The Faith Angle Forum is a semi-annual conference which brings together a select group of 20 nationally respected journalists with 3-5 distinguished scholars on areas of religion, politics & public life.
Religion, Moral Values, & the Democratic Party
Key West, Florida
Dr. William A Galston, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Adviser, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
In Mr. Galston’s presentation, he refers to survey data relevant to his remarks. We recommend the reader download and print a copy of this packet before reading the transcript.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: There is no news today that is not somehow related to religion news. As many of you have written extensively and covered the debate within the Democratic Party about how to incorporate religious language in appealing ways, we thought it would be great to have a session on that.
We are very lucky that one of the best people in America to do that is here with us. Many of you know Bill Galston by reputation as a professor, as a political philosopher, as a political theorist, but also as a practitioner. Bill worked in the Clinton administration as deputy director of policy there. But he’s also the author of several books, so he offers a wonderful blend of academic expertise and practical knowledge.
DR. WILLIAM A. GALSTON: I listened to professor Cook’s session this morning with a mixture of admiration and envy; admiration for all of the obvious reasons that were on display, but envy because he could walk into the room with total confidence that he knew more about his subject than anyone else in the room, and that we would all learn from him, as indeed we all did. In my case, I will address a much more familiar topic. All of you know some of what I’m about to say, and I fear that some of you know all of what I’m about to say.
To do this I’m going to treat six topics, each one of them too briefly. First, and probably most familiarly, I will offer a religious overview of what happened in 2004. Second, I’ll broaden out a little and look at some data bearing on the American people’s overall judgment, from a religious standpoint, with regard to the two political parties today. I’ll then broaden out a little more and trace some historical trend lines that may be of interest to you, going back in some cases more than 50 years. Fourth, I want to engage a question that my colleague, E.J Dionne, has helped illuminate in a recent paper of his: the relationship between religion and economic class in contemporary American politics, in particular, the question of whether religion has somehow displaced class. I’ll then talk about a group that I believe will be particularly important to the Democratic Party and to the balance of power in American party politics over the next decade or so, namely white Catholics. And I’ll conclude with my take on a broad historical narrative of what has happened to the interplay between American religion and American politics over, roughly speaking, the past 50 years.
Let me begin with question number one: what actually happened in 2004? And here I’m relying on the familiar “Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics, Post-Election Sample” [Page 1]. The methodology configures large blocks of religious voters along the axes of traditionalist, centrist and modernist, based on stances toward authority, whatever the source of authority, are considered to be within that particular tradition. Thus, a traditionalist evangelical Protestant would have the most affirmative attitude toward the principle source of authority within that tradition, namely the word of the Bible. For Catholics, of course, the discourse is somewhat different but the basic idea is the same.
And what you can see on Page 1 is a fairly regular relationship where the closer to traditionalism you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican; the closer to modernism, the more likely you are to vote Democratic. That’s a familiar result. Another feature that I want to point out is that in the face of an overall electorate — which by this methodology turned out at about 61 percent — the traditionalists in 2004 were very highly mobilized indeed. The traditionalist evangelical Protestants had a turnout rate of 69 percent, the traditionalist mainline Protestants were at 78 percent and traditionalist Catholics at 77 percent. In each case, the traditionalist wing of a particular denomination turned out at a statistically significant higher rate than any of the others.
This was not entirely an accident. On the contrary, it faithfully mirrored trends in party identification as measured before the election. If you go to the table entitled “Religiosity and Party Identification” on Page 2, you’ll see the same array of religious denominations, but in this case the metric is party identification and not actual vote. And in each case you’ll see the same relationship. The bars that go to the right reflect a Republican advantage; the bars that go to the left reflect a Democratic advantage, and you can see very much the same array. You can also get a very clear sense of the relative proportions of the different groups in the electorate. If you add up the three groups (traditionalist, centrist and modernist) in the white evangelical Protestant group, you get almost precisely 25 percent of the vote. White, mainline Protestants represent about 16.5 percent and non-Hispanic Roman Catholics make up about 17 percent. If you add Hispanic Roman Catholics to that, you come up with about 22 percent. Those are the three large blocks. And by this reckoning, you have about 17 percent of the population regarding itself as outright unaffiliated. Other surveys put that figure upwards of 20 or even 21 percent.
The findings on Page 3 are not surprising, except in their extraordinary regularity. If you look at the relationship between church attendance — frequency of church attendance, and not party identification but ideological identification — you will see an unbroken linear relationship. The more regularly you attend church, the more likely you are to regard yourself as a conservative; likewise for liberals: the less you attend church regularly, the more likely you are to consider yourself a liberal. And it is about as linear and unbroken a relationship as you will ever find in statistics concerning American politics. Not surprisingly, given the extraordinary alignment of ideology, party identification and voting in 2004, you see that relationship mirrored in the religious divide of the 2004 election. You can see Bush’s numbers go down steadily as the level of church attendance declines. Kerry’s numbers go up steadily as religiosity declines — once again, a perfect inverse relationship, totally linear.
If you go to Page 4, the table entitled “The American Religious Landscape and the 2004 Party Coalitions” breaks out the numbers in a different way. This table illuminates the basic structure of the religious party coalitions. The Bush numbers and the Kerry numbers both add up to 100 percent. If you put together the traditionalist evangelical Protestants, traditionalist Catholics and traditionalist mainline Protestants, you come up with fully 43 percent of the Bush coalition. By contrast, Kerry, in total, garnered only 11 percent of his coalition from the traditionalist wing of these three major groups of religious voters.
Exactly the reverse is the case if you look at the modernists, among whom Bush received a grand total of 8 percent from these major religious groupings; Kerry, by contrast, garnered 21 percent. I note, for the record, that only 5 percent of Bush’s coalition was drawn from people who regard themselves as secularists or atheists, while fully 16 percent of John Kerry’s coalition identified themselves as such. What that says in practical, political terms is that Republicans don’t really have to pay attention, within their coalition, to the views of those who profess no religious belief whatsoever. On the other hand, Democrats do, particularity because I bet if you did a similar analysis of the general election rather than the primaries, that 16 percent would rise well into the 20s. I can’t prove that, but that’s what I believe.
On Page 5 you’ll see a similar analysis, this time focusing on respondents’ attitudes on issues based on their religious affiliations. Not only did people of different denominations or orientations disagree about particular issues, they also disagreed about which issues are more or most important. In particular, on the more meaningful measurement of the two columns, that is, which issue each group regards as the most important, precisely three groups in this religious array regarded social issues as most important in 2004 [the other choices were foreign policy or economic issues]: traditionalist evangelical Protestants, traditionalist Catholics and traditional mainline Protestants, although this group’s preference for social issues was more evenly distributed among the three categories.
In general, respondents in 2004 clearly felt that foreign policy issues were the most important; centrists and modernists also cited foreign policy as their top priority. A racially and ethnically divided subsection of the American religious population, namely Latino Protestants, Latino Catholics and black Protestants believed economic issues were most important in 2004. This is, of course, consistent with the broader survey data concerning 2004, as well it should be, that showed foreign policy as a dominant issue. But within the Bush coalition, social issues were also very much more important than among the rest of the electorate.
The table on Page 6 uses the same array but this time examines changes in voting behavior between 2000-2004. First of all, there were changes in Bush’s direction, in the Democratic direction and also changes in turnout. The group on whom most journalists tended to focus, traditionalist evangelical Protestants, did not really swing all that much in 2004 relative to 2000; nor was their turnout huge. As a matter of fact, the turnout gain in the entire electorate was 10 percent; the turnout gain among traditionalist evangelical Protestants was only 7 percent.
By contrast, there was a significant swing among traditionalist Catholics — 17 points toward Bush — and there was also a large increase in their turnout — 12 percent. In my judgment — and I’m going to come back to this in the penultimate section of my remarks — the real story of the 2004 election was much more about Catholics than it was about Protestants. And I think the real story of American politics in the next 10 years will be written as much around the behavior of Catholics, persuadable Catholics, as it is around the mobilization of traditionalist evangelical Protestants.
As many people have noted — and I’ll just repeat briefly — if you break this down by frequency of church attendance, Bush made much larger gains in 2004 over 2000 among people who attended relatively less frequently than he did amongst the most frequent attenders. So it is simply not the case that the story of 2004 was the mobilization of the most conservative and the most fervent Protestants; nor is it the case that it was a mobilization of the most frequent church attenders. Bush appealed very successfully to what might be called the broad middle of the American political spectrum, relative to his weaker performance in 2000.
I’m one of those who believes that political and social polarization in the United States is a real phenomenon, and there are others around the table who agree with that. But I went into the Pew Research Center’s wonderful typological study, “Mapping the Political Landscape 2005,” [Page 7] and I pulled out the three subgroups at the heart of the respective political coalitions: liberals for the Democrats and the combination of economic and social conservatives for the Republicans.
In the first three columns, I’ve broken down some basic demographic differences, but it’s the next grouping that may be of interest to you: 36 percent of the population reported belonging to a Bible study or prayer group. The figure for liberals was 13 percent; for economic conservatives, 36 percent — right on the national average; and for social conservatives, 51 percent. How many attended church at least weekly?: 40 percent for the population as a whole, only 18 percent for liberals and significantly more for the two core groups in the Republican coalition (48 percent for economic conservatives, 53 percent for social conservatives). Conversely, 43 percent of those who regard themselves as liberals never attend church.
Interestingly, in response to an important survey question: do you or do you not need religious faith in order to be a moral human being? Barely a majority of the U.S. population — 51 percent — answers that question in the affirmative; among liberals the answer is 15 percent; among social conservatives it’s 61 percent. And that is, I think, a very important, foundational difference between people who think of themselves as liberals, modernists, progressives, on the one hand, and those who think of themselves as traditionalists, on the other. On social issues, such as gay marriage, the Ten Commandments, flag display, abortion, you can see they expected huge differences. Then, in the area of foreign policy, which I, along with many others, believe became a values issue in 2004, you can see equally large differences.
