Many people were hoping the New Year would finally end political charades like the "War on Christmas," the conservative campaign against a non-existent liberal attack on Christmas. But the Right Wing noise machine has a new religious boogeyman for 2006: now liberals are too religious.
It may sound absurd to spend December whining that liberals are too secular and start January complaining they’re too religious, but that is exactly what conservative writer Joseph Loconte did in a New York Times op-ed this week.
Loconte, a fellow at the Right Wing think tank The Heritage Foundation, argues that if Democrats give their religious constituents "a stronger voice" they will "replicate the misdeeds of the religious right."
But Loconte has no proof of such Democratic "misdeeds." He chides Nancy Pelosi for using Christian vocabulary to criticize the Republican budget and Harry Reid for creating a Democratic website for the “faithful”. Both actions are completely acceptable instances of religious discourse in public life – far from Republican misdeeds like using taxpayer money to promote religion, pressuring schools to teach creationism and lying about bible banning to scare voters. Conveniently, Loconte barely mentions these types of G.O.P. offenses. Then he runs out of Democratic examples altogether. He resorts to attacking an academic conference and a Duke University professor for misusing religion in politics, which he oddly blames on the Democratic Party.
Yet when Loconte isn't wringing his hands about liberal "Bible-thumping," he is a predictable foot soldier in anti-secular conservative campaigns like the "War on Christmas." In December 2004, he bemoaned the "widespread effort to either publicly silence or sanitize the essentially religious message of Christianity," and claimed "many Americans" had lost respect for the "Christian faith."
It is hard to tell whether Loconte is genuinely concerned about too much secularism or too much religion. It is clear, however, that he’s nervous when Democrats talk about their faith and work with “religious progressives.” Democrats should reject Loconte’s hypocritical double standard, but his clumsy attack does indicate the party’s religious outreach is making an impact. Meanwhile, Republicans may be nervous that their growing corruption scandals are undermining their crass claims of a political monopoly on religious values.
Both parties know that in 2004, the level of Americans’ religious observance determined their votes more than income, age or gender (according to the Pew Research Center). Looking towards the 2006 campaigns, if Democrats offer voters genuine thoughts on faith and God -- without the Religious Right’s hypocrisy or the Bush Administration’s constitutional violations – this could be the year to restore honesty in Congress and humility in political discussions of religion.