What about the religious left?

edwards 2008Yesterday I noted media coverage of the anti-religious rhetoric of two bloggers hired by John Edwards for his presidential campaign. The extreme anti-religious rhetoric was highlighted by political conservatives who are Christian. Because of the political dimensions of the story, the coverage has seemed a bit tired to me. Both the Associated Press and The New York Times, for instance, centered the story on politics -- not religion -- and tried to claim that the comments of various conservatives were equivalent to those of the bloggers in question.

That's fine, but also a bit boring and predictable.

But if you want an interesting take on the story -- and one that moves the story forward -- you could do no better than to read The Politico's Ben Smith. He spoke with liberals who are religious and got a fresh and illuminating angle:

As the flap over alleged anti-Catholic writings by two John Edwards campaign bloggers devolves into a shouting match between conservative religious voices and liberal bloggers, some members of the "religious left" say they feel -- again -- shoved to the margins of the Democratic Party.

"We're completely invisible to this debate," said Eduardo Penalver, a Cornell University law professor who writes for the liberal Catholic journal Commonweal. He said he was dissatisfied with the Edwards campaign's response. "As a constituency, the Christian left isn't taken all that seriously," Penalver said.

Democrats -- and Edwards in particular -- have embraced the language of faith and the imperative of competing with Republicans for the support of religious voters. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards, even sits on the board of the leading organization of the religious left, Call to Renewal. But in private conversations and careful public statements today, religious Democrats said they felt sidelined by Edwards' decision to stand by his aides.

"We have gone so far to rebuild that coalition [between Democrats and religious Christians] and something like this sets it back," said Brian O'Dwyer, a New York lawyer and Irish-American leader who chairs the National Democratic Ethnic Leadership Council, a Democratic Party group. O'Dwyer said Edwards should have fired the bloggers. "It's not only wrong morally -- it's stupid politically."

Many politically liberal and religious GetReligion readers wrote similar comments in our previous thread, so I'm glad to see that their views are being noticed by someone in the media. The Politico, by the way, is a brand new publication and website that covers politics from all angles. It has hired some pretty heavy-hitting reporters -- including some friends and former colleagues of mine.

Smith's article is conversational and engaging and even includes some of the specific comments that Catholics have found offensive. He mentions Edwards' statement that the bloggers assured him "it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith," and he describes the bloggers' statements as semi-apologetic. Here's how he sums up the situation for politically liberal Christians:

And so religious liberals find themselves in a quandary. They have no interest in associating with the likes of William Donohue, the Catholic League president who is closely aligned with the GOP and led the charge against Edwards' aides. Donohue said Thursday he would take out newspaper advertisements attacking Edwards as anti-Catholic. But religious liberals also think Edwards' aides merit more than a slap on the wrist.

"I thought his explanation was not satisfying," said Cornell's Penalver. "It's obvious that they did mean to give offense."

The reason why this story is infinitely more interesting than the tired stuff from other outlets is because the previous stories are focused on a conservative-liberal political divide. But Edwards was never going to get the votes of William Donohue or some of the other conservatives who raised the issue.

Isn't it much more interesting to contemplate how Edwards' hiring and support of these bloggers might affect his standing among religious liberals?

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