Thursday, July 06, 2006

Zarqawi, Lay, and God

The news marches on, even at holiday time, which is why I just spied a certain pithy quote about the latest bloodshed in Iraq. It appears that the ballyhooed U.S. slaying of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi hasn't amounted to a hill o' beans in this crazy world. The quote:

"In terms of the level of violence, it (his slaying) has not had any impact at this point. As you know, the level of violence is still quite high."

Who would say such a thing -- perhaps the "America-hating" New York Times? A "defeatist" liberal somewhere? A "cut and run" Democrat, such as John Murtha?

No. That quote belongs to Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's ambassador to Iraq. And he said it on Independence Day, no less. Granted, he was only acknowledging factual reality -- the civilian death tally in Baghdad has actually increased sharply since Zarqawi's death -- but surely there must be a constitutional amendment that forbids the uttering of truths inconvenient to the Bush administration.

I was on a plane yesterday when this gem surfaced:

In the wake of the death of convicted Enron felon Ken Lay, Bush press secretary Tony Snow was asked to comment on the relationship between Lay and his boss. Snow replied, "The president has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance."

"Kenny boy" was just an acquaintance? Not according to letters released under the Freedom of Information Act. Here's the governor of Texas, writing to the corporate leader back in 1997: "Dear Ken: One of the sad things about old friends is that they seem to be getting older -- just like you! 55 years old. Wow! That is really old. Thank goodness you have such a young, beautiful wife. Laura and I value our friendship with you. Best wishes to Linda, your family, and friends.
Your younger friend, George W. Bush."

Chatty exchanges about jogging, gifts, bad knees...It appears that the definition of "acquaintance" is a friend who defrauded his employes.


But, of course, many liberals have their own problems with factual reality. Witness some of the reaction lately to Senator Barack Obama's provocative speech about the role of religion in politics, and the failure of his fellow Democrats to attract devout voters.

Obama, the much-touted presidential candidate of 2012 or 2016 or 2020, probably alienated some folks on the left by stating the obvious last week:

"(T)here are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word 'Christian' describes one's political opponents, not people of faith....(I)f we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.... (S)ecularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

Obama has come under attack for making these arguments. The basic charge is that he is consorting with the enemy, feeding the GOP line that Democrats are Godless. David Sirota, a top liberal activist, complains: "The more high-profile Democrats give credence to right-wing lies/myths, the more the party's image problem grows. It's time for Democratic leaders who show the country what they believe in - instead of telling the public the lies we already hear on right-wing radio." And prominent liberal blogger Chris Bowers writes: "So thanks Senator Obama, for reifying this Republican-driven talking point about Democrats. Now almost everyone will think that Democrats are hostile to people of faith. Well done."

The problem with those analyses is that, as actual electoral evidence makes clear, Democrats do have a problem with people of faith. What Obama said is not new at all; various liberal religious leaders, such as Jim Wallis, for several years have been urging Democrats to close the "God gap." Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, a nonpartisan with no axe to grind, has been chronicling the Democrats' problem for a long time. It most recently manifested itself in 2005, when John Kerry won only 21 percent of white evangelical Christians -- nine percent lower than Al Gore's share in 2000.

During the fall of 2004, John Green, an Ohio academic who specializes in religion and politics, told me that the swing group in the election -- comprising 19 percent of the electorate -- would be "centrist Catholics" and "centrist evangelicals," people who go to church regularly, yet who are suspicious about the religious right. Those voters, he said, were looking for a reason to vote Democratic, looking for signals that the Democrats respected their religiosity. But in the end, they didn't vote for Kerry in the numbers that he needed.

It would appear that electoral statistics support this conclusion, from Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein (memo to liberal readers: yes, he did work for Joe Lieberman, but that doesn't automatically disqualify his view). Gerstein writes on his own blog: "The electoral math here is simply undeniable. Democrats are getting crushed in the competition for faith-based voters, and because our base is considerable smaller than the Republicans, we simply don't have the luxury to ignore (or God forbid insult) this considerable bloc any longer if we want to become a majority party again. To acknowledge that deficit and work to fix it is not giving aid and comfort to the enemy -- it's taking common sense to its logical conclusion."

One last thought: When I read Obama's remarks about clueless Democrats who send the wrong signals on religion, I remembered a comment that Howard Dean made during the '04 primary season. Dean explained during a debate that in the 1980s he had switched from the Episcopal Church to the Congregational Church because the former wouldn't give him the land to build a bike path.

No wonder Karl Rove viewed Dean as his favorite Democratic candidate.