Continuing in this vein, if you shift to Page 16 you will find the best answer that I’ve located so far to the question: what are moral values in the minds of the American people? This is drawn from a Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research survey, “Faith and Family in America, October, 2005” And what you can see here is that the electorate as a whole regards personal values, such as honesty and responsibility, as the dominant moral values, and second comes family values, such as trying to protect children from sex and violence on TV and the Internet. Social issues, such as abortion or gay marriage are ranked first by only 10 percent, equal to the percentage that regards social justice issues as the principle definition of moral values.
If you go to Page 17, you can see these views broken down by religious identity. In this table you’ll find some very interesting differences among religious groups. Evangelical Christians as a group are less likely to give pride of place to personal values, such as honesty and responsibility, are less likely to focus on issues of social justice and are more likely to emphasize family values and social issues. In some respects, traditional Catholics resemble evangelical Christians on these preferences but not uniformly. You’ll find similar breakdowns and differentiations if you look at attitudes toward marriage broken down by religious identity.
AMY SULLIVAN, Washington Monthly: Can I just ask a clarification question here? Did people have to choose one, or could they name all of these?
DR. GALSTON: They were asked which “best describes.” So, it was a forced choice, and that doesn’t mean that they didn’t care about the others. But I think it’s very revealing when people are asked to declare not, do you really care a lot about this, but, of this array, what’s most important to you?
I’m going to now address my second question much more briefly, namely the situation of American politics today. Please turn back to Page 8. And here on Pages 8 and 9 I think you’ll learn something important about the people’s attitudes toward the two political parties. As has been widely reported, there has been a huge drop in the percentage of Americans who regard the Democratic Party’s attitude toward religion as friendly or favorable. In one year alone, 2004-2005, the portion dropped from 40 percent to 29 percent.
And if you go down to the bottom of Page 8, you’ll find some results that I think point to the heart of the dilemma, or the cross-pressure that many Americans feel in the face of these issues: Which party is more concerned with protecting religious values? Republicans, 51, Democrats 28. Which party is more concerned with protecting personal freedom? Republicans, 30, Democrats, 52. I think the essence of modern America is that the overwhelming majority of the American people want both. I have often used the phrase “tolerant traditionalism” to describe this attitude: On the one hand, Americans tend not to be radical experimentalists in matters of morality and personal conduct; on the other hand, they don’t want the government cramming a particular conception of moral values down their throats.
To refer to two incidents 20 years apart — I was Walter Mondale’s issues director. I was in San Francisco during the famous march down Market Street, I believe, led by Sister Boom-Boom, which gave some credibility to the epithet San Francisco Democrats.
MICHAEL LUO, The New York Times: Who was Sister Boom-Boom?
DR. GALSTON: Sister Boom-Boom was a very prominent San Francisco drag queen — and not the most flamboyant member of the parade by any means.
So that was the form of in-your-face anti-traditionalism that really rubbed people the wrong way. On the other hand, as everybody knows, the Schiavo intervention by Republicans in every branch of government also rubbed people the wrong way. Framed between those two negative events is where I think the American people are, by and large. And you’ll find tables pointing to similar sentiments on the next page as well: have liberals gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government [Page 9]? Have conservative Christians gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country [Page 9]?
Let me know turn to my third question about history. This, it seems to me, is the single biggest surprise I’ve encountered in this area. And I’m going to focus here on Pages 10 and 11. On Page 10, is an analysis of all voters — representing the difference in support for the Democratic presidential candidates from 1952 to 2004 — between regular church attenders on the one hand, and yearly or never church attenders on the other. And what you see, very surprisingly, is that between 1952 and 1988, there is no particular trend. It goes back and forth and oscillates around an average of negative 3.7 percent; that is, the difference between Democrats and Republicans was 3.7 percent. Republicans hold an advantage among the frequent attenders, and Democrats are obviously favored more by the less-frequent attenders.
But starting in 1992, you have an unbroken string of double-digit differences [Page 10]. Something very dramatic happened starting in 1992. If you break it out by white voters only [Page 11], you’ll see the same pattern, but even more pronounced.
Between 1952 and 1998, among white voters you have no particular pattern and a line that oscillates at about 5.5 percent negative for Democrats among frequent church attenders. Starting in 1992, that gap triples from 5.5 percent to 17 percent, and it has stayed there ever since. So a very important analytic question to which I’ll try to provide an answer in my concluding remarks is: what happened?
Issue number four: religion in relation to class. And here the story is pretty straightforward. I will summarize the results of the data presented on Pages 12-15 with a single proposition: while religion has become significantly more important over the past 20 years as a determinant of voting behavior, it has not replaced the impact of income and economic class on voting behavior. It has overlaid the effect of income and class, and in some respects has magnified it. On Page 12, the Pew Research Center constructed an index of the impact of individual factors on voting outcomes. As you can see, between 2000 and 2004 church attendance rose from an impact factor of 22 to 28 percent, the single largest rise, but membership-in-a-union household was second. So both income and religion had greater impact in 2004 than in 2000.
But for those of you who believe, as I once believed, that the impact of income has been waning in American politics in, roughly speaking, our adult lifetimes, I reproduce a chart from Morris Fiorina’s book, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America – with which I disagree in many aspects; but he’s right on the money here. As you can see, if you chart the difference in the Democratic presidential vote between the lower- and upper-income thirds of the population, there is simply no evidence that the income gap has decreased in importance over the past 20 or 30 years. As a matter of fact, you could argue exactly the reverse. You could say that in the 25 years prior to the Carter election, income per se was significantly less important than it has been since.
Our sense of what went on in the old days is very much shaped by our perception of the New Deal coalition. But what we forget is that in the period between the late 1940s and the 1970s that New Deal coalition was already in the process of dissolving and reconfiguring itself. The notion that it was simply static until the events of the late 1960s pulverized it is, I think, just not historically accurate. I could go into great detail on that point, but this is one way of charting that fact. Page 14, which graphs rather than charts the data, points to the same reality — that the gap between the lower third and the upper third is not decreasing; if anything, it is increasing.
On Page 15 we see the meaning of all of this laid out in the context of the 2004 election. Whites who attended church weekly or more frequently, even if they didn’t make any money at all, still voted for Bush. As a matter of fact, those who attended church weekly-or-more frequently at every income level voted for Bush. You can see in this very neat array, the conjoint impact of both income and levels of religious observance — both income and religiosity. I think that is a very clear result.
On Page 21, I have some statistics on a group that I consider — as I’ve said a couple of times — very significant for the future of American politics and the future of the country: white Catholics. The first chart on Page 21 reveals, I think, truly significant shifts in voting behavior among white Catholics between the last Clinton election in 1996, on the one hand, and the Gore-Kerry election in 2000, on the other. It’s clear that something happened after Clinton to send the white Catholic vote in a very strongly Republican direction.
We can begin to guess at some of why that shift occurred by looking at the chart at the bottom of Page 21. As you can see, there are positive Democratic Party associations among white Catholics, but also a number of positive party associations for Republicans, including “shares your values,” “can be trusted to keep America safe,” “respecting religious faith” and “know what they stand for.”
If a party does not share your values, does not respect religious faith, can’t be trusted to keep America safe, and doesn’t know what it stands for, that sounds like a pretty powerful indictment to me. And I think these data tend to support what intuition confirms: These were very important factors driving white Catholics toward the Republican Party in this period.
On Pages 22 and 23, the tables reflect more of the fine-grain texture of white Catholic attitudes on the issue of moral values. These Catholic swing voters, and that’s what they are, are not particularly hot-to-trot on hot-button gender and social issues. They are much more inclined to emphasize factors such as personal integrity, family values issues and personal conduct — called variously here the Golden Rule and the Social Compact.
The tables on Page 23 assess the impact of the two hot-button social issues on white Catholic probability of supporting Democrats. I think the headline here is that the impact is not nearly as large as is often supposed.
If you asked me to tell the story of the past half-century of American politics through the prism of religion, it would go something like this: Here are the big events. Number one is what I would call the fall of the informal Protestant establishment. You began to see this in 1960 with the election of a Catholic president after what I consider the single most important event in the campaign, namely Kennedy’s bold decision to address a conclave of more than a thousand Protestant ministers in Houston, followed shortly thereafter by the school prayer decision.
As a young Jewish boy, when I came to Connecticut as a fourth grader, to my surprise — although I didn’t think very much about it — I was required to recite the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve consoled myself in later years with the title of the most important song ever written by a great American theologian, Kinky Friedman — to the effect that “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”
In fact, you could say that I was affirming my tradition, but when you think about it a little more deeply, I was not.
And, I think that the school prayer decision was inevitable and, may I say, correct, because if that’s not establishment of religion, I don’t know what is. And I happen to be in favor of all sorts of other things, but I’m not in favor of that.
The second major episode in this plotted 50-year history was what I will call tendentiously the expulsion of urban Catholics from the Democratic Party. The principle meaning of the McGovern-Fraser reforms of the ’68-’72 period was the evisceration of urban Catholic influence in the Democratic Party and its replacement by something else. We could have a long discussion about how Catholics to this day are responding to that expulsion.
The third episode I will call the Roe v. Wade mobilization. I wrote an article a few months ago in which I traced the impact of that decision through three sets of party platforms: ‘76, ’80 and ’84. In ’76, both parties are divided and cross-pressured. They have very nuanced on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand platforms. In 1980, the nuance is still there but a definite tilt has been established. By 1984, the party platforms have hardened into a stark moral and theological and ideological opposition that has defined American party politics ever since.
Episode number four I will call the Carter disappointment. I have a feeling that evangelicals would not have moved as strongly toward the Republican Party as they eventually did if Carter had not teased and then disappointed them. That episode may have sent the signal that, well, if not even Jimmy Carter could be trusted to hold high this banner, then what Democrat could? I think in the evangelical community, or significant portions of it, that question has been first and foremost ever since.
