Friday, March 14, 2008

Amy Sullivan's Party Faithful

Amy Sullivan's The Party Faithful: How and Why the Democrats are Closing the God Gap came out a little less than a month ago, and I haven't seen it discussed much on the blogs. Of course, it's not that you can't find anything on the book: Beliefnet has given her a page to talk about her argument, the NYT gave the book a prominent and sympathetic review along with a similar new book by E.J. Dionne, it's been excerpted in Sojourners magazine, and Salon ran a long interview with her. But still, I'd expected her work to make more of a splash. Amy has been around the blogosphere for a long time (I used to read her "Political Aims" blog all the time, as well as her contributions to the "Gadflyer" blog, the content of both of which are lost somewhere back in the mist of the unarchived internet ruins of 2003 and 2004), and talking about her work usually drives one's readership up. Not because she has a lot of fans amongst bloggers; on the contrary, probably 80% of everything I've ever seen online about her views that she hadn't written herself has been negative, sometimes harshly so. The Christian conservatives who blog generally don't take her seriously, and the secular liberals who blog, predictably, frequently see her as worthy of contempt, a traitor in their midst. So, if nothing else, you'd think her book would have been snapped up by folks on both the left and right, looking for something to be snide or angry about. As for "liberal Christians"--or better, orthodox religious believers who are also political and economic liberals (a label I frequently use to describe myself, if only because self-identifying as a "conservative Christian communitarian/social democratic populist" is just a mouthful)--well, we're a small enough minority in the blogosphere that anything we have a lot to say about just isn't going to seen by that many readers, no matter how large a font we use.

Which is too bad, because Amy's book is very good--or at least, it does what it sets out to do very, very well. I have some serious reservations with it, reservations that aren't all that dissimilar from complaints that I've voiced about Amy's basic approach to her chosen subject before. But let me get to those objections later on: first and foremost, let me praise this book as a very solid, very persuasive, very accessible journalistic story of the Democratic party's failure to attend to and attract religious voters over this past century (focusing especially on the past four decades or so), and of the tentative successes some Democratic politicians and activists have had in recent years in getting that to change. As far as political books looking to comment on the events right at hand--like the current presidential race--are concerned, this one deserves much more attention than it's gotten so far.

Amy frames the book with autobiographical vignettes, beginning with reminiscences about her youth with the evangelical and scripturally orthodox First Baptist Church of Plymouth (MI), a church that sustained and inspired her and her family while she was growing up, but which also became in later years (to Amy's dismay) a thoroughly and overtly Republican congregation; she concludes with a glimpse into what she interprets as a slowly but surely changing evangelical world (and Democratic party) which she sees around her at a Christian music festival in Washington State in 2006, and at a meeting for religious progressives organized by Sojourners and attended by all the Democratic presidential front-runners in Washington DC in 2007. In between, she sketches out a history and an argument about the by-no-means-inevitable changes in the Democratic party--an argument that, as any reader of this blog could guess, I affirm pretty strongly, in most of its details, anyway. She talks about the way a "conservative" Christian orthodoxy and "progressive" social concern at one time operated simultaneously in the writings and activism of such populist and socialist heroes of mine like William Jennings Bryan or Dorothy Day; she reminds her readers that Franklin Delano Roosevelt quoted from Pope Pius XI's writings on a socially just economy, more than once described the New Deal as an effort to enact the Sermon on the Mount, and once stated that "[t]here is not a problem--social, political, or economic--that would not find full solution in the fire of a religious awakening" (pg. 17). She makes a good case (not that she had to work hard to convince me) that an instinct for Christian seriousness and cultural conservatism was not from the beginning an opponent of progressive and egalitarian politics; it was, by contrast, an essential support to it.

