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Early indications were that the religious right may indeed have been the decisive voting bloc in the presidential election. Many people have noted, though, that "moral values," the phrase used in exit polling, can certainly be understood in ways outside the grasp of the followers of Falwell, Robertson, et al. There are lessons here for Democrats. The first one is: don't pander to the religious right. (By Rick Howell)
Whether the religious right elected Bush or not, the leaders of this bloc are acting as though they made the difference. We've seen an expansion in the typically smug and pompous attitude of the Rev. Jerry Falwell. As discussed here by Barnie Day, Falwell is now filled with new fire, and will start something he calls "the Faith and Values Coalition." Well, that's what America needs, huh? Another right-wing "religious" group.
As Democrats we know that our party is filled with the faithful. We have Jews, Catholics and Protestants of every variety. We also have party members who have no religious beliefs, and they're as welcome as anyone else. We know, too, that moral values includes the morality of helping families make it economically in America. It means doing what Jesus recommended in the New Testament, helping to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and uplift the poor. Somehow, when the religious right talks about "morals," it's always connected to sex.
The greatest moral issue of my life was the civil rights movement. Where was the religious right then? Mr. Falwell was presiding over an all-white congregation at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and telling people that he thought ministers should stay out of politics. Obviously, he did not respect the actions of ministers named Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams and others. Today, those men are legends.
So, what are Democrats to do? We need to stress the more expansive view of moral values, and not pander to those who just voted for Bush because they thought it was what God wanted. Personally, I won't have much patience for any Democratic officer seeker next year who feels the need to frequently pontificate about "faith and family." That's not to say we should not, on occasion, express our religious beliefs if we're so inclined. But we must not cave in to the social agenda of those who see only gays and abortion when they discuss "moral values."
Look what happened in Colorado. While Republicans were squawking about the Pledge of Allegiance and gay marriage, Democrats focused on responsible fiscal and budget matters and elected a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, and put Democrat Ken Salazar in the U.S. Senate. In the GOP, the religious right, with enough rope, will eventually hang itself. We may have seen the beginning of this when it failed to stop Sen. Arlen Specter, a pro-choice Republican, from being favored for the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee.
If you're in favor of a more active approach against this voting bloc, fine, join the ACLU or Americans United for Separation of Church and State. There's more than one way to clarify what moral values really mean. Democrats don't need a lecture on morals.
(Rick Howell is chairman of the Amherst County Democratic Committee. He can be reached at NewCenHowell@aol.com)
Posted by rickhowell at November 21, 2004 09:03 AM