Chapter Ten: IS THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY BECOMING A RELIGION?
This is an interesting question. I do think the Democrat Party (note that lack of the “ic”) has already made the transformation. It maintains an anti-Republican belief system that is extraordinary. Members of the Democrat Party consider me an affront to their sensibilities simply because I registered as a Republican at the age of 21. Similarly, the tenets of the Democrat Party require the active pursuit of income redistribution and societal re-engineering in America. Since I do not share those beliefs, my mere existence is an annoyance. I am a heathen.
But a religion needs a clear purpose, and the Democrat Party fulfills this requirement perfectly. It has a well-defined strategy with three key principles:
1) Ridicule Republicans.
2) Legitimize anti-Republican thought.
3) Stay on message.
The “message” is that there must be more Democrats. Elect them, hire them, appoint them, or convert them. America must have more Democrats in positions of power. The way to do this is to attack Republicans as individuals. Characterize Republicans as bad people, and use the themes of the Democratic Party to make examples of the bad traits of Republicans. Legitimize those issues that are patently anti-Republican. No matter how outlandish, support anti-Republican positions and make them seem reasonable.
I imagine you need a clear example to bring all of this into focus. Let me relate an experience I had when I worked for the old telephone company, U S WEST. It has to do with trust.
I think the year was 1987, and I was in Englewood, Colorado. Upper management wanted a focus group to help them understand what was required to gain employee trust for their various initiatives. Several of us in middle management were selected for the focus group, and we engaged in a discussion on the subject.
I can remember thinking, “This really is a waste of time”. But I kept an open mind, and when it was my turn to contribute I told them what I thought.
My understanding of trust is that it has to be earned, and that you earn it by doing two things: telling the truth and making good decisions. I used as an example a teenager being given the family car to drive for the first time. You wouldn’t necessarily do that unless you believed your son or daughter would make good decisions and tell the truth. If they earn your trust, you give them the keys to the car.
I tell you this story to set the stage. Gaining trust is one thing, but losing trust is another. The senior management at U S WEST thought they could “sell” the idea of trust. I don’t think that is possible. You have to gain trust through direct interaction with those whose trust you hope to win.
On the flip side, it is possible to learn to distrust someone without any personal interaction. You can lose trust in another person just by hearing about them.
Here’s where the Democrat Party comes in. Expanding on the “Bad Republican” theme, the Democrat Party has waged a continuing campaign aimed at destroying trust in President George W. Bush, a Republican. The technique is not to directly convince people to distrust the President of the United States. Rather, the campaign is to depict the Republican President as a liar and a miserable failure. For good measure, the Democrat Party throws in a characterization of the President as a moron.
The President was portrayed as being guilty of mismanaging relations with Congress, doing poorly in college, and failing in every one of his personal endeavors, from piloting airplanes to running a business. The accusations were passed around as examples of someone who didn’t tell the truth and who couldn’t make good decisions.
The campaign worked! Polls would address the issue with questions like this: “Who do you trust more, Republican leaders or Democrat leaders?” The more the Democrat Party portrayed the President as not telling the truth and not making good decisions, the more the public lost trust in him.
People in Canada even picked up on the campaign. Within the Canadian government, the Director of Communications for Prime Minister Jean Chretien made private comments about President Bush being a “moron”, and it ended up costing her job. In 2002, she resigned over the controversy.
What does this have to do with Religion? It shows how repetitive accusations can be used to create a belief system. Whether or not you rationally think a person with a Harvard MBA is a moron, when you hear the accusation over and over, you come to believe it. Belief systems are what characterize religions, and the Democrat Party has a belief system that matches the themes of the Democratic Party. Once you come to believe the themes, you have embraced the religious component of the Democrat Party.
And why would you believe the themes? At the core is the issue of trust. I am reminded of this fact whenever I hear people in the Democrat Party use the expression, “We did all that we could do”. Maybe it’s a foreign policy issue or a domestic policy issue, but it’s used in a context that makes you think of a physician that has just lost a patient. You don’t tell the physician, “Let’s wait for the After-Action Report!” Instead, you trust that the physician truly did everything that could be done to save the patient’s life. It’s this same level of trust that is given to the Democrat Party. When people in the Democrat Party make assertions, Americans trust them. It’s based upon feelings, and it is a reflection of our anti-Republican culture.
There is another link between the Democrat Party and religious feelings. It involves the issue of charity.