Still, she recognizes the depth of "the God gap," the sense amongst many that only one of our two dominant political parties listens to or takes seriously religious voters; she doesn't dismiss it as something which just developed by accident. She divides this section of her story into two parts: first, how the Democrats lost evangelicals (whom she defines as Protestants with a "Biblically centered faith"), and second, how they lost Catholics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she does a better job on the first part than the second. I learned a lot from her chapter on the growing distance between liberalism and evangelicalism in America; the Scopes trial and the discrediting of Bryan and the growth of the initially reclusive fundamentalists I knew about, but I was surprised by what she uncovered about the "neo-evangelical" movement in the 1940s, 50s and 60s (led by such individuals as the young Billy Graham, who banned segregated seating at his revivals in the South and spoke out forcefully for the civil rights and anti-poverty legislation of Lyndon Johnson), as well as all the opportunities she describes Jimmy Carter, a Biblically orthodox born-again Baptist himself, missing out on in regards to connecting with and enlisting the support of the then-emergent-but-still-unformed evangelical/fundamentalist backlash of the 70s and 80s (Jerry Falwell at one time spoke highly of Carter, claiming the majority of the people he associated with at church supported his candidacy and presidency, but became quickly "disillusioned" by Carter's willingness to curry the favor of, and the lengths he went to avoid antagonizing, the secular left that rose to prominence in Democratic circles though from the late 60s on--pg. 37). As for Amy's chapter on Catholicism, it has some weaknesses (how can you discuss the way Catholics became the leaders of a broad, religiously orthodox and culturally conservative backlash movement in the U.S. without ever mentioning "Evangelicals and Catholics Together", probably the most politically significant Christian statement of the last 20 years?), but it may be I'm particularly sensitive to some of these issues, having been thoroughly educated by my encounter with Damon Linker's book, The Theocons. In general though, she tells the story of the alienation of Catholics from their tradition home in the Democratic party pretty well: she starts with the reforms pushed through in 1972 by George McGovern's people which undermined powerful--and as it happened, often mostly Catholic--ethnic party machines; continues through the belief of party activists that Catholic voters would care little about the support voiced in the Democratic party platform for abortion rights in spite of their church's condemnation of Roe v. Wade, given that most American Catholics had rejected prior church teachings on birth control (the way even moderate Catholic leaders like Archbishop Joseph Bernardin and Reverend Robert Deming felt "betrayed" by Carter, and the explosion of the Catholic "Reagan Democrat" vote soon thereafter, proved those activists to have been wrong--pg. 64); and concludes with the rise of harshly (theo)conservative Catholic intellectuals like Michael Novak and George Weigel, who--while ignoring many traditional Catholic teachings on society and the economy--pushed forward a Republican-friendly culture war mentality, all while Catholic Democratic politicians, after Mario Cuomo's and Geraldine Ferraro's tangles with Archbishop John O'Connor, decided to lie low and and keep their religious identity quiet. Amy doesn't blame them, but allows that "it was a problem for a party that was already largely seen as secular when the elected officials who made up its largest religious bloc stopped talking about religion" (pg. 78).

There is a lot more to the story she tells, and most of it is entertaining and thought-provoking, even when the stories are well known (such as the way the Democratic party leadership not only refused to allow Pennsylvania Democratic governor Bob Casey to speak during the national convention in 1992 on the topic of how the party does not formally support "abortion on demand," but went further and brought one of his opponents on stage to be honored as a "Republican for choice"--pgs. 78-79). Amy's portrait of the Dukakis campaign in 1988 as completely unable to relate or respond to the revival and political relevance of evangelicalism and Catholicism amongst American voters is embarrassingly funny. She makes a solid case for Bill Clinton as being a thoroughly and comfortably faithful president, one who could reach out to and bring into his economic and social coalition otherwise religiously conservative voters (a point I and others made immediately after the 2004 election)...an advantage that he nonetheless threw away because of his miserable personal behavior and through his own and his party's unwillingness to turn his poll-tested take on abortion ("safe, legal, and rare") into more than just a phrase (Catholic advisors and supporters like Paul Begala and Margaret Steinfels wondered if they had been "duped"--pg. 108). And her account of the Kerry campaign's uncomfortable struggles to negotiate issues of abortion and faith--despite (or perhaps due to) being an observant Catholic--is alternately sad (the collusion between the Bush machine and some Catholic leaders to turn Kerry's partaking of Communion into a political football) and pathetic (the Kerry's campaign's almost total dismissal of religious media and personalities, unless they were African-American: as one campaign organizer put it, "We don't do white churches"--pg. 149). But anyway, you get the gist of it. There's been a disruption in American civic and religious life--two terms that use to go easily together, but which demographic changes (mostly having to do with urbanization, analyzed extremely well in Brian Mann's book Welcome to the Homeland which I discussed of couple of times after the 2006 midterms) and ideological and lifestyle struggles (struggles over individualism, authority, morality, sexuality, choice, privacy, religion, tradition, etc.) have over the past four decades torn almost completely apart apart. And Democrats, in Amy's view, have fallen into the gaps that have been exposed by those divisions, while the Republicans have mostly benefited from them, by having chosen one side of it and prospered. But of course, all this is an extremely contentious and complicated claim to make--to make it persuasive, you need to move beyond just documenting choices and consequences, but examine the underlying ideas that motivate both. The closest Amy ever comes to really expressing herself in that way comes in a long excerpt and elaboration she gives of a presentation William Galston gave to the Democratic Policy Commission in 1986:

