Let me see — George W. Bush lies about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. Howard Dean called Republicans “mostly White Christians.” O.K., I agree, Democrats should attack Howard Dean.
Get a grip! Haven’t Democrats paid any attention to what has happened since George W. Bush got elected? The day doesn’t go by when the Bush administration doesn’t tell some whopper or launch a smear attack on those who dare to challenge their policies. And I don’t hear much in the way of complaints about it from the Republican Leadership. Even worse, I don’t hear much about it from Democrats.
But Democratic leaders, apparently afraid of offending the sensibilities of some fat cat patron or potential crossover voter say they are outraged by the comments of their recently elected party chair.
At least Howard Dean is not lying – the Republicans are a party of mostly white Christians. In his new book The Great Divide: Retro vs. Metro America, John Sperling reports that Republican Party lawmakers in state legislatures are ninety nine percent White and that as of 2004 the Republicans had no minority representation in legislatures in 25 states. Things aren’t much different at the Congressional level where Whites hold ninety-nine percent of Republican-held seats in the House and Senate. And Voters? According to the 2004 exit polls, 87 percent of Bush voters were white and 89 percent were Christian.
As for religion, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 78 percent of Republicans profess a strong belief in God, say they believe in Judgment Day and affirm the importance of prayer. Among Republicans who call themselves conservatives, eighty-one percent express similar beliefs.
Dean’s purpose though is not to blame Republicans for being white and Christian. As Dean said, he is a white Christian. It is to point out that the Republican party is owned lock, stock and barrel by radically conservative Christians intent on breaking down the wall separating church and state and making their religious views part of the law of the land.
Dean is right to challenge them. Democrats need to tap into the growing unease of an American electorate increasingly concerned about the possibility of living under biblical law with Pat Robertson as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. According to a recent survey by ABC News, 40 percent of Americans say that religious conservatives have too much influence over the Republican Party. Americans were intensely opposed to the intervention of the Republican Congress and President Bush into the Terry Schiavo matter. And a new poll by Ipsos/Associated Press finds sixty one percent of Americans disapprove of religious leaders trying to influence government decisions. As political reporter Peter Urban recently wrote in the Connecticut Post, “Americans seem to grow increasingly uncomfortable with an agenda shaped by evangelical Christians.”
Dean’s comments speak to the Democratic Party’s base of liberal voters concerned about the intrusion of religion into government policy. They also aim at newer, younger voters (those born after 1980) commonly referred to as Generation Y voters. A new survey by the research firm of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner reports that Generation Y voters are one of the fastest growing voter groups, increasing by 84 percent (from 20 million to 37 million adults), between 1990 and 2001. These voters are significantly more diverse, more secular and much less likely to define themselves as Christian. They are also very liberal on social issues and lean strongly Democratic. Capturing those voters is essential to any plans for Democrats to retake Congress and elect one of their own as President.
What Howard Dean is doing is trying to reframe the debate, to define the Republican Party for what is has become, a party dominated by extreme elements of the Christian Right where the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson hold great sway over judicial nominations and have the ability to push Congress into matters such as the Terri Schiavo debacle. His comments may make some Democrats a little uncomfortable, but my guess is that there are more than a few Republicans increasingly uneasy with the picture Howard Dean is painting.