Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Lesson to NOT Learn from the Elections

A very good post by Ezra reacting to an election analysis by Amy Sullivan guest-posting at Kevin Drum's place. Like Ezra, I agreed with some of what Sullivan said when I read the post earlier this morning, yet something about it didn't sit right—that is, beyond the gag reflex I have to her attempting to infuse everything with religion—and I couldn't quite articulate it. Ezra did so beautifully.
It's bad enough that Democrats are supposed to try and "fake" faith these days. Worse, however, is that theological costume parties come off as obviously inauthentic, meaning Democrats who want to compete in certain races have to be longtime believers, sincere theists like Kaine or Clinton. That's a worrisome precedent.

[...]

In some ways, Kaine's successful invocation of his missionary experience is much more troubling than heartening. The fact is, he should never have had to do that. An anti-death penalty position is no more moral if rooted in biblical verse than in a self-constructed ethical structure. That Kaine had to deploy Jesus to deflect attacks is, thus, a bad thing. His positions should be able to stand without the son of god propping them up...

I think Kaine did a great job in his campaign, used his faith appropriately and to his advantage both offensively and defensively. But to draw a lesson for wider application from this is a classic Dem mistake, and Sullivan is eager (as always) to lead that charge.

Encouraging Dems to run on a faith platform should only be for those otherwise excellent candidates who happen to be faithful and there is no alternative. Frankly, I think faith and religion should have NO role in an election, and as a strategy it should be discouraged. I suppose I'm willing to allow it where it might be necessary or distinctly benificial, though I'm not happy about it.

6 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Mr Furious, I got here through ORF's blog.

We probably agree on a lot but I wonder why you think religion should not play a role in an election campaign. Most people vote on instinct, which means first impressions based on appearance, voice, environment, and what their friends "think". Surely bringing religion into the hoopla will not degrade the debate? At least it has the merit of requiring the person to go from general principles to specific rules to practice, whereas otherwise you're just starting out from a whole bunch of practices tenuously linked together by merit of the fact that your constituency believes that all of them, put together, would benefit them.

And even they usually do not really know why they believe that.

Mr Furious said...

Welcome!

Here's where I come from on religion.

I am a lapsed/retired/disillusioned Catholic. I am extremely cynical and rejecting of organized religion as a whole, personally. My parents still go to church every week, say grace, pray, believe in God, and everything—and that's fine. It just doesn't work any more for me. I do not begrudge anybody their personal beliefs and faith. Knock yourself out.

Combining religion with the public sphere is touchier for me. This is supposed to be a secular, separation of church and state country. Yet whole segments of the population are attempting to blur that distinction.

I am ecstatic that Kaine won his race. I recognize that in a state like Virginia it is a benefit to be a politician that can demonstrate some faith. Great. But the fact that remains is there is specifically not supposed to be a religious test for offce holders. I know Kaine did not have to literally submit to a "test", but by measuring candidates according to faith or the ability to project it, you are setting up a de facto qualification for office. If one cannot successfully run for office unless they go to church on sunday (even for show), that is not a situation I think is good for the country or that I am comfortable.

Bringing religion into the debate actually does degrade the debate—at least as far as bringing it in to the actual public/campaign debate.

Voters should use whatever they need to decide between candidates, and if, personally, faith matters—that should enter their internal or personal debate. But to me, the burden should be on the voter to use his faith to guide his decision and gather information, NOT for the candidate to project a faith to appeal to those voters.

Yeah, I know this is a fantasy, but I believe it's the way it should be. My worry is that the Democrats, in their eagerness to adapt to whatever seems to work for the moment, attach too much importance to this factor of faith. It's disingenous and probably won't work, and I believe it's wrong anyway.

Elizabeth said...

"Welcome!"

Thank you!

"Combining religion with the public sphere is touchier for me. This is supposed to be a secular, separation of church and state country. Yet whole segments of the population are attempting to blur that distinction."

Let's take this in two parts, last part first. I don't think that people are trying to blur the distinction between church and a secular state. They know that church does not belong in a secular state, but they sincerely believe that the U.S. is not a secular state.

First part: I agree that the U.S. should be a secular state.

"But the fact that remains is there is specifically not supposed to be a religious test for offce holders."

There is not supposed to be a beauty contest, either, but let's admit it: democracy is more of a beauty contest than anything else. And people want to vote for someone "like them", who they think understand them and will understand issues in the same way they do. People do not want to vote based on intelligence or legal finesse. They might say they do but it's obvious this is not the case.

