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Monday, December 1, 2003

Dean: Northern evangelist.

Thanks to Religious Liberal for the tip on this article in the American Prospect that links Howard Dean's politics to good old Yankee congregationalism.

The more one watches him on the stump (and watches his admirers watching him), the more it becomes apparent that he comes out of, and is reviving, a tradition of small-town, New England civic and religious fervor that is all but forgotten in American politics today. He is something the country has not seen in a very long time. He is, essentially, a northern evangelist.

This may explain some of his enormous popularity among Unitarian Universalists:

Dean is, without a doubt, an odd vessel for the quasi-religious fervor he has inspired. He almost never mentions God in his stump speeches and he rarely goes to church himself. Nevertheless, his rhetoric — like his campaign structure — is deeply grounded in the social practices of a branch of radical Protestantism whose tenets still wield power in the structures of Vermont's government. The Pilgrims who gave America its foundational governing documents and ideas — ideas that Dean now routinely references — created a society based partly on the anti-authoritarian religious principles of Congregationalism, their religion (and, since the early '80s, Dean's).

Congregationalism, the dominant religion of colonial and early federal life, had by the 20th century become an obscure New England denomination about as relevant to modern life as covered bridges. Yet the legacy of the Congregationalists — and their Unitarian descendants — is one of the most powerful forces in the history of the American North. It was Congregationalists who landed the Mayflower on Plymouth Rock in 1620. Their descendants founded America's elite colleges, such as Harvard and Yale, and some of its most liberal ones, such as Oberlin and Amherst. Where the South bred agrarian populists and Baptist revivals, the North churned out Unitarian and Congregationalist ministers.

("Shock of the old," Garance Franke-Ruta. The American Prospect 11.1.03)

As Amy Sullivan notes, however, Dean's appeal to religiously religious voters — as opposed to religiously political voters — could be enhanced.

Being the renegade UU that I am, I'm heading out the door for the Wesley Clark Meetup in Somerville.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 1 December 2003 at 6:24 PM

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December 2, 2003 08:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

I hope you'll give a recap of the Clark meetup. I attended a Clark meetup in Kansas City last night and was rather disappointed. Had a much better experience two weeks ago a Dean meetup.

But I'm still waffling over who I believe is the best candidate to win over Bush. What did you learn last night?


December 2, 2003 09:35 AM | Permalink for this comment

A full report about the Clark Meetup may have to wait until tonight — rather full schedule today and this evening, I'm afraid — but the Meetup was good. It was clear that the Boston-area Meetups were largely made up of already-committed Clark activists looking for specific ways to help the campaign, with a focus on New Hampshire; no one seemed to be in shopping mode (or admitted it). I had the good fortune to meet Rick Heller of Independents for Clark, and we had a great conversation.

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