Galston...argued that family issues had become a liability for Democrats. "We are not seen as responsive to the needs of the family," he told the commissioners. "We are seen as the party of individual rights, but not the party of individual responsibility. We are seen as the party of self-expression, but not the party of self-discipline"....Over the previous two decades, liberals had taken extremely worthy positions--equal rights and opportunities for women (including reproductive freedom), civil rights for racial minorities, acceptance of homosexuality, and a willingness to acknowledge that the model of a nuclear family no longer described many American households--and raised them to the level of doctrinal fetishes. Support for equal rights for women quickly morphed into a pro-choice litmus test for presidential nominees. Celebration of civil rights for minorities somehow resulted in opposition to any attempts at reforming the welfare system. Instead of developing a political philosophy that balanced individual rights against the common good, liberal Democrats had replaced communitarianism with individualism, at least in the social sphere. They believed that people had economic responsibilities to each other that required them to support a minimum wage, welfare programs, and efforts to hold corporations accountable. But liberals drew the line at acknowledging the effect personal actions had on the community. Choices, they insisted, were private and sacrosanct. The days of William Jennings Bryan, when progressive populists believed in economic and social communitarianism, were long gone.

Liberals defense of hard-earned individual rights often prevented them from confronting--or even acknowledging--other social problems. The social turbulence of the 1960s and 70s had resulted in positive changes for many Americans, but had also given rise to a number of troubling developments. By the late 1980s, divorce rates had soared, teen pregnancies had increased, and family stability was at an all-time low. Without public policy changes to accompany the growth in two-parent working families, more children were unsupervised for more hours of the day. And a general coarsening of popular culture--another unanticipated consequence of relaxed social norms--meant that those children were exposed to higher levels of profanity, sex, and violence on television and in movies. Conservatives jumped at the chance to blame these trends on liberals, and were particularly eager to lay every negative social indicator at the feet of the women's movement. But as liberals rightly rejected those charges, they too often went in the opposite direction and denied that there was a problem at all (pgs. 86-87).

