairly substantial percentage of that larger group is basically apolitical, but you just wouldn't know that from watching the news because by definition, they're not politically active and they don't *make* news.

There's also a type of evangelical who, like Carter, is to the left on social-justice issues (if still to the right on family values stuff). Think Jim Wallis and the Sojourners crowd.

Posted by: Wally Ballou | Jul 16, 2004 9:07:14 PM

That Democracy Corps poll could tell the story of this election. I've posted it here and elsewhere, and I will again: voter participation by 18-29-year olds will be up at least 20 percentage points from 2000, and I'll bet it goes well above 60% of eligibles. This is an empirically unfounded prediction, to say the least, but I have contact with people in this age group up and down the education and economic ladders, and I'm willing to lay money on it.

Posted by: Sean Flaherty | Jul 16, 2004 9:45:18 PM

Did anyone catch Fresh Air yesterday? (url in the link under my name). Stephen Moore, head of Club for Growth was on with Terry Gross. The most entertaining moment was an exchange about Moore's definition of "elite", ending with "...So maybe an elite is someone who disagrees with you?" Very good natured, but very funny and she skewered Moore.

Posted by: cafl | Jul 16, 2004 10:37:50 PM

First comment here, from someone who used to be quite liberal but is closer to a neo-conservative now. In reply to a few comments:

Karmakin, whether there is a "Northeastern Liberal Elite" or it is a lie, it ends up being an issue for the voter to decide. Not you nor anyone else. I live in NW Pennsylvania - not really the northeast so much as the rust belt - and I have major issues with the politicians from the Northeast who speak down to me - no... speak down AT me. Does this make me state they are elitist? Irrelevant. What matters is that I would never vote for someone who doesn't speak for me.

GC, define for me "us". As in "It's going to have to be us." TO simply exclude all Republicans with one stroke of the brush goes against the spirit of what Freedom of Religion is all about. I'd suspect that if you polled every single eligible voter - not a sample but all - you'd find that more of them do not define "freedom" to mean "exclude". In terms of religion, this means the state does not support religion... not that religion does not have a place in this country. Somehow you sound to me like you prefer to (a) exclude viewpoints outside of yours and then (b)_ exclude any historical references to religion anywhere and everywhere. This isn't "freedom" in any context of the word. It's forced control.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 16, 2004 10:54:11 PM

a couple points:

1) by far the biggest applause line of the debate season was Sharpton's "it's going to be the Christian Right against the Right Christians"

2) You seem to argue that making a play for religious voters won't work. But so what? What is the harm in trying it, and making a real effort to justify and explain one's policies with allusions and quotations from scripture?

3) Traditionally the left in Western political debates has had some great allies: Jesus Christ, and the entire Jewish scriptural tradition. Go and read some of MLK's speeches to see how the Civil Right's debate was won. Also, in arguing for the basic legitimacy and morality (as opposed to the wisdom) of progressive taxation, Jesus is a great ally.

4) The argument that secular voters will get offended by excessive religiousity misses a key point: secular voters aren't offended by scriptural quotations and allusions per se, they are offended by sweaty, insecure Democratic politicians who affirm, with a hint of desperation, how deeply, deeply, deeply, religious they are, unlike those *other*, bad, non-religious, secular humanist Democrats. But even someone who doesn't believe Jesus' divinity can still get chills from the Sermon on the Mount.

5) this is only marginally relevant, but I'm going to post it because it's a great riff which should be in Kerry's stump speech:

. . .I believe that we must stand for a future in which the United States will again be feared only by its enemies; in which our country will again lead the effort to create an international order based on the rule of law; a nation which upholds fundamental rights even for those it believes to be its captured enemies; a nation whose financial house is in order; a nation where the market place is kept healthy by effective government scrutiny; a country which does what is necessary to provide for the health, education, and welfare of our people; a society in which citizens of all faiths enjoy equal standing; a republic once again comfortable that its chief executive knows the limits as well as the powers of the presidency; a nation that places the highest value on facts, not ideology, as the basis for all its great debates and decisions.

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Jul 17, 2004 1:24:30 AM

I think Matthew is generally right in that religion is probably not relevant, but only becasue it is such a large issue. If Kerry speaks as he did on Larry King, that seems like what Waldman (for example) wants, but his position is still shcoking to some because it seems like he is lacking a true conscience (becasue the separation of church and state is not an article of belief, but a description of an institution. It is supposed to be an element of design, not of conviction), simply having beliefs, which is ironic considering his mention of Vatican II. I think people are suspicious that such a position does not allow a firm (and predictable) basis for decisions. It is not reductive enough for people. Perhaps one way to deal with this would be to emphasize his seriousness not about issues but about his job. And not directly, but in his manner. In his way of presenting isues, dealing with criticism. That can be charismatic too I would think.

