Democratic vs Republican religion
Democratic religion is very different from Republican religion. Democrats instinctively see religion as a private matter. It seems obvious to them that there should be a solid wall of separation between church and state. Religious Democrats like Paul Begala and Jimmy Carter represent a reflective, intellectual sort of relligion. They don't mindlessly rail against science or cite Bible verses in public policy debates. They understand that there is a big difference between hostility to religion on the one hand, and hostility to the government endorsement and support of religion on the other.
Not so with the Republicans. For them religion is a cudgel used to distinguish those who think as they do from the vile enemies that must be destroyed. Their's is not a religion that values calm, rational argumentation. It prefers instead dogmatic statements it is deemed illegitimate to challenge. Republicans appeal to devotees of the mindless, “God said it, that settles it” sort of religion.
So why do religious voters tend to prefer Republicans? Because the mindless version of religion is far better represented in this country than the thoughtful version. The relentless Republican media machine certainly has an effect on public discourse, but in the end it is successful because it is selling a message people want to buy.
The time when vague talk of the common good could persuade religious voters to support progressive goals is long past. The sort of religion that holds sway in much of the South and the Midwest is not the sort that gets out of bed for the common good. Instead it is the sort that sees itself as a tiny island of righteousness floating in an ocean of secular evil. The sort of people who like that sort of religion are going to find Republican simple-mindedness more appealing than Democratic nuance.
The nature of religion in this country has changed dramatically over the last thirty years. Today's religious voters support Repbulicans because they like the sorts of things Republicans do when they have power. It's that simple. The most media-savvy Democrats in the world will not change that fact.
Democrats might have better luck going after the tens of millions of voters who currently don't vote out of disgust with the whole system. Instead of trying to put a religious gloss on their party's message, they would do better simply to state, forthrightly and unambiguously, that theirs is a party that values science and rationality. It's a party that believes that religion can be a wonderful thing in the lives of individuals, but is universally lousy when used as a basis for public policy. Alas, that would probably take more courage than most of today's Democratic politicians possess.
Well said, JR. Unfortunately, there are millions of people who don't want to be troubled to think. Just give them something you can fit on a bumper sticker, and they're happy. But I guess I'm a little more optimistic than Jason about the prospects for reason winning out over dogmatism. When I hear people in this bastion of patrician Old Money talking trash about the war and Republicans, I have hope. Remember, we only need sway one or two percent to throw the bastards out.
By the way, Robert Reich devotes a whole chapter to the difference between public and private morality, which is basically the difference between the parties that Jason cites above.