Faithless Democrats

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Tim Kaine.jpgJDuBois.jpgYesterday, WaPo’s Michelle Boorstein drew back the veil on the Democratic Party’s much vaunted commitment to religious outreach and revealed, whoops, that the Democratic National Committee has no vestments. Howard Dean donned them, not only to considerable fanfare but also, in important races around the country, to considerable effect. You’d have thought that Tim Kaine, the Catholic ex-governor of Virginia, would possess at least as well developed a sense of the importance of connecting to voters by religion as Dean, a pretty secular guy from Vermont (currently the least religiously affiliated state in the nation). But no, that’s not how they roll at Kaine’s DNC. What gives?

Take a close look at these graphs:

When Obama took office, he made a point of expanding the faith office established by President
George W. Bush, which includes branches in a dozen federal agencies and a
core staff that communicates with faith leaders about policy issues.
The office’s director, Joshua DuBois, declined to comment on Democratic
political outreach but said the White House is in frequent contact with
faith leaders, a key way to stay connected to religious voters.

Kaine, who chairs the DNC, and other party leaders say the decrease in
paid faith staff reflects a change in how the party does outreach — not
a shift away from religious voters. The party, at the behest of the
White House, has reshaped how it reaches out to all constituency groups
and has opted to expand its network of grass-roots volunteers and shrink
its national staff of organizers who were in the past broken down by
race and religion.

So the DNC’s reorganization took place on orders from the White House. And the twenty-something director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships says he’s on the case, keeping the Administration  connected to religious voters by chatting up their clerical superiors. What it very much looks like is that DuBois, who unlike his predecessors in the previous dispensation has been anointed Minister Plenipotentiary for All Things Religious, has aggregated to himself responsibility for the religious politics too. That, after all, was his job during the campaign.

Perhaps he’s forgotten about Tempting Faith, the “inside story of political seduction” by David Kuo, who did three years as number two in the original faith-based office. Kuo’s account of the corruption of the office by electoral politics became one of the chapters in the Decline and Fall of the Bush Administration. Prudence alone would suggest that “staying connected to religious voters” shouldn’t be part of DuBois’ current job self-description.

But propriety aside, the idea that you reach out to members of faith communities through their leaders is, to put it charitably, somewhat anachronistic. Most of those folks don’t look in that direction for instructions on how to vote. The way to reach them is via digital database targeting–by race, religion, and everything else as well. Wasn’t it in that department that the Obama campaign blew everyone else out of the water? An undifferentiated network of grassroots volunteers? What are they thinking?