Faith in Public LIVE: David Buckley on the Middle Ground (Part 4)

August 1, 2006, 3:13 pm | Posted by

Hi Amy and Thurman,

First off, thanks so much to both of you for taking time to develop this conversation. We’re coming through Day 2 of the exchange, and I think it’s been stimulating stuff so far. Before Thurman weighs in, I want to add a few thoughts, in part elaborating on Alex’s comment left on Amy’s last post.

Senator Reid’s address yesterday at the Center for American Progress took on the issue of abortion with admirable candor. He spent a good deal of his time discussing the Prevention First Agenda , an interesting legislative package with the support of both pro-lifers and pro-choicers. I don’t know if I have the buzzword you’re looking for, Amy, but it might go something like “Prevention, not Prohibition.’ I’d be interested in each of your thoughts on how a concrete agenda like this might further strengthen the ability of pro-choice candidates to engage religious pro-life communities.

I have one more quick point before I leave the conversation to you two. Both of you raised the issue of Gov. Kaine’s stance on the death penalty. I come down closer to Amy’s reading of how that issue played out, but I understand your concern, Thurman. Will national voters respect the moral integrity of a politician who says, ‘I personally believe this is wrong, but as an elected official will work with those who have different beliefs and enforce the laws of the land?’

I think voters can accept that position, and are most likely to from a public official who has a gift for sincerity and consistency. Candidate Kaine was Mr. Consistent on his values once he began fighting back against the cheap-shot death penalty ads that were leveled at him in the campaign. He talked openly and sincerely about his Catholic international social service and interestingly employed the evangelical language of ‘mission’ to describe that time. He personally told his story and in the process built a level of credibility and moral legitimacy that his opponent’s attack ads couldn’t destroy. He has a gift for the sincere, and he works it to his advantage. I’d argue that any candidate attempting to strike the middle ground on abortion that Amy mentions had better be similarly blessed.

Looking forward to your thoughts,

David

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Faith in Public LIVE: Sullivan’s Response (Part 3)

August 1, 2006, 11:05 am | Posted by

Hi, Thurman and David–

Thanks so much for your thoughtful post yesterday, Thurman. It’s such a pleasure to discuss these topics civilly on the web! We agree on a number of areas, but I did want to clarify a few things that I wrote yesterday, raise some questions about several of your points as well, and get your thoughts on a question that has been puzzling me for a while.

To begin, I didn’t mean to argue that Casey could neutralize Santorum’s advantage from religious conservatives by actually gaining the support of organizations like the Pennsylvania Pastors Network. Re-reading my post, I see that I put that somewhat imprecisely. It’s possible that Casey will indeed benefit in November from an increased share of the religious conservative vote, due in no small part to the fact that his pro-life stand renders that objection of theirs moot.

More important in my view–and this is where I see it working as a strategy for pro-life Democrats as well–is the fact that by forcing PPN and others to play by the rules, Casey has taken away their ability to operate as an arm of the GOP. Will they still rally the troops to vote for Santorum? Of course. But by forcing PPN to invite both camps to their events, the Casey campaign has effectively shut down their operations for a number of months.

It’s true that Casey’s pro-life position has allowed him to make inroads with some evangelicals who wouldn’t otherwise engage with him during a campaign. A few months ago, I wrote about an event the National Association of Evangelicals sponsored at Messiah College in Pennsylvania to highlight the issue of global warming. Casey showed up and shared the stage with leading evangelicals; Santorum, whose stance on environmental issues is decidely weaker, stayed at home and was ripped apart by the largely conservative crowd.

But I would argue that what Casey has done to engage–and thereby partially defang–the PPN is definitely repeatable by pro-choice Democratic candidates. I’ve talked to a number of state party chairs in reddish states who have described to me the “get to know you” meetings they have been holding with conservative religious leaders in their states, sometimes the very first time that those folks have ever had a Democrat reach out and ask to talk. These Democratic party chairs are under no illusion that they will convince the religious leaders to start voting Democratic. But they do have hope that by having respectful conversations, they can soften the perception that Democrats are hostile to or uncomfortable with religion. As one of them told me, “If they come away from those meetings and stop telling other Republican voters that we have horns and are amoral, then maybe we’ll have a better chance of picking up those voters.” Yes, abortion comes up in those meetings. But that’s not where the discussion ends.

