Home > Religion, The Left > Secularists and the Democratic party

Secularists and the Democratic party

Well, I didn’t have the same reaction to this as P.Z. Myers did.

Sullivan’s right about the PR angle. Democrats have policies that are amenable to evangelicals and we could sell those values to them better. That’s something the religious Left (the sane religious Left, not ridiculous New Age-types) needs to do, of course, not someone like me. Sullivan also points out some other ideas Democrats could support, which is where she ventures into questionable territory:

Actually, it’s about both—a fight over which party gets to claim the religious mantle. Nationally, and in states like Alabama, the GOP cannot afford to allow Democrats a victory on anything that might be perceived as benefiting people of faith. Republican political dominance depends on being able to manipulate religious supporters with fear, painting the Democratic Party as hostile to religion and in the thrall of secular humanists. That image would take quite a blow if the party of Nancy Pelosi was responsible for bringing back Bible classes—even constitutional ones—to public schools.

Constitutional Bible classes are OK, even good. World religions classes would be even better (my high school has one of those classes every couple of years and it’s pretty popular), but Bible literacy classes are a good step. Sullivan seems to be considering unconstitutional classes, however. That is intolerable and I wonder if Sullivan really considers that good policy.

A sign that Democratic leaders are beginning to get it is the plan—promoted by leaders such as Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton—to lower abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies. Full-throated support of this effort, and a recognition that abstinence education plays a role in lowering teen pregnancy rates (along with birth control), puts Democrats alongside the majority of voters on this difficult issue, and it is especially appealing to moderate evangelicals.

Myers complains that abstinence education doesn’t work. This is true, but I don’t think that’s what Sullivan is suggesting. Sex education in my high school (part of the “health” class) consisted of mentioning abstinence as the best option, but then explaining birth control. That’s good and it’s hardly a bad idea to emphasize abstinence a little bit more (it was basically just lip service in my class).

Sullivan’s recommendations are:

There is a growing recognition among mainstream Democrats and the once-quiescent Religious Left that they can reframe issues they care about in terms that appeal to religious voters. But winning over moderate evangelicals—or moderate religious voters generally—will take more than just repackaging old positions. It will require aggressively staking out new positions that can be used to demonstrate the tension within the GOP’s religious/business coalition—embracing, for instance, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. And it means forwarding new ideas that can counter the conservative-promoted image of progressives as anti-religious—ideas like Bible-as-literature courses in public high schools, which might anger some secularists on the left but are perfectly consonant with liberal values.

Those ideas are fine, but we obviously have to be careful. Bible classes could easily devolve into Sunday school. Sullivan probably understands that. I’m not that familiar with her other writings. Still, there are ideas that appeal to religious voters that I like as well. Selling those ideas to evangelicals is not racing to the religious right, but smart strategy (then again, what the hell do I know about strategy?).

Finally, Myers charges Sullivan with wanting secularists to sit down and shut up. Kevin Drum also seems to get that. I’m not so sure she’s saying that, but if she is, I wholeheartedly agree with Myers.

Categories: Religion, The Left
  1. March 6, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    I think it’s one of those cases of “The surgery was a success, but the patient died.” Sure, the Democrats could be more like Republicans, which would get us votes, but then what would we be?

  2. March 6, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Would it get Dems more votes? I think it would just be a matter of why should someone vote for GOP-lite.

  3. March 7, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    That’s true. Remember that the Dems tried a “We’re just like the Republicans, but better!” angle in 2004 and it didn’t work.

  4. March 7, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    I don’t really see her as asking us to become more like Republicans, but to embrace policies that naturally appeal to evangelicals but are consistent with liberal values. Sullivan comes close a couple times, but otherwise I think she’s right. We’re hardly GOP-lite if we support the Bible literacy project.

  5. March 8, 2006 at 7:08 am

    Yeah, I kinda got the same vibe – that she’s asking the Democrats to be *gasp!* the Party of Inclusion again, rather than resort to the same kind of sniping and scapegoating that we hate about the Repubilcans.

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