Tuesday, April 01, 2008

National Catholic Register: "Soul of the Democrat Party Still Secular"

Mark Stricherz writes in the April 6-12 issue of National Catholic Register:
Democrats’ religious outreach is only skin-deep. Are Democrats reaching out to religious voters?

Party officials recruited pro-life candidates to run for Congress in 2006, most of whom won their elections.

Hillary Clinton appointed an outreach group to Catholics. Barack Obama suggested that he would do the same to Christian evangelicals: “There have been times,” he said at a debate last month in South Carolina, “when our Democratic Party did not reach out as aggressively as we could to evangelicals because the assumption was, well, they don’t agree with us on choice, or they don’t agree with us on gay rights, and so we just shouldn’t show up.”

Do these efforts signify a new era in Democratic politics?

Not really. The soul of the Democratic Party is still secular. Of course, the soul of the Republican Party is not religious, as it is split between economic, foreign policy and cultural conservatives. Yet there is no comparable battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Secular liberals won that victory long ago.

Democrats have modulated their rhetoric, as none of its presidential candidates have denounced “fundamentalist preachers” as Howard Dean did in 2004.

Democrats have modulated their policies, as its presidential candidates talk now about reducing the need for abortion. And Democrats have modulated their national staff, employing aides who work with religious groups.

From these developments, Democratic intellectuals conclude that the party has gotten religion. Amy Sullivan, author of The Party Faithful, writes that Democrats are “closing the God gap.” E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post writes in his new book Souled Out that “the era of the Religious Right is over.”

Those pronouncements are overstated. Only the Democrats’ skin is becoming religious.

The party’s platform on cultural issues has not changed. It continues to support taxpayer-financed abortions. It continues to support civil unions for homosexual couples. It continues to support federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research and “therapeutic cloning.”

The status of culturally conservative Democrats in the national party also has not changed. In 1992 and 1996, Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania was prevented from delivering a pro-life speech at the party’s nominating convention. In 2003 and 2004, Democrats for Life of America was prevented from linking its website to that of the DNC. In 2004, Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, a respected member of the 9-11 Commission, lost his bid for the DNC Chairmanship.

Now the Democrats’ new efforts may well appeal to some religious voters this fall. After all, Bill Clinton won the Catholic vote both times. Perhaps Obama and Clinton will repeat the feat.

Yet Democrats should change more than their surface. They need to change their soul. Only then will a new Democratic era have arrived.


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