Monday, February 4, 2008

Democrats Can Compete for Moral Voters

Came across an most encouraging article for the Democrats to both win the White House this year and expand their voting case in an unlikely publication, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM). In the article (link below) Brett Grainger makes an argument that the candidacy of Mike Huckabee and how there is a common ground for Democrats and the traditionally Republican supporters in the Chirstian/Evangelical voting group.

I have been hard on Huckabee for many reasons in this election, most often the fact that he does not believe in evolution and wants to change the constitution to reflect the word of the ‘living God’. Yet, throughout the campaign, even my closest Republican friends will tell you, I have said that I like Huckabee as a person. He is the most likeable and endearing candidate in the field by far. He has also been the best debater and displayed a charm and sincere compassion unlike any Republican candidate in my lifetime.

The CSM article says he has given left leaning and moderate Americans some substantive issues which to embrace while at the same time giving Evangelical voters a path to support the Democrats on the same issues.

Huckabee has talked about the need to protect the environment, increase funding for the arts, was the first Republican to really discuss the need to reform healthcare, and of particular interest to me, and probably John Edwards, discussed a truly compassionate and 'Christian' stance on fighting poverty in the US. These views have caused some, Rush Limbaugh in particular to label him a ‘liberal.’

For years, it has been frustrating to me that the 'Evangelical' vote would seemingly always vote strictly on abortion and gay marriage over any other issue. As a result it has caused many left wing strategists and followers to think this group is a lost cause for Democrats. It has caused other Democrats, myself included, to question these views because they appeared so narrow minded. The word and practices Christ are not just ‘two issues’, but those two issues have been effectively used to mobilize voters against the Democratic candidates.

However, the CSM article gives a different look. By shaping the national debate to include the issues of fighting poverty, protecting the environment, and reforming healthcare there is a chance for the Democrats to erase some of the deficit in this large and influential voting bloc.

"Almost 60 percent said that fighting poverty, protecting the environment, and expanding public healthcare deserved more attention than abortion and gay rights. Twenty three percent said their views had become less positive about Republicans, twice the number who said they'd soured on Democrats. According to some polls, the votes of 40 percent or more of white evangelical voters are up for grabs in 2008."

The above quote and included poll numbers is straight from Grainger's Christian Science Monitor piece. The poll was conducted by BeliefNet so think it is safe to say it was not designed to be beneficial to the Democrats.

The views of Evangelical voters growing more disenchanted with Republicans have more to do than just their dismissal of the three issues above. While proclaiming a moral high ground in the 90’s in contrast to Bill Clinton Republicans have found that ground is too slippery for them to keep their footing as well. Whether the Jack Abramoff-Tom Delay scandal of lobbying influence, out of control government spending, or the deception to justify the war in Iraq, the Republican Party suddenly is not as clean and moral as they so often claim. Combine those legislative failures with the multiple moral scandals of Senator David Vitters, Representative Mark Foley, and Senator Larry Craig and the party of ‘values’ was suddenly anything but.

Now with John McCain the likely nominee and his lack of talk and leadership on any of the core issues of the Evangelical movement the ground is there for Democrats to expand their share of the Evangelical vote. McCain famously compared Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan in 2000, a statement that will not go away. Other Evangelical leaders like Dr. James Dobson has said he will not support a McCain candidacy in ‘any circumstances.’ McCain is Pro-Life but has never pushed or led on this issue. He has voted against the Same Sex marriage amendment and is not on the campaign trail discussing fighting poverty or expanding healthcare.

The best part about this opportunity is not the political upside, but rather the fact that its the right thing to do. These are core Democratic issues which if planned and discussed properly are hard to rally against. This would not be a flip flop or a change in policy, but it would require sticking to some of our more liberal values, a move that proved tough for Al Gore to do in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004.

Obama talking to a church about our need to tackle poverty or Hillary talking to the same group about expanding healthcare and protecting the environment is them talking from their true beliefs, or at least the party’s beliefs. This is unlike the pandering and flip flopping that McCain or Romney will have to do when talking to the same churches on issues like judges and same sex marriage.

The fact of the matter, as proven in the CSM article, is take a small handful of social issues away and the Evangelical/Moral/Christian vote is socially more liberal than they have been portrayed. These are the groups of people that run soup kitchens, coat drives, and programs to benefit the least fortunate of those among us. The vast majority of these folks are good hearted, hard working people and not the zealots as some of the leaders are often portrayed by the liberal left.

As most every candidate, Republican and Democrat, says when they run for office, ‘there is more that unites us than divides us’. This is also true with the Democratic Party and the Evangelical or ‘Religious’ vote. We do not agree on everything, but we agree on enough that we can do great and important things to better the country.

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