Same Old Story


This morning in Slate, John Dickerson writes about how cool, calm, and collected the Obama campaign is, but from what I hear all is not so happy in the campaign’s religious outreach department (notwithstanding its upcoming “faith tour”). The showdown at Saddleback, which was supposed to contrast “I’m comfortable talking about my faith” Obama favorably with the “I’m not comfortable” McCain, backfired. Rick Warren, despite his talk about civil discourse and wider agendas, turned out to have the familiar evangelical agenda, to say nothing of the familiar megachurch pastor’s ego; the supposed co-sponsorship of the liberal outfit Faith in Public Life was nowhere to be seen, nor were issues like AIDS and poverty. To be sure, at the Democratic Convention, reporters could hardly avoid faith-based prayer breakfasts, programs, and other initiatives designed to show off the party’s new religious sensibility. But whatever difference that might have made with faith-based voters was quickly eclipsed by the Palin nomination.
The larger point, however, is that while parties can change the mood music, it is not so easy to turn their large coalitions into something new. Just as McCain ultimately had to put his honor in a blind trust and abase himself before a religious right that had openly disrespected him, so Obama finds himself at the head of a party establishment that prefers to treat religion in public life as the province of African Americans. There was Leah Daughtry, the Pentecostal minister who ran the Convention; and Josh Dubois, in charge of the Obama campaign’s religious outreach but not a member of its inner circle; and of course Obama himself, whose religiosity disturbs the secular wing of the party not at all because it can be bracketed off as a black thing.
Yes, an awesome God is worshiped by many people in the blue states, and many of them vote Democratic. Likewise, the GOP continues to pick up its share of those of little or no faith. But the God Gap between the parties has become structural, and effacing it will take a lot more effort than either side has so far shown it’s interested in–or capable of–putting forth.
Update: Has Ambinder (via Brody) been spun? Or am I living in the past? Without a doubt, it’s not conservative evangelicals but serious religious moderates that represent Obama’s best target of opportunity. The real question is how effective his campaign’s religious ground game has really been. Not as effective as it could be, is what I’m hearing. And a word to the wise: Just because Brody calls a story exclusive doesn’t mean it’s so. Sarah Pulliam at Christianity Today had the Obama faith tour story yesterday.