Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Moderate evangelicals, Pt. 47

Via NewDonkey, Thomas Schaller has an argument against reaching out to moderate evangelicals here, which I is kind of instructive in its wrongheadedness. Schaller equates this strategy with Karl Rove targeting "secular, professional single women of color living in eastern seaboard cities"--that is, the people least likely to vote Republican--and argues that Democrats shouldn't bother with white evangelicals because:
The country is getting browner, not whiter; women are increasingly out-registering and out-voting men; the country is becoming less religious and more secular; and the number of unmarried (whether single or divorced) women is rising. In other words, Rove's strategy would actually be less absurd [than Democrats targeting evangelicals] because at least single, urban, professional women of color are a growing sub-demographic. Conservative, married, white, male evangelicals are not.
(Emphasis is Schaller's.) First of all, it's a mistake to succumb to demographic messianism--the fallacy that demographic shifts in America (toward brown, female, secular, whatever) will automatically mean Democratic gains. That would be nice, of course, and might even happen, but hello!, we're in an election year this year, and the electorate is not going to be so much "browner" in '08, either.

More to the point, though, this argument is symptomatic of an over-literal way of looking at electoral politics. Part of the point of forming a message that woos moderate evangelicals is that it simultaneously dispels misconceptions about Dems still held in other demographic subgroups. The negative caricature of Democratic politicians is that they are a.) godless heathens who want to take your guns away and show pornography to your third-grader, and b.) wonky nerds obsessed with technical details about policy (as opposed to G.W.Bush's broader "vision"). Wooing moderate evangelicals doesn't entail changing any of Dems' traditional policy positions; rather, it entails changing the way we talk about these policies. It means moving the moral questions to front and center on a host of issues--universal health care because it's wrong for people to be denied basic health services, robust sexual health education because we do want to reduce the total number of abortions, job training programs because the un- or under-employed should have the same opportunities that the better-off among us have. Appeals of this sort will burnish Democrats' credibility on a whole range of other issues, because all voters--even single urban professional women--want politicians with a strong moral center.

Or, look at it this way. On the side of Democratic politicians who openly speak in moral language are Bill Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama. On the side of politicians who speak in technocratic secular language are John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean. Which wing of the Democratic party do you suppose is more likely to win elections?

1 comment:

haahnster said...

Schaller falls into the all-too-familiar trap of trying to be "correct" at the expense of actually winning. Nothing drives me crazier quicker...

The dems must put the days of "fighting the good fight" behind them, and trade in the "moral victories" for actual election victories!

I mean, my goodness, the types of demographic shifts he's citing take generations to be fully realized. Gee, let's not do something that might help us in '06 & '08 if it won't still be effective in the year 2150. What a goof!