Sunday, November 07, 2004

Political: Moral Values

Tuesday will mark the end of me sitting shiva for the presidential election. I have given myself permission to feel low and bummed and to eat whatever I want to until Tuesday, when I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back to the business of hope-filled political business.

As my self-imposed grieving period comes to an end, I have been pondering all the reasons why Dems lost (not including Diebold machines with no paper trail, boogeyman issues like gay marriage placed on the ballot by the GOP, etc etc etc). I think it is all too easy to say something like, “well John Kerry was not a good candidate” or “Teresa was a liability” or “John Edwards was too young.”

How could John Kerry be a worse candidate than GWB? Since when has the first lady’s demeanor made someone not vote for a candidate? (Hell, Mary Todd Lincoln was the living, breathing definition of co-president, as was Eleanor Roosevelt in FDR’s later days, as was Nancy Reagan.) So enough with the beatings on Teresa. And on the third question, since when did being pretty much the same age as the sitting president (but with less sun-damaged skin) disqualify you for the Vice Presidency? These are all too easy explanations, and are nothing more than pat answers to the wrong question.

Democrats lost because the GOP mobilized its religious base, which is afraid of the cultural shifts taking place in American society. It doesn’t make those people right on the issues, but it does make them relevant. What has disturbed me, on both sides, is the Republican belief that “religion” and “morals” are the same thing, and the unfortunate leftie belief that somehow people who hold tightly to religious beliefs are to be disregarded as medieval morons.

Neither is true. I consider myself religious but not conservative. I know plenty of non-religious people who are some of the most moral, decent people on the planet. I know many gay people who are deeply committed to their churches and their religious beliefs, and many “religious” people who I would not trust with the keys to my car, much less my life.

It is time for us as Americans—and as political parties—to get away from the following polarizing beliefs, and any party that espouses them:

Religious people are moral
Non-religious people are immoral
Religious people are bigoted dimwits
Non-religious people are open-minded citizens of humanity

If Dems are going to win an election, we need to a) stop conceding faith and theology to the Republicans, and b) respect that we do not need to denigrate religion (or those who believe in it) in order to say, “national problem X demands a rational, reasoned, scientific, evidence-based solution.”
The Republicans don’t “own” faith. No one does. We need to make the argument that children going hungry in the richest country on earth is immoral; that committing the lives of American troops to a war with no plan to get them out is immoral; that drilling and clear-cutting and polluting God’s green earth is immoral; that denying family planning funds that actually promote the preservation of the sanctity of life is immoral.

We also need to recognize the transformative power of faith in action. Martin Luther King Jr. harnessed the power of people of faith to change this country. He did not seek to bring prayer to schools or to break down the wall between church and state. What he did was use the power of religious belief, of biblical tradition, to break down the walls of hatred and injustice. Yes, it took Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act to make it the law of the land, but it took courageous people of faith to make it untenable for any other result to occur. This partnership between religion and politics stands as a shining example of how the two can work together to effect change that could not occur independently of the other.

Short Story Long:
The Democratic Party has a long tradition of faith in our ranks. We need to get over our discomfort (or our self-importance) and be who we truly are: the moral compass for this nation. Because more than ever, this nation needs one.

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