Dear Amy and David,
Looks like it’s my turn again. You guys are going to make it hard for me to keep it short and sweet!
To turn first towards the Casey strategy, I think there is a consensus that it isn’t going to help Casey make inroads with the hard-core Republicans (I disagree that this group is conservative, but that’s another topic). I teach my students that there is generally a 30% core of voters who will back either a candidate or a party no matter what. The contest is for the other 40% of voters – the swing voters. What Casey did was neutralize an issue by demanding equal time with a special interest group. It works for him because the make up of the swing group fits nicely into his own constituency – the pro-life crowd. It wouldn’t work for me, one of those non-pro-life, non-pro-choice Christian Democrats. To the extent that is true, it is repeatable only by someone with Casey’s pro-life credentials.
But you are right to emphasize that this is not the only field upon which politics is played. By embracing his religion, Casey has insulated himself against the “Godless liberal” demogoguery that has been so prevalent in recent years. That is definitely repeatable – and it should be repeated by any candidate who wants a serious shot at winning in the Deep South or through the Great Plains states (the dark red states). An abortion-moderate (I’m afraid that’s the best term I have right now) could still insulate their campaign from that pre-packaged slander by speaking openly to people of faith about their faith. John Kerry made a step towards that (bungling it by linking his “faith without works is dead” speech to closely to campaign rhetoric) and I think Kaine improved upon it. Casey is one more step along that path.
But here’s the rub: For an abortion-moderate Christian Democrat to speak openly about faith in action, they are going to have to draw upon a theology that allows for abortion. If Kerry had done that, rather than use the pulpit to slap at the President, he might not have had to stumble through an answer of how he can oppose abortion personally but endorse it politically. Developing this theology has to be the job of those of us on the Faithful Left rather than individual candidates.
If one believes abortion is murder, then how can one justify allowing it to be legal without legalizing other forms of murder? If you don’t believe it is murder, then what is it in theological terms? What is our moral and legal responsibility to the unborn, the pregnant woman, and the father (who is too often forgotten about in this discussion)? Many of us operate from a sort of gut-level theology without exploring these questions and wrestling them to submission. Because we do, the public discussion is the poorer and there is no collective understanding for a candidate to call upon in a campaign.
I agree that Kaine also reaped the benefit of an authentic persona. I disagree, however, with the comparison to President Bush. President Bush uses his authenticity to push for a positive message – in the sense that he is positively doing something. Kaine used it as a negative message – he wasn’t going to change the law. In a sense, Kaine’s authenticity wasn’t challenged because no one expects the Virginia legislature to pass a bill outlawing capital punishment. If put in a position of choosing between following his theology and signing a bill to outlaw capital punishment and obeying the “law of the land” by vetoing it, we still have no indication which way Kaine would move. I think that’s a significant difference. If the issue had been more prevalent and subject to change, I think his authenticity would have hurt him as he would have had to struggle publicly with that question. So I understand the point both of you make on this, but I think a different campaign with a different candidate in a different state would have had very different results – in other words, it doesn’t represent a precedent so much as it does a deviation.
In the interest of time, I’ll try to summarize my point. Kaine in Virginia and Casey in Pennsylvania both represent deviations from what we are accustomed to seeing. Both of them have used this deviation to their benefit – and there is some lesson to be learned from their doing so. The point Amy makes of being the first Democrat to speak to an evangelical group is an excellent example. The lesson there, I’d say, is not to surrender any part of the electorate. Take your message to every group you can in a language they understand. If they don’t like you, they will at least respect that you took the effort to do so. That respect may or may not pay off in electoral terms, but the race is long and the more ears that are bent partially to your message, the more votes are potentially swinging for grabs.
It might be worth thinking about how we make these successful deviations into precedents.
All the best,
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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,
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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,
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Another stained glass ceiling was shattered last week when Katharine Jefferts Schori became the Episcopal Church’s first female Presiding Bishop. Many of our rejoiced.
Unfortunately the joyful sentiment was not universal. Faith and Policy inducted the Rev. H.W. Herrmann into its Hall of Shame for his disgruntled response to Bishop Schori’s election. His own words do the talking:
“Just like we can’t use grape juice and saltines for Communion, because it isn’t the right matter, we do not believe that the right matter is being offered here,” Rev. Herrmann said in an interview on Sunday.
The Rev. makes the all-too common mistake of mixing the right-wing matter with the right matter of scripture. Fortunately, as demonstrated by a recent Washington Post article, “Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility,” the monologue of the Right is no longer satisfying the spiritual appetites of those who desire solutions that benefit the common good on issues of homelessness, poverty, and injustice.
As the Rev. Tim Ahrens of We Believe Ohio stated, “The wind is changing,” and the Right no longer gets to decide on its own what matters. We at Faith in Public Life seek to ensure that the media takes notice of this changing spirit.
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It’s an exciting time to be a blogger interested in faith and progressive politics. There are more of us every day (we’ll be featuring some of the best here at FPL), and national leaders in our community are becoming more and more aware of how important blogs can be in spreading the good news about their work. With all that energy in the cyber-air, it’s almost providential that we get to announce that the first ever Progressive Faith Blog Con is on its way.
The Blog Con will take place from July 14-16 in Montclair, NJ (just outside of New York). It’s the brain-child of some of the best minds in our corner of the blogosphere, and will feature Velveteen Rabbi, Mainstream Baptist, Chuck Currie, Pastor Dan of Street Prophets, XPatriated Texan, Talk to Action, Philocrites, CrossLeft, JSpot, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and many, many more. Check out the site for more details on attending. You won’t want to miss it! The buzz about the event is already building here, here, here, here, and, well, you get the point.
We at FPL are thrilled to be working on this, and will be sure to keep you all up to date as the calendar ticks down to July 14. Register now (space is limited!), spread the good word on your blogs, and make sure you’re there for this landmark event.
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