Wednesday, the Young Democrats of America held a press conference with Democratic Members of Congress and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to reaffirm the party’s commitment to young voters of faith. Specific outreach plans include organizing on faith-based college campuses and setting up trainings and service days.
In the 2008 election, Democrats made major gains with young evangelicals, in particular, and the new “Faith and Values Initiative” by the YDA shows that the party is once again going to be aggressively courting this and other young religious constituencies.
Recent polling shows they may have a good opportunity to do so. The values of religious Millennials are notably much more in line with efforts to increase wealth equity than with the Tea Party creed of selfishness, and the historic wedge issues of same-sex marriage and abortion don’t hold the same influence with young values voters as with their older counterparts.
Additionally, with unemployment among young people at an all-time high, the question of which party will provide a more moral pathway to job creation will no doubt be important to young voters of faith.
The event also featured some inspiring remarks by Rev. Derrick Harkins, an FPL board member and the DNC’s new Director of Religious Outreach, who argued that core faith values of justice and compassion have always been central to the Democratic Party.
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This past Saturday, a number of the GOP presidential candidates traveled to Iowa for a “family forum,” a roundtable discussion moderated by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and sponsored by The Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative Christian organization. The Family Leader, which has courted controversy in the past for its extreme statements on slavery, has since announced they’ve narrowed down their slate of potential endorsees to Perry, Santorum, Bachmann, and Gingrich. (Romney, notably absent from Saturday’s event, is not under consideration for The Family Leader’s endorsement.)
The event was yet another example of Republican candidates bending over backwards to appeal to the sizable constituency of conservative evangelical voters in Iowa. In addition to state-level groups, national Religious Right organizations have sponsored a number of events, like bus tours in Iowa, hoping to leverage the candidates’ attention to conservative religious voters in that state for more national influence and clout.
Faith in Public Life and Faithful America have worked to amplify the voices of progressive people of faith in Iowa, challenging the incorrect conventional wisdom that the only religious voters in the state are conservative.
And mainstream media coverage has also helped uncover the fact that groups like The Family Leader and the Family Research Council don’t always attract crowds or represent the faith community at large. The Des Moines Register covered a recent Values Voter bus tour event with prominent conservative Congressman Steve King (R-IA), mentioning in the lede paragraph that only 15 people were in attendance. And when the first Values Voter bus tour kicked off this summer, both Faithful America’s counter-rally and the media outnumbered actual participants.
It’s a well-worn story: religious conservatives hold the key to GOP candidate’s victory, so GOP candidates court these voters by sharing compelling conversion testimonies, using the right buzzwords on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and kissing the ring of various Religious Right power brokers like Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and Bob Vander Plaats.
This story gets trotted out each election cycle with good reason– this is a trend that continues to hold, and the Religious Right has gotten even savvier about integrating themselves into the mainstream of the Republican party and exerting influence. While Religious Right organizations still pay homage to their tried-and-true culture war issues, increasingly they share the stage with anti-tax organizations to tout GOP talking points with no explicit (or even implicit) grounding in religious values. They’re adapting to the current political environment and shoring up their centrality to the GOP coalition. The sway they continue to hold over the presidential race in Iowa, despite their disconnect from mainstream people of faith, is a clear example of this.
Photo of November 19 Thanksgiving Family Forum, via The Family Leader.
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In last week’s election, social conservatives failed to pass an anti-abortion amendment in the red-state stronghold of Mississippi, triggering questions about the role of hot-button social issues and the Religious Right’s influence in the 2012 election.
Rather than putting their full energy into causes such as “personhood” amendments, Religious Right organizations and leaders seem likely to focus primarily on economic issues. As jobs and the economy push social issues to the back burner, conservative Christian groups have latched onto the Tea Party’s extreme agenda.
Last year, the Family Research Council ran political ads focusing on the so-called threat of big government rather than abortion or same-sex marriage. This year’s Values Voters Summit, where GOP presidential candidates wooed Religious Right leaders, focused more on the economy than the culture war. Ralph Reed is predicting that “Teavangelicals” will decide the 2012 election. And it’s not just idle speculation – Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition will reach millions of Christian voters, spreading a low tax, small government gospel that disingenuously invokes “fiscal responsibility” as an excuse to gut crucial protections for families.
That might sound like shrewd strategy, but it also creates opportunities for progressives. Polls consistently show that Americans reject GOP efforts to slash taxes for millionaires and make draconian cuts that harm working families and the most vulnerable. A recent survey by Public Religion Research Institute shows that most people of faith are more sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement’s concerns than the Tea Party’s agenda. The poll found that 60 percent of Catholics and majorities of mainline Protestants and white evangelicals think we would be better off if the distribution of wealth were more equal.
The Religious Right’s stance on salient political issues is neatly aligned with the conservative coalition but clearly at odds with the views of most Americans. Progressives need to counter by offering a message that speaks to religious voters’ values of fairness, responsibility, compassion and justice.
I’m not saying quoting Scripture will win over conservative evangelicals, but presenting moderate people of faith with an authentic moral argument for a progressive economic vision will not only resonate, but also help change religion’s role in our political discourse. As my friend Richard Cizik said in a must-read Washington Post op-ed, “it’s time for a new values debate.” The more the Religious Right mimics the Tea Party, the less they reflect the Gospel. Let’s call them on it.
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Herman Cain’s backslide into anti-Muslim bigotry continues this week with new comments in his interview with GQ magazine. Asked about his previous comments suggesting that, as President, he would not appoint a qualified Muslim to his cabinet, Cain reiterated his original sentiments:
Devin Gordon: Do you think that there is a greater tendency among the Muslim faith for that kind of extremism?
Herman Cain: That would be a judgment call that I’m probably not qualified to make, because I can’t speak on behalf of the entire Muslim community. I have talked with Muslims that are peaceful Muslims. And I have had one very well known Muslim voice say to me directly that a majority of Muslims share the extremist views.
Chris Heath: A majority?
Herman Cain: Yes, a majority.
Devin Gordon: Do you think he’s right?
Herman Cain: Yes, because that’s his community. That’s his community. I can’t tell you his name, but he is a very prominent voice in the Muslim community, and he said that.
Chris Heath: I just find that hard to believe.
Herman Cain: I find it hard to believe.
Chris Heath: But you’re believing it?
Herman Cain: Yes, because of the respect that I have for this individual. Because when he told me this, he said he wouldn’t want to be quoted or identified as having said that.
As a reminder, Cain’s original apology came as a result of his visit to the Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Virginia where he met with nationally respected Muslim leaders who Demonstrated the overwhelmingly peaceful, moderate nature of the Muslim community. When Cain says that he believes anonymous smears against Muslims writ large, he’s implicitly and unfairly accusing the Muslim leaders he met with, as well as millions of other Muslims.
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Audience reactions at this year’s GOP presidential debates have drawn attention and controversy, with audience members cheering the death penalty, attacks on the unemployed and letting the uninsured die as well as booing a gay soldier who asked a question about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
This Saturday’s CBS/National Journal “Commander in Chief” debate was no exception, with an interesting audience reaction to a question about the acceptability of torture. This time there was a split reaction: some audience members applauded Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann’s support for waterboarding while others cheered for Ron Paul’s disagreement.
Cain and Bachmann:
While Republican support for waterboarding is exceedingly high (a CBS poll from last week found GOP support at 70%), it’s good to see that there is still a vocal minority of conservatives who reject this misguided policy that compromises core American values.
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