11/11/2004: Thought for the Day:
The emergent conventional wisdom is that moral values cost the Democrats the election. This proves what many have suspected for some time: Democrats can't connect with the heartland because they don't attend church regularly. If they did, they would realize that there's a big difference between expressing a commitment to moral values (say to your pastor, to fellow congregants, or in an exit poll) and actually wanting to live by them. The bad news for Democrats is that evangelical religious moralism is quite broad. The good news for Democrats is that often, it is not very deep. Many of the relatively new evangelical churches are a hybrid of entertainment, business networking, and free child care. True, there's a hard core of true religious zealots--people who speak in tongues, kiss venomous snakes, or eschew indoor plumbing based on their faith. The Democrats will never reach those people. And from the distance of my hometown of San Francisco, where a typical Sunday morning ritual includes use of the name "Mary" only when it is immediately preceded by the word "Bloody," all of the heartland evangelicals sound like zealots. But the key to the appeal of suburban evangelism is that it doesn't require much in the way of sacrifice or risk.
This is potentially good news for Democrats because it means these "morals voters" may be almost as scared of the real religious zealots as we are. They'll support symbolic reforms like prayer in school. They'll vote against gay marriage. They'll say they categorically oppose abortion. But despite (because of?) their superficial religious piety, their teenage daughters are getting knocked up at alarming rates and a lot of them are getting safe legal abortions. They can afford to rail against abortion rights, safe in the knowledge that the people they vote for can't actually take them away. At least not yet.
Democrats should not pander to religious zealots or religious hypocrites--the Republicans have cornered that market. Instead, they should appeal, unapologetically, to another set of values: separation of church and state and respect for individual privacy. Plenty of evangelical Protestants and Catholics believe in these values too. Democrats should remind voters that before Roe v. Wade the United States was not an abortion-free zone--it just hosted more dangerous abortions in its back alleys and as a result a lot more young women died. Remind voters that right-to-life extremists would outlaw abortions even in cases of rape and when carrying the child to term threatens the mother's life. They would force a woman to bear her rapist's child even if she had to die doing so. Say that three times. Now say it every time a reporter asks about filibustering extreme right-wing nominees to the federal bench.
--Richard Thompson Ford
Len on 11.11.04 @ 07:20 AM CST