Do Elitist Attitudes Toward Religion Undermine Democratic Prospects?
The current issue of The Boston Review has a series of articles "The Believers," which shed light on the evolving relationship of religion and politics in America. Two of the articles in particular merit a read by Dems concerned about developing a strategy that addresses moral and religious issues in a more effective way. "Taking Faith Seriously: Contempt for religion costs Democrats more than votes" by Mike Gecan argues that Democrats who disparage or ignore religious faith make the party appear elitist to many. As Gecan notes,
the contempt of the progressive elite for ordinary people—for their faiths, their speech patterns, their clothes, their hobbies, their hopes, and their aspirations—has driven scores of millions of Americans out of the Democratic Party and into either the Republican Party or a no man’s land between the two. The willingness of many Republicans to simply show respect for the habits and interests of these mixed and moderate Americans has paid growing political dividends. The Republicans have understood that communicating respect is more important than offering programs or incentives. The Democrats have failed to realize that multiplying programs or policies designed to meet people’s needs is doomed to fail unless and until those people sense a fundamental level of recognition of who they are, not just what they need.
In "Losing Faith: The Democrats called, but they didn’t call back," Ari Lipman describes an incident revealing a clueless disrespect for local religious leaders at the Democratic convention. Lipman concludes,
We transform our private religious values into public action at the ballot box. As the Democrats are now discovering, parties ignore this fact at their peril. Engaging religious Americans does not necessarily mean altering the fundamental values and platform of the Democratic Party...Democrats need more than a pious new vocabulary. Party leaders must drop their thinly veiled scorn for religious Americans and seek to engage them sincerely around common interests, both in houses of worship and on convention floors.
Althought the perceptions Gecan and Lipman discuss may be worse than the reality among most Democrats and their leaders, it is no less destructive to Democrats' hopes for the upcomming elections. Both writers seem to be saying that respect is at least as important as policy in winning the support of religious voters.