As for Tim Kaine, I would argue that far from hiding the fact that he was opposed to the death penalty, he was very upfront about it. And that contributed to the perception that his Catholicism was authentic, which I think helped him with voters. He addressed the issue head-on in at least one major debate, and in campaign ads, as well. That could have been a risky decision, given that the vast majority of Virginia voters support the death penalty. But in the same way that people say they admire Bush for knowing what he believes, even when they disagree with him, Kaine actually benefitted from taking an unpopular decision. He wasn’t saying, well, I’ll say I’m pro-life, because that’s popular, but I’d better support the death penalty or I’ll get creamed. He applied his life position consistently. And I think he got points for that.

I’ll save the challenge posed to Democrats by pro-life candidates for tomorrow, because I have too much to say for the little time I have to finish this post. But I will end by soliciting your thoughts on a question I don’t know the answer to. It’s long bothered me that for the past thirty years, abortion politics has required Americans to choose sides. You are either pro-choice or pro-life. If a politician supports a parental notification law, he or she is labeled pro-life by abortion rights supporters. But if the political leader also opposes a “partial-birth abortion” ban, the anti-abortion side will tag him or her as unacceptably pro-choice. There is no word for a middle-ground position in American politics.

I want a term for that middle position. Maybe that’s just stupid and on the level of semantics and doesn’t matter. But I suspect that most people on both sides would drop out and fall somewhere in the middle. There’s a difference between a pro-life politician who wants to criminalize abortion and a pro-life politician who can’t bring herself to vote against a bill to limit abortion. We should have a way of distinguishing between the two, and voters should know, as well. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on all of this and more.

All the Best,

Amy

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Faith in Public LIVE: XPatriated Texan Responds (Part 2)

July 31, 2006, 3:53 pm | Posted by

Hi Amy and David,

Thank you, Amy, for getting the ball rolling and many thanks to Faith in Public Life for launching this initiative. It’s an honor to be invited to participate. I think Amy has hit upon a wonderful campaign to use as an example, as well as bringing up an issue of no small importance.

The first part is purely political strategy. Casey has been able to neutralize what might have been a pivotal support group for Santorum simply by engaging them directly. But it is also necessary to understand why he has been able to do so.

Santorum’s political history is built upon a foundation of opposing abortion. He pulls in a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. In other words, he’s never seen an anti-abortion bill he didn’t like. When you see groups like the Pennsylvania Pastors Network organizing to help push his agenda, they are simply disguising their attempts to push anti-abortion legislation.

Casey, as a pro-life Democrat, had a fairly easy job ahead of him in neutralizing this support. He simply had to go and deliver his pro-life message to a pro-life crowd. It’s very difficult for a pro-life action group to get traction for one candidate over another when they are both delivering the same message. So, while Casey’s move to address the PPN is politically bold on one hand, it is neither risky nor bold on the other.

The real problem is that Casey’s example isn’t repeatable by any candidate who is less pro-life than he is. While Casey’s election (which looks to be a sure thing at this point) will give Democrats an extra vote on many issues, this is one issue upon which it can’t be counted. As someone who is interested in building a partisan Democratic majority, I fully endorse Casey’s actions and his candidacy. As a husband and father who supports abortion rights as being inalienable to women’s liberty, I have to look at it with a good deal of hesitancy.

That brings us to the real issue, which Amy ponders as whether or not a Catholic must be pro-life in order to run in a red state. It’s the fear behind Ruth Marcus asking, “What does it profit a party to gain a demographic but lose its soul?” Bluntly put, it’s the fear that Casey – or Democrats like him – might actually be the nail in the coffin of women’s rights. What good would it do to install a Democratic majority that severely limits a woman’s right to have an abortion? More to the point, to what extent is it necessary for Democrats to give up a pro-choice position in order to win a majority?

To answer that question, you have to understand a bit about Pennsylvania politics. Traditionally, this is the home of the Democrat. But the nationalization of the culture war finished off the erosion of the Democratic base that started with rust-belt industries moving to southern states or out of the country entirely. Arlen Specter, the long-time pro-choice Republican Senator, manage to eek out a primary win over pro-life Pat Toomey two years ago by only 17,000 votes. If Casey enjoys a natural popularity here, it’s because he is well-known and well-liked. A significant reason for that is that he is pro-life. In other words, the demographics have shifted in favor of a pro-life candidate over time. Drop a pro-choice candidate in the race instead of Casey and it’s a much tighter race.

In Casey’s example, there’s no cognitive dissonance – no stance that will make a voter think – because his electoral stances align with his personal ones. Mr. Casey is a pro-life Catholic. Therefore, he supports pro-life positions. There will be no awkward Kerry-ish, “I think it’s immoral but I support it,” answers from this candidate. He presents a public face that flows seamlessly from one end to the other on the issue. Since his personal views support his political views which, in turn, support the broad demographics of the area, the issue is effectively neutralized.