It would be easy to cry foul at this point. Her lengthiest account of the philosophical and cultural foundations of what caused and resulted from the God gap is more than twenty years old--before Clinton was president, before abortion rates began their decline, before welfare was reformed, etc., etc. As Amy herself amply documents, the national Democratic party has acknowledged the heart of the alienation and discontent which cultural and religious conservatives have long felt towards the secular, rights-obsessed liberalism that came to dominate the Democratic party by the 1980s and 90s, and like all good political parties, they've responded. She spends a good deal of time addressing the election and subsequent political agendas and careers of Democrats like Ohio congressman Tim Ryan, Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey, Jr. (who I said my bit about here), Colorado governor Bill Ritter and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, to say nothing of trumpeting the spiritual bona fides and religious openness of all the major Democratic presidential candidates as of late 2007 (Clinton, Edwards, and Obama). So what's the argument, really? Granted that NARAL and more than a few other powerful interest groups, the majority of liberals and progressives that write blogs or participate in the "netroots," and an increasingly significant cohort of unapologetically secular (mostly young, mostly white) urban voters, are all basically determined to keep the Democratic party a bastion of cosmopolitanism and personal liberation, and to deny any legitimacy to the old intellectual (not to mention moral) connection between religious orthodoxy and/or authority--and the discipline and sacrifice that entailed--and liberalism (which once meant a whole range of collective, socio-economic goods, but today often just means, to many of these particular voters anyway, an expansive and protected set of liberal freedoms and a nicely moderated capitalism). But still, you could add all those groups up, and you're not coming close to exhausting all potential or likely Democratic voters. For the rest of them, can't one simply claim that the Democrats have survived the worst of the post-60s cultural backlash, that the cultural wars are essentially over, and that the Democrats needn't worry too much about the God gap any longer?

Perhaps yes, perhaps no. For committed Democrats, abortion might arguably be the only elephant (pun intended) left in the room--same-sex marriage and other issues that challenge serious Catholic and Biblically-grounded voters are major issues, to be sure, but there is little evidence they are continuing to drive campaign dynamics, policy positions, and political donations the way abortion reliably can. So for Democrats, abortion still presents a conceptual problem, which is why Scott Lemieux, in one of the few thoughtful engagements with Amy's argument that I've found online, believes that allowing Amy's framing of this and related issues to have too much prominence is bad for the party and what it stands for: by highlighting the efforts of Democrats who are troubled by or opposed to essentially unlimited abortion rights to decrease the number of women who feel a need to choose that option (case in point: Representative Ryan's "Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Families Act," which Amy celebrates in heroic terms--pgs. 165-167), one highlights a contentious moral issue, when what the Democrats ought to do is stick solely to legal arguments. Scott is, of course, completely committed to idea that complete reproductive freedom--meaning, basically, abortion on demand, though he probably wouldn't call it that--is essential to treating women equally, has to remain one of the pillars of the contemporary Democratic party. Hence, Scott writes that while "it's certainly possible for a pro-choicer to acknowledge that people disagree about the morality of abortion...[g]ood coalition-building on reproductive freedom would consist of emphasizing agreement...and de-emphasizing moral conflicts. People object to Sullivan...because [she] emphasize[s] the latter rather than the former...and [thus] argue[s] almost exclusively on the political terrain favored by anti-choicers."

I disagree here with Scott--not in that I think he's wrong about the need to avoid moral argument when discussing abortion (though I do, as I have a rather different take on some of the relevant moral issues than he does; like Amy, I don't like either the "pro-choice" or the "pro-life" label), but that I think he's wrong that Amy is solely engaging in moral arguments. On the contrary, I think (and I suppose that, as a religious believer, I just may be more sensitive to this dynamic than he) that Amy doing what she has generally always done: striving to show that there is no necessary conflict between religiously conservative or orthodox positions and politically liberal ones. Which is all well and good--except that, I am dubious, and I think many other (though surely not all) religious believers are also dubious, that one can bring a large or even significant number of religious voters over to one party or another without granting their particular religious orientation some legitimacy on its own terms. That is, not simply acknowledging the complicated choices that present themselves whenever believers make political and moral decisions, but granting the conclusions such believers may come to as worthy of a respectful place in the overall orientation of the party or movement they are part of. In other words, in the same way that Day and Bryan and FDR made religious perspectives part of the infrastructure of their progressive politics, the voters that Amy is going after--or at least some of them--need to be shown that contemporary Democratic party can do the same. Given the attachment many Democrats have to post-60s individualism and liberation, that still might not be a major problem if one is only talking about a highly personal faith like Amy's own evangelical Baptist religion...but it does become one if you're considering a fairly dogmatic faith, like Catholicism or Mormonism. Amy's own words betray this: in talking about Catholic Democrats who want to limit abortion, she regularly makes the point that the individuals she is describing are self-consciously independent Catholics:

