GOD's Enemies

The Democratic Party: Home of the Non-Religious Left
Daniel Henninger
The Wall Street Journal
Friday, October 17, 2003

    PLANO, Texas -- Soon after its decision in Lawrence on private sexual acts between consenting adults of the same gender, the Supreme Court this week decided that next year its bucketful of gasoline for the eternal flames of America's "culture wars" will be to decide the constitutionality of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
    Generally, the culture wars are thought to pit extreme believers on the "religious right," living primarily in the Southern states, against sophisticates in the urban North and far West. In the North, where people get their information about life in the South mainly through a TV screen, the "religious right" came to life mainly as images of televangelists, such as Jimmy Swaggart, pourin' sweat and beggin' forgiveness, or Tammy Faye Bakker, mascara rivering down her face for similar reasons.
    My first up-close contact with the tensions of the culture wars came in 1992 at the Republican convention in Houston, waiting in a large auditorium with several thousand "pro-life, pro-family" religious activists to hear Dan Quayle. What struck me is how far removed these people seemed from the Bible-whacking, shotgun-rack stereotype. Standing around in conversation, they seemed to be mostly educated, 30-something, Texas suburbanites who worked in the technology sector and worried about running their kids' sports leagues. They really loved Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush's running mate, and were mocked mercilessly, in public and private, by the out-of-town press corps.
    The Robertson-Falwell tent show has faded, but it remains a given in our politics that something called the Christian right now aligns with the Republicans, and that President Bush is a co-dependent. With the presidential election upon us, it seemed a good time to revisit the "religious right," and so I ventured from Manhattan to the belly of the beast, or one of the bellies -- Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. The congregation numbers 22,000, and Prestonwood's pastor is the Rev. Jack Graham, who is also president of the almost 20-million member Southern Baptist Convention, a font of anxiety for orthodox liberals.
    I showed up on a Tuesday for Prestonwood's weekly noontime Power Lunch, driving into a parking lot big as a Wal-Mart's and with almost as many cars. The speaker was the general manager of the Orlando Magic basketball team, Pat Williams. About 600 people were there. I loved Pat Williams' message: To better yourself, turn off the TV and read more books.
    After spending some time at Prestonwood Baptist, one wondered just what it is that so vexes the critics of these evangelical Christians. Whatever their attachment to Jesus and his New Testament message, they seem more than anything to be deeply in the world. Prestonwood's many outreach ministries include prisoners and their families, troubled teens, woman-to-woman counseling, literacy, immigrant outreach, the newly unemployed, pregnant single women, Dallas's urban poor.


    Surely many political liberals would recognize that within these ministries reside earthly goals common to their own, no matter that the lay ministers offer succor from the Bible. But recent research suggests that the evangelical Christians' religiosity alone almost entirely explains why the "religious right" remains a phrase of political division.
    In last fall's Public Interest quarterly, political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio of Baruch College at the City University of New York argued in "Our Secularist Democratic Party" that the clearest indicator of party affiliation and voting patterns now is whether one is churched or unchurched, believer or agnostic.
    There isn't space to do justice to the detail in their article, drawn from sources such as national election surveys at the University of Michigan or the Convention Delegate Surveys done from 1972-1992. The text is available at thepublicinterest.com. It owes much to a 2001 book by Vanderbilt political scientist Geoffrey Layman called "The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics" (Columbia University Press).
    Democratic secularists are defined as agnostics, atheists or people who rarely attend church, if ever. According to the national convention delegate surveys, write Messrs. Bolce and De Maio, "60% of first-time white delegates at the [1992] Democratic convention in New York City either claimed no attachment to religion or displayed the minimal attachment by attending worship services 'a few times a year' or less. About 5% of first-time delegates at the Republican convention in Houston identified themselves as secularists."
    In the 1992 election, Bill Clinton got 75% of the secularist vote, while the current President's father received support from traditionalists (church-goers) by 2 to 1. That pattern held in the 2000 election. "In terms of their size and party loyalty," Messrs. Bolce and De Maio argue, "secularists today are as important to the Democratic party as another key constituency, organized labor."
    In turn this single self-definition tracks political belief across the entire battlefield of the culture wars -- abortion, sexuality, prayer in the schools, judicial nominations. Interesting as that is, what intrigues me more as simple politics is how a Howard Dean, John Kerry or Joe Lieberman can feed these creedal beliefs of the "un-religious left" without in time coming themselves to be known as leaders of the party of non-belief? Or hypocrites. It's a hard river to cross.
    In an interview, Prestonwood pastor and SBC president Jack Graham said he expects evangelicals to go to the polls for Mr. Bush "in record numbers." "Our people didn't quite know George Bush in the last election, but they do now." Led through a list of voting issues for evangelicals, the Rev. Graham cites one above all: "that we have people of character in the White House."
    All this calls to mind the severe criticism George Bush received early in his presidency when he proposed "faith-based initiatives." The hyper-heated reaction seemed startling at the time, but in retrospect one has to wonder if it didn't indeed reflect that for increasing numbers of the Democratic faithful, the one faith-based initiative they believe in above all today is that they don't believe.

