Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Faith-Based Triangulation

Joseph Loconte

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Religious moderates propelled the Democrats to victory.

Not since Bill Clinton's first run for President has there been so much talk among Democrats about fielding candidates viewed as more socially and religiously moderate than the standard-bearers of their party. In several important races -- in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, for example -- conservative Republicans found themselves up against Democrats who spoke the language of faith. "I just can't help it," said U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee. "I love Jesus."

We dare not speculate about how many Democratic victors might share that affection. Nor can we know what difference this strategy made on the election outcome; discontent over the war in Iraq and disgust over political scandals evidently drove lots of voters into Democratic arms. But we can ask what it might mean for the future of the Democratic Party and American politics.

In a hopeful vein, the political cost to Democrats over their perception as the "godless party" may have forced political leaders to do a little soul searching. Senator Barack Obama has impressed many with his ability to speak affirmingly and fluently about the importance of morality and faith to democratic life. "To say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity," he said. "Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition." Lines like that, when uttered by Republican leaders, send many liberals intoa fear-mongering frenzy of theocracy talk.

Nevertheless, consider a few Democratic victories yesterday: In Pennsylvania, pro-life Democrat Bob Casey Jr. beat out Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic known for his social conscience. Casey was actively recruited by the Party leadership -- more or less the same political elite that once banned his pro-life father from addressing the Democratic National Convention. In North Carolina, Democratic contender Heath Shuler, a pro-life, evangelical Baptist, defeated GOP Rep. Charles Taylor. In Indiana, Rep. John Hostettler, a conservative Christian, lost to Brad Ellsworth, who opposes abortion and favors a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. And Rep. Ted Strickland, an ordained United Methodist minister, became the first Democrat to win as governor in Ohio in 16 years. A Democratic Party website "Faithful Democrats: An Online Christian Community," featured a Strickland speech explaining how faith shapes his political activism. "According to my personal understanding of the Christian faith, it means to follow the example of Jesus into a life of service to others," he said. "It is a moral necessity for me to make this teaching the central organizing principle of what I do."

Read the entire article on the Ethics and Public Policy website (new window will open).

Posted: 16-Nov-06

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