Democrats and God

Is there a political double standard when it comes to parties' use of religion?

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Last week, President Obama's conference call with a group of rabbis sparked some controversy. "We are God's partners in matters of life and death," Obama apparently declared in a health care discussion. This statement drew plenty of fire for arrogance and political stupidity--"is this really the context," asked National Review's Tevi Troy, "in which he wishes to discuss  health care reform--a powerful and unseen being making determinations of life and death?" Today, however, Jay Nordlinger of the National Review and Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times have taken a deeper dive into the politics of divine name-dropping. At the heart of the matter are two questions:

  1. Is there a political double standard when it comes to parties' use of religion?
  2. What role should religion play in politics, if any?

Jay Nordlinger focused largely on the first question. Looking at Barack Obama's photos next to crosses, his religious language, and Bill Clinton's deliberate Bible photo-ops during the Lewinsky scandal, he questioned the double standard: "If George W. Bush had done that--they'd have called him a dangerous theocrat. Oh, wait, they did anyway." Pointing to another example, Nordlinger wondered why major Democrats' opposition to gay marriage was accepted, and even celebrated, while Miss California's was condemned.

I know the standard answer: The Left (broadly speaking) realizes those Democrats don’t mean it; and they’re pretty sure that Miss California does. So, can we say the same thing about religion?

But challenging the "sincerity of anyone else's convictions" is not an option, Nordlinger concluded. Where does that leave us?

Jonah Goldberg offered one possible answer, going back into Democratic history to find the source of the conflict. It is not quite that "Democrats don't mean it," he postited. Democrats are, however, religious about divorcing religion from policy.

We have abortion politics in general, and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in particular, to thank for that. In 1984, Cuomo gave his famous address at Notre Dame in which he laid out the notion that a politician can be "personally opposed" to abortion but should refuse to translate that conviction into public policy. As political rhetoric, the speech was compelling. As a serious philosophical, theological or moral argument, it was a terrible mess. For instance, Cuomo found inspiration in the Catholic Church's relative silence on American slavery as justification for keeping religion out of the abortion debate. Never mind that abolition was the most religious of political movements.

So Goldberg's solution? Screw separation of church and state. One can certainly "call attention" to the double standard with Bush and Obama, he wrote, but the main point is that the Democratic embrace of conviction is "refreshing." He continued:

Of all the silly arguments that have been passed off as deeply profound in American politics, the notion that politicians can't 'impose' their personal morality on others has to top the list. [...] Politics has always been a contest of values, and religion remains the chief source of those values.

It is time, argued Goldberg, to put an end to the "canard" of the conservative-liberal split--religion versus science, reason, logic, and compassion. "No party has a monopoly on those resources, and it's about time we all recognized that."

Fine words. But Allahpundit of Hot Air has a more pressing question: "If God's onboard with ObamaCare, what sort of terrible wrath is America risking by tanking the Democrats' numbers ever since they started talking about it?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.