Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Religion-Saturated Senate Race

Originally published at Free Tennessee:

Both Bob Corker and Harold Ford, Jr. seem to be pulling out the stops this pre-election Sunday to woo church-goers to vote for them.  When I watch the two of them swing the swords of devotion in this fight I am reminded of the old fashion test:  when a man puts on a suit does he look like he is wearing it or instead is the suit wearing the man?

Corker's zealous religious base would seem to respond to him readily the more holier he seems to be.  Even when disingenuous and wearing thin, zeal appeals to the religious right, because of their strong Constantinian streak: the emperor need not be authentically theocratic as long as the empire becomes so.  On the contrary, I question whether the kind of faith-based voter who would consider voting for Ford would respond well to Ford's locked embrace with strong evangelicalism.  I also think that Ford is reaping the whirlwind; I wonder if he is lately losing progressive voters for whom religion may not be a ballot-factor and liberal voters who are much less likely than conservative voters to be loyal to party.  And the Christian zealots would never have even considered voting for Ford with the Republican being tractable as usual.

I think Ford's overreach on religion makes Corker look like the suit fits him better, despite Corker's dubious devotionals to deity.  Ford didn't have to charge at religion with such zeal.  Democrats should engage religion, but they do so more effectively as leaders who are Christian (or Jewish, Muslim, etc.) rather than as Christian (or Jewish, Muslim, etc.) leaders.  Purity only appeals to the extremes.  Playing up Christian purity is the point where the suit starts looking like it is wearing the man rather than the other way around.  Harold Ford looks quite natural engaging Christian values or appearing behind a pulpit, but he also should have kept his base (and his ethics) in mind as he was doing so.  Instead, he seemed to throw moderation and a sensitivity toward church-state relations out the window.  And that does not suit a Democrat.

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