The fifth episode — the most recent — is what I’ll call the “boomer schism.” I see Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as matter and anti-matter: the two basic things that could happen to you when you went to Yale University.
And I think that that “boomer schism” is my shorthand explanation for the fact that, starting in 1992, things were very different. The electorate, including religious traditionalists, looked at people like Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis and they saw very staid, morally conservative members of the silent generation. They looked at Bill Clinton and they saw something very different. In spite of the fact that Bill Clinton was arguably more in touch with not only the words but the music of the evangelical tradition than just about any president in the 20th century, he turned out to be, I think, a real polarizer in that community in ways Democrats did not appreciate at the time, but the full force of which became evident in 2000 and 2004.
This brings me, in conclusion, to the “Owl-of-Minerva” problem. Where are we right now? Here’s what I see, very briefly. On what I will call the religious right, I see a sense of demoralization and even betrayal — and I can say why I detect that sentiment. On the religious left, we have a counter-mobilization question mark. There’s no question about the fact that there are some straws in the wind. Whether they will fall in one place and serve as the building materials for even a flimsy political house remains to be seen.
What I can tell you for sure is that 2004 was a big wake-up call for Democrats, even if it was on the basis of very questionable polling findings. Democrats now agree that they have a problem with groups who have high levels of religious faith and observance. What they don’t know yet is what to do about it.
There are three different schools of thought. One is the Woody Allen school, that 90 percent of the problem is just showing up. And so, if Democrats just get on religious talk radio or use other venues to expose themselves to this portion of the electorate, that in and of itself will de-demonize them. There’s something to that theory but less than many Democrats suppose.
A second take on it, let’s call this the Lakoff theory, is that everything is in order except for the language that Democrats use in talking about this issue. I’m reminded of a story about a man who walked up to the Duke of Wellington and said, “Mr. Smith, I presume.” And the Duke looked at him and said, “Sir, if you can presume that, you can presume anything.”
My own view, for what it’s worth, is that if there is to be a counter-mobilization that really has legs, it will consist of substance, not just language and not just showing up. And the substance will be in two forms: first, a broadening of the evangelical issues agenda. Amy Sullivan has written a very suggestive article in the New Republic about the possibility that that’s now occurring. And on the other hand, Elaine Kamarck and I argued in a very unpopular political manifesto published last fall, “The Politics of Polarization,” that Democrats are going to have to do some rethinking about their stance on the kinds of issues that have served as such stumbling blocks for the more centrist and traditionalist portions of the religious community. Thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Bill. I’ve already got five people on a list and I see that other hands are going up.
ROBERT DRAPER, Gentleman’s Quarterly: I have about a dozen questions to ask. I’ll try to hold it to 11.
I wanted to ask you about one of the things you brought up most recently, relating to the Carter disappointment. Could you deconstruct that episode for us somewhat? When you say the evangelicals were disappointed, were they disappointed because they felt that President Carter had failed to promulgate socially conservative views, or was it a competence question? This obviously is salient as it portends the Bush question now.
DR. GALSTON: My view is that they began by thinking of him as an alternative to the “McGovernized” Democratic Party, and by the end of his term they saw him as having become a captive of that party. That was a process, by the way, that started very early. If you look at what happened in the Democratic Convention of 1976 — what the platform looked like, what the negotiations with the traditional interest groups looked like, what the Carter campaign in the general election as opposed to the primaries looked like — and the fact that Carter lost support steadily through the general election campaign, and if it had lasted another 10 days, he probably would have lost it.
So, you can already see signs that the very personal religious appeal that Carter had was beginning to wane. When his administration associated itself with the progressivism push on a number of gender and social issues, I think many evangelicals said to themselves, well, his personal views may be wonderful, but he is doing absolutely nothing to buck the tide of the party; and that convinces us that if he can’t or won’t do it, who could or would; so maybe we ought to turn elsewhere. Then there was a massive shift among white evangelicals, between 1976 and 1980, away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans.
The fact that the bottom didn’t fall out for Democrats until 1992 suggests to me that maybe the racial dimension of this is not as dispositive as some people thought it was. If it had really been dispositive, then the bottom should have fallen out a lot earlier than it did. Also, the religiosity gap, as late as 1988, is really very narrow if you look at those two charts I presented, and then there is a large shift. With the first boomer president, all of these cultural, social and religious issues suddenly become the basis of a deep schism in the electorate. That’s what I had in mind.
MR. DRAPER: I’d like you to comment on two other things relating to some of the tables you discuss that seem to indicate bad news for the Democrats. In the table on Page 6 to which you referred, you were mainly talking about the shift among white Catholics. But a much more storied shift we’ve been reading about it is the percentage of black Protestants moving 12 points for Bush. And the turnout [percentage of black Protestants who turn out to vote] doesn’t change at all; there’s just a movement of 12 percent who change their vote to Bush, which suggests an erosion of the base, not just simply an expansion of the base that leans toward Bush.
In addition, on Page 9, it’s almost like a crisis of ideological confidence among liberals. When asked: Have liberals gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government? One out of three liberals say, yes, liberals have gone too far. If you compare that with Republican conservatives, one half that number of conservatives says that conservatives have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country. There seems an almost existential crisis amongst liberals that they have that view about themselves. I wonder if you could comment on those points.
Dr. William A. Galston
DR. GALSTON: I would say to some extent you have an existential crisis in both political parties, because if you shift over to the right you’ll see that a plurality of moderate and liberal Republicans believe that conservative Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country. I think the story here is the way raw public opinion is institutionalized in American party politics. A dominant role during the past generation has been given to the left and the right tails of the respective parties. I think that there are people in both political parties who are very unhappy about the dominant tendency within each party.
There is bad news for both political parties in these results. And I think that the title of the research report from which these numbers were drawn, “Religion: A Strength and Weakness for Both Parties,” is a very nicely balanced and accurate summary of these numbers. I mean, let’s not forget that with this massive mobilization for Bush in 2004, there was also a very large counter-mobilization and one of the narrowest gaps, if not the narrowest margins of victory, for an incumbent president in the entire 20th century. So, this was not a religious landslide. It was a religiously inflected victory but not a religious landslide.
E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: I just wanted to toss a few observations at Bill. The first is, ever since Bill moved down the hall from me at Brookings, my I.Q. has gone up at least 10 points, so I’m grateful –
– to him.
And Bill and I have been chatting about this ever since I did that — depending on your point of view — exhaustive or exhausting paper on looking at the religious vote. I just wanted to throw a couple of things on the table for Bill to comment on.
The one thing that I think we always need to underscore when we talk about this is race — and that’s way I love John Green’s numbers. I thank Luis for financing these surveys because John’s is one of the best. There’s some conflict in the data on the African-American vote because if you look at the nationwide exit poll, there’s only a two-point shift to Bush, although it’s a bigger shift in some states, notably Ohio.
DR. GALSTON: Ohio. No question.
MR. DIONNE: But I’m just curious about that. The split between the Latino Catholics and Latino Protestants is a very important split. And if Republican organizers want more Latino votes they should give money to evangelical churches to convert more Latinos into Protestants.
DR. GALSTON: Absolutely.
MR. DIONNE: And I think this immigration debate is very interesting because some of the leading evangelical Latino voices have been very upset about the direction of the debate. Again, I want to underscore the African-American vote because African Americans as a group fly in the face of all of the conventional talk about this, which is that they are a high church-attending group that is, on balance, very Democratic.
Bill was absolutely right to underscore the kind of decline of the old Protestant establishment, but in going through John Green’s numbers, I was struck by the following: If you take all of the groups of both evangelical Protestants and mainline Protestants, 59 percent of the Bush vote came from white Protestants compared with only 27 percent of the Kerry vote. So it’s not Al Smith anymore, but there is still a Protestant factor; a very important Protestant factor in the electorate. And I’m not quite sure what that means for the long haul, but I think it’s very important to pay attention to that.
The third thing — and Bill and I have been around on this together — on his fascinating chart on Page 11, and we’ve chatted about how big the mystery is here. You’ll note that before you get to 1988-1992, the one big gap between church attenders and non-church attenders was in 1972. And it seems to me the number that needs to be explained is not the 18 percent but the difference between the 10 percent and the 18 percent; because in 1972, in the Nixon landslide over McGovern, among other things, you had going on what you also had this year, which is a very strong Southern Republican vote, and that Nixon swept the South over McGovern. Bush, as Bill has shown in some other work, pushed up the Republican vote substantially, and in fact there’s a kind of overlap here because Southerners are disproportionately church attending compared to the rest of the county. I think what you have to explain is not 18 points but the nine-point growth in that period.
Two other points that don’t take away from Bill’s argument but do raise interesting questions: in 1980 you’ll note the smallest difference. I believe that’s because John Anderson, Bill’s candidate in that election, took a lot of seculars out the Democratic Party. So Jimmy Carter’s vote was unusually religious because John Anderson cut into his vote, particularly in the Northeast and on the West Coast. Similarly, in ’92 and ’96, the Republican vote is more religious because Perot took a lot of seculars out of the Republican vote. What that doesn’t explain are 2000 and 2004. You’ll note there is a clearly a slight Perot factor because in the Gore election there was just a slight tip the other way. I think Bill is right to point to that mystery, but I think some of it is explicable and some of it requires a lot more analysis.
Last two quick points: I couldn’t agree more on Bill Clinton. I think the most fascinating thing about Clinton is that he spoke about religion in the most sensitive way — he had his tattered Bible. I once quoted Adam Meyerson of the Heritage Foundation as saying, “Bill Clinton has healed the split between religious America and the Democratic Party.” He said those words before the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And I think Bill is right about the ‘60s. He sang “Amazing Grace,” but they heard him sing the Grateful Dead.
Finally, on the authenticity point, Tim Kaine’s election in Virginia is fascinating. Without rehashing the whole thing, there are two intriguing things about that. Everybody knows that when the Republicans went at him on the death penalty, Tim Kaine came back and said he was opposed to it — that he’d enforce the death penalty because it was the law but he was against it because, as he worded it, “My faith teaches me that all life is sacred.”
