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Howard Dean and the politics of "values voters"
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, April 25, 2006

There has been some discussion about a statement Howard Dean made concerning churchs and politics:
"The religious community has to decide whether they want to be tax exempt or involved in politics."
Full disclosure: I agree with Howard Dean. In a perfect world I think politics should be left outside of church doors.

But politically it seems to me this is something he might have wanted to consider more carefully before speaking out about it for three very political reasons:

  • Democrats committed themselves to bringing "values voters" into the fold after the last Presidential election. They felt that it was that bloc which gave the winning margin to the Republicans. A majority of those voters would probably identify themselves as both religious and church goers.
  • Church activism has been a significant part of a critical constituency of the Democratic party: Black voters. It doesn't take much of a search to find examples of Al Gore in his southern preacher mode or Bill Clinton wowing the crowd in a black church somewhere. Same with many black political leaders. It is in the churchs which the civil rights movment found its voice.
  • Latinos, a growing segment of the voter base, are mostly Catholic and religious. The Catholic church has a history of activism, much of it in line with Democrat issues (abortion being the obvious disagreement). This is a segment of the voting public which the Democrats covet.
Going after churchs and their tax exemption just isn't a politically smart move, no matter how legally justified Dean and the Democrats may feel. If Dean pursues this issue, my guess is they will run a good chance of alienating a good portion of the three constituencies. While it may be tempting to appeal to the secular left, this sort of a strategy is bound to have more negative than positive political results for Democrats.

They'll have a very tough time convincing religious "values voters" that their appeal to them is genuine if they then attack the very institution through which many of these voters identify their values. And I can promise, tortured appeals to scripture by such Democratic luminaries as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, just isn't going to be enough to change that.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Church activism has been a significant part of a critical constituency of the Democratic party: Black voters.
I don’t think that leftwing religious activism is in any way limited to black voters. Perhaps urban voters, but that is mostly because of the red v. blue urban island effect. There are a number of majority white denominations that support the Dems like the Methodists, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ.

Truth be told I think the Democrats have used religious tactics at least as much as Republicans.

Evangelicals are more interested in spiritual concerns than earthly ones. Generally we pass out the Christian Coalition fliers around election time and address moral concerns like abortion and stem-cell research from the pulpit. Maybe we’ll get involved on local issues if a strip club or gambling hall tries to move in down the street. But my church (which may not be representative) very rarely advocates for or against specific candidates or even specific legislation.

On the other hand most liberal churches focus on the here and now not on the great hereafter. Generally that means broad support for Democratic policies including spiritually tangential issues like gun control. I have never seen a conservative church lend their name to a political rally, but I’ve seen urban liberal churches do it all the time. And despite all the noise about Bush’s faith-based initiatives, many urban churches have had that support repaid by recieving government funds. We had several in Wilmington get caught paving their parking lots and building additions with transportation grant money.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
Jeff, you beat me to my comment! Anyway, here goes...

Before heading down this path, Dean may want to ponder the similarity between "churches" and his party’s own flocks of radicalized believers.

The addage, "Separation of Church and State" does not delimit the definition of "church."

Author Micheal Chrichton gained notoriety recently by proclaiming that Environmentalism is the new "secular religion." Once you wrap your mind around that concept (which shouldn’t be all that difficult), any non-governmental association founded on a singular mission that has received Federal tax-exempt status could be reasonably defined as a "church."

And, if that "church" has a destructive influence over our democracy’s governmental policies, like Energy Policy, the debate that Dean risks igniting (what is a "church") will seem academic when compared to damage his "church" has wrought.

Gas is $3.20/gallon in Northern Arizona today.
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Dean’s Party is predominantly the party of Brights and Secularists...A large portion if not a majority of his party aren’t religious, in it’s accepted sense. So as usual he has a tough row to hoe, he wants Jesus Freaks, BUT needs to be able to hang onto the Godless Atheists he’s already got. I agree with Limbaugh, that for the moment, mostly Dean’s outreach is "spin." Change HOW you talk, not the substance of the talk...The hope being that the religious will feel more at home in the Democratic Party, whilst avoiding any policy changes that might alienate current, more secular voters.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I have never seen a conservative church lend their name to a political rally, but I’ve seen urban liberal churches do it all the time.
Well, then, Jeff the Baptist. You need to start paying attention…
When A PAC held A Partisan Rally And Fund-Raiser At A Texas Church, An Austin Student Blew The Whistle

The rally opened with a prayer by a church elder, but the program quickly went political. The speakers turned out to be top officials of the Texas Republican Party, and an array of two dozen GOP candidates was introduced to the crowd. To top it all off, church collection plates were passed through the pews to collect donations for a political action committee that helps Republican candidates.