The case of Tim Kaine, Jr in Virginia is much different. As a Catholic, Mr. Kaine opposed the death penalty. But in order to be a good “law and order” candidate, he distanced himself from that position. His answer was simply that he was not elected to impose his faith upon the state – so if he had to, he would sign a death warrant because that was the law. While this played well in Virginia, which has a long history of politicians standing apart from their faith, it might not have played well elsewhere. It also has to be said that the capital punishment debate was entirely fabricated as part of the campaign. There was no larger debate on the issue at hand during the election. This is certainly not true for abortion.

So you have two examples. Mr. Casey offers an example of where his faith leads to a political stance that is embraced by a large portion of the electorate. He benefits from embracing it. Mr Kaine, on the other hand, had to distance himself from his natural faith position to get to a political stance that was favorable to the electorate. What neither examples illuminates is how a Democrat in Nebraska or Kansas or South Dakota would fare on such issues.

Such an answer might come from Oklahoma Democratic Governor Brad Henry. Both Henry and his wife are long-time Southern Baptists (they taught Sunday School and he served as a Deacon at First Baptist of Shawnee) and it would be easy to try to knee-jerk his position on abortion from that information. In his first term (he appears set to easily win a second term) he signed legislation that might be called “anti-choice” by some – requiring parental notification for minors receiving an abortion, for example. Yet by doing so, he has also neutralized a huge and potentially explosive campaign issue. He has preserved access for women who are legally able to determine their medical care and upheld the legal responsibility of a parent to a child. In doing so, he has retained the support of almost two-thirds of Republicans in the state.

I think the answer is clear. Allowing Democratic politicians to enjoy some position beyond the extreme “defend all abortion at all costs in all places” will make their races competitive, and as a result they will win some of them. That means a Democratic majority is possible to the extent that candidates do not fit into the pigeon-holes that many campaigns come pre-determined to exploit. The trio of Kaine, Casey, and Henry show three very different ways to do it: by creating political distance from one’s faith views, by showing a seamless flow from personal to political views, and by creating a moderate path between the two extremes. Contrary to Ruth Marcus’s fears, this is not a Democratic Party without a soul, but a Democratic Party with a soul strong enough to face an issue in all its messy parts. It’s a soul that is ready to deal as necessary with the shifting majority to protect minority rights as best it can.

The good news, as well, is that Amy’s fear that a Catholic must be a “good Catholic” and be pro-life may be proven incorrect. As the ability of Democratic candidates to speak of their faith and how it effects their politics opens, I think we can expect an even greater number of candidates to find new stances that aren’t currently being represented. Some of these may be more pro-life than others, but the ability to come to the podium as a genuine and sincere human being will create in-roads for Democrats among voters who would otherwise reject the pro-choice label. That is the pathway to building a Democratic majority that, while it may not be hard-core enough for some, will still represent the interests of their constituents in an honest and open manner. From where I stand, that’s a good thing.

Looking forward to your reply. All the best,

Thurman

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Faith in Public LIVE: Amy Sullivan, XPatriated Texan and David Buckley (Part 1)

July 31, 2006, 11:00 am | Posted by

Introducing Faith in Public LIVE: exchanges between bloggers and noted leaders in faith and public policy. Check back and comment throughout the week as this exchange grows, and visit this space every week to see a new series of conversations and debates.

This first edition kicks off with thoughts from Amy Sullivan, editor of Washington Monthly and author of an upcoming book on faith in politics. She writes about the Casey campaign, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, and the potential benefits of just showing up. Check back soon to see responses from Thurman Hart of XPatriated Texan and David Buckley of FPL.

Hi Thurman and David–

Thanks for joining me in this first inaugural Faith in Public Life conversation. I have no doubt that our discussion will range in many interesting directions, but I want to start us out by looking at the Pennsylvania Senate race between Democrat Bob Casey and the Republican incumbant Rick Santorum. From almost the moment he entered the campaign, Casey has led Santorum by double-digits, an advantage that appears largely due to Santorum’s astonishing ability to alienate voters with a blend of sanctimonious social conservatism and unsavory K Street connections.

But Casey hasn’t just sat back to watch Santorum self-destruct (although you could argue that would have been an effective campaign tactic). Instead, he’s employed some fairly innovative techniques that have either neutralized Santorum’s advantage among religious voters or have actually given Casey an edge. The questions I’ve been thinking about are whether other Democrats could use those same strategies–and whether they would want to.

