Dems Get Religion

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Shortly after the November elections ended, there was all manner of talk about "soul-searching" in the Democratic camp. Unfortunately, it looks like Nancy Pelosi's "moratorium" on soul-searching became permanent with the selection of Howard Dean as DNC chairman. The selection has been greeted with anything from elation in the Democratic camp to the assessment by some conservative pundits that the selection amounts to the last nail in the coffin. Depending on just how strong the religious right really is, it could be either of these or, if we're lucky, it could show us once and for all that the religious right is much weaker than (a) the religious rights want us to think and (b) the power-grabbing left hopes it is. In the case of (b), two coffins might get nailed shut for the price of one!

That would be the good news. The bad is that our domestic political debate may become dominated by religion. Hillary Clinton has been cozying up to the religious right for awhile and today, we saw Howard Dean doing this in Mississippi. The way I learned of this article in the first place is revealing in itself: Matt Drudge featured it as an example of a stupid quote, with Dean saying, in effect, that "pro-lifers" care about children "before they are born." In other words, mainstream conservatives don't take Dean seriously. This is in part because they don't take the religious right seriously. This could get ugly for everyone. What's interesting about this article is that it shows that it is the Democrats-- and not the Republicans -- who are the serious suitors for the religious element of the Republican party.

I said in an earlier post that the Democrats might opt out of serious reform and make a lunge for the religious right. This is exactly what Dean and his party are doing:

Praying for American troops and evoking biblical images of helping the needy, Howard Dean told Mississippi Democrats on Tuesday night that the national party won't give up on socially conservative states.

"We're not going to concede the South," the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee told an overflow crowd of more than 900 people in a dining room that was set up for 800 in the Clarion hotel near downtown Jackson.

He then added this: "We are going to embrace pro-life Democrats because pro-life Democrats care about kids after they're born, not just before they're born." Sure. This sounds stupid. But maybe not to you if, four years from now you, as a "pro-lifer", feel like you've been known in the Biblical sense one time too many by the Bush administration.

The Republicans, clearly taking hard-line Christian support for granted, and never the ones to take ideas seriously, are making Deans of themselves with their response so far.

Hours before Dean arrived in Mississippi, the state Republican Party issued a news release that spoofed his extended whoop after he conceded last year's Iowa caucuses.

"AIEEEHHHH!!! The incredible shrinking party. The Great Dean Exodus from the MS Democratic Party begins," said the GOP announcement that the Tippah County sheriff was switching from Democrat to Republican.

Here's what's going to happen. The Democrats have convinced themselves that the religious right are the power brokers of American politics. The religious right already believes this. The Democrats are going to make all kinds of promises to the religious right, while also taking advantage of the fact that their socialist economic agenda is in fact the more "moral" (read: altruistic) alternative. The Dems can push harder one way or the other, depending. When the Republicans start seeing this, they're going to probably say something like, "Oh yeah! But we're serious." The Democrats, if they have any sense at all, will try to nullify national security as an issue in the next election by stifling their anti-war impulses (and supporters). If they do this, the next election is going to be all about sucking up to the religionists.

If the Dems come to power, they have a choice: (a) live up to their promises to the religionists, alienating their nihilistic base as well as the genuine secularists, or (b) betray the religious right, permanently alienating them and destroying themselves as a viable political party. If not, the Dems are finished unless they do some actual soul-searching the next time around. In any case, it seems that the next big issue in American politics will be whether we make the state the handmaiden of religion or abolish this kind of serfdom altogether. Count me in as an abolitionist.

-- CAV

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