I'd love it if fervently religious folks decided to try to be "the soul and conscience of the Democratic Party," for example by insisting that the party stand foursquare against torture, or, as Mara Vanderslice suggests, that we need to be fervent rather than lukewarm in insisting on economic justice. And of course if you want to appeal to fervently religious folks, casting them in a role they'd like to occupy is a good way to do it.
It takes a truly Donohuesque level of abusive misrepresentation to translate that into an accusation that non-religious folks are without conscience.
Really? When someone says they're running for President from the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party", would Kleiman say there's no criticism of others within the Democratic Party implied? If someone says "integrity and honesty need to be restored to the office of the president," is it hard to tell what they think of the incumbent? When someone says her co-religionists would like to be "the soul and conscience of the Democratic Party", the clear implication is that the Democratic Party lacks a soul and conscience now.
It's one thing to say that your religious values tell you that the goals of the Democratic Party are good and right, and so you support them. There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying that the morally desirable policies of the Democratic Party have not been effectively communicated to a group of voters. It's quite different to imply that your religious values are morally superior to those of other people, and that the goals of the Democratic Party must be religiously redirected to be good and right.
Kleiman says we're all just a bunch of meanies:
But there's no denying that the megachurch as it currently stands is one of the props of the God-and-Mammon Coalition that is the contemporary Republican Party. That's partly because the Democrats have allowed themselves to be associated with a contemptuous view toward "revealed" religion.
Again, really? That means someone like me, a lifelong atheist, who admires the hell out of an evangelical Christian like Fred Clark - a guy, by the way, pretty frequently quoted by Duncan - is just faking it. All of us secular liberals don't mean it when we say that what enrages us is someone citing God as the justification to, say, take away women's constitutional rights. In fact, we really hate Christians who behave like they really believe in peace and justice. It must have something to do with us also loving terrorists. Perhaps Kleiman can consult Ann Althouse to figure out what makes us so wacky.
The real reason the "megachurch as it currently stands is one of the props of the God-and-Mammon Coalition" is not, as Kleiman thinks, because Democrats shun religion. It's because the religious left as a group has not gotten off its collective ass and done anything. They let their denominations be taken over by conservatives who used hardball tactics. They failed to build other churches or organizations as competitors to the conservatives'. And they utterly failed and continue to fail to convince their co-religionists not to side with the conservatives.
That last bit is not due to Democrats having contempt for the religious. It's due to the fact that conservative Christians hate and despise liberal Christians. They don't respect them, and they don't fear them. Why should they? As far as the conservatives are concerned, the religious left are apostates, and weaklings to boot.
Kleiman believes that all we need to do is be nice and the Christian Right loaf can be leavened with religious liberals:
That the current organized anti-abortion movement is also anti-women, anti-gay, anti-sex, and often economically reactionary as well, is true. But I would be delighted if it became false, as it might.
Get that? The anti-abortion movement, dominated by bigoted conservatives, could be infiltrated by the crafty operatives of the Religious Left, if only we hugged them and told them how smart they are. It's naive in the extreme to think the cultural right and the Republican party would allow itself to lose control of the anti-abortion movement. Liberal Christians have no traction on such issues because we're insufficiently encouraging? As someone else has said, it's a fight, no one is handing out invitations, so if you want to participate get in there and start swinging. Land a few solid punches for the side of right and then you'll get a pat on the back - you earn respect by doing what's difficult and right.
As it is, the Christian Left as a group is in the position of having had its ass handed to it by the conservatives, and now they're trying to pull those of us who have been fighting long and hard against the evil pricks off them. And what do they tell us to do? Be nicer. Agree with them that abortion is morally wrong and God approves only of heterosexuality. Give them the right to say how the Democratic Party should handle "moral" issues. Basically, give them power that they haven't earned, and abandon principled, moral positions to do so.
To what end? Kleiman claims to be a hard-nosed pragmatist, "Personally, though, I don't value elevated hackles as much as I do winning elections." Again he naively assumes that all we're talking about is adding a new member of the Democratic coalition, rather than risking alienating large numbers of people who are already winning elections for us. We've been down this road before, you know, when a liberal interest group who had failed to win over the electorate claimed to have been shut out of the Democratic Party. Vanderslice is doing much the same thing Nader did in 2000 - she's out to extort the Democratic Party into changing its positions to match hers. All well and good - that's what politics is about. MoveOn and the netroots did much the same to support Howard Dean as head of the DNC and generate opposition to the war.
The question for Vanderslice, as it was for Nader and MoveOn, is: Will adopting your positions gain us more votes than it loses? It's indisputable that Nader cost Gore the election, but if Gore had bought Nader off by adopting some of his policies, it's just as sure that moderates who otherwise would have supported Gore would have bolted. Gore loses either way. On the other hand, MoveOn and liberal blogs energized a Democratic base that was sick and tired of Democratic candidates wimping out, without driving away anyone who wasn't probably going to vote Republican already. Dean championed this approach and won the DNC chair, which led to the 2006 midterms; John Kerry failed to embrace it and lost. Accepting Ms. Vanderslice as the "soul and conscience" of the party means adopting positions that implicitly undermine the political rationale for the civil rights of women and gay and lesbian people. Kleiman just assumes, based on nothing I can see, that we'll pick up more votes among evangelicals than we'll lose elsewhere. Does that strike you as realistic?