The most disturbing thing for Democrats is that Kaine had advertised extensively on Christian radio long before this incident, preparing the ground for this moment when it came. And, interestingly, he described himself on Christian radio as a Christian missionary. He never once mentioned the word “Catholic;” he was actually a Jesuit missionary. But, surprisingly, Kaine’s people found in their focus groups that when people learned that Tim Kaine was religious, many of them said, “That means he can’t possibly be a liberal.” Those of us who are liberal Christians should worry a whole lot about that.
And it suggests a certain problem for liberals in the electorate.
So, having thrown all that on the table, I’d ask Bill to reflect on it, and in particular, offer his sense of what we could learn from the Tim Kaine election, which I think was very instructive in a lot of ways.
DR. GALSTON: I guess the best thing for me to say is amen. Look at the gravest white Catholic charge against the Democratic Party; namely, they don’t know what they stand for. I think Kaine conveyed authenticity because he was being authentic. He knew what he believed. He was pretty forthright about declaring it and then connecting
it with the public stance that he took. People sensed that he was saying what he believed, and that what he believed was worthy of respect. They might not have agreed with him, but agreeing with someone is not the most important thing in politics.
MR. DIONNE: You knew Tim Kaine was an authentic Catholic because he went to mass not only the day before the election but the day after the election.
MS. SULLIVAN: Following up on Tim Kaine for a second, he also ended every one of his commercials with the statement, “That’s what I believe,” which may have been more important than the fact that they were run on Christian radio or the fact that they involved his faith.
DR. GALSTON: Absolutely.
MS. SULLIVAN: Just letting people know he was a man who knew what he believed. I want to ask your indulgence for two questions because it was as much as I could do to narrow it down to two questions here.
DR. GALSTON: Oh, I’m grateful for that. Thank you.
MS. SULLIVAN: The first question relates to the chart on Page 8, because I’ve been puzzling about this since these poll numbers came out last August, and talking to John Green about it. I want to just briefly sketch out my theory. If you look at the last 30 years, Democrats may not be doing much and they may not be doing as much as the right to reach out to religious folks, but they’re doing a heck of a lot more than they ever have. Yet in that same year, there’s just this enormous drop in the percentage of people who think that the Democratic Party is friendly to religion. And I think part of that has to do with the very successful conservative effort that includes several “Justice Sunday” events and the war on Christians. If you look at the responses on Page 21, the areas where people think that Democrats actually fall short seem to track pretty closely with Republican spin about what’s wrong with Democrats. And that seems to have been extremely effective.
It obviously hasn’t been effectively counteracted by Democrats. And you have a spokesperson like Howard Dean, who, even when well intentioned, seems to stick his foot in his mouth and go on “The 700 Club,” which is probably not the way to reach those persuadable evangelicals.
They’re not watching. He started out with the statement that Democrats have a lot in common with the Christian community; therefore, setting up Democrats on one side –
– and this alien culture of Christians on the other; that’s not very useful at all. But also when he was asked what their evangelical outreach plan was and his first several answers were just to say that his chief of staff is an evangelical minister, which is helpful, but again — if she’s giving him the advice to go on “The 700 Club,” he’s not getting the best advice.
Finally, I think, perhaps most relevant to a room full of those of us who write about politicians, there continues to be a persistent double standard in terms of how politicians from both parties are covered when it comes to their religion. Setting aside the Howard Deans of the world, who are rightly criticized for getting things wrong and calling Job a New Testament book, there was an incident a couple months ago that is, I think, useful.
The same week that Hillary Clinton was talking about the immigration bill and saying it would criminalize Jesus and being criticized everywhere for bringing religion into this, Katherine Harris made the announcement that she would be putting a large amount of her personal fortune into her campaign. In the course of talking about this, she described herself as the widow in the Widow’s Mite story, which I think was a very gross mischaracterization of that biblical story. The idea was not that those who had the most to give gave a lot; it was those who have the least to give, and do not give for the cause of their own personal political campaign.
And yet there was not a word written critically about that. It was just reported because she’s a Republican and she says she’s religious and therefore she must know what she’s doing. I think if she was a Democrat she would have gotten, again, rightly criticized.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: No one took her seriously.
MS. SULLIVAN: I’d just like to hear your thoughts about how to explain this.
And then the second very quick question is, given all of these challenges for Democrats, is it possible for there to be a movement or an outreach effort that appeals both to the religious left, like those who went to the Michael Learner conference last week in D.C., and to the persuadable moderates, whether they’re evangelical or Catholic or both, who appear to be motivated by very different values and issues.
DR. GALSTON: To both of those questions, Amy, I’m tempted to say — I was going to say your guess is as good as mine, but I’m going to revise that and say your guess is better than mine.
A reliable source informs me that you’re in the process of writing a book on one of those topics.
Let me tell you why I’m not devoid of hope. And this goes back to one of my opening fears about the context of these remarks. I am not devoid of hope because it is at least possible that we are now reaching one of those hinge moments in American politics when there’s a sense of exhaustion of old agendas and old arguments and a desire that is not confined to one political party to turn a page and see if we can’t have a better, more productive discussion. I can’t prove that but I’m beginning to get a sense — and I hope this is not the wish being the father of the thought. But since I’ve spent so many years wishing for this without believing that it was coming, or even daring to believe that it was coming, maybe there is actually something out there in the world that corresponds to my desire.
That being the case, I know for sure that — and this goes back to something we were talking about a few minutes ago — there are substantial proportions of both political parties and religious voters in both political parties who are really unhappy with the turn things have taken in the past 10 or 15 years. They would prefer a different kind of discourse, if they can get it without giving up on what they regard as fundamentals — which of course is a big caveat. But I think if you’re not talking about what the statisticians have called the left and right tail — if you’re talking about the voters within one standard deviation of the median voter, my sense is that you would get a majority of that two-thirds of the electorate wanting a different kind of discourse on moral, religious and other kinds of questions.
I don’t think they’re any happier about polarized debates on entitlement programs than they are on the hot-button social issues. I think that there’s a desire for coming together on both. And the first leader of the first political party that figures out that the American people are just exhausted — they’re so tired of this debate at home and abroad and would like a different one — I think is going to pick up a lot of the marbles on the floor. So, that’s sort of a qualified yes answer to your second question.
As to your first question, I genuinely cannot explain this astonishing drop in friendly-toward-religion points for Democrats from 40 to 29 percent in one year. My hope is that when Pew redoes this number in 2006, it may show a return to the status-quo ante, in which case we’ll then be sitting around next year trying to develop explanations for that.
GREG ALLEN, NPR: I just want to talk about where a couple issues are. I guess the one I’d like to ask about first is abortion, which didn’t rank real high on a lot of the charts here — 10 percent I think — as an issue. In considering the Tim Kaine election, as we were talking about, and looking at the race in Pennsylvania with Bob Casey Jr. and Santorum, it seems the Democrats have just taken the issue of abortion off the table, it seems to me. Has abortion been lost as an issue. Is it done? Has that battle been fought and is it over? Is there anything to be gained in that for the Democrats or is their best bet to just move past it and concede and try to come up with anti-abortion candidates?
DR. GALSTON: No, that’s not my view. As E.J. suggested earlier, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in Catholic intellectual circles over the past 10 years. I’ve become one of their favorite Jews, manly because I like them and like the way they think so much. It doesn’t matter how moderate or how liberal the Catholic is; this sense of expulsion from the Eden of the Democratic Party is pervasive. And the abortion issue is at the center of that sense of expulsion. I cannot find a Catholic intellectual who, during a conversation, will not somehow manage to refer to the Bob Case, Sr. episode at the 1992 Democratic Convention.
JOHN DICKERSON, Slate: In the backlash against the piece that you and Elaine wrote, what have you learned about the left tail and how you talk to them — that portion of the party that thinks what you’re prescribing as a kind of general election strategy is just tactical? It actually goes away from the party’s roots; it isn’t authentic. These are the kinds of arguments I hear people make. So what did you learn from your own personal experience?
The, aside from that, is that left tail the one-third that is the rising secular portion of the party? Or is there a difference between people who are secular and those who are adamantly against a general election strategy that recognizes this middle out there, and that the party, in order to grow and be successful nationally, has to embrace people of faith in some fashion? Because I was interested in what E.J. said about Kaine, which is that when conservatives or Republicans heard he was religious, they knew he couldn’t be a liberal. If we look at that from the liberal’s side, people hear he’s religious and think, he’s not one of us.
That’s not really a question; it’s more like a peanut cluster of questions, but could you talk a little bit about that area of the party?
DR. GALSTON: It’s a portion of the party I tend to encounter mainly when something they throw hits me, but in the wake of the publication of the piece, I did go around and talk to many groups. And one of the things that I discovered in portions of the left was a deep-seated anger at Bill Clinton, not for the obvious reasons but for reasons that go to the heart of what made him successful politically and substantively. They have not forgiven Clinton for welfare reform, just for starts. They have not forgiven Clinton for questioning, as he did and as those around him did, some of the inherited commitments of the Democratic Party — not in the name of reorienting the values of the party but in the name of making it relevant to a new set of conditions.
So I have to say that the hopes of some that Clinton had affected a permanent change of course in the party were not realized, and I frankly never believed that they were. I had — it’s not a state secret — many discussions (that’s the polite word) with my friend Al From and others. I remember we went to the Democratic Convention together, and speaker after speaker hailed Bill Clinton, and Al was saying, oh, look at this; the entire party is transformed. And I said, Al, you’re fooling yourself; these people are holding their noses and mouthing things they don’t believe. I think I had the better of the argument.
Bill Clinton won the presidency twice on the basis of ideas that were far more popular in the country than they were inside his own party. And I’m not sure that what the Soviets will want to call the correlation of forces has really changed fundamentally. It will be a struggle once again to orient the party toward the future, to criticize the Iraq War without criticizing the country. I’ve seen this movie before; I’m too old.
