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November 3, 2004

towards a “democratic morality” and majority

Filed under: pre-06-2006,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 11:57 pm


Earlier tonight, the PBS News Hour took a look at the role of “religion” and “morality” in the Bush election victory.  A transcript of the discussion, Divided We Stand (Nov. 3, 2004), led by Gwen Ifill, is already available and might be a very good place for Democrats to start, as we try to understand how John Kerry failed to win the “morality vote”.   Ifill’s discussion included Jim Wallis, representing the Sojourners, a “progressive” coalition of faith groups, who wrote a column this morning entitled “Progressive faith did not lose this election“; Morris P. Fiorina, author of Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America; and Rick Warren, who has the bestselling book The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?, and pens the influential evangelical Ministry Tool Box

wrong way smN  Leading into Ifill’s segment, Ray Suarez questioned Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, who analyzed the exit polls from yesterday’s election.  Kohut downplayed the importance of the “moral values” explanation given by many voters as the most important reason for voting for Pres. Bush.  I believe Kohut is wrong and that the Democrats should not attempt to wish away the fact that millions of voters — mostly evangelical and fundamental Christians and Catholics — went to the polls specifically to show their moral repulsion at certain Democratic Party positions (especially Warren’s five “non-negotiable” issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, homosexual marriage, and euthanasia).

Democrats may never be able — or willing — to convert that non-negotiable part of the electorate.  But, I think Rick Klau is correct to suggest that the Party badly needs leaders “on the national stage who are speaking authoritatively on moral issues.”  (The only current example he can give is the new Senator-elect from Illinois, Barack Obama.)  We need those morally-authoritative leaders, not only because taking a stance on issues of right and wrong is the right thing to do, but because Democrats can only overcome the loss of those millions of fundamentalist voters by appealing to the values of a broader segment of American society, who believe that governing requres the constant application of our nation’s core moral precepts — although not the particular dogma of any one Faith. 

  • So, when Larry Lessig says our critcism of the Bush Administration “must now focus narrowly on policies,” we mustn’t be shy to point out when a policy is immoral.  Naturally, we should save the Morality Card for clearcut and important issues.
  • I agree with author Fiorina that our society is not as deeply divided as the media and party tacticians suggest.  There is a broad consensus on values.  But, the Democrats have not been willing to embrace that consensus by using morality themes.  That’s partly to do with the allergy to religion that many Baby Boomers of the Left developed as they rebelled against the hypocricy they saw in their religions of birth.  And, partly to do with buying into the bogus notion that effective moral principles cannot exist outside of religion (see, e.g., The Catholic Encyclopedia on morality, as well as Prof. Bainbridge).
  • checker neg  And, I agree with the statement of Sojourners’ Jim Wallis on the News Hour tonight that: “[V]alues are a good conversation for politics. It may be the future of our discussion. But it can’t just be partisan values wedged in to divide people. But I think a broader sense of values, personal and social — personal responsibility and social responsibility together are at the heart of religion. The two together will provide a powerful political vision for the future.”  (emphasis added)

Wallis expanded on this theme in his column this morning: 

We’ve now begun a real debate in this country over what the most important “religious issues” are in politics, and that discussion will continue far beyond this election. The Religious Right fought to keep the focus on gay marriage and abortion and even said that good Christians and Jews could only vote for the president. But many moderate and progressive Christians disagreed. We insisted that poverty is also a religious issue, pointing to thousands of verses in the Bible on the poor. The environment – protection of God’s creation – is also one of our religious concerns. And millions of Christians in America believe the war in Iraq was not a “just war.”  . . . 

Clearly, God is not a Republican or a Democrat, as we sought to point out, and the best  contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or loyally partisan but to maintain the moral independence to critique both the left and the right.

podium sf  It is now key to remember that our vision – a progressive and prophetic vision of faith and politics – was not running in this election. John Kerry was, and he lost. Kerry did not strongly champion the poor as a religious issue and “moral value,” or make the war in Iraq a clearly religious matter. In his debates with George Bush, Kerry should have challenged the war in Iraq as an unjust war, as many religious leaders did – including Evangelicals and Catholics. And John Kerry certainly did not advocate a consistent ethic of human life as we do – opposing all the ways that life is threatened in our violent world.

We didn’t lose the election, John Kerry did, and the ways in which both his vision and the Democratic Party’s are morally and politically incomplete should continue to be taken up by progressive people of faith.   (emphases added)

Yes, a very good start to this vital conversation.  With the one added essential point that the values espoused by the Sojourners are also deeply held by many liberals, as well as non-religious members of the Democratic, Republic, Libertarian Parties, and more — people of good will and strong personal ethics, deeply committed to their social and family responsibilities.  Let’s start this conversation and build a broad consensus on values and morality — social and personal — that can make America stronger and more united.


without Buddha’s law
no glitter…
dewdrops in the grass


                        rook horiz

my dream comes true–
this spring my god
the god of the poor


 Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue.       
p.s. George Wallace points his wise finger at zealotry

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