Democratic Salvation and the ‘Religious’ Left

There’s an interesting interview with Mara Vanderslice about her attempts to integrate ‘religious’ people (i.e., Christian–funny how Jews and Muslims, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic aren’t part of the ‘religious’ left according to Vanderslice) into the Democratic party. While I’ve ripped into Vanderslice before, there’s a lot I agree with, particularly the need for Democrats to define their policies in moral terms, not technocratic ones. But then I hit this paragraph (italics mine):

I hope that I’ll find a way to continue to pioneer this path for the Democrats. I’d love to be involved in continuing to build up the voices of faith in the party and providing the training and infrastructure on the ground to state parties, to future candidates, to reach out to these constituencies, because I just believe that the religious community can be the conscience and the soul of the Democratic Party, and the more we bring that back in, I believe, the stronger our party will be, the better we’ll be able to represent our positive vision for the future, and I think it’ll help us start winning elections again. So I’m very excited to continue this work.

There’s an obvious problem with this statement, which Atrios notes:

Now, this is part and parcel with the basic messages people like me get regularly from people all over the spectrum, that atheists and agnostics lack a conscience and a sense of values, and these things only come from religion and the religious.
I’d never write that “the atheist community can be the conscience and the soul of the Democratic party,” though I imagine if I did Bill Donohue would send out a press release. It’d be a highly exclusionary statement, and it would suggest an inherent moral superiority of the godless over the faithful.

I would add that Vanderslice’s statement is also troublesome for observant people who think that ethics in the public sphere should not be based on sectarian dogma, but on more universal principles.
But there’s something more subtle that really does offend me. I have canvassed for Democrats, donated to Democrats, and voted for Democrats. What Vanderslice is implying, if not saying outright, is that loyal rank and file Democrats, regardless of their religious views or lack thereof, are in desperate need of an influx of ‘good, moral people’, that Democratic supporters essentially need to be saved–or born again, if you like. I wonder what Democratic Party Vanderslice is talking about, since there are plenty of people involved with Democratic politics, particularly among the rank and file who are “the conscience and the soul of the Democratic Party.”
The primary problem the Democrats face is not a lack of conscience and soul, it is the encrustation of a political consultant class that very well might be the most inept group of political operatives in recorded history.
Vanderslice, save us, not from our immoral selves, but them.
A related post: Steve Gilliard notes another problem with outreach to white religious people:

White evangelicals are not Democrats because they largely dislike blacks and hispanics. You can pander to them all you want, but the core of their church has a racial undertone. The leading evangelicals were once leading segregationists.
They ignore the religious power which black and hispanics bring to the party and then try to appeal to people who are not Democrats for more than not being reached out to.
Until they realize this isn’t about religion alone, nothing will change.

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4 Responses to Democratic Salvation and the ‘Religious’ Left

  1. The Ridger says:

    Exactly. Both points. The Democratic Party already has a moral center – and those “religious folks” that aren’t Democrats aren’t going to become Democrats just because we start talking about God all over the place.

  2. L says:

    I hate to see anyone on the left trying to cater to any sort of religious fundamentalism. That’s precisely why I would never view the GOP as a “moral” party, whatever that means.
    Nice post
    * back to lurking *

  3. Joshua says:

    Actually, there’s something here that demonstrates with even more clarity why Democratic political consultants are so inept: “I think it’ll help us start winning elections again.”
    They’ve got a pre-11/2 mentality. Look, lady, we won in 2006. Big time. Hugely. It was a massive landslide.
    That landslide had nothing to do with pandering to evangelicals or finding a “conscience and soul” for the Democratic party, and everything to do with sound, popular policy goals and a commitment to progressive ideals. Consultants like Vanderslice are dinosaurs. They haven’t adapted to the past six years. It seems sometimes that they’re still trying to win the 2000 election, which simply isn’t helpful for 2008. It’s a different world, and people are finally becoming receptive to the progressive message that has always been the strength of the Democratic party. Why sacrifice that gain and try to out-religion the Republicans and sacrifice the classic strength of the Democratic party in the process? That would be a profound tragedy.

  4. Joshua says:

    Having consulted a calendar, obviously I meant “pre-11/7”. ;P

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