Thursday, June 29, 2006

What the hell is Obama doing?

Well, he's criticizing his fellow Democrats for not being open to and respecting people of faith. Indeed, Democrats do not "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people".

First, this isn't true, as Steve Benen says. Yes, Democrats need to do a better job reaching out to, and making sure voters know they're open to and respect, people of faith. But Democrats aren't exactly hardcore secularists who oppose the very presence of religion in the public square. A few of them, perhaps, but at most a small minority of them and certainly not in the leadership.

Second, it's a stupid thing to say publicly. It's the Republican spin. On this, let me quote, in full, Atrios's open letter to Obama:

Dear Senator Obama,

If you think it's important to court evangelicals, then court them. If, on the other hand, you think it's important to confirm and embrace the false idea that Democrats are hostile to religion in order to set yourself apart, then continue doing what you're doing. It won't help the Democrats, and it probably won't even help you, but whatever makes you happy.

Love and kisses,


P.S. What Stoller says.

Sure, love and kisses from me, too. I like Obama a great deal. The thought of an '08 presidential ticket with the junior senator from Illinois in the Veep spot fills me with pleasure.

And, yes, what Matt Stoller says. And also what fellow MyDDer Chris Bowers says: "Obama's comments lend tri-partisan support (Democrats, Republicans and the media) to a narrative that Democrats are hostile toward people of faith. This tri-partisan support will result in a "closing of the triangle" against Democrats where it become conventional wisdom that Democrats are hostile to people of faith."

See also David Sirota, who says much the same thing (saying it very well, mind you); Firedoglake's Pachacutec, who doesn't much care for Obama; and AMERICAblog, where John Aravosis writes that Obama was "mostly" right (with crucial caveats).


Here's my own open letter:

Dear Senator,

Please stop. Now.

You can (and must) do better. Those of us with confidence in you, and in your future, continue to stand by you. But we're Democrats, just like you, and our party must break free of the lies and deceptions that constitute the Republican spin. You made some important points in your speech, points that Democrats ought to consider seriously, but you of all people, a great orator already, must know that words have lives beyond their immediate context. Did you not consider how your words would be taken? How they would be seen to reinforce the Republican spin?

And, furthermore, do you really believe that Democrats do not "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people"? If so, think again. I think you'll find that you're wrong. Perception aside (and Democrats need to work on perception, granted), Democrats are quite open to faith. That should be your message. The positive, not the negative -- at least in public.

Now go. The future awaits you.


Michael Stickings

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  • A valid point, jeffl, but I'm not sure we disagree.

    As I stated in my post, I do acknowledge that Obama made some valuable points in his speech. We do need "a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy". Let's have one.

    But he still implied that Democrats "fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people". He is referring to Democrats' "strategies of avoidance" with respect to religious values. Consider the previous two paragraphs:

    "Conservative leaders, from Falwell and Robertson to Karl Rove and Ralph Reed, have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design.

    "Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that -- regardless of our personal beliefs -- constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, some liberals dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith."

    Democrats, he says, simply do not want to talk about religion and have thus alienated many religious voters. Clearly, he wants Democrats to talk about religion, about faith, about values, albeit in universal rather than sectarian terms.

    Overall, it's actually a very good speech. Everyone should read it. Certainly every Democrat should. What I object to is his unqualified regurgitation of the Republican/conservative spin that Democrats are value-free, amoral secularists.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 3:16 PM  

  • I think Senator Obama is quite right to point that Democrats are facing a God gap. As a evangelical Christian and Democrat, I have noticed a growing trend toward away from the Democratic Party among the on the right side and increasing the center of the theological spectrum.

    Republicans have not always dominated the realm of religious voters. Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics were heavily Democratic consitutencies in most areas until about 25 years ago. In fact, the evangelical Christian vote was instrumental in Jimmy Carter's election to the Presidency in 1976.

    Democratic Party leaders are not necessarily without personal faith, but they tend to connect only with the left end of the theological spectrum. Evangelical Christians and traditionalist Catholics feel increasingly alienated from the Democrats. This is a real problem as this segement of American Christianity makes up a far larger share of the electorate than more liberal believers especially in th South and Midwest.

    Perceptions are reality. It matters little what the intentions of Democratic Party leaders are if a large majority of religious voter think that Democrats are a party opposed to religious values.
    Democrats need to make evangelical Christians and traditionalist Catholics welcome in the party again.

    The main barrier to this is the perceived secularism of the Democratic Party and the intolerance for differing views on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. The Democratic Party needs to move toward the center on the social issues. We can win back a number of evangelical and Catholic voters by focusing on the economic concerns of working families and respecting the moral consciences of traditionalists on the social issues.

    By Blogger RightDemocrat, at 7:28 PM  

  • As an evangelical registered Democrat, I can back up RightDemocrat. With few exceptions, Democrats seem consistently awkward in religious discussions. I think of Howard Dean and Kerry stumbling over religious questions in the last election.

    It feels like Bush is derided in public discussions for his religious faith, even more than for his disastrous policies and naive world-view. It becomes quite alienating for those of us who share his faith though not his policy views.

    There is something to your point that the perception of Democrats as secular is unfair. Perhaps the most controversial point Senator Obama makes is "That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike..." This wanders close to implying that all religions are basically the same. An absurd and condescending (though widely held) view of religion. But President Bush has made similar implications in the past (Islam is a "great religion" when Christianity sees it as a false one) but he gets away with it because so many Christians percieve him to be one of them.

    Not sure what to do about that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:48 PM  

  • Hey fellow Americans,

    I try to refrence all things patriotic these days. I fear for our future. The health reform is not necsacary, not in the way that the Dems have proposed. We could insure the uninsured for a couple billion instead of trillions. Why are we letting our country crumble around us? Does any one out there believe in the principles that America was founded on anymore? People wait and die in Canada an the UK all too much because of their social health programs. Why go about the reforms like this?

    By Anonymous CR Warner, at 10:10 PM  

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