Amy Sullivan of Time wrote a story about recent efforts by Democratic officials to reach out to religious voters. Her story included some fascinating details about how John Kerry's campaign bungled its chance to appeal to the same, such as this one:
In May, two Kerry supporters in Erie, Pa., Pat and Kristin Headley, heard that the candidate would be making a campaign stop at the local airport. Excited, they bundled their young son and daughter into the car, bringing along some poster board and markers to make signs on the way. The Headleys, who are Evangelical Democrats, decided to write PRO-LIFE FOR KERRY on their sign to show that it was possible for pro-life voters to support Democratic candidates. But Kerry's event staff thought differently. Hurrying over as the message bobbed in the crowd, a pair of Kerry campaign workers confronted the Headleys and asked them to put the poster down. Only "sanctioned" signs, they said, were allowed.
Sullivan believes that Democrats can woo religious voters. To do so, they will need to modulate their rhetoric about hot-button social issues, have their candidates come across as religious not secular, and be able to identify religious leaders. All of which Sullivan believes the party's top presidential candidates have done:
Near the end of the Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last month, Obama paused to offer some advice to his party. "There have been times," he said, "when our Democratic Party did not reach out as aggressively as we could to Evangelicals because the assumption was, well, they don't agree with us on choice, or they don't agree with us on gay rights, and so we just shouldn't show up." That, he argued, was a grave mistake, and it's one reason he and Clinton have empowered Evangelicals within their own campaigns. Instead of avoiding Catholic voters, they've initiated new discussions about abortion. Instead of silencing pro-life supporters, they've encouraged Democrats to show tolerance and respect. And they're both on a first-name basis with Rick Warren.
Will Democratic outreach to religious voters work? Sullivan points out that Kerry lost the state of Ohio, and thus the election, by only 118,000 voters. Yet Sullivan provides no evidence that the party's new tactics will be effective. In the absence of any compelling evidence, journalists ought to view this argument with skepticism.
(Just to be clear, Sullivan, rightly, seems to be concerned about the party's presidential wing, not its congressional wing. While congressional Democratic leaders can handpick culturally conservative Democrats to fit individual districts, national party leaders enjoy no such power.)
Sullivan's argument ignores the possibility that the national Democratic Party's problems with religious voters are deeper. What about the party's electoral coalition and presidential nomination rules? After all, as recently as 1968 the party was the home of Catholics and Catholic party bosses, not religious progressives and seculars. (Judging by her book's Web site, Sullivan assumes the opposite was true.)
Yet Sullivan's argument about the Democratic Party is, at least in the MSM, practically the conventional wisdom. Journalists should examine this view critically. Not that anyone is asking me, but I think that on this topic reporters ought to ask three questions:
Question No. 1. Why does the Democratic National Committee maintain affirmative action guidelines for homosexual persons in selecting delegates?
Question No. 2. Will Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton permit a pro-life Democrat at the convention to even propose junking the pro-abortion rights plank and replace it with a pro-life one?
Question No. 3. Obama and Clinton both said they wish to reduce the abortion rate. But why do they support no legal protections for unborn infants? Obama did not support a bill to protect infants who survive an abortion attempt ((here)?
GR readers should know that both Sullivan and I have books out on the topic. So I will warn people of my bias. But journalists should examine the idea that all Democrats need is a change in its skin rather than its soul. Are Democrats willing to make real compromises?