The ghost of the moderate Democrat

god in politicsFollowing up on Sunday's post regarding this new breed of religious Democrats, I want to highlight an excellent comment by one of our readers:

There may be two stories going on here, and I'm not sure that we've quite grasped them.

First, there is internal pushback going on in the Democratic Party between the militant secularists (those whom the Deacon, above, rails against) and that significant portion of people who are both religiously observant and politically engaged. For these, faith is a part of their life and why not bring it to the party? Although it is routinely mocked by the conservatives as "putting on a stole and chasuble ..." It would be false to dismiss it as mere show or pretense.

A second story is the personal one. It is a recovery of voice of those on the religious left. For a long time they've felt immensely frustrated that they were silenced not only internally but in the larger culture. Consciously or not, the Evangelical Right had imported its Reformation-inspired religious wars to its politics, the only difference was that this time they won. The re-emergence of this liberal voice is more fundamentally a personal story.

Now what the story is not: it is not about the organization of a political movement per se (pace Common Good and Jim Wallis). It is not an analogue of the Evangelical Right's organization -- that, as noted, came from deeper theological architecture. It is instead, about the restoration of equilibrium, something noted by Jonathan Alter earlier in October.

Posted by Harris at 8:19 am on October 30, 2006

Well said, Harris, and it seems that The New York Times was listening to you.

But first to Alter's piece in Newsweek, which appropriately challenges the use of the term "values voter." I am guilty of using the term repeatedly in the past, and Alter shows that it is not a very helpful way to describe a political segment. I agree. The term is overused and too narrowly defined as typically used. But does Alter have better terms to describe that bloc of voters who put issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer at the top of their priority lists? Or, has that bloc of voters disintegrated in the implosion of the current administration's foreign policy and failure to deliver on its culture-war promises? Or, as Harris puts it, is it a "restoration of equilibrium" between the left and right sides of the political debate?

In Sunday's post, I noted how an Oct. 19 piece by the NYT failed to mention religion, but the Times revisited that issue on Monday.

In the 1,500-word story, reporters Shaila Dewan and Anne Korblut outline how most Democratic candidates with the best chance of unseating Republican incumbents are moderates. How does one become a moderate Democrat? Apparently it involves being pro-life, maintaining conservative social views and evangelical beliefs, opposing most gun control (being able to hunt animals is always a plus) and supporting the military.

That's quite a list of issues, but it's important to note that to be a moderate Democrat, not all of those have to apply. It's also important to note a couple of issues the NYT left out, namely stem-cell research and separation of church and state regarding faith-baith initiatives. In Moderate Democrat Land, where do these issues land?

While supporting the military or opposing American involvement in Iraq is not going to create a lot of political noise, opposing abortion rights and gay marriage are likely to cause havoc in the current makeup of the Democratic Party. But the influence of new moderate Democrats on the national debate remains to be seen, at least according to the NYT:

One such candidate, Heath Shuler, was courted by Republicans to run for office in 2001. Mr. Shuler, 34, is a retired National Football League quarterback who is running in the 11th Congressional District in North Carolina. He is an evangelical Christian and holds fast to many conservative social views, like opposition to abortion rights.

. . . But if candidates like Mr. Shuler do help the Democrats gain majority control of Congress, it could come at a political price, which may include tensions in the party between its new centrists and its more liberal political base.

While Democratic leaders have gone to great lengths to promote the views of these candidates, some, like Mr. Shuler, have views on issues like gun control and abortion that are far out of step with the prevailing views of the Democrats who control the party. On some issues, they may even be expected to side with Republicans and the Bush White House.

What's missing from this NYT piece on the potential new class of moderate Democrats? Do these new moderate Democrats have the markings of the "religious left"? On some issues, absolutely, but based on what I have seen, the voters these candidates are attracting are closer to James Dobson than Jim Wallis.

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