"Bringing religion into the debate actually does degrade the debate—at least as far as bringing it in to the actual public/campaign debate."

I disagree. Most issues have little to do with the candidate's religion, and he will vote based on the financial interests of a special group, himself, or the whole constituency. The few moral issues require him to use his own set of moral principles, and in that case religion is relevant in that it provides most people with a packaged ethic, ready-to-wear, and people would like to vote for someone with the same package.

"Yeah, I know this is a fantasy, but I believe it's the way it should be."

Of course, but in that case, it is not only a fantasy about religion. You would expect voters to seek out the candidates on every issue, not only religion.

"My worry is that the Democrats, in their eagerness to adapt to whatever seems to work for the moment, attach too much importance to this factor of faith. It's disingenous and probably won't work,"

Well, certainly. The Christians who vote Democrat do so on the basis of principle not on faith that being a Christian automatically makes you a better person (a proposition anathema to most Christians).

ORF said...

I think the reason that faith winds up playing such a big role in elections is because voters want a means of connecting with the candidates and candidates want a way to be able to say, "Hey, I'm a regular guy/gal just like you and when I have doubts or am fearful, I talk to God or my Rabbi (or whomever) about it. Just. Like. You."

It's like how in USWeekly magazine they have that bit about how celebs are just like us because they too unwrap their own sticks of gum. And it makes total sense. It's a good, effective way to get votes.

Certainly it's not illegal for anyone in the country to have a religious belief, but I think, Elizabeth, that what MF is trying to say is that it would be nice if consideration of it never even entered into a voter's deliberation about a particular candidate. Obviously, for President Bush, (he claims at least) his religion is important to him and it is presumably the reason he is anti-abortion (for example). It's fairly hard to separate something like that, so as long as candidates are using their faith as a crutch for their secular beliefs, well, it's going to be a part of any election campaign. And I understand THAT to be where the debate gets degraded because it's pretty damned tough to argue with God, as it were. Bringing a dogmatic ultimatum to the table effectively aborts debate about nearly everything.

As to the bit about blurring the line between church and state, the Evangelical Right will tell you that no lines are being transgressed, but in my opinion, openly trying to create public policy that has its basis in religious doctrine directly undermines the integrity of our democratic system. This kind of thing IS going on right now in this country, in the Bible Belt in particular, and it is fairly terrifying.

Elizabeth said...

"Elizabeth, that what MF is trying to say is that it would be nice if consideration of it never even entered into a voter's deliberation about a particular candidate"

Yes, I understand. On the one hand, I agree. People should not vote out of prejudice against or for certain religions based on jingoistic feelings. Since the main moral principles are the same across religions, and between people, it's silly to vote based on religion and pretend that makes a difference (especially because there can be a wide spectrum of practices within any given religion).

On the other hand, I disagree. Religion- a set of metaphysical and moral beliefs and practices- is something that affects the way we think and act, and if someone believes that only people of certain religions have access to the knowledge and revelations that ensure good behavior and decisions, well, it would be foolish for them to vote any other way.

You might think those people are wrong about the adherents of a particular religion. But surely then what you are saying is that their beliefs are foolish, not that it's wrong to vote on the basis of a particular set of beliefs and practices.

On the contrary, that's what practically everybody does.

Mr Furious said...

I've got no problem with any of that, as I said above, "the burden should be on the voter to use his faith to guide his decision and gather information, NOT for the candidate to project a faith to appeal to those voters".

So the voter can and should use whatever makes him comfortable when making a decision.

Now I realize, to an extent, those are two sides of the same coin, and appealing to those voters might require an effort on the part of the candidate, but in the strict, clinical, secular sense—it's wrong. They should not have to use their own genuine faith or project a false image of faith as a campaign strategy to run for office. On paper (and when I say paper, I mean a particular two-hundred year old sheet), running for office should be completely separate from running for pastor or church committee. That's simply not true any more, especially in the South.

Faith and religion are used as both an offensive and defensive tool (or weapon) in campaigns, and I'm sick of it. Even people of faith should, frankly, be sick of it because so much of it is false. Gaining comfort with a candidate because he is talking the talk on religion (read: your religion), when you know he doesn't walk the walk is foolish.

There IS a religious test in this country, and it eliminates a lot of qualified (and in many cases more qualified) people from running. That's a shame, because the best and brightest (with plenty of everyday folks mixed in, IMO) should be running the country—not the most faithful and the best pretenders.