Let’s take Casey’s neutralization efforts first. It’s safe to say that Rick Santorum had counted on the groups of conservative clergy and religious activists who were mobilized by the GOP in 2004 to operate as something like a second arm of his campaign this year. Leaders of the Pennsylvania Pastors Network (PPN), the New York Times reported earlier this year, have sought to bring aboard ten field coordinators and plan to focus their efforts on registering “conservative” voters. In March, they invited Rick Santorum to address a training session for activists (he sent a videotaped talk) and they hired a former Bush campaign staffer who coordinated the 2004 campaign’s efforts with conservative Christian organizations.

In the past, Democrats would have fumed about this sort of thing, and maybe even filed a formal FEC or IRS complaint. But that would undoubtedly have been gleefully held up by Republicans as proof that Democrats are hostile to religion and want to shut out religious voices. This time, the Casey campaign did something different. After the PPN invited Santorum (but not Casey) to address their members in the spring–in violation of IRS rules for tax-exempt organizations–the Casey campaign contacted the group and said, in effect, it’s so great that you’re involved in important political efforts. We’d love to come talk to you as well.

That took the PPN aback. They hadn’t planned on providing a platform for the Democratic candidate. But it’s one thing to neglect to invite both candidates to an event. To ignore a candidate’s specific request to come speak after his opponent has already addressed the organization would be a blatant violation of the law. So today (July 31), Casey will be speaking to a lunchtime meeting of the group in Scranton.

The same thing happened with the PPN website. Originally, the group included information on its website about Santorum, the favored candidate. Cue the Casey campaign. Hey, that’s great–we’d love to be on there, too. Again, the PPN didn’t want to highlight Casey, but they couldn’t legally turn down his request and leave up Santorum’s information. So rather than give Casey equal space, they took down the Santorum material.

All of this should be comforting to those liberals who have worried that Democrats efforts in the area of religion automatically mean that the party must pander to evangelicals by shifting its social positions to the right. (The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus asked in a column: “What does it profit a party to gain a demographic but lose its soul?”)

In this case, the Casey campaign hasn’t done anything but engage with a group that was prepared to work solely on behalf of the Republican candidate, and politely ask for equal time (which also happens to be a request that they abide by the law). It’s so simple and brilliant that I’m still amazed no one had thought of this before. Democrats can’t stop religious conservatives from mobilizing, but they can make sure that those groups don’t give Republicans an unfair advantage.

The example of Casey, however, does raise some serious questions for Democrats, because I don’t think his campaign can be considered outside of the context of his pro-life stance. I hope we’ll move onto that topic in the next few days, because I have wondered–with Casey, Tim Kaine in Virginia last year, and Bill Ritter, the pro-life Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado–whether Catholic Democrats running in redd-ish states nowadays have to be pro-life.

All the Best,

Amy

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New Radio Show Stirs Listeners to Action

July 28, 2006, 3:44 pm | Posted by

The new radio show, The Time is Now, hosted by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr. launched July 22, 2006 on Air America and provides another excellent resource for progressive voices of faith. The Time is Now follows State of Belief (hosted by the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance), as the second show hosted by a national religious leader launched this year on Air America .

(Listen to the first show of The Time is Now and State of Belief.)

Rev. Forbes, the senior minister of The Riverside Church, one of the largest multicultural churches in the nation, shines as the host oftentimes using rap to send the message that this is “no time for foolishness,” but a time to do something about the decline in moral and spiritual values. His presentation is fresh and reflects his ability to reach a broad audience. The first show opened with rapper Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” and led into an interview with journalist Helen Thomas.

Helen Thomas proved to be an excellent addition to the inaugural show voicing her concerns about the media. She candidly stated, “It’s their job to put the spotlight on the truth.”

When Rev. Forbes asked her why she wrote, Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public, she stated, “Well, I was very outraged. I felt the pressed had laid down on the job in the run up to the war. They could have been much more explicit. They could have gone after the truth and the very fact that we’re in a war that is based on falsehoods, at lease that falsehood peddled from the White House. So, I think that the press defaulted and I was so angry that I decided to write this book.”

The show ended with interviews with two students affected by the crisis in Lebanon, another compelling component of the show that sought to stir listeners to action. One of the students echoed this mission when he stated, “What we say to the world is that whoever is seeing this, let them act in any kind of support.”

The next show features Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader in the fight against apartheid and the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

The Time is Now is just another example of how progressive faith leaders are increasingly getting their messages out to the public. Rev. Forbes acknowledges that the mass media frequently ignores alternative voices of faith, but his radio show seeks to bridge the gap by providing a medium through which those voices can be heard. He states that the time is now for a spiritual awakening, and with his new radio show, Rev. Forbes is on the frontlines of the movement.

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