What the Democrats Need to Understand

Image credit: catholicknight.blogspot.com

by Ronald J. Sider

The Democrats are in trouble because there are a lot of voters like me. I have been a registered Democrat for almost 30 years. I have usually voted for Democratic presidential candidates.

But recent Democratic presidential candidates have posed huge problems for Catholics and evangelicals (together they make up about 50% of all voters) who agree with the publicly articulated, official position of the Catholic bishops and (very recently) the National Association of Evangelicals that we should be pro-poor and pro-life, pro-peace and creation care and pro-family.

When you get Democratic presidential candidates who voted against both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, people like me have problems. Why can't the Democrats be at least as tolerant of pro-life Democrats at the national level as the Republicans are of pro-choice Republicans? Why can't the Democrats at least get serious about President Clinton's position that abortion should be rare? Why can't the Democrats learn to talk about strengthening marriage both with economic support and ethical values? Why do Democrats leave to the Republicans the task of welcoming faith-based social service providers to a level playing field where they can compete fairly (with no bias for or against) for federal dollars to deliver social services?

Until a few decades ago, a majority of white evangelicals and, until very recently, a majority of Catholics voted Democratic. (The 2004 election was the first time a majority of Catholics voted Republican.)

The Democratic Party needs to ponder carefully the fact that the official position of both the Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals (which represents 30 million evangelical Protestants) is what some Catholics call a consistent ethic of life.

The recently adopted "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" explicitly declares that "God cares a great deal about the well-being of marriage, the family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, care for creation, peace, freedom and racial justice." The conclusion: "Faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda." Each Presidential election for more than a decade, the Catholic bishops have said almost the same thing.

Polling data (see John C. Green at the Bliss Institute) make it quite clear that large numbers of evangelicals could easily support important parts of the typical Democratic platform on poverty, the environment, and a multilateral foreign policy. More evangelicals favor (43%) than oppose (40%) the government's spending more money to fight poverty even if that means higher taxes for the middle class! A majority (52%) of evangelicals support "strict rules to support the environment . . . even if they cost jobs or result in higher prices." Only 31% disagree. And two-to-one (65% vs. 35%) evangelicals prefer a foreign policy where the U.S. "cooperates with international organizations to maintain world peace" rather than takes "the lead in maintaining world peace, using military force if necessary."

If the Democrats are content to remain a minority party, they can continue embracing extreme positions on things like family and marriage, the sanctity of human life and faith-based initiatives. If they would like to win again, they should ponder the fact that there are millions of evangelical and Catholic voters who prefer Democratic stands on many issues including the tax structure, economic justice, overcoming poverty, and the environment but who also demand a centrist position on family, marriage, and the sanctity of human life.

Ronald J. Sider is President of Evangelicals for Social Action [ronsider@esa-online.org].

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