Wednesday, July 05, 2006

the Religious Left

Senator Obama gave a speech recently at the Sojourners -- Call To Renewal conference about the role of religion in public life (full text is found here). I happened to like the speech quite a bit, as did some others. But some folks in the lefty blogosphere are fairly annoyed; Kevin Drum gives a pretty good defense of Obama, but check out the long list of peeved comments.

Mostly they seem up in arms about Obama's use of the "some liberals don't like religion" canard. Which is fair enough. It's an extremely annoying way of editorializing without facts, as used by FoxNews and el Presidente Bush ad nauseum to bash liberals. So shame on Obama for falling into the RNC talkingpoints trap.

But, really, that was just 2% of an otherwise terrific speech on religion and politics and well worth the read. He talked about his personal faith journey. He talked about the biblical call to feed the hungry and house the homeless and create a more just society. Crucially (for me) he spoke of the importance of separation of church and state, and affirmed that religious folks do not have a monopoly on morality. And for the first time in a long time, the MSM was giving favorable media coverage to a Democrat talking about religion (the Chicago Sun-Times even front-paged the talk), which I'm guessing did more to bury the "liberals are anti-religion" storyline than anything else in the past two years. Awesome!

Because, of course, there is already a sizable religious left in this country; it's just not the story that the MSM wants to sell papers with right now. So changing the framing of religious issues is an absolute must for the Democratic Party. If the Republicans are an unstable alliance of the business community and the religious right, then, strategically, the Dems need to find ways to fracture that alliance and pick up the pieces, without losing their soul and becoming Republican-lite Lieberman clones. And I would argue that (oddly) it is the religious conservative voter who is more of a match for the Dems than the corporate types. Just because Coors hires Mary Cheney and runs a few gay-friendly ads does not make them our friends. Ten million photo-ops with cute endangered animals won't make Chevron environmentally friendly. Granted the leaders of the religious right (Falwell, Dobson, et al) are mostly fascist Taliban-wannabes so forget them, but the folks sitting in the pews are getting screwed, just like the rest of us.

A nice mix of economic populism (raise the damn minimum wage already, get some decent health care and more scholarships for working-class families) and ecumenical-friendly issues (end the war in Iraq, save Darfur, crack down on sex trafficking) should do a lot to break the gays-n-abortion stranglehold the religious right has put on the media these days. Anyway, Obama's main point seems to be that sincerity is the key in making these connections. Which I guess means we need more people like him making the speeches.

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