Born after Vatican II, Ryan grew up with an altogether less complicated relationship with the Church than his older Democratic colleagues did. It has an ease and a loving irreverence that eludes Catholics of Kerry's generation. Ryan is no less devoted to his faith...[b]ut unlike pre-Vatican II Catholics, Ryan doesn't quake at the idea of questioning church authority when he thinks it is in error. And he does indeed think the Church is in error in its teaching against the use of contraception....His challenge to the Church is to stop being an obstacle to lowering the number of abortions. Yes, that's right, an obstacle. "When I leave Congress, I don't want to sit back and think that there were 1.3 million abortions each year and I didn't do anything about it." It's hard to listen to Ryan without wondering what would have happened in 2004 if those words had come out of John Kerry's mouth. Or if Kerry had responded to criticism from Catholic bishops in the way that Ryan deals with blowback from the Church. In the summer of 2006, the U.S. Catholic Conference sent Ryan a littler to communicate its "disappointment" with his leadership on abortion reduction efforts that include contraception. Ryan's reaction? "Well, I love my church, but I'm used to making nuns and priests mad." He shrugs. "I got a lot of practice during my twelve years of Catholic school" (pgs. 162-163).

I'm spending a lot of time here on Catholicism and abortion simply because it is the clearest way of getting at a crucial issue: Amy is essentially talking about the Democratic party's opening of itself up to--and it's need to continue to open itself further up to--those religious believers who are reaching out to it. With some exceptions, her message to her own party can be boiled down the same message she describes Clinton aides as having scrambled to send out to the floor of the Democratic convention when, as an attempt avoid repeating "the Casey fiasco," Ohio congressman Tony Hall was invited to speak in 1996 about being a being a pro-life Democrat: "please don't boo him" (pgs. 108-109). Please don't boo the believers that are trying to join us! Please don't be like Amanda Marcotte and go out of your way to mock Catholicism, or at least don't treat those Democrats who are bothered by such mockery as "no different from the religious right they pretend to oppose" (pgs. 216-217)! All well and good. And who knows--maybe, for the Democratic party over the long haul, it'll be sufficient: maybe enough Americans are becoming secular, and enough believers are becoming independent and irreverent, that all that'll be necessary to resolve the God gap is for the Democrats to continue to learn how not to shut the door in the face of those believers that want to join. Certainly any number of studies of American Christian beliefs--most of whom indicate that, whether you call yourself a Baptist or a Catholic or a Mormon, your real religion is basically more a kind of "moralistic therapeutic deism" than anything else...and if that's where you're coming from, then just not being a jerk about religion, just not treating as some weird irrational disease that all intelligent people grow out of sooner or later, is more than sufficient for building a coalition. But for me, at least, that's ultimately an incomplete argument. My hopes for the Democrats have always been a little bit more expansive, a little bit more idea-driven: a hope for a Democratic party whose egalitarianism is populist, whose sense of social justice has a cultural (and therefore religious) grounding to it. So the argument I want to see is not about the Democrats opening themselves up to those believers who have chosen to reach for some of what they offer, but about how the Democrats can reach out to believers, and tell them why they belong on the left...and therefore, of course, remaking the left into something with some of moral authority that, as recently Martin Luther King, it unambiguously enjoyed.

Good luck with that!, I can hear you all say. And probably appropriately so. There are good reasons why Amy Sullivan (like others before her) don't end up writing books with theses and approaches I can fully embrace: because I'm probably crazy, and crazy theoretical constructs generally don't go very far in the real world of politics or political commentary which Amy is trying to influence. Oh well. I admire this book, for what it has to say and the way it says it. Give it a read, and make your own arguments about it. For my part, I'd rather she'd written a different--more intellectually engaged, more philosophically informed, more ambitious--book, but I'm happy for this one all the same.

7 comments:

Tom Brandt said...

