Jody already remarked on the new Pew survey showing that while Americans are less inclined to call the GOP “friendly” to religion than they were two years ago (down from 55 to 47 percent), they’re much less likely to call the Democrats religion-friendly, with just 26 percent willing to describe the Dems that way.
But it’s also worth checking out the view from one of the Religious Left’s smarter cookies, Amy Sullivan, who unpacks the details of the Democrats’ decline. It’s an across-the-board phenomenon, she notes: The percentage of black Protestants who found the Dems friendly to faith fell by fourteen percentage points, for instance, while “support for Democrats’ approach to religion dropped by 10 points among Catholic Democrats, 16 points among Catholic Independents, and 25 points among Catholic Republicans, including a 9-point decline just in the last year.” And then the kicker: “It’s past time to hire a national party staffer to focus on Catholic outreach and strategy. Alas, the Democratic National Committee has been looking for a year to fill such a position, with no results.” (Ouch.)
Still, this decline can’t just be a matter of staffing decisions. So what’s going on? It’s understandable that the Democrats are perceived as unfriendly to religion generally, but why have they fallen off a cliff in the past couple of years? As Jody notes, this decline comes in spite of the flurry of interest in Jim Wallis and assorted Religious Left notables, in spite of the high-profile recruitment of pro-life Democratic candidates like Bob Casey Jr., and in spite of “all the Democratic figures rushing around since 2004 proclaiming the party’s connection with religion.” I’m not sure you can point to any particular GOP tactic, either: Sullivan suggests the influence of “Justice Sundays” and the whole “war on Christmas” debate, but I’m skeptical that either one caused much of a ripple among your average moderately religious voter.
What remains, I think, is something more subtle¯the fact that the hyper-secularist voting bloc is exercising more influence in the Democratic party than at any point since the 1972 convention, in terms of donations, rhetoric, and votes. These are the Kossacks and the Lamonsters, the Internet-enabled, highly education, affluent, and deeply anti-religious voters who are making their presence known¯and giving religious people the heebie-jeebies. This reality is obscured somewhat because all anyone in the press wants to talk about is the Iraq War, for understandable reasons, and so a Howard Dean or a Ned Lamont is defined, for the media at least, by their opposition to the invasion and their zeal to bring the troops home. Hence all the talk about the second coming of McGovernism , the return of the peacenik Left, and so forth.
But in reality, it’s not clear that Internet liberals are really pacifists, and certainly not in the way that McGovern was; they’re against the Iraq War, intensely and occasionally to the point of derangement, but I’m not so sure that this reflects an abiding dovishness so much as a visceral hatred for the Bush administration and all its works. And on fiscal issues, they’re definitely more center-left than lefty: Why, Markos Moulitsas’ only attempt at actually defining a personal political philosophy involved describing himself as a “libertarian Democrat,” of all things!
But religion¯ah, religion. Take a stroll through the lefty blogosphere, and it’s pretty clear that long after George W. Bush has passed (mercifully) into history, the Kossack hordes will still be united on at least one burning issue: the need to resist the looming theocracy . And these folks don’t just view religious conservatives as their political opponents; they actively loathe us, with a passion that exceeds even the sometimes over-the-top fear and loathing of secular humanists that you find on the Religious Right.
For instance, consider the piece Rod Dreher wrote for Touchstone a couple of years back (he excerpts it here ), analyzing data on delegates to the GOP and Democratic conventions¯and particularly the following detail:
A fascinating set of statistics emerged when questioners polled each party’s delegates on their views of various subgroups among the other party’s activists. Both Democrats and Republicans were “significantly more negative toward groups associated with the newer religious and cultural division in the electorate than toward groups associated with older political cleavages based on class, race, ethnicity, party or ideology.” That is, Republican delegates felt much warmer toward union leaders, mainline liberals, blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats than toward feminists, environmentalists, and pro-abortion activists. For their part, the Democrats were more favorably disposed to big-business types, the rich, political conservatives and Republicans than toward pro-lifers and conservative Christians. Of the 18 groups covered by the survey, Christian fundamentalists came in as the most despised, with over half the Democratic delegates giving them the absolute minimum score possible. Put another way, Republican delegates thought more highly of those who favor the legalized killing of unborn children than their Democratic counterparts thought of people who believe in a literal interpretation of Scripture.
This peculiar reality points, I think, to the fundamental problem with the whole post-McGovern Democratic strategy, which has been to build a coalition of upper-middle-class professionals, the poor and minority groups, and enough working and middle-class voters to push them over the top (see The Emerging Democratic Majority ). It could work, and indeed it almost has at times¯but it’s being persistently sabotaged by the fact that a large and growing chunk of its smart, wealthy, well-educated base just can’t stand religion, and simply won’t let their political party get right with God, or at least the voters who believe in him. As Sullivan says, “[T]hese Democrats view the party’s interest in talking to religious voters as a sure betrayal of the party’s principles.” And they have enough money, megaphones, and high-speed Internet connections to make sure that America knows it.
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