The gathering was opened with an invocation by a Westover Hills church elder, but it included appeals for money from a Legacy PAC official. Indeed, Pate reported that the PAC official took to the church’s pulpit between the first and second keynote addresses to proclaim that $5,000 was needed to "elect good Republican candidates to office," after which the church collection plates were disseminated throughout the pews.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Ah, yes. That overtly partisan organization bent on the destruction of the Republican Party, one might say.
Well, not me. And probably not John Kerry as well,
Most recently, AU asked the tax agency to investigate a Boston church whose pastor endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Kerry from the pulpit.
Moving on,
Governor William Jefferson Clinton of Arkansas was running as the nominee of the Democratic party for President of the United States. On October 30, 1992, four days before the election, plaintiff Branch Ministries, Inc. ("BMI"), doing business as the Church at Pierce Creek, expressed its concern about the moral character of Governor Clinton in a full page advertisement in the Washington Times and in USA Today. The advertisement proclaimed "Christian Beware. Do not put the economy ahead of the Ten Commandments." It asserted that Governor Clinton supported abortion on demand, homosexuality and the distribution of condoms to teenagers in public schools. The advertisement cited various Biblical passages and stated that "Bill Clinton is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God’s laws." It concluded with the question: "How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?" At the bottom of the advertisement, in fine print, was the following notice: "This advertisement was co-sponsored by The Church at Pierce Creek, Daniel J. Little, Senior Pastor, and by churches and concerned Christians nationwide. Tax-deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted. Make donations to: The Church at Pierce Creek," and provided a mailing address.

And more recently,
A group of religious leaders has sent a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation of two large churches in Ohio that they say are improperly campaigning on behalf of a conservative Republican running for governor.
And who can forget about “Justice Sunday”?

Open your eyes and see the light, Jeff.
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
Evangelicals are more interested in spiritual concerns than earthly ones

From the WaPo - November 8, 2004:
But the untold story of the 2004 election, according to national religious leaders and grass-roots activists, is that evangelical Christian groups were often more aggressive and sometimes better organized on the ground than the Bush campaign. The White House struggled to stay abreast of the Christian right and consulted with the movement’s leaders in weekly conference calls. But in many respects, Christian activists led the charge that GOP operatives followed and capitalized upon.

This was particularly true of the same-sex marriage issue. One of the most successful tactics of social conservatives — the ballot referendums against same-sex marriage in 13 states — bubbled up from below and initially met resistance from White House aides, Christian leaders said.

In dozens of interviews since the election, grass-roots activists in Ohio, Michigan and Florida credited President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, with setting a clear goal that became a mantra among conservatives: To win, Bush had to draw 4 million more evangelicals to the polls than he did in 2000. But they also described a mobilization of evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics that took off under its own power.

In battlegrounds such as Ohio, scores of clergy members attended legal sessions explaining how they could talk about the election from the pulpit. Hundreds of churches launched registration drives, thousands of churchgoers registered to vote, and millions of voter guides were distributed by Christian and antiabortion groups.
Did you sleep through the last election, Jeff?

Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
MK still pandering the old "Jesus Freaks in Jesus Land" cost us the election meme?
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
You quoted the Washington Post’s worries about registration drives, evangelizing, registering voters.

You appear to share my assertion that these are the actions of Exhibit A: religious organizations.

So I welcome you to peer now at Exhibit B: the fundraising, telemarketing drives, and voter "reach-out" campaigns of a Sierra Club, PETA, bike-path foundations, or any other "public interest" research group.

All are 501 (c)’s, but which ones are "churches?" Where do you draw the line?
Written By: Steve
URL: http://
Sorry, same-sex marriage should be added to abortion and stem-cell research. It is definitely be on the list of things Christian Conservatives care about and preach on.

