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Wednesday, January 07, 2004  

Democrats and God

There are three things you're never supposed to talk about in polite conversation--politics, money, or God. Someone forgot to clue in the Dems. Religion has become an issue in the Democratic campaign, and the pundits believe it will play a major role in the election. Kristoff takes a whack at it today:

America is riven today by a "God gulf" of distrust, dividing churchgoing Republicans from relatively secular Democrats. A new Great Awakening is sweeping the country, with Americans increasingly telling pollsters that they believe in prayer and miracles, while only 28 percent say they believe in evolution. All this is good news for Bush Republicans, who are in tune with heartland religious values, and bad news for Dean Democrats who don't know John from Job.

If this is true, the Democrats better just cash it in. Fortunately, it's not. This has been a minor theme with Kristof, but I think his own experience betrays him. He was raised among churchgoers in rural America, and seems familiar with the motives of average, religious Americans. Later in the article, he describes it as the difference between "elitists" and "populists," with the elitist Dems standing firm on their Ivory Tower ideals of secularism and evolution. He worries that the Dems will lose the great religious war because they will condescend, as Dean did, to populist Christians.

In fact, Kristof is the one condescending: he imagines that the populist Americans are unable to distinguish between Bush's hypocritical religiosity and true Christian values. It is true that most Americans don't read the news as obsessively as bloggers and pundits, but this doesn't mean they will blindly vote for anyone with sincere faith.

Much of the analysis for all of this comes from a Pew study done last summer, when researchers found that Americans were heavily influenced by religion (Kristof refers to findings from their report in his article). But the fact that religion is a factor in people's decisions doesn't mean they will always vote for the religious candidate--or even the moral candidate. In a matchup between an undeniably moral, religious man and a scoundrel, the voters took the scoundrel in 1996. Is there any doubt they would have chosen the scoundrel again if he had been able to run against Bush?

The Dems can't make themselves more religious than they are personally. But they can talk in the language of morality and tie this to deeply-founded beliefs all Christians have about generosity, humility, compassion, and honesty. No one disputes that Bush is a true believer, but his policies have been anything but Christian. There are a lot of issues that will come into play in '04--religion will be one only if the Dems stumble into the GOP trap and make it one. Otherwise Americans will do what they always do--vote for the candidate they think is the better leader.

posted by Jeff | 9:32 AM |
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