Perhaps the focus on religion is a cultural attempt to satisfy the increasing alienation of elections as reflected by the increased use of statistics and faux sociological generalizations (red/blue states) to explain election outcomes and justify strategy. Matthew’s piece hints at this in that it is mainly a methodological critique of those who claim that religion is an important issue, in that he finds no evidence that it is an independently significant determinant in elections, no matter what its importance might be shown to be for individuals. McGarvey’s response hinges on the presence of swing voters, those for whom it is not clear what issues are significant and where it is, then, reasonable then to assume that religion might be. But this is not quite right, in that it is equally likely that religion would be important for the decided voters when considered as individuals. We are in essence trying to attribute statistical weight to what are actually structural issues. The relevance of religion is conditional on the identification of “swing voters” who are only so in relation to an undecided election. The question of the general relevance of religion in public life, when treated solely in terms of election success, makes the voters some sort of switch we are trying to figure out. Perhaps this indeed is what we are doing, but if it is a systematic element of the election process, then it is reasonable to assume a lot of people who are dealt with in this way are going to feel a little incomplete.

Religion provides a framework for the inclusion of personal values in social decisions much like Marxism did for interest. However, since belief is a fundamental element of modern religion one cannot accept an external, “scientific” attribution of one’s beliefs. The more central belief becomes in religion the more the expression of one’s values can be understood as a concentrated choice. Religion becomes a personal issue and is more likely to become political in a society in which the fundamental basis of political life is also choice. We can look at Nader and see that his position on election reform, and the sort of reform he wants, is meant to make voting the supreme act of political expression. But he is running on he promise of making elections such, while voting for him might not be as is evidenced by public discussions of voting strategy in swing states and controversy about his acceptance of right-wing money. Perhaps this move to discussion of religion and more generally values has a motive force similar to that pushing people to Nader (and making it more likely true that he could be getting people from the Republicans). i.e. perhaps it is a more general phenomenon. This is also reflected in an indirect way in McGarvey’s criticism of Matthew’s methodological critique that Matthew’s making religion an unimportant issue is to engage in some sort of cultural stereotyping (of southerners). Her explanation of Carter’s loss is not a good example of the importance of religion in general in that it is likely a Democrat would not rail against “secularism” even when embracing faith. Proof of this at least for this campaign can be found in Kerry’s discussion of his abortion views on Larry King. The issue is becoming cultural, not issue or belief based, and this is reflected I think also in the current administrations’ philosophical commitment to the sovreignty of its judgment independent of real efforts to justify decisions to the people. The problem is not the relation of individual values to institutions, but the representation of value in the form of institutions. We cannot keep assuming that all issues of value are to be sorted out in elections. In closing, McGarvey writes about the shift among Christians toward issues of social justice and equality as a possible basis of appeal for Democrats. The left is traditionally associated with these goals, so why is an appeal of faith needed? If it were a matter of social goals and beliefs, there would be obvious grounds for cooperation. How religion differs from the recent history of the left however is in its understanding of the relation of the individual to social goals, and an appeal to faith in this context would be a shift in this understanding, but not necessarily to the right. It seems the issue of whether religion is significant cannot remain a merely strategic issue for Democrats.
I think the focus of Republicans on values has to do with issues of the maturation of judgment. If you work for equal rights, you are working on the assumption that they are universally, eternally right, and in holding them you participate in that rightness. No religious person believes that the simple fact of their belief allows them to participate in God’s glory. In the former, the final judgment may be said to come in the future when some specific change is effected. But since that future moment is indeterminate, in both time and form, one cannot really distinguish between the grace of the present and future moment as they relate to one’s own righteousness. In the latter, the form of the moment of glory is specific, and also often is one’s present relation to that future moment, thus one may have a sense of the development of their righteousness, of their increase in strength or good works or commitment. They can be wrong, seriously wrong. But as, unlike in the case of the believer in equal rights, they cannot be the agent of their own or other’s perfection, they are not responsible for the judgment that finally describes them. Thus there is a sense in which they are not morally identical from moment to moment. They get closer and closer to God’s judgment (which is fixed at an easily understandable moment). When the acceptance of God becomes a major part of religion, as it has now, then the characterization of religious people as the only people with values is rally a characterization of human judgment. In some sense, it is recognition that you cannot both choose your fundamental commitments and be the sole judge of your adherence to them. The more values are understood to be subjectively determined and validated, the more difficult it will be for a political philosophy which centers on the individual to maintain its integrity.

Posted by: William S | Jul 17, 2004 4:00:50 AM

I think that's where you are wrong. Bush used to enjoy great support from the young, and has lost it mainly due to FMA and other bungling.

The young are still mostly libertarian in outlook and tend to be Schwarzeneggar-Giuliani Republicans. At least in terms of political beliefs, if not party membership.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Jul 17, 2004 4:21:48 AM

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