Republicans kowtow to the religious right, but Democrats have their own pesky religious voting bloc: the secular left.
A FEW WEEKS AGO, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama gave a speech to a group of liberal Christians in which he called on his fellow Democrats to tear down the party's self-imposed wall between religious faith and politics.
He criticized liberals who dismiss religion as "inherently irrational or intolerant," and he called the idea that Americans should refrain from injecting their personal morality into the political debate a "practical absurdity." Most important, however, he focused attention on the "prejudices" and "bias" that lie at the center of the alleged split between religious and nonreligious Americans.
One part brilliant and three parts common sense, Obama's speech was the latest salvo in an ongoing debate within the Democratic Party. Stung by their loss in the 2004 presidential election, a growing number of prominent Democrats are, well, finding religion in religion. And with polls saying that 70% of Americans want their president to have "strong religious beliefs," it's not hard to deduce that they just might be on to something.
What Democrats won't say, however, is that the secular posturing Obama is railing against is more a function of the party's desire to appease a powerful, but relatively small, constituency than it is a deeply held, widely shared ideological stance. Just as the Republican Party pays obeisance to the demands of the 37% of its base that is white evangelical Christian, the Democrats feel they must not offend the 22% of their core voters who claim no religious affiliation. Why not? Because although they make up less than one-quarter of the coalition, these secular Democrats are much more likely than others to be high-level party activists.
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