Saturday, November 6, 2004
Religious roots of progressive values.
Here are some lengthy excerpts from the liberal Mormon political scientist Russell Arben Fox's much longer assessment of the Democrats' religion problem. His central question — "What if what is necessary is not translating liberal political imperatives into an evangelical or culturally conservative idiom, but rather taking such faith seriously as a legitimate basis for thinking about politics, and drawing progressive concerns from it?" — seems exactly right to me.
Ought the Democratic party try to compete with the Republicans in being a "moral voice"? For many, to invite any sort of immersion in the ethics and habits of the red states is to poison the progressive cause entirely; it is to shake hands with the Ku Klux Klan, apologize to the Confederacy, wink at anti-gay bigotry, hand power over the inbreeds from Deliverance, and generally ruin everything civilization stands for. It is demographic talk like this that leads so many secular progressives to find great comfort in Ruy Teixeira's thesis (which I've never liked, and which doesn't seem to be panning out, so far anyway) that, eventually, all those blue-collar, rural (racist, moronic) Jesus freaks will die out, leaving the future to the secular, urban, multicultural, self-employed, high-tech (enlightened) creative class. (Either that, or it leads them to engage in fantasies about how much nicer America would be if only General Sherman had been more thorough in his march through the South.)
I couldn’t disagree more, though I recognize that the odds of such disagreement being heard when we have only two major parties to choose from, with no Christian socialist or culturally conservative social democrat option in sight, will be a long and difficult haul. And admittedly, the burden is primarily upon religious progressives like myself; one cannot reasonably expect secular liberals and desperate Democrats to take seriously as a ground for argument and actions the particularist beliefs and perspectives of a region of the country, and a class of the population, which has just thoroughly rejected them. . . .
First: there are, there have always been, there will always be, Christians whose beliefs lead them to be social conservatives and economic progressives. (For evidence, look here and here.) We exist, and we have no party to represent us. (The Democratic party once did, back in its working-class heyday, but respect for that kind of traditional authority has been declining ever since the 1970s.) What we need to do is work for the transformation of America’s political and party system, so that more venues can open up, and the death-grip which a warped, half-statist, half-libertarian, decidedly non-communitarian "conservatism" holds over "moral values" in America can finally be loosened. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it's something worth working for, and praying for. Second, and of greater relevance to this discussion: in the meantime, we need to continue to work towards making the Democratic party remember the lesson of Carter and Clinton, the lessons of respect.
After the way Kerry flogged his "faith" to no end on the campaign trail, it might be easy to dismiss this as a lost cause: the Republicans have grabbed religion, so let them have it. (After all, all that fire-and brimstone crap is just for the weak and superstitious, right?) One can point to the example of Amy Sullivan as evidence that there’s nothing new to be said here. I admire the hell out of Amy’s work, and have nothing but praise for it...but, if one honestly wishes to ask what sort of thinking could lead the Democratic party to start putting forward an agenda that shows some respect for the unavoidable fact that they live in a socially and culturally conservative country, then I think it may be worth noting that her primary campaign—to open up religious voters to progressive causes by helping progressives learn to make their case in religious language—may be backwards. What if what is necessary is not translating liberal political imperatives into an evangelical or culturally conservative idiom, but rather taking such faith seriously as a legitimate basis for thinking about politics, and drawing progressive concerns from it? It won’t be a liberalism which gives you abortion rights–but maybe it’ll give you health care. Isn’t that worth something?
Think about Bill Clinton. . . . he didn’t think religion was something he needed to condescend to. He shared that context. The lack of follow-through in legislative content can be forgiven if it at least begins with recognition and respect. Clinton certainly didn't outlaw abortion, and the dedicated anti-abortion professionals in America today certainly never gave him an inch of credit. But consider what happened at the margins, in the provinces, when Clinton declared when he accepted the Democratic nomination that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Rare. Meaning: it's a bad thing, aborting an unborn child; we ought to do less of it. The people who have or make it seem easy to have abortions when there's no call for abortion are in the wrong. That's called moral judgment, using the power of the office to define and order what American life ought and ought not be about. That swayed people—a few of them, anyway, enough to unite with the (not incidentally often socially conservative) African-American population of the South and thereby pick off a few states—because it showed some respect for how they had constrained and disciplined and thus made difficult their own lives, and thus allowed them to hear what this liberal politician had to say about taxes and medical care, because they knew it was out from someone who was willing to put themselves where they lived.
There's a lot more to ponder at In Media Res.
Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 6 November 2004 at 8:54 AM