GOD's Enemies

Rainbow Filibuster Coalition
The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

    Senate Democrats are preparing to filibuster more of President Bush's appeals court nominees, making it a good time to note that the original meaning of the word "filibuster" was "pirate."
    The 17th-century marauders known as Filibustiers pillaged the Spanish colonies in the West Indies, slashing and burning as they went. The Democratic minority in the Senate is rampaging through the Constitution, trampling on 200 years of practice in confirming federal judges by simple majority vote. As the list of victims mounts, it's also instructive to note the rainbow coalition that Democrats find unacceptable.


    Six of them are pictured nearby. All of them come with the endorsement of the bar. All have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and all have enough Democratic support to be confirmed on the Senate floor.
    Yet all are being blocked by a liberal minority that is overruling the results of the past two elections by imposing a new 60-vote super-majority qualification on the Constitution's advise and consent clause. The nature of Democratic objections to these nominees reveals what a raw power play this is. There's always some new excuse that provides some political cover.
    Honduran immigrant Miguel Estrada's sin was that the Bush Administration refused to release internal memos he wrote while serving in the Clinton Justice Department. Never mind that no Justice Department would release such private communications, and that the two Democratic Solicitors General he worked for testified to his integrity and ability to enforce laws he disagrees with. After 28 months of waiting to get a vote, Mr. Estrada decided in September to withdraw his nomination and get on with his life.


    Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen is unacceptable because she voted to uphold a state parental-notification law on abortion. That law is very precise about the conditions under which a parent must be informed. Nine times she voted to let the girl have the abortion but three times she ruled that a parent must be notified. Somehow this makes her "extreme."
    Alabama Attorney General William Pryor has also run afoul of the Democratic abortion litmus test. Though he's vowed to follow the law and says he would uphold Roe v. Wade, he made the mistake of saying that he agrees with JFK Supreme Court Justice Byron White that Roe was wrongly decided.


    California Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl is next up on the Democrats' Most Unwanted List. While a junior attorney at the Reagan Justice Department, she defended the tax-exempt status for Bob Jones University as a point of administrative law. She did not defend Bob Jones's racial policies, but among liberal Democrats this qualifies her for a lifetime ban.
    Then there's Charles Pickering, who was re-nominated after the Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee killed his appointment in 2002. Mr. Pickering is accused of racial insensitivity despite a record of personal courage in promoting racial harmony in his home state of Mississippi and despite a raft of testimonials from local African-Americans.
    Coming up on the filibuster hit parade is Henry Saad, an Arab-American nominated for the Sixth Circuit. Mr. Saad's bad luck is to hail from Michigan, where Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are conducting a feud over two Democratic candidates blocked by Republicans during the Clinton Administration. Three more Michigan nominees are also candidates for filibusters once they get out of committee.
    And then there's Janice Brown, an African-American on the California Supreme Court nominated for the D.C. Circuit. Democrats are plowing for any excuse to filibuster her, lest Mr. Bush someday decide to promote her to the U.S. Supreme Court. Modern liberalism's ultimate nightmare is a black conservative woman in a position of moral authority.
    What these nominees have in common is that they were nominated by a GOP President and share a conservative view of the law. Far from being radical or extreme, their views are shared by tens of millions of Americans -- a majority if the results of the past two elections count for something. If Democrats want to dictate who can sit on the federal bench, they can always take the issue to the voters and win either a Senate majority or the White House. They shouldn't be allowed to hijack the confirmation process.