There was a famous debate when the “new left” was rising and one of the young, ardent new lefters rose to challenge an “old left” analyst, probably someone from Partisan Review or something of that sort, and the speaker listened patiently and finally he said, “you know, sonny, your questions are so old I can no longer remember the answers.”
I’m not saying I’m old exactly, but I’m certainly not young exactly either. Has the Democratic Party learned nothing from the political debacle that followed the military debacle in Vietnam? Have we not learned the difference between questioning a policy and questioning the legitimacy of institutions, or even questioning the country? The Michael Moore Democrats certainly haven’t learned those distinctions.
Is there energy there? Yes. But I have a prediction that national politics is a game for very high stakes, and powerlessness, like power, corrupts. Absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely. But it also is a formula for sobriety. After a very bitter defeat — it’s hard to know whether it was defeat or victory — I think that the center of gravity of the Democratic Party in 2008 will be in a mode of high political seriousness and not inclined to throw away a chance for victory in order to exorcise some ideological demons. I can’t prove that. In the worst possible case — and this goes back to a portion of my answer to Adrian’s questions — if the context for the debate exacerbates the extremes, if we have not begun to move beyond the issue that is so roiling American politics right now, then inside the Democratic Party it’s not inconceivable that it could be 1972 all over again. It isn’t. I doubt it.
I think for all sorts of reasons having to do with the mood of the center of the party and also the likelihood that circumstances will have changed, I think we’re going to have a better debate than that, but I can’t rule out the possibility that the people you’re talking about may be so energized and so well organized and so determined not to compromise, so determined to have someone that they can support without qualification, that it’s possible — it’s not an unknown phenomenon on the other side of the aisle either — that we could have a debacle.
But I think I left a big portion of your question unaddressed.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, no. The only other tiny thing is — just to quantify this group — would you lump them all as the secular-leaning Democrats or is it a little hard kernel inside of that?
DR. GALSTON: I can’t quantify it. I’ve given you a lot of numbers this afternoon. I can’t give you that number because, among other things, there are people who are carried away with anger right now. And I will report doing a focus group with an N of one, namely myself, that there have been portions of time in recent years where I personally have been angrier than I have ever been in my entire adult lifetime — politically angry. And if I’ve felt that way, I can only imagine how people two clicks to my left have been feeling.
So, in a very gut-level way, this anger is a very, very important political phenomenon. The only question is, will it have cooled and abated to some extent within the next 18 months to two years? I hope, for all of our sakes, that it has because it’s not going to be a productive force if it hasn’t.
ROD DREHER, Dallas Morning News: I wanted to ask Bill about Maggie Gallagher’s extraordinary cover story in the Weekly Standard recently in which she talked to legal scholars on both sides of the gay marriage issue and all of them, left and right, said that we are headed toward a very serious clash between religious liberty and gay rights over marriage and how the courts decide. I don’t know if you read the article or not, but do you think that this is a real threat, and if so, how is it likely to affect the religious vote when it comes to voting Republican and Democratic in the future?
DR. GALSTON: Well, let me preface my answer with an apology to Terry Eastland and other people who help to produce the Weekly Standard every week. I do not read it every week, I’m ashamed to say, and therefore did not read her cover story. How does she play out the argument that this clash is going to occur in practice, and then I’ll respond?
MR. DREHER: She basically argues that people on both sides of the issue say that it is irreconcilable to have gay marriage rights and religious liberty. And if gay rights come to be seen in American law as being the same as race — if homosexuality is considered on the same level as race as far as law is concerned, then religious organizations that adhere to a traditional understanding of homosexuality will face things like losing their tax exemption. They’ll be in the Bob Jones University category.
Freedom of association. And therefore the coming rulings on gay marriage and the courts are going to have tremendous ramifications across American society and, of course, American politics. What was interesting is she said that some of the more liberal lawyers understand this better than some of the more conservative ones do, in part, Maggie figures, because they live in worlds where the whole homosexuality-equals-race equation has already been made as a social matter.
She started out discussing the Catholic Charities of Boston and how Catholic Charities had to get out of the business of adoption because it violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws on homosexuality. But I’m just wondering more broadly — this is the sort of thing that I think could really galvanize religious traditionalists to stick with the Republicans.
DR. GALSTON: And rightly so. There is no question about the fact that if somehow society or the laws of the courts march down to the end of the road and put gay rights on all fours, in all respects, for constitutional and moral purposes with race, then at least in theory some of these logical consequences that you’re pointing to could ensue. I do not expect that to happen. I think that, in practice, a broader legal recognition of gay rights will not produce what conservatives regard as the theoretically worst-case result and which would certainly, as a practical, social and political matter, produce an explosion, and in my judgment, a justified explosion.
Terry can give me the citation, but someone once remarked, the power to tax is the power to destroy, to which I believe it was John Marshall who replied, not while this court sits. Do I have that right? What Marshall was saying is that, well, yes, in principle, if you can have a tax rate of 10 percent, you can have a tax rate of 100 percent. But Marshall was also saying, it is the business of the legal system to make the sorts of distinctions that ensure that results the overwhelming majority doesn’t want to occur, will not occur. I don’t expect, in my lifetime or in my son’s lifetime, that gay rights will be on all fours with rights flowing from the fundamental imperative of racial justice and racial equality in this country. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. So, the abstract bogeyman of what will happen if those two things become fused is not one that I spend a lot of time thinking about.
Let me go further. I’ve spent a lot of time and written two books revolving around the principle for which I’ve now become reviled among political theorists, just so my political practice side wouldn’t feel lonely, and that is a principle of what I call “maximum feasible accommodation.” I have argued that maximum feasible accommodation for not only free exercise but also freedom-of-association rights is the height of constitutional wisdom in a society such as ours. And I have been a severe critic, for that reason, of the Smith decision, much beloved of Hobbesian conservatives, and I would argue that, in the case of Catholic Charities and many other organizations, the law ought to adopt that view of the matter, and therefore adopt the most permissive and generous view of rights of conscience, both collective and individual, to ward off otherwise generally applicable public principles.
With those two caveats, namely the distinction in the public mind between the one and the other — plus the principle that I believe ought to be employed constitutionally and legally of maximum feasible accommodation, you can ward off the Gallagher dystopia. And I expect something like that to happen. I do not expect her worst fears to be realized anytime. The political battle over gay adoptions will be quite different from the battle over gay marriage.
Public opinion is very different, but there is a pretty good Catholic argument to be made that the church bought trouble for itself by adopting a position with regard to gay adoption that was not only not necessitated by Catholic doctrine but may even be opposed to a better interpretation of what prudential Catholic social thinking would require. So there is room for discussion on both sides of this divide.
MR. CROMARTIE: Rod, I think you have a follow-up.
MR. DREHER: I just wanted to say that one of the most fascinating aspects of Maggie’s piece was when she points out that the equation between homosexuality and race has already been made among social elites, and therefore it seems so natural to them that the two are equal. It made me think about different debates we’ve had at the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News where that conclusion has already been made. It is very difficult to even get a hearing for the idea that the two aren’t equal. And what Maggie says about the courts makes intuitive sense to me. If people at that level of the elites see that there is an equation there, then by all means you have to have a Brown v. Board all over again on the question of gay marriage. That’s what most of my colleagues at the Dallas Morning News editorial board see.
DR. GALSTON: Based on everything I know about public opinion on gay marriage — and I’ve been able to document this even in some of the numbers I shared with you this afternoon — there is a huge split between the “elites” on the one hand concerning this issue and the majority of the American people on the other. I can’t prove this, and maybe we’re just going to have a train wreck here. I fervently hope not. But my belief is that courts interested in preserving their own institutional integrity and standing will think long and hard before handing down, on a national basis, anything equivalent to a Brown v. Board decision in the area of gay marriage. If I were a Supreme Court justice trying to figure out how to blow my branch of government out of the water and empower my worst enemies in the Congress, the sorts of people that justices appointed by both Republicans and Democrats have been worrying about in speeches in recent months, that would be the way to do it. I don’t believe it.
DR. JAMES HUNTER, University of Virginia: The narrative that you spun early on I thought was very good, but of course no one knows better than you about history and how complex it is. Of course, the narrative that you unpacked could be further complicated in a number of ways by talking about, over the same time period, the decline of unions; the growth in special interest groups, the growth in the number of people who call themselves independent; and the loss of organic attachments to parties; the end of the Cold War taking place at the end of the ‘80s and early ‘90s and so on. All of these things complicate the story of what’s going on in American politics, and those kinds of relatively independent phenomena continue today.
But what I want to draw attention to has to do with the issue that you’ve been talking about here and there. It has to do with this gap between party activists and professionals, political consultants versus the rank-and-file. I believe you’re right; there is a genuine desire for substantive debate within the Democratic Party, but I also have a very strong view of institutions and the role of institutions in history. I guess I’m a little bit more pessimistic than you about the capacity of that debate to come to the surface and actually be held, in part, because of the power of party activists, professionals and political consultants.
For example, the way in which we’re already beginning to see the instrumentalization of religion by party activists in the Democratic orbit, who are simply thinking about how to use religion, to leverage it rather than to engage those in the rank- and-file who are committed moderates, liberals and so on. My sense is that I don’t see the power of the professional political class diminishing, but, rather, staying the same and perhaps growing.
DR. GALSTON: I’m glad to learn that there is a major political party in the United States that does not instrumentalize religion for political purposes. That’s good news. Joke.
DR. HUNTER: I think that’s part of the problem with the Republican Party.
DR. GALSTON: Of course it’s part of the problem.
DR. HUNTER: The evangelicals understand that they’ve been used.
DR. GALSTON: They sure have been.
DR. HUNTER: All of them instrumentalized — that’s the point.