Russell,

Thanks for this review, I will definitely pick up Sullivan's book. I am a Christian deeply repelled by what I consider to be the hypocrisy of Republican party, which claims to be guided by the religious and moral values of the Bible, but which completely ignores the example of Jesus whose primary ministry was to the poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless. But the Democrats have either made cringe-making attempts to reach to religious voters (Howard Dean saying his favorite New Testament book was Job), or have been absolutely hostile. See, for example, this comment on Ross Douthat's blog (after your own):
"But for all those secular types I mentioned, it is perfectly possible to combine egalitarian social concern with the government not being bluenosed and antifeminist when it comes to sexual morality. Indeed, we would argue that only through the adoption of a feminist agenda-- which religious types think is against their Imaginary Friend's laws-- can you have a truly egalitarian society." And I wonder, is there a place for people like me?

Matt said...

This is probably the best case for Sullivan that can be made, Russell, but I have to say I'm not convinced. I don't think she's at all come to grips with a basic aspect of liberalism (in the political philosophy sense) that requires at least an attempt to give something like public reasons (even if not in Rawls's sense, at least in some sense). Now, many people oppose liberalism, but all the worse for us when they do. Her take on abortion is a pretty bad one, I think- the "safe, legal, and rare" idea has actually worked when given a chance in reducing abortion- but her idea of the "rare" part is more "make hard" rather than "make the situation such that people don't need abortions" and in that she's clearly wrong, I think. She's also a bit too happy to engage in slut-shaming and feeling icky about gays in order to suck up to bigots for my taste, or at least seems to be. Maybe these are good political tactics, but they are intellectually bankrupts. You're sorry she didn't write a more philosophical book, but all I know about her indicates that's because she's not really smart or thoughtful enough to do so.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Tom,

Thanks for the kind comments. You'll like the book, I'm sure, though no doubt you'll have a few complaints of your own. Amy has a very good journalistic ear, though (as regards your comment on Howard Dean, Amy at one point writes that Dean's early attempts to make common cause with left-leaning evangelicals still sounded like "Ambassador Dean dispatched to liaise with creatures from Planet Christian"--pg. 214), and I think she makes her basic argument well. The larger question, though, is the one you end with: is there a truly welcoming place for socially concerned and egalitarian types in a party which has been led to accept as gospel that any kind of concern for (sexual) virtue or morality is "antifemimist" or "bluenosed"? Absent a transformation in America's current understanding of liberalism--a transformation that lies at least as much at the feet of us believers as anyone else--I'm not hopeful.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Matt,

Thanks very much for taking the time to write a substantial response.

I don't think she's at all come to grips with a basic aspect of liberalism (in the political philosophy sense) that requires at least an attempt to give something like public reasons (even if not in Rawls's sense, at least in some sense).

In this, I think you're right. She doesn't really make any kind of affirmative case for the Democratic party to embrace those who are motivated by private, religious concerns to push certain causes; she simply points out (correctly) that a lot of them used to have no major problem with the Democratic party at all, and that winning at least some of them back would be a really good electoral strategy. All of which I agree with, and if you're just a complete political junkie, maybe that'll be enough to convince you. But like you, I think the basic principles of philosophical liberalism (like the public/private split in public arguments) have sunk in deeply enough that they deserve to be directly addressed: how and why should a progressive political party like the Democrats incorporate (or reject) specific religious aspirations? Unlike you I suspect, I think religion can maybe a very good argument there. As for Sullivan, as much as I appreciate her book, I really don't know where she comes down on all this, morality-wise.

Her take on abortion is a pretty bad one, I think--the "safe, legal, and rare" idea has actually worked when given a chance in reducing abortion--but her idea of the "rare" part is more "make hard" rather than "make the situation such that people don't need abortions" and in that she's clearly wrong, I think.

