Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On Religion and Politics

MyDD has a particularly good election post-mortem. In particular I would like to focus on the discussion of religion in the Virginia race.
Guest-posting at Political Animal, Amy Sullivan writes that part of Tim Kaine's win in Virginia was that he was able to neutralize what has been a Republican advantage on the faith, values, and character issues related to religion. Kaine didn't pander to the religious right (he is a Catholic, after all), but he did hold up his faith as a defense when Kilgore attacked him for being personally anti-death penalty.

Kaine always made it clear that his religious views don't have an undue influence on his political decisions, though. This indicates to me that voters, even in a red state like Virginia, like politicians with religion, but don't buy into the idea that religion should dictate politics. By knocking the religion advantage out of the Republican playbook, Kaine "got to compete on actual issues--whether immigration or education or sprawl or health care." As she writes, "that's good news for Democrats."

Democrats have been saying for ages on issues such as abortion "I don't have a right to force my religion on everybody else." And Kaine used it here, but it seems the context is different. Kaine derives from his mainstream religious views that the death penalty should be abolished, a clearly unpopular position. Democrats typically have taken the same interpretation of scripture as Republicans and said that the difference between them and the Republican is that they don't feel like they should force their religion upon others. But the initial agreement in religious interpretation may tell voters that Democrats are unwilling to defend their values. Whereas Kaine by taking a position not held by most people on religious grounds that a large portion of people disagree with changed the perspective on the "I can't legislate my religious beliefs for others" argument. People begin to think about the issue as "thank god, I don't want the death penalty abolished" instead of "well, why not? We need to prevent these abortions." So in the Virginia Governor's race Kaine was able to reframe the perspective on legislating religion so that most voters were finally capable of understanding the necessity of that viewpoint.

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