Friday, June 30, 2006

Step Out

E.J. Dionne praises Barack Obama's speech on faith. As a Democratic voter whose (Jewish) faith is important to him, I am at loss for an explanation for why the Democratic platform should in any way be considered incompatible with a religious life.

A few months ago, I wrote about the need to rein in the soaring expectations that have begin to engulf Senator Obama. One of the biggest risks is that media figures will get tired of writing another "golden boy" story and will turn hostile just for the new angle.

And I fear we're starting to see it already. Howard Kurtz has a piece entitled "Senator Steps In It," remarking on the reaction of some liberal bloggers to Obama's speech--namely, the part where he chides "liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant." The theme of Kurtz's piece is that the ravenous and insatiable left is turning on their favorite son. But honestly, his support is thin, at best. Basically, I object to the meme that this is the paradigmatic progressive response becoming the conventional wisdom.

The two harshest attacks come from two bloggers no one has ever heard of. If "I Am Vince" will change parties if Obama gets on the Democratic presidential ticket, then I say don't let the door hit you on the way out. The only big name Kurtz musters is MYDD's Chris Bowers, who seems more upset over the likely political impact of Obama's comments than giving up hope on the Senator entirely. What all three have in common though, is that they deride the strategy of chasing after evangelicals in the first place, calling them the most conservative voters in the polity. For the life of me, I cannot figure out this attack. It seems that Obama is engaging in a classic "What's the matter with Kansas" maneuver. Evangelicals are a solid member of the right base now, for sure, but there is no reason why they have to be. It has been noted before that there is plenty of room for progressives to make inroads here, especially once one gets beyond the corrupt and plutocratic leadership and into the rank and file. Why we should automatically write off a major portion of the electorate that can be turned in our favor (just so we can continue insulting them?) eludes me.

But even with Bowers weighing in, it still feels like he's on the short-side of the argument. Later on, he cites two big guns in the liberal blogosphere, Nathan Newman and Matt Yglesias who both defend Obama and slam the progressives who were so quick to attack him. Newman pulls out the overriding progressive theme in Obama's speech that managed to meld traditional religious concepts with a modern liberal framework--beautifully, I might add. Echidne misses the point here: the idea isn't that religious voices are excluded from the public square, it's that a) Democrats have not found away to frame their arguments so that they are consonant with a religious worldview, when they should and b) the perception amongst some religious people is that Democrats view them as irrational pre-enlightenment hillbillies. That is not saying that one cannot make moral policy decisions based on a secular framework. It's, at root, a call for pluralism which I for one (and I'm not the only one) support.

I do think that the idea that Democrats are hostile to religious voters is a media-driven myth, but its people like Obama who are our best chance at breaking it down (and if he needs to pull a Sister Souljah moment to do it, be my guest). Folks like Captain Ed might want to label Obama a "former left-wing hero", but they're deluding themselves: the vast majority of the liberal rank and file remains firmly in his camp (incidentally, Ed, who I've had interesting conversations with, should really be worried about his comment section. The company you keep after all...).

The problem is, as The Green Knight notes, that the media spun Obama to sound far more critical of the Democrats than he was. That might reinforce the fact that this media-myth does have legs, but surely we can't blame Obama for media-created distortions. He's got the right idea, and what's more, the vast majority of the Democratic party (top to bottom) agrees.


Anonymous said...

So, did eveyone just choose not to read the part where Obama said that religious policy justifications don't have a place in the public discourse, and that evangelicals need to find ways to make their arguments from premises that everyone can rationally debate? It was very Rawlsian. I'm more or less in agreement (I just wrtoe 7 pages on this actually, on Obama Rawls and the problems of "public reason") but I do think religious voters are celebrating a little quickly. "I realize that faith is important but don't expect it to be basis for policy" is a pretty backhanded compliment.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I agree that a quote from the Washington Post's more conservative writers (and that says a lot in the first place) is a sudden bolt of evidence that public/media opinion is turning against a Democrat, no more than a story in the Boston Globe against a traditionalist Republican would be.

Do agree with Matthew, though. This is more a simple stupid pile of words. It might get a few votes, but most people that would trust it one way or the other are already set in their voting patterns to start with.

He goes one way, he's got to juggle Christian concepts and Abortion/Gun Control/other traditional left concepts. It didn't work for Kerry or Dean, I doubt it'll work for Obama. He goes the other way, this press release basically turns into a slap to the face at Christian readers (saying that Christianity is nice, and all, but not rationally debatable.