Memo to Dems Running in Red States

In this LA Times article about Red state Democrats trying to win over conservative voters, the debate falls into the tired old storyline of Republicans pushing "Christian values" (ie opposing abortion and gay marriage) vs. Democrats pushing economic issues (ie raising the minimum wage and offering college tuition tax credits).

How 2004. Someone needs to tell these guys: economic issues are Christian values.

The Times piece focuses on the Senate race in Missouri between GOP incumbent Jim Talent and his Democratic opponent, Claire McCaskill. According to the Times, McCaskill's "biggest obstacle" is rural voters who only care about "her liberal views" on abortion and gay marriage.

"I'm a strong Christian, and I believe if you take care of the values, God will take care of the rest," says Talent supporter Joe Hester. "Overall Republicans are more in tune with my values." And that's even in light of the Foley scandal. Another Missourian, Jim Holt, says that economic issues -- what he calls "the money side of it" -- pale when compared to social issues: "I mostly vote Republican because of the Christian values side of it."

Quick, someone from the McCaskill campaign needs to get these so-called values voters a copy of the Bible and point out its admonition that we shall be judged by what we do for the least among us. Indeed, if you removed every reference to poverty in the New Testament, the Good Book would be reduced to little more than a Not Bad Pamphlet. In the words of Rev. Jim Wallis, "The Prophets would be decimated, the Psalms destroyed, and the Gospels ripped to shreds." On the other hand, there is not a single mention of gay marriage or the need to ban it.

But instead of making the case that the answer to What Would Jesus Do is "raise the minimum wage and forget gay couples trying to make their lifetime commitment legal," McCaskill is falling into the trap of trying to get conservative voters to put aside their values and focus on "the money side" of the race, touting her support for a minimum wage hike and new tax credits for child care, first-time mortgages, and college tuition.

With that kind of thinking, Republican Senators can start figuring out committee chairmanships for the 110th Congress right now.

In the wake of the 2004 debacle, in a column urging Democrats to take back the moral high ground from Republicans by waging the values debate on their turf, I wrote:

If the Democratic Party is not about bringing focus and urgency to the creation of a more fair, just -- and, yes, moral -- society, it might as well cease to exist. FDR gave expression to the moral principle that should be animating Democrats when he said that "the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." Isn't this the exact opposite of the immoral credo that animates Bush Republicans?

The Democrats need to realize that the values debate is not about triangulating on gay marriage -- it's about passion and principles. And that's what distinguishes an inspiring political vision from a laundry list of policies and four-point plans (or Six for '06).

And I suggested that if Democrats don't know where to find the language and the music to sing out that economic issues are moral values, they should go back and read Barack Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, in which he said:

Alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the South Side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. . . . It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. 'E pluribus unum.' Out of many, one.

I recommended that this powerful -- and deeply spiritual -- statement become the starting point for the rebranding of the Democratic Party, because only with such real "moral values" would Dems be able to counter the GOP's divisive religiosity and win back America's value voters.

It's still not too late for Democrats to make the case -- and make deep inroads in Red States. But it will be very, very soon.


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