Look, I am all in favor of individual Democratic candidates who base their policies on issues like abortion on their religious convictions. I only have one condition: Win. It's funny to push a consultant like Vanderslice out in front of this issue when her relevant experience is for the '04 Kerry campaign. I'll tell her and Kleiman the same thing I tell the Naderites and the Greens: Prove your case. Win an election. Go out and find yourself a Congressional race and put your program into effect. I know, it's harder because of the party machinery and the power of incumbency. Politics is hard work, as the Decider-in-Chief says. You can find a district where there's no Democratic incumbent, but make sure to pick one where there is a sizable block of Democrats that you risk pissing off proportionate to their presence in the Democratic Party nationwide. That is, pick a representative district. Win the primary. Better yet, win the seat. Winning is prima facie evidence that you can add evangelicals to the coalition without convincing others they're being sold out.
I bet you can't do it. But if you do, you can come back to skeptics like me and say, "It works. How about we talk about altering the national platform and who is nominated for President." Until you prove you know how to drive, stop asking for the keys.
Update: Replying to Duncan's criticism, Kleiman says:
As to "proof by assertion," where's your evidence for the claim that "religious left" leaders such as Vanderslice are demanding that the Democrats backslide on reproductive freedom? Insofar as they do make such demands, I'm happy (again, as I said above) to help you push back. But why cry before you're hit?
Okay, I'll volunteer. From the very article about Vanderslice under discussion:
The Republican Party and the right wing in this country have had a strategy of reaching out to Catholics, white Protestants, evangelicals going back for 20 years. The Democrats, if we're going to make up this gap, this "God gap," so called, we will need to invest, I think, in a long-term strategy in reaching out to these communities and ... listening to them, to giving them a seat at the table so that we can hear what their concerns are and can let them know that there's a place for them to be people of moral values, religious people, Christian people, and be Democrats. I also believe that the Democratic Party -- we really need to engage in a more thoughtful debate on the abortion issue in this country. I can't tell you how many times I had conversations with people of deep faith [who] said, "I support you [and] everything you are doing on every other issue except for this one." It is such a painful and divisive issue in this country, and we have, therefore, avoided it, I think, to a large extent. I don't think that does service for us. I believe that we need to work across our differences to find ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies. There are a million and a half abortions every year in this country, and no one can feel that's a good place for us to be. But we need to support the programs that we know reduce the need for abortions. Abortion rates went down to their lowest levels in 25 years under President Clinton; abortion rates went up under President Reagan. We need to work together to support the programs that will help women choose life, and I think we need to be open to a new dialogue on this issue.
First, note her statement that Democrats need to work to convince religious people that it is possible they can be "people of moral values" and "Democrats." Kleiman argues that the generous reading of this to Vanderslice is that we need to do a better sales job. Duncan says that you would have had to have been asleep for the past six years to believe that the Republican Party - which tortures people, jails others without charge, allows American cities to be destroyed by natural disasters, and starts wars on a pretext - are the moral ones. If they haven't been asleep, what Vanderslice must be saying is that evangelicals have real, substantive concerns that Democrats are less moral than Republicans.
The leaves us with only two possible conclusions: That evangelicals who don't vote Democrat are stupid and uninformed, or they're stupid and unable to make good moral decisions. Either way, I am not in favor of catering to them.
Second, do we really need "a more thoughtful debate on the abortion issue in this country"? I thought the discussion for the past 35 years has been full of thought, as well as spittle, invective, threats and the whiff of gunpowder. I don't recall avoiding the "painful and divisive issue" as I was doing clinic defense and patient escort during attempts to blockade the clinic by anti-abortion zealots. I do recall wondering if I was going to get shot. If by "thoughtful" Vanderslice means "Evangelical anti-abortion people need to tone down the murder rhetoric", well, count me as on board that ship. Not that long ago, there was a guy who was blowing up abortion clinics, and he hid out in the woods where he got help from good, God-fearing Christians:
It is thought that Rudolph had the assistance of sympathizers while evading capture. Some in the area were vocal in support of him. Two country music songs were written about him and a locally top-selling T-shirt read: "Run Rudolph Run." Many Christian Identity adherents are outspoken in their support of Rudolph; the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, notes that "extremist chatter on the Internet has praised Rudolph as 'a hero' and some followers of hate groups are calling for further acts of violence to be modeled after the bombings he is accused of committing."
You know, to put the best possible spin on it for Vanderslice, I am sure she is a very sweet person:
Someone had forwarded [it] to me when the Catholic League put their release out. I remember the title said, "John Kerry's Religious Outreach Director Is a Real Gem." Naively, I actually thought maybe it was going to be someone saying nice things about what we were doing.
She thought the Catholic League was going to say nice things about her. Similarly, she thinks if we just sit down and listen seriously to anti-abortion evangelicals, they'll come over to our side. I am sure the anti-abortion folks she talks to don't want to hurt this sweet lady's feelings, so they say things like, "I support you
[and] everything you are doing on every other issue except for this
one." Of course, what they really mean is, "You work for babykillers." You want to give these people a seat at the table? The price they will exact is that certain other people lose their place at the table. They are not interested in compromise to reduce the number of abortions; that's been on the table for years. They don't want to fund sex ed and contraception. They want to ban abortion. Then they want to ban sex ed. Then they want to ban contraception.
The nicest thing you can say about Vanderslice is that she is in over her head. Kleiman too.