DR. GALSTON: First of all, every religion that I know of teaches that despair is a sin, so from a theological standpoint I think I’m standing on the high ground. You’re charging uphill. I’ll speak now not as an analyst but as an occasional participant: You may be right, but those who feel there might be hope can only lose if they don’t try. There is famous George Washington episode: the Constitution is announced and a citizen walks up to Washington and says, “General, General, will this Constitution pass?” And Washington replies, “We have raised the standard to which the wise and honest may repair; the event is in the hands of God.”
Well, that’s politics, right? All we can do, whether we are Democrats, Republicans or unaffiliated, is to figure out as best we can what we think the best way forward is, try to coalesce with others of like mind to move that forward, hope we can find a standard bearer who has both conviction and competence in articulating the agenda, and then the event is really in the hands of God. I have seen it over and over again — and you don’t have to be a Marxist to believe that occasionally, institutions turn into rotten oaks, and a strong wind can blow them over. I’ve seen this happen in American politics; we all have. It may happen again. And I’m going to bet the remaining years of my life on the capacity of the American political system, including its barnacle-encrusted institutions, to open themselves up under pressure. What choice do they have?
DR. HUNTER: Well, I agree and my hope is your hope. In Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, he offers an institutional understanding of the decline of social capital, but at the end, when he poses the question, “what’s the solution?” he says, well, we just have to try harder. And my sense is that simply an act of will is not enough; we have to take the institutional context seriously by itself.
Again, please don’t get me wrong. Republicans instrumentalize religion every bit as much, if not more, and politicize these issues in ways that I find repulsive, but the point is that to get at that debate, one also has to think about how to diminish, in some respects, the power of political consultants and the professional political class, at some level. Simply willing this may not be enough. The Constitution may need to change.
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, if you could just say yes or no, then we can get these others in.
DR. GALSTON: Okay, I’ll say, A) I’m sorry Joe Klein isn’t here to enter into that phase of the discussion.
MR. CROMARTIE: He’s been invited.
DR. GALSTON: And, B) this class does not have power by itself. It is empowered by those who would lead. So the first step is to find those would-be leaders who are willing to diminish their influence in the councils of their campaigns. That will be one of my chief criteria the next time around.
LISA ANDERSON, Chicago Tribune: The party may feel uncomfortable speaking the language of faith, so-called. However, the core issues of the Democratic Party closely parallel the concerns of many religious organizations: social justice, stewardship of the land, economic safety nets, things like that. If you were advising the party this time around, how would you advise them to capitalize on those parallels, which to date they haven’t really taken advantage of?
DR. GALSTON: I’m just going to say things that everybody knows at this point. I think it’s obviously correct that in all the major faith traditions, the social and political implications of the fundamental commitments go well beyond a narrow band of issues. There are, to be sure, big differences between the way Catholics, and at least some Protestants, think about these issues. Those differences aren’t going away. Jews have a different take on them. But one of the things that I talked about before, and is clearly detectable, is the nascent broadening of the religious issues agenda, not as outside consultants and pundits define that agenda, but as religious people themselves are defining that agenda.
I guess my first piece of advice to the party would be not to assume that the debate, the way it has been narrowly conducted over the past generation, is the sum and substance of the debate that’s going to be or that has to be. That’s number one. Number two: obviously, I would try to take very seriously openings that appear, whether we’re talking about the environment or the issue of humanitarian interventions. I think that for many people of all faiths, our failure to do more to ward off disaster in Darfur and elsewhere is a religiously inflected issue. I could go on. And to engage those issues seriously, and in James Hunter’s language, as noninstrumentally as possible, we must understand that the pursuit of power is the subtext, but that doesn’t mean you can’t deal with people sincerely; at least in my book it doesn’t mean that.
I’ve been very critical of the easy way out, which so many Democrats are attracted to because it means just getting a different language consultant. But there is no question about the fact that you need to push forward people who speak the language naturally, and who don’t have to make it up or read books about what they’re supposed to say. I will say nothing about the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Everybody knows what everybody is thinking about that; we’re going to have to find other spokespeople who can — and forget about walking the walk — talking the talk is already hard enough.
So just the basics — blocking and tackling, plus being alert for genuine opportunities and not assuming that we’ll be rejected if we proffer a hand of friendship.
BILL ADAIR, St. Petersburg Times: You’ve talked a lot about Catholics, and in particularly white Catholics. I wonder if you could summarize your blueprint for what you think the party ought to do to appeal to them, particularly how to articulate this middle ground on abortion, but also how to reach on the issue of personal responsibility, which seems to be a good responsive strategy. How do you go out on the offense, so to speak, on that?
DR. GALSTON: I think that a portion of the Clinton breakthrough, which needs to be recovered, is the theoretical and practical correlation between individual responsibility and social responsibility. That was at the heart of the Clinton/New Democrat/Third Way ideological, theoretical or moral change that we tried to put into the heart of the party. I think there’s a template that already exists for doing that. The question is simply the will to pick it back up again.
Dr. William A. Galston
With regard to your narrower question, I focus your attention to the bottom chart on the last page of the handout on Page 23. This may be a pollster’s construct, and I can’t prove that it isn’t, but when these folks tested the impact of the following position about the propensity of white Catholics to support a Democratic candidate who believes in a woman’s right to choose but believes that all sides should come together around the common goal of preventing and reducing the number of abortions with more sex education, including abstinence, access to contraception, and more adoption. Intriguingly, 74 percent of white Catholics polled said that kind of position would make them more likely to support a Democrat as opposed to only 22 percent who said less likely, for a net positive of 52.
White Catholics, period, full stop. That’s the group I’m talking about. African American Catholics are different politically altogether, for the reasons we’ve discussed earlier. But what this suggests is that the fundamental turn that the party has to make in talking about abortion is a movement away from the idea that it’s morally neutral to the idea that it is a misfortune, and even when necessary a regrettable necessity, and therefore it is something to be minimized. The old Clinton formula, safe, legal and rare, the politically operative term there was “rare.” And I think there is a big debate in the party between people who believe something like what I just said and people who believe either that it is a morally neutral medical procedure, or that it’s necessary to talk about it as a morally neutral medical procedure or you start sliding down a slippery slope.
And what is built into this pollster’s question is the idea of non-neutrality with regard to the incidence of abortion. E.J. [Dionne] wrote a column about this not too long ago, in which he stated that the stance of non-neutrality, speaking about abortion in terms of regret rather than in terms of celebration or even just quiet acceptance will create the predicate for a better conversation, a better ability to distinguish between the core holding of Roe, on the one hand, and what I’m characterizing as the periphery, the defense of which de-legitimates the defenders.
So that’s my answer, and this is the best evidence I’ve seen so far. How much I’d want to build on the foundation of one poll question, I can’t tell you, but I think it would be very interesting to see whether this result is robust and stands up to other formulations by other people using slightly different methodologies.
KATE MARSH, The New Republic: This has to do with Catholics, and the white Catholic vote. I was particularly interested by the fact that personal integrity and personal conduct seem to be something they cared a lot about, even more than issues such as abortion and gay marriage. I was wondering if you could talk a little about whether it’s possible, particularly for a candidate, to discuss these two issues without framing it in faith-based terms, or without framing it in religious terms, and whether you think it’s possible for that to be done.
The second part of the question is, I was wondering if you could just tell me, of the democratic ’08 potential contenders, who you think, based on your answer to the first question, would be most able to capture this white Catholic electorate.
DR. GALSTON: With regard to the first question, I have to say that George W. Bush in 2000 did a very nice job when he talked simply and repeatedly about “restoring honor and integrity to the White House.” That may have been about the most significant thing he said, politically speaking, and it didn’t appeal to any religious or theological tradition at all.
I think it’s also the case, more broadly, that someone in Chuck Schumer’s position 10 or 15 years ago would have had a very hard time pulling off that muscle job where he and the rest of the Democratic leadership basically told everybody else to stay out of the Pennsylvania senate race and made it stick, and even managed to scare Kate Michelman away from the race at the last minute.
That is a sign of political maturity, but let me give you a broader answer. And I rest this on more than intuition; there has been some very good survey and analytical work done by a New Democratic-oriented outfit, Third Way. And those of you who haven’t gone to their website, www.third-way.com, to tap into this abortion research really should do so.
Here’s the bottom line. They have documented the progress that Republicans have made among moderates, abortion moderates, over the past roughly 15 years, documenting the success of their strategic decision to back away from an assault on the core holding of Roe and to focus on the periphery where Democrats were forced into a series of very unpopular and intuitively implausible positions.
I happen to believe that the single-worst political mistake that Bill Clinton made in his entire eight years was the veto of the partial-birth abortion issue. If there was ever an issue to take off the table, that was it.
I think Pat Moynihan just blurted out the truth when he could not distinguish in his own sentiments between partial-birth abortion and infanticide. We can make all sorts of complicated arguments — medical arguments and moral arguments — the fact of the matter is I don’t think most of the American people can either. A party that is seen as defending the periphery of the issue as opposed to the core of the issue is one that is going to be regarded as extreme, obdurate and noninclusive, to say nothing of the fact that the Republicans ostentatiously showcased pro-choice after pro-choice leader at the 2004 convention and the Democrats pretty conspicuously failed to follow suit.
You put that all together and it seems to me that a party that simultaneously gets to the center on the substance of the issue of abortion and sends a signal of inclusiveness and nonstigmatization of people who may disagree is the party that’s going to prosper on this issue in the long run. I do not think the issue is dead. I think it continues to have a cutting edge. It may not be at the top of the list but for a small but important group of voters, but it is a voting issue, and my party has been very poorly positioned on the issue for a very long time. And I’m not just talking tactically now. I think, as a matter of principle and substance, the Democratic Party has been poorly positioned and needs to rethink its approach to this issue. That was the single-least popular thing that Elaine and I had to say in our report, but I’m not retracting it.
MR. CROMARTIE: And it’s on the record also, isn’t it?
DR. GALSTON: Oh, definitely.
