Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2004/ 28 Mar-Cheshvan 5765
Through their post-election soul-searching, Democratic leaders claim to have seen the light. The reason they lost - and the way to win - is G-d.
It was precisely this sort of insight for which G-d created Monday mornings. Not to mention the indispensable thunderbolt.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says Democrats have to start talking more openly about their faith. Sen. Hillary Clinton told a Tufts University audience that Democrats should use the Bible to advance their arguments about poverty the way Republicans did with gay marriage. And writing for Salon.com, the on-line magazine, Edgar Rivera Colon - self-identified socialist, professor, ethnographer and Episcopalian - said the Democratic Party needs to stop pretending it lives in a secular, rational country.
"Until French citizens are allowed to vote in U.S. elections . the Democratic leadership will have to fashion its messages for the deeply religious country it presumes to lead one day."
Of course it's not necessarily so that secular and rational are the same, or that rational and religious are mutually exclusive. The present pope, hardly an intellectual lightweight, has argued that there is no inherent conflict between faith and reason. Truth does not contradict truth.
Meanwhile, fashioning politico-religious message is problematic. People who are deeply religious fashion their lives, not just their messages, in certain ways, according to deeply held convictions. Religion isn't a political strategy; it's a belief system that guides one's lifestyle.
As this discussion evolves, I keep associating to that memorable scene from "When Harry Met Sally" when Meg Ryan, sitting in a deli, convincingly fakes That Very Special Moment to prove that women can and do fake their lovemaking satisfaction. Co-star Billy Crystal is duly impressed, as is an older woman sitting nearby, who tells her waitress: "I'll have what she's having."
The Democrats apparently have decided they'll have what Bush has been having. I half expect to see aspiring Democratic presidential candidates showing up at Promise Keepers conventions, high-fiving for Jesus, and photo-oping with little Baptist blue-hairs on their way to Wednesday-night prayer meeting.
Of all the things one can pretend in order to win a voter's confidence, religious devotion seems the least likely. Moreover, until the Democratic Party's policy positions reflect beliefs consistent with the values held by American's religious moderates and traditionalists, their newly fashioned messages are going to sound like what they are. Faked.
You can't just suddenly start carrying around a Bible and expect to convince people you're a believer. It is also dangerous to invoke the Bible if you're not that familiar with it, as Howard Dean proved when he expressed his admiration for the book of Job, which he erroneously placed in the Christian bible.
If you like Job, you know where it is.
Being religious clearly doesn't hurt a political candidate, but keeping it real is critical. As Barack Obama, the newly elected U.S. senator from Illinois, said in the current issue of Time magazine, Americans hunger for authenticity. Kerry's defeat had as much to do with his perceived lack of authenticity as with the "G-d Gulf." He simply never rang true.
In Wisconsin, for instance, when Kerry was trying to project his inner populist, he shuffled through his hobby box of Hallmark stories and came up with this sparkler:
"When I was 12 years old, my passion was being allowed to go out and sit on the John Deere and drive it around the fields and plow. And I learned as a kid what it was like looking back and see those furrows, and see that pattern and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Ah yes, ye olde furrowed fields 'n' plow anecdote. No wonder voters were wowed.
In another manly vignette aimed at hunters and gun owners, Kerry spoke of his love of deer hunting. As reported in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Kerry said:
"I go out with my trusty 12-gauge double barrel, crawl around on my stomach. I track and move and decoy and play games and try to out smart them. You know, kind of play the wind."
I hate to break it to Bwana, but deer hunters usually seek elevation (think deer stand) or else they're likely to get shot themselves by one o' them Bush-lovin' religious fanatics collecting rattlesnakes for Saturday night's revival.
Although Bush was as privileged as Kerry growing up, he nevertheless is able to connect with regular folks. Human chemistry, after all, isn't related to birth, money or social standing, but emerges from and registers on an instinctual level. You've either got "it" or you don't.
Sort of like religion.
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