You might think of charity as being the sole province of religions. Helping the needy and giving relief to the poor are theological virtues. We automatically associate them with religions. But what if you are an organization trying to galvanize the emotions of the group that supports you, and that group has the inherent human desire to help others? Why not capitalize on these emotions? Define yourself as the group primarily responsible for bringing safety and comfort to the disadvantaged. Make it so that traditional faith-based initiatives are subordinate, even “improper” avenues for charity. Establish the Democrat Party as the one true path toward charity.
It is a stealth technique that is used to expand from the political to the religious realm, and it works extremely well. The Democrat Party has a “moral lock” on charity, and they wield it as a birthright. They define those who are deserving of charity and those who are not. They are the gatekeepers, and are literally in competition with their religious brethren to serve the needs of the poor. It is the Democrat Party that decides who within America is deserving of charity.
But let’s not overlook the Democratic Party. Its transformation as a religion comes down to one determining factor. It is an emotional factor, and it may take you by surprise.
That factor is hate.
The Democratic Party is gradually becoming defined by its hate for the opposing party, and it is here that the line between religion and politics begins to blur. At times the religious aspect of the ideology leads, and at other times the political aspects are in the forefront. The link that holds the two together - the nexus - is hate.
The current head of the Democratic National Committee is delighted to be quoted as saying “I hate Republicans!” While that is a great rallying cry for the true believers, it is also an ideological turning point. Religions use hate to mobilize their followers. The more fanatical religions extoll hatred for the followers of other religious beliefs. Religions that are more moderate focus their hatred on abstractions. You might see hatred shown for the Devil, or for the control such an entity has over human temptations.
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “When someone claims to hate Republicans, they really don’t mean it.” My only comment is that this is a bit like the initial reporting of a news event. Remember how we went through the idea of watching for the first reports? It is in these first reports that you see the theme being presented in the greatest relief. It is here that it is easy to see who is portrayed as wearing the black hats. Later on, the story will be modified or perhaps retracted. It is then that you will see the clarifying analysis or even the occasional “If I offended anyone with my words, I offer my sincere regrets…” type of apology. But keep in mind that if you want to see the heart of the issue (and catch the theme), watch the opening coverage. The same thing is true when you hear those initial “offhand remarks”. They are the most revealing.
Anyway, when hatred is focused on a political party, you might expect there to be an emotional reaction. The fact that Americans exhibit no outrage at this type of speech is a measure of the intensity of our anti-Republican culture. Substitute another ideological group for the term “Republicans” and see if your emotions change. What does it say when you have an emotional reaction to the expression “I hate black people” or “I hate Jews” and yet you think it is no big deal when someone says “I hate Republicans”? Being racist or anti-Semitic is a bad thing. Being anti-Republican is not.
Continuing on, let’s say the Democratic Party is well on its way to becoming a religion. What would be the major indications of such a transformation? It’s possible our judicial system will show us the way. The American legal system will be our early-warning system.
You might be familiar with the concept of “jury nullification”. Let me introduce you to the concept of “Democrat nullification”. Here is an example:
Suppose there is a person somewhere in America who feels that someone who says “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” is a truly bad person. Let’s further assume the person with those feelings is a male, and is upset that less than half the American people feel as he does. To ease his frustration, he decides to bomb a building in the financial district of an American city.
He carries out the deed, ends up being caught and is prosecuted. (There are laws against this kind of activity.) At his trial, he uses as his defense the principle that he was simply fighting the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. He supports his claim with the example of a former President of the United States who justified lying under oath with the same reasoning. He points out that fighting the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy is a “Badge of Honor”.
He further enhances his defense by downplaying the suffering of those impacted by his act. Borrowing from the writings of a Professor at the University of Colorado, he characterizes those injured in the explosion as “little Eichmanns”.
Luckily, he finds a sympathetic jury. This is the type of jury that sees a political dimension to justice. They would probably invoke the Patrick Fitzgerald treatment, (where an Independent Counsel characterizes lying under oath as a VERY serious issue) when the defendant is a Republican. But this jury finds a kinder, gentler treatment (where lying under oath is NOT a terribly serious issue) when the defendant is a Democrat. Our hypothetical perpetrator has the good fortune to be a member of the Democratic Party.
Even though the prosecution is thorough in presenting evidence of the alleged crime, the jury is not swayed. It acquits the defendant, and sends a message to the American people that “the end justifies the means”. The belief that you are fighting the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy becomes a legitimate justification for performing illegal acts. Fighting the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy trumps the Rule of Law!