MR. ALLEN: You could get Catholics, the 17 percent there that went to the GOP? Do you think you could do that?
DR. GALSTON: Well, they went there for many reasons, and if these statistics are not only correct, which they are, but telling, which I think they are, Catholics went toward Bush for reasons that were predominantly not the hot-button social issues. I think that for Catholics, as for a lot of other Americans, foreign policy had something to do with it. For Catholics, as for most other Americas, values issues have a lot to do with perceptions of personal integrity and character, and rightly or wrongly, I think the general election campaign did have the effect of calling John Kerry’s character into question. I think the single-greatest success of the Republican offensive against Kerry had nothing to do with the substance of a particular issue, but went to his character and credibility. And there is a lot of evidence that Catholic voters, like many other voters, put those sorts of things first. If you aren’t sure you can believe what someone is saying, then you’ve stumbled at the threshold of that person’s candidacy, and nothing else is really going to make much of a difference.
MR. CROMARTIE: If Kerry had gotten Gore’s share of the Catholic vote, he might have won the election, or would have been much closer, so the shift that’s required is not enormous.
DR. GALSTON: I did an analysis in an article I wrote right after the election in which you could prove statistically that it was the shift of Catholics in Florida and Ohio that made the difference. That wasn’t even a close call, analytically. That was the ballgame — not evangelical Protestants.
MIKE ALLEN, Time: If I might ask you the flip side of Robert’s question about Page 2 regarding black Protestants. I think it’s amazing that they still skew as much Democrat as they do, given their ministers’ views on gay marriage, other hot-button social issues. Is that just habit in history, or is there something else at work there? And then, if I also might ask you really briefly, why was your and Elaine’s manifesto so unpopular?
DR. GALSTON: Any time that a Democrat stands up and says that Woody Allen’s politics of just showing up won’t be enough, and that George Lakoff ‘s politics of reframing our intrinsically wonderful positions might not be enough either is going to stir up trouble. Anytime someone stands up and says that a portion of the fault, dear Brutus, may not be in our stars, but in our selves, that kind of messenger gets a poor reception. And I have to say, I think I know what I’m talking about because I’ve seen this movie before. As a matter of fact, I’ve been a dramatis personae in this movie before –
– and nothing has changed, not even the names of the guilty parties.
Some people have called me the Harpo Marx of the Democratic Party.
That’s wishful on their part. They just wished I would shut up; boy, they did.
With regard to your first question, I won’t say that your question answers itself, but I will say this: African Americans have a long history with the modern Republican Party, and it’s going to take more than thunderous sermons from the likes of TD Jakes to change their minds. The Republican Party has what any lawyer would call a burden of proof to discharge, and it’s clear they haven’t come close to discharging it up to now. And every time they make some progress, then something happens that puts them back farther than where they started, Katrina being the most obvious example. I think it’s going to take years for the Republican Party at the national level to recover from that apparent image of indifference. I don’t for a minute believe that George Bush is indifferent to African Americans. I don’t think he has a racist bone in his body. But through inadvertence and incompetence, he played into a preexisting judgment and fortified it. So I think that, arguably, the Republican Party is now worse off among African Americans than it was the day of the 2004 election.
But that goes to a deeper point; yes, I was in a discussion of these issues just a few days ago with Rep. Clyburn, South Carolina, who spent as much time thinking about these issues in the Democratic Party as anyone. I believe he’s the head of something called the Faith Caucus in the Democratic Party. A similar question came up, and Rep. Clyburn said, sure, everybody knows that churchgoing African Americans are more conservative on issues like gay rights and gay marriage than the population as a whole, but that’s not the point. There are so many other things about which they disagree with the Republican Party and agree with the Democratic Party that those social issues are not going to have the weight needed in order to reorient a substantial portion of that community. That had the ring of down-home truth to me. I think the Republican Party is going to have to change in other respects before arguments based on the social issues addressed to the African American community will have the kind of effect that the Republican strategists hope they will.
TERRY EASTLAND, The Weekly Standard: I wanted to see if you might add to your analysis of the landscape. You elaborated on a number of factors, and I wanted to just see how you might think about a couple of others and place them into that analysis. One would simply be the changes in American churches, and, for sake of the data you have here, we’re talking about white Protestant churches. Since the mid-1960s, with the decline in the mainline churches, I’m curious how you would see that playing into these political realities today. And second, how do you see the growth of conservative churches, in particular evangelical churches, and I guess the movement and the registration trends into the Republican Party, especially by evangelicals, in recent years?
I’m curious how you see those playing into your analysis, and also the rise of seculars, as they’re described here in the polling data, particularly if you can think about or look at the role of secular elites in the Democratic Party, say since the early ‘70s. I wonder how that may play into your analysis of the landscape.
DR. GALSTON: Those are good questions, and I can take a stab at both of them. If you go to Page 19 of the handout, you will find some data on evangelicals that I find interesting. What you see is, despite the well-advertised decline of mainline Protestants, which is a genuine phenomenon, that arguably evangelical Protestants, as a percentage of the total population, peaked about 15 years ago and has been relatively stable every since. So is there a huge additional surge coming? I’m not sure.
Now, you can then make a finer-grained argument about changes within the evangelical community. But I have to say, I think there are some signs that the traditionalists had maxed out politically. I think the 2004 was a maxing out. What you’re seeing — and this is what I took away from Amy’s New Republic article — is an effort by people that the Green group might call centrist evangelicals — not modernists but centrists or moderates — to broaden out the agenda in ways that will not necessarily work to the disadvantage of the Democratic Party. The example that everybody is now talking about, of course, is evangelical environmentalism, which is clearly giving heartburn to some of the economic conservatives within the Republican Party.
But there may be other issues like that one, including issues of international concern that are not specifically focused on religious persecution, which is where the faithful of all stripes can get together around a common program of action. On the other hand, if you look at the bottom chart on Page 19, you will certainly see your story vividly displayed. It’s remarkable to reflect that as recently as 1986, Democratic Party identifiers outnumbered Republican identifiers among white evangelicals. And this reinforces some of the other things that we’ve been talking about. What we take as a function of the past 30 or 40 years is actually a somewhat more recent phenomenon than that. As I said, this is one of my big analytical surprises from this work: that we’re really talking much more about the past 20 years than about the past 40. If you’re talking about Catholics, you’re talking about the past 40 years. If you’re talking about the traditionalist evangelical surge, I think the past 20 years are what we ought to focus on.
Is it going to continue? I can’t say that 51 percent represents the peak. I do think that the roughly 80/20 voting division that we now have represents something like the peak, if only because of what statisticians call the ceiling effects are bound to kick in. I also think that what I was talking about earlier, namely, a sense of disappointment or even betrayal that one picks up reading the writings and listening to the speeches of some members of the traditionalist evangelical community may — almost certainly will hold down turnout and could change 80/20 into 75/25 or even 70/30, depending on the nature of the Democratic nominee. If it’s someone who’s regarded as the devil incarnate, there’s a problem. If it’s someone who is regarded as a moderate without horns, then there is a real opportunity not to win a majority but to narrow the margin. It’s the same sort of challenge that Republicans faced with regard to African Americans: don’t win, but, if, in a state like Maryland, you can narrow the traditional Democratic edge among African Americans, then it’s Senator Steele.
I think he gives that speech every four years. What I’m beginning to pick up is discontent between elections. It isn’t simply focused on the next election. I’ve heard this from a fair number of people, but people who know this community better tell me whether I’m just selectively hearing what I want to hear. Look at George Bush in those heady weeks and months right after the 2004 election. He had issued a lot of promissory notes to the conservative religious community in 2004, and there was reasonable expectation that they would be paid back. So Bush thought hard about what he wanted to push when his political capital was at it peak in the late winter, early spring and summer of 2005. And he decided — not on the definition of marriage but on Social Security.
First, that represented a huge opportunity cost because religious conservatives, as well as others, could see full well that even this administration can’t spend the same dollar twice; nor can it spend the same political capital twice. If they were going to lose popularity to get something tough done on Social Security, it was that much less likely that a really difficult social issue like the definition of a marriage constitutional amendment was going to get done. In addition, he managed to choose an issue with which social conservatives were not four-square on his side because many of the social conservatives — you can see this from some of the stats from the Pew typology that I broke out — are not very upscale and are more likely to think kindly of the basic building blocks of social insurance programs.
My best guess is that Social Security was lose-lose for Bush among a substantial portion of the evangelical community — first because of the opportunity cost, and second because he was attacking, in the name of the economic conservative wing of the Republican Party a program that the social conservatives were, at worst, ambivalent about; and maybe, if you did careful polling, they were actually supportive. I think that when the history of the Bush administration is written, the decision to go after Social Security when he was at his peak will be, politically speaking, almost as important as the decision to go into Iraq.
MR. CROMARTIE: It would be important for somebody in here to find out who the “Mike Deaver” was that made that recommendation.
DR. GALSTON: I know what his name was.
MR. CROMARTIE: Do you?
DR. GALSTON: George W. Bush.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay, all right.
DR. GALSTON: I think that the phenomenon you’re talking about is real and it’s clear. You can show it from the data of the period I described as the expulsion of Catholics from “Democratic Eden” was also a period in which younger, more upscale and more secular voters entered the party and quickly assumed leadership positions within the party. I think it’s also the case — and here I’m on your turf, not mine — that what I’ll call strict separationism became enshrined as more or less the official position of the Democratic Party during this period; and religious language and religious references became problematic within a substantial portion of the party.
James Hunter’s center did a series of very important surveys on this question indicating that in the Democratic base now you probably have upwards of one-third of the electorate that might conceivably be described as — not as strict secularists but leaning toward secularist — regarding their basic understanding of the appropriate relationship between religion and politics.
I don’t think that religious voters who regard the Democratic Party as unfriendly to religion are just making it up. And, Amy, I don’t think it’s entirely Republican spin. The Republican spin is seeds falling on very fertile soil — soil that has been made fertile by this long fallow period, if I can continue the metaphor, of the Democratic Party’s relationship with organized religion.
