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Who gets it?

I’m sure that everybody’s favorite residents of Left Blogovia will be all over Mr. Kristof’s column Who Gets It? Hillary in this morning’s New York Times (regreq, of course; I think it was Jeanne over at Body and Soul who suggested that the Times and others reverse their current policy and provide the archives for free, while charging for current news, providing an incentive for bloggers to think before typing), which really is a marvel of what in an FCC-regulated medium I might call Harry G. Frankfurt. It seems, you see, that Hilary Clinton shows precisely the way that a Democrat can be elected President again, except that, as he points out, (a) it wouldn’t work for her, and (b) it wouldn’t work for Dean. He doesn’t point out that the same strategy (c) didn’t work for John Kerry, and he shows no evidence that it would actually work for anybody else.

The problem isn’t that Democrats consistently run candidates who are reluctant to talk about their religion and abortion. John Kerry prattled on about being an altar boy. Al Gore talked about religion. Michael Dukakis talked about religion. It’s possible (although I have seen little evidence for this, really) that the problem is that the Democrats haven’t placed effective talk about religion as high a priority as, say, ability to govern honestly and competently, but Mr. Kristof isn’t talking about the difference between persuasive talk and unpersuasive talk, he’s just saying they should talk. And they do.

By the way, why is it that the Republicans generally nominate candidates such as Bob Dole and Poppy Bush who are so bad at talking about religion?

No, the reason why I’m blogging this is that Mr. Kristof writes this whole article without mentioning once why it is that Democratic candidates have such difficulty convincing people that they are, personally, religious and against abortion-as-birth-control. Could it be, perhaps, that there has been a decades-long campaign by their political opposition to portray them that way? Is it just possible that such church-goers as, oh, Al Sharpton, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, John Kerry (who got into hot water for attending Mass regularly), Ted Kennedy, Michael Lerner (not so much church, but you know), Eric Alterman, Tom Harkin, Jim Wallis, Marian Wright Edelman, oh, heck, do I need to go on, have been painted by Republicans and their allies as anti-church as an election tactic?

I mean, surely this goes beyond he-said-she-said journalism. That would at least require that Mr. Kristof “report” that although the Democrats say they support churchin’, the Republicans say they don’t. No, this internalizes the Republican argument, and makes it sound as if the Democrats have been arguing with themselves. And I believe, in this Tohu Bohu, I can call it bullshit without fear of a fine.

It’s true, I’m sure, that much of the public have also internalized the Republican arguments. Millions of people, I’m sure, haven’t quite figured out that the reason they find Democrats unpersuasive on religion is not only that Democrats often have a nuanced view of the relationship between church and state but because Republicans have been saying for years that Democrats hate the Bible. There are good reasons why the Republicans were effective with that line. For one thing, Democrats do often have some difficulty explaining why their own scriptural interpretations are not the basis for all the legislation they promote. For another, Democrats somehow didn’t figure out that this was killing them, and so didn’t even think about how to fight it until it was a thoroughly integrated part of the political scene. For a third, Democrats often do take governing seriously enough to endorse and promote people who are knowledgeable, honest, and competent, but not really very likeable. For another, our Liberal Lion, who I understand to be a believer, was young and irresponsible into his forties (like Our Only President was), and will never outlive Chappaquiddick. Also, the left necessarily includes the real anti-clerical wing, as small as it is, so we are, as they say, tarred by the brush. And again, most people are ignorant enough to believe that Michael Moore and Tom Robbins have some serious influence in party legislation.

If Mr. Kristof had addressed any of this, he would have had to admit that his talk-like-Hillary advice is bullshit. It’s the kind of vague but plausible bullshit that gets bullshit artists jobs, but as for usefulness, well, imagine a baseball column that suggested that the Devil Rays could do better in the standings if they won more games, and that, as you could see by looking at the Red Sox and Yankees, winning games is easier if you do a thing called hitting, which involves scoring runs. The problem the Devil Rays have been having is that they didn’t score very many runs; perhaps if they scored more runs, they would win the division. Gosh, Mr. Kristof, we’ll look into that; have you mentioned it to the Red Sox pitchers?

Oh, and that was a good ending, but I have to add that it’s even less useful than that, since of course unlike run-scoring and the standings, nobody has actually shown that effective religious talk would in fact make the difference in a presidential election. It’s plausible (although it doesn’t explain how Al Gore beat Our Only President), but it ain’t necessarily so.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,