Well, this is one of my bêtes noires: clearly the latter of your two options is going to be more acceptable both in raw political as well as constitutional terms, but still--if your policies aren't doing any kind of "discouraging" or "deterring," than I really wonder why that "rare" bit should even be there in your chosen slogan. Do you think abortion is bad? Wrong? If so, why? If you can explain why, and you can get democratic majorities to agree with you (as is the case with partial-birth abortion bans), then what's the hold-up? We try (or at least we should be trying) to educate and support and help parents so as to make child abuse less likely--that's the most effectively thing to do, surely--but we still will use the blunt force of the law to stop child abuse on occasion; shouldn't we do the same for abortion? If not, than doesn't that mean abortion maybe you don't actually think all that bad, which may also mean you actually don't really care if it's "rare" in the first place? No doubt I'm skipping a few steps in my reasoning here, but again--if you're going to say (and mean) that abortion ought to be "rare," that has to mean something, right?

She's also a bit too happy to engage in slut-shaming and feeling icky about gays in order to suck up to bigots for my taste, or at least seems to be.

Could be. I actually haven't picked up any "feeling icky about gays"-vibe from her before, but perhaps it's out there. As for "slut-shaming," articulating what that means--for Amy or anyone--usually just reveals a massive gap in moral understanding: what one side considers to be responsible instruction in respectful and moral behavior, the other side considers a patriarchal attack of the freedom of women and victim-blaming (or creation). Amy may perhaps be justly accused of that, and there's no defense I could or would necessarily offer for her, depending on what I think she's actually saying.

Rob said...

I, too, feel "without portfolio" among many Democrats, all while feeling the necessity of many if not most of their longstanding platform planks.

Addressing the topic of how difficult the abortion issue is for Democrats, and how easily a nuanced pro-choice stance is demagogued (is that a word?) by ideological opponents of an un-nuanced pro-choice position:

I know I've tried to have conversations with committed right-leaning Evangelicals about "safe-legal-rare". I started with my own Church's policy on the subject, which the last time I looked into it is sensibly qualified with the phrase, "as far as we know," and goes on to state a policy which is mostly congruent with "safe, legal, rare," though I'd be willing to call it "ultra-rare" since it includes direction that any woman in apparent medical need of an abortion rely on every shred of support structure, including religious support, that she can get. And I know that many leftists are too suspicious of priests, pastors, and teachers to give them any kind of legal status as advisors on the issue.

It's interesting to me that because of all this, there appears to be no way to ensconce "safe,legal,rare" in a national or even State law.

People are still talking well past one another with respect to abortion issues.

CPA said...

It's impossible to understand the appeal of the Roosevelt-era Democrats to Christian voters without understanding exactly how culturally conservative the New Dealers were (in ways good and bad). The New Deal openly identified itself with the concept of a "family wage" -- which involved paying men more, and relieving unemployment by driving married women out of the labor force. (Frances Perkins, America's first female cabinet secretary, under Roosevelt, was invited to speak to an association of career women -- and began by calling the married woman working outside the home to earn a little more money the most selfish person in society. -- !!!).

And of course the New Deal projects always complied with "local mores" on race. (That's the bad, in case you were wondering.)

To be sure, a lot of the New Dealers were real social progressives, feminists, and so on. But they were kept strictly in check by the demands of the political coalition. It was their social liberalism that had to be a "deeply personal" [i.e. in the closet] belief, while the Catholic bishops were able to speak freely in public about what they thought about the family, men, women, and society.

So it sounds from what you've written that Amy Sullivan is appealing for Christians to come back to the Democrats in return for -- well, for nothing. Not a single real policy change to meet religious believers half-way is proposed.

What all of these "Democrats can attract religious voters" proposals all ignore is two things:

a) Democrats attracting religious voters who actually support the belief system of feminism and gay rights is as easy as falling off a log. So much of what appears to be "attracting religious voters" is simply attracting people who never were against the Democrats in the first place. But getting voters who see feminism and gay rights as destructive and bad -- now that's something else.

b) Just because you can pick off stragglers from a core demographic in the other party when the whole country is steamed at that party, doesn't mean you are actually switching the affiliation of the core demographic. When Reagan won by a landslide in 1984, he did remarkably well, for a Republican, among Black voters. But this wasn't the beginning of a trend -- and if the Democrats do well among conservative Christians this year, it too, is unlikely to be the beginning of a trend, only the reflection of a bigger national trend.

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