Saturday, November 06, 2004

One big reason the Democrats lost

B got me to watch a segment of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer last Wednesday, the day after the election. A lot of my thoughts in this post stem from her thoughts on the program. The topic was "divided we stand" how can the country re-unite after a hotly contested election? The focus was on values, meaning religious beliefs. The format: moderator and panel of specialists. It was very good. I give excerpts and a link to the full transcript below.

The country's religious divisions are intensely interesting and much debated. See for example the following posting in Crooked Timber. It highlights a main theme of the Newshour discussion: Religious beliefs as personal ethics vs. religious commitment to social justice, put in other words "the individual versus the communitarian".

Religion and Social Justice
Posted by Kieran

Mark Schmitt asks a good question:

The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change. I need some reading suggestions here.

Well, here are four from the Sociology department. Bob Wuthnow’s After Heaven: Spirituality in American Since the 1950s might be a good place to get a sense of the shift from what Wuthnow calls “place-based” to “practice-based” spirituality in America. His recent Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society looks at the social-service role of religions. Mark Chaves’ Congregations in America is built around the first nationally representative survey of U.S. congregations and emphasizes how small a role politics and social services play in the lives of churches. And The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism, edited by Wuthnow1 and John Evans, offers a survey of recent trends in the political involvement of the Mainline. (Full disclosure: Bob was one of my advisors, Mark is head of my department, and John is a friend of mine from grad school.) But I’m not a sociologist of religion, so there’s probably a lot of other relevant stuff out there I don’t know about.

1 Bob can write books faster than most people can read them.

Here's the link to the Newshour transcript:

A NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
Online NewsHour
November 3, 2004


Gwen Ifill leads a discussion about how the country can reunite after the hotly contested election.

GWEN IFILL: Both President Bush and Senator Kerry appealed across party lines today for unity in the wake of another election that left the nation split in shades of blue and red. But in a year when gay marriage bans passed in 11 states, to what degree is the debate over values contributing to that split?

For more on that, we turn to: Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life"; author and essayist Barbara Ehrenreich-- her most recent book is "Nickel and Dimed: Surviving in Low-Wage America"; Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a Christian ministry that advocates for social justice; and Morris Fiorina, a political science professor at Stanford's Hoover Institute and the author of "Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America."

I was interested in the personal/social dicotemy because I've been reading Durkheim on religion and that was a main concern of his. All the same, the part of the panel discussion that most caught my attention were the statements by Morris Fiorina, who teaches at the Hoover Institute, which is a conservative bastion. He seems to be supporting what I've been thinking about the election: voters looked at the two candidates and saw, or thought they saw, that Kerry echoed Bush in most of his platform. See bottom of this post for his view of the matter.

The Democrats were so cautious in promoting the "stronger America" theme that the fight appeared to a whole lot of people to be one about religious beliefs and not politics, or the bungling of the government's response to terrorism, or the tragic mistake of war with Iraq, or even what life will be like in America for our children and their children. Shields and Brooks addressed this matter in the Political Wrap later in the same Newshour program. Mark Shields said that the focus on beliefs hurt the Democrats because they are seen as being a secular party:

I think the point I drew from Gwen's discussion, which was a terrific discussion were two, particularly Jim Wallis's point of the Sojourn. It's far more complex than the one-dimensional. It's the individual versus the communitarian.

If you say partisanism is essentially an individualistic religion, your relationship to God is individualistic and your moral acts really determine that relationship, whereas, communitarian and Catholicism have a far more communitarian concept, that your responsibility, your religious commitment is measured by your involvement in the community, your responsibility to those less fortunate and so forth, I think that's it.

I don't think there is any question that the Democratic Party has become a secular party. I think the Democratic Party to its disadvantage politically --

He also said that the Democrats could have won if they had nominated a man who would be able to differentiate himself from Bush on all the other issues:

The definition of the presidency changed on Sept. 11. Commander-in-chief became central to the job description of the president. John Kerry was the one Democrat in the eyes of Democratic primary voters who met that test and could be competitive, so I think the argument that John Edwards, who is a better campaigner, a more naturally gifted campaigner would have been a better candidate, Dick Gephardt, who I think would have been a better president than either one of them... would have been a better candidate.

Here's the quote from Fiorina:

GWEN IFILL: Morris Fiorina, is there polarization that exists? We looked at these numbers last night. We crunched through them. We saw that one in five people cited moral values as a major issue for their votes, and that eight out of ten of those people voted for President Bush, and then we look at that map with all those red states in the middle and the blue states on the end, does that mean that we're a hopelessly polarized nation?

MORRIS P. FIORINA: No. Not at all; I agree with Andy Kohut. There has been a lot of exaggeration here it is also true that people in the academy and the media are really missing the importance of religion and have for a long time in American politics.

But the point I want to make is it's not as if tens of millions of Americans woke up in the last two elections and decided economics doesn't matter anymore, it's all about values. Rather what's happened is the parties have become closer in economics.

They now argue about how big the tax cuts - how big the budget deficit, how big a prescription drug plan, and have gotten farther apart on values. The Republican Party has barely embraced the religious right. The Democratic Party has gotten quite secular.

But if you can imagine an alternative world in which John McCain was the Republican nominee and you recall he called various members of the religious right evil back in 2000 and a world in which Joe Lieberman was the Democratic nominee, a traditional values kind of guy, then I doubt we'd be having this discussion now. We have to pay attention to what elites are doing to make issues salient and to divide the population, not simply in what voters are doing.

GWEN IFILL: What do you mean when you say elites?

MORRIS P. FIORINA: By elites I mean the candidates, the activists, the parties basically, the corporate parties out there, and right now the Republicans in particular have found it politically advantageous to fight on values issues. This is one of the ways in which they undermine the old New Deal economic coalition for the Democrats.

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