Daniel Burke, Peter Sachs and editor Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service put out an edgy pre-election feature package on Thursday focusing on one of this blog's favorite topics -- the religious left. The headline even referenced this blog (at least, I like to think so) by saying, "With the Help of a Dozen, Democrats Learn to 'Get Religion.'" As I read it, I thought to myself: "You know who needs to do a blog item on this one?"
That person would be Mark Stricherz, a writer and reporter in Washington who is a friend of this blog. Last time I checked, he was an active Catholic and a pro-life Democrat and he has written about religion and the Democrats all over the place. In fact, he currently is writing a book about how secular professionals took the Democratic Party away from Catholics and working-class whites. His stories on the topic can be found here, here and here.
So I asked him his thoughts on the RNS piece and here is what he sent me. He also posted this piece at his weblog, In Front of Your Nose.
Democrats Talk, Talk on Religion
Back in 1982, the English New Wave band Talk, Talk had a minor hit song called, originally enough, "Talk, Talk." "All you do to me is talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk" singer Mark Hollis told the object of his affection. "All you do to me is talk, talk."
The song broke no new ground instrumentally or lyrically, but the repetitive nature of the chorus made the song memorable. It danced through my head last night while I read Religion News Service's mini-profiles of 12 Democrats who are "helping the party to rebuild relationships in the religious community." The thesis of the story, which is mostly unstated, is that religious Christians are weaning the Democratic Party away from secularists. But really the story suggests that religious Democrats so far have succeeded in doing little more than, you guessed it, talk, talk.
Leah Daughtry, the chief of staff to Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, gets off the best, because most revealing, line in the series. Daughtry is a black Pentecostal minister who expresses weariness about Democratic politicians, presumably white, showing up at Sunday services in hopes of enticing African American voters to the polls.
"As someone who grew up in that community, we knew it like clockwork. Congressman 'X' would show up asking for your vote on Sunday. Quite frankly, it was very annoying," Daughtry said. "I don't want to hear you come and quote a Bible verse. Anybody can quote Scripture. I want to hear how you live Scripture."
Exactly, and that's the problem with the RNS story. It never tells us how the dozen religious Democrats live Scripture or the Talmud. But it certainly tells us how they "talk openly about spiritual journeys," voice "public discomfort with abortion," "share (a religious) perspective with party leaders and candidates," "talk about their moral convictions," "speak early and often about ... faith." By my unscientific count, the story quoted, paraphrased, stated or referred to how Democrats are talking about faith and values differently 39 times.
My point is not that talk is cheap. If the religious Democrats had referred to a human fetus as an unborn child or two men seeking benefits as homosexual unions, the talk would be dear indeed. Their language would have real implications, ones that suggest that Democrats are reconsidering their stands on policy.
My point is that the talk of the dozen religious Democrats profiled in the story is cheap. To take the most obvious example, the story refers only once to one of the Democrats' stand on cultural issues; Rep. Rosa DeLauro supports abortion rights. But what about the other Democrats? Do they support the Democratic platform on federal funding of abortion or partial-birth abortion? Aside from cultural issues, how do they propose to eliminate or reduce poverty in America?
Aside from their view on the issues, I wish the authors of the story had at least mentioned their personal piety. Do they attend service regularly and have an active prayer life? Providing this information would give us the measure of the person. For example, it's impossible to write about the late mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, who was Roman Catholic, without mentioning that he was a daily communicant. Even a critic of Mayor Daley would have to acknowledge that, though he didn't mind his cops beating up protesters, he revered institutions.
I also wish the story would have explored the sincerity of the religious Democrats' convictions. The story notes that Rep. DeLauro spearheaded an effort earlier this year by 55 House Democrats to issue a "Catholic Statement on Principles" in which the Democratic lawmakers said that their support for cultural libertarianism was an act of conscience. What the story does not say is that Ms. DeLauro is married to Stanley Greenberg, one of the party's top pollsters. Mr. Greenberg has written two memos since the November 2004 elections saying that John Kerry lost because of the defection of white Catholic voters. Was that a coincidence?
Any serious person would have to be skeptical. Which would be a more journalistic frame of mind than the three reporters of the story showed. Heck, any old reader of the Bible would have to wonder, "Are the mouths of these religious Democrats not open graves?"