I still stand by my statement of "at least as much, if not more." I never said that Christian Conservatives don’t get involved. Nor did I say that conservative involvement in politics was a good thing. I said that the Social Gospel aspect of liberal theology lends itself to political activism and many times liberal churches take part as institutions.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
Dean isn’t running for office. He is raising money so that other people can run for office. There are lots of people who are fiscal conservatives, and social liberals who are scared spitless by the 40% of the republican party that is controlled by the Christian mullahs. They have seen Terry Schrivo, stem cell research, serious threats to abortion rights, and they have seen intelligent design introduced in some schools. They are know that budgets won’t be balanced and no one will care about green house gasses if the powers at be believe that judgment day is upon us.

They are scared enough to give large sums of money to Howard Dean. Follow the money.
Written By: cindyb
URL: http://
It seems to me Dean’s latest call for justice is yet another example of Democrats’ traditional double-standards coming back to bite them in the ass.

Exhibit A: Mainstream media outlets have long relied on leaks to play "gotcha" with an administration they oppose. But when a leak works against them - the NIA discrediting Wilson - they’re shocked shocked! and demand prosecution and jail time for the leaker. Sure enough, this action is only going to serve to plug up those very same leaks they’ve come to rely upon.

Exhibit B: Urban political machines, overwhelmingly Democrat, have for generations perpetuated voter fraud and intimidation. This status quo was just fine with Dems until 2000 when claims that Republicans somehow managed to rig entire states’ votes. Ballot reform became the big issue, but now Dems are resisting the most fundamental safeguards like ID checks ’cause that will end their cherished traditions of urban vote-rigging.

Exhibit C: The Democratic Party of FDR, JFK, and LBJ was aggressively interventionist for the cause of promoting and safeguarding Democracy around the world. But once Republicans start taking the initiative, suddenly they declare such policy as "imperialist" and driven by the most evil motives.

It’s interesting to watch when a political movement out of power and bereft of principles betray themselves time and time again.
Written By: equitus
URL: http://
40% of the republican party that is controlled by the Christian mullahs.

Yeah Cindyb....when you come off like that, should we really care what you have to say after that?
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Dean isn’t running for office.
However he, among others, speaks for the Democratic party.
Written By: McQ
I don’t think that leftwing religious activism is in any way limited to black voters.
I never meant to claim it was. I was tying it in with the constituency of "black voters" who mostly vote Democratic. It wasn’t so much a broad statement about religious activism as a whole on the left, but instead a focus on a particular constituency to whom church activism is very important.
Written By: McQ
Yep, follow the money...

Yep, I’m worried.

Total Receipts

Democratic Party $226,684,111
Republican Party $324,643,314

Cash on Hand

Democratic Party $61,046,003
Republican Party $94,106,281


Democratic Party $3,195,861
Republican Party $2,373,538
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Full disclosure: I agree with Howard Dean. In a perfect world I think politics should be left outside of church doors.
Please elaborate on this. Do you mean powerful organizations like the Vatican trying to have policy implemented?
Written By: Richard
URL: http://

Do you really believe that Ken Melman speaks for the republican party in any area other then fund raising and spending? Matters of policy are usually vocalized by the president or the majority leader or even the house speaker. The democrats have no one in a leadership position. No one speaks for them. Opintions run from Al Sharpston to Joe Lieberman. They have no common ground.

There is no democratic message other than point out that The Republcans stand for rights of the brain dead, stopping stem cell research, making serious threats to abortion rights, intelligent design and controlling the exess profits oil companies (Please check me on that, I could have sworn the democrats would have been in front of that).

Faced with one of the worst administrations in recent history, the democrats have no leadership and nothing much to say.

3rd party anyone?

Written By: cindy b
URL: http://
Howard Dean is the gift that keeps on giving....Republican majorities.
So freedom of speech is great for every left wing charitable organization, but not for religious groups?
What about the fact that most large religious organizations that are politically active tend to be left of center?
What about the fact that every democratic candidate has campaigned from the pulpits of African American churches for decades?
Why does dr. Dean have so much problem with the simple facts of freedom of speech?
Or does freedom of speech for Dean mean freedom to say what he aproves of?
Written By: hunter
URL: http://

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