In the same way that the Republican Party has a burden of proof to discharge with African Americans and other groups in the population, I think the Democratic Party now has a burden of proof to discharge that it is capable of taking these sorts of issues seriously and listening sympathetically to arguments. If I can tell a story that is already on the record: In 1999 the Wall Street Journal did a piece about this, so I’m not exactly letting any cats out of the bag. There was a ferocious argument inside the Gore campaign about Gore’s position on faith-based social programs. And it was really very officially Team A and Team B. I wrote a memo, Chris Edley wrote a memo, and then there was the grand conclave and we argued it out, and Gore decided in favor of a very strong endorsement of not only faith-based initiatives but some of the constitutional principles behind them, and I can report to you that the blowback inside the party, particularly in what I will call the donor class, was phenomenally negative. That was arguably the worst internal buffeting that the campaign underwent during that entire period.
Terry, I’m a Democrat and you’re not, but as an analyst I can’t run from the truth here, which is that, as the Democratic Party is currently structured in its leadership strata, there is a problem, and that problem has generated a burden of proof. And as Amy says, when Howard Dean represents the party in ways that betray a fumbling unfamiliarity with the basics, that just adds to the impression that maybe our intentions have changed a little but our ability to execute on those intentions hasn’t improved a wit.
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, The Economist: It strikes me that the Democratic Party is divided into two groups of people: those who don’t do religion and those who do it, but reluctantly and not very well, with the exception of one or two people. And I just wanted to ask you about the state of the so-called religious left — if it’s a real thing, if it’s a significant thing. I went to Michael Lerner’s conference last week, and the phrase “a motley crew of people” sort of springs to mind. It didn’t seem to be a very powerful political grouping.
And also, hasn’t one the biggest effects of Bush been to energize the anti-religious left, the militantly secular left? There are certain reasons why Kevin Phillips’ terrible book on theocracy is permanently on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Isn’t the religious left more than counterbalanced by the anti-religious left?
DR. GALSTON: The answer to your question is maybe; my crystal ball is no better than anyone else’s. Here is the issue, in practical political terms: It is clear right now that the epicenter of political energy within the Democratic Party is on the anti-war left. That’s right now. And if Iraq is as central to American politics in the summer and fall of 2008 as it is right now, we are going to have an extremely unpleasant debate in this country. My hope is that the context for discussion of the future of the country will be quite different a year-and-a-half from now, that for better or for worse it will be clear that we are on track to significantly retrench our involvement in Iraq, with the objective of allowing the Iraqis to do the job that ultimately only they can do for themselves. And I am not a “John Murtha-ite;” not even close. But I do think that the center of gravity of American public opinion is shifting. Indeed, it has shifted toward the proposition that we are entering and should already have entered a period of significant transition, such that the weight of Iraq in our foreign policy, in our defense posture, in our politics, will be significantly reduced well before Election Day of 2008.
If that’s the case, then we can have a debate about the future. If, against what I think are the odds, we still have 125,000 men and women in Iraq in the summer of 2008, if the situation is roughly what it is now, if the debate is frozen by the sense that there is no way of going forward but to retreat would be to empower the people who really, genuinely despise us and seek our destruction, then I don’t even want to think about the climate of opinion of the country at that point. But those are the circumstances under which the anti-religious left will be maximally empowered within the Democratic Party. So that’s why I said maybe and it depends.
Take the more optimistic fork in the road. I think there are Democrats who are looking for a sensible way forward, who are prepared to distinguish between the core of issues and their periphery — and not just on social issues — who genuinely accept the proposition that the party’s silence — or incoherence. I’m not sure which is truer and which is worse on matters of foreign and defense policy; it is a silence and incoherence that cannot be allowed to last. I’ve just about reached the quarter-century mark now as a veteran party activist and I cannot remember a period in which so many individuals and so many groups were working so hard and so seriously to rethink, not just details and not just tactics, not even just strategy, but fundamentals.
That is the debate that is yearning to happen. It’s a matter of circumstances whether it will be allowed to happen. And I hope, for the sake not just of my party but of the country, that on both sides of the aisle, the debate about the future that I think the dominant forces in both parties want to occur will be allowed by circumstances to occur. So that’s a more elaborate version of the guarded optimism that I used to respond with to Amy’s question.
You frequently have to distinguish between the loudest voices and the dominant tendencies, and I don’t think that the dominant tendency inside the Democratic Party is as fervently secularist as my encounter with its infrastructure in 1999 would suggest. I think that there are a lot of Catholics, moderate evangelicals and “modernists” who aren’t crazy, who recognize that in the United States in particular, a simply secularist stance by a great political party is a formula for defeat and irrelevance.
MR. WOOLDRIDGE: Have you got any sense of a funding base. How many big funders are militantly secularist?
DR. GALSTON: One of the things that’s happened to the Democratic Party, for good and for ill, with the rise of the Internet, has been an enormous expansion in diversification of its funding base, so that the “big funders” — my wife is one of the country’s experts on 527 organizations, are exerting their influence more through that than through now largely forbidden large donations to the political parties.
So the George Soroses of the world can still have a big effect, but, as they found to their dismay in 2004, not nearly as big an effect as they wanted to have. I don’t think that the Democratic primary contest is going to be resolved principally by decisions of big funders. I think it will be a more fundamental decision that will depend on the debate that I’ve described being allowed to occur, and that’s a function of circumstances, not just of individual desire.
NINA EASTON, Fortune: I think if you look at the top five 527s and the top PACs, the big funders are firmly on the left. They’re either labor or left. I do think that that’s an issue for the Democratic Party as it moves forward.
And since everybody else is asking multiple questions, I get to too. I have one quick clarification and then a question. You said that the white Catholic vote started trending Republican in ’92. My question is, weren’t these folks part of the Reagan coalition?
DR. GALSTON: Yes, but Clinton brought them back.
MS. EASTON: Okay.
DR. GALSTON: Clinton brought them back. He did very well among Catholics in ’92 and even better in ’96, and he carried white Catholics in ’96, but the lines crossed. Between 1996 and 2000 Bush carried them in 2000 by — if memory serves — seven points, and in 2004 by 13 points. That’s a huge swing from plus-seven to minus-13, and that’s the problem that Democrats are now wrestling with.
MS. EASTON: My second and final question is that to me the really startling number was on Page 9: 67 percent of all voters think liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government compared to 45 percent that think conservative Christians have gone too far to impose their values. Having closely watched the judicial nomination battles in Washington, this whole debate, it seems to me, is very much captured and directed by liberal interest groups that set the agenda. And lawmakers on the Hill seem to follow the voice and agenda that they set. I guess the question for you, Bill, would be: It seems like this would be ripe for sort of a Sister Soulja moment for the Democrats, and what would be the Bill-Elaine/ Sister Soulja moment that you might create for this?
DR. GALSTON: Oh, boy. As the politicians say, Nina, I am so glad you asked.
And I am thrilled to be on the record for my answer to this one. I think that the Democratic Party’s performance during the judicial nomination controversies, particularly the Supreme Court, was close to disgraceful — more disgraceful in the case of Alito than in the case of Roberts. But I cannot disagree with your assessment that the agendas of very narrow interest groups drove the tenor of the questions, particularly of then Judge, now Justice Alito. I will say, because there were lots of people in the room and so they can hardly deny it, any more than Roosevelt could deny that he was ever in Pittsburg, that I got into a fight with Senator Kennedy at the Brookings Institution the Friday before the Alito hearings began because he walked in and circulated a set of materials bearing on Alito’s membership in the alumni club and his alleged malfeasance with regard to the Vanguard Group, etc., and it was just absolutely clear that these were the issues that narrow interest groups had selected in order to try to poke a hole in what was allegedly the balloon of his nomination.
So you’re absolutely right. That, quite frankly, represents the Democratic Party at its worst. But there is a larger piece of history that lies behind this, and that is the increasing tendency of many in the party to rely on strategies of litigation in place of strategies of mobilization. In my judgment, a court-centered strategy, which is what many in the party have fallen back on, has contributed to the weakening of the “small d” democratic impulse: the need to win popular majorities and not just majorities of three, six or nine people who happen to be sitting on a court. And smart liberals understand that.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but my recollection is that Barney Frank, not ordinarily a shrinking violet on gay rights issues, was fundamentally opposed to a court-centered strategy in his state for moving the gay marriage agenda forward. Is this right, E.J.? Am I remembering this correctly? His position, which many advocates of gay rights are now embracing, is that if this is not accepted state-by-state — in some states much faster than others and in some states probably never — by the people, then it is fundamentally wrong, as a matter of political morality, to use a litigation strategy to cram it down their throats.
In my judgment, the Democratic Party, for more than 50 years, has been bewitched and led astray by Brown v. Board of Education, which was not a paradigm; it was an exception, right? It was the quintessential historical exceptional moment when something that needed to be done as a fundamental matter of political morality and historical rectification could be done in no other way, which is why Brown has achieved such an iconic status in both political parties. I don’t believe that a nominee of either party could go before the Judiciary Committee and the Senate of the United States, question Brown v. Board, and get a single vote coming out of that committee, especially now that Jesse Helms is out of the Senate.
Too many people in the party have come to believe that a court-centered strategy is a viable political strategy. Anything but. Now, I understand why some people, out of desperation, have said, well, we cannot allow this last bastion to be breached because then we lose everything. But maybe the final abandonment of the litigation strategy will be the spark to the kind of renewed grassroots mobilization without which neither great party in the United States can hope to build a sustainable political force.
So that’s probably more than you bargained for, but you just heard a big profession of faith.
MR. CROMARTIE: On the record.
DR. GALSTON: On the record.
MR. CROMARTIE: Let’s thank Professor Galston.
Speakers at Pew Forum events are given an opportunity to review and approve their remarks. This transcript also has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.