I think we are being subtly prepared for the legitimacy of this type of legal behavior. If you watch game shows on television (where a set of judges evaluate a contestant but the television audience gets to call in their votes) you see the principle in practice. The people with the necessary credentials to decide the issue (the judges) sometimes get trumped by the viewing audience. If a contestant would be the winner based upon skill and competence, but ends up being a loser because another contestant is more popular with the viewing audience, you get a feel for the concept of Democrat nullification.
Those of you who were around to witness the verdict in the O. J. Simpson case certainly have an idea of what is meant by jury nullification. The idea of Democrat nullification seems far-fetched, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an instance of it within the next decade or two. I think the most promising area where it might garner support would be in the trial of an “Eco-terrorist” who is accused of something like arson or destruction of property. The radical environmentalist movement is one that is governed by passion and a sense of supremacy of the ideals of the movement, perhaps more so than other groups within the Democratic Party. When a person’s political ideals become supreme to cultural influences such as nationality or family, the political ideology of the person tends to cross over into the arena of religion.
Supremacy of ideology is being tested by the Democratic Party on a daily basis. You see it in the battles against the influence of the “Religious Right” or the “Fundies” (religious fundamentalists). Here in Colorado, the Catholic Church got into the battle by holding a pro-life stance against the Democratic Party’s issue of abortion rights.
It might seem a trivial sort of thing, but it goes to the core value of the Democratic Party: fighting for supremacy of ideology. If you are a Democrat, you must believe in Democratic Party principles. If you are a Democrat and a Catholic, you must choose which ideology is supreme: your religion or your politics. Here in Denver, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, put his foot down. It was 2004, and Senator John Kerry was the Democratic Party candidate for President. Senator Kerry happened to be Catholic, and advanced the notion that believing in a woman’s right to choose and being a Catholic were not incompatible ideas. Archbishop Chaput went on record as saying that if you were a Catholic, this was not the case. You were obligated to be against abortion.
He was immediately attacked by the Democratic Party. His sin was characterized as being that he had not maintained neutrality in the arena of politics. However, his true transgression was that he held that religious ideology trumped political ideology. This was political blasphemy!
I got the feeling that the Catholic Church was a bit befuddled by being labeled a part of the Religious Right. The Church doesn’t move very quickly in changing dogma, and was simply stating a long-held tenet. I also don’t think that the Catholic Church perceives the Democratic Party as a religious threat. Unfortunately, the feeling is not mutual.
While the fight for supremacy of ideology is a characteristic of religions, and the Democratic Party is certainly “in the fight”, there are other indicators of how the Democratic Party is moving toward becoming a religion. Let’s take a look at the operation of the Air America Radio network.
This is a network of radio stations in America that cater to the political thought of the Democratic Party. You will hear commentary by people dedicated to the ideology of the Democratic Party, and you will hear it non-stop throughout the day. The format of the commentary is what is striking about the network. It virtually mimics the format of the Christian Broadcast Network. The CBN shows are dedicated to the Christian faith, and continually showcase themes of Christianity. A particular show might feature a monologue highlighting a current event, a follow-up analysis of the event in a conversational format, and then a summarization of the impact of the event on a particular religious theme.
Air America Radio uses almost the same playbook. It covers the news, but with a slant toward the themes of the Democratic Party. The Al Franken Show might just as well be titled “The Ministry of Al Franken”. The Randi Rhodes Show could be called “The Randi Rhodes Devotional”. There is a recurring sameness to the programs.
The shows will start with a monologue that highlights the Democratic Party theme of the day (Republicans are Bad People, Republicans are Destroying the Environment, Republicans are Shredding the Constitution, Republicans are Turning the Economy into a Catastrophe, etc.). A featured guest will give witness to the crooked dealings of the Republicans with first-person accounts. Call-in participants will then give testimonials confirming similar experiences and revelations. The host will link the personal anecdotes, and give context to them by relating them to the particular theme of the day.
Not sure what the “theme of the day” might be? Here are some examples that come to mind:
--Republicans bow to corporate interests instead of the interests of the American people.
--Republicans support wars based on lies.
--Republicans suppress free speech.
--Republicans want to turn America into a theocracy.
--Republicans encourage torture against enemy combatants.
--Republicans advocate the death penalty for abortion doctors.
--Republicans blame the media for the ethical problems of Republicans.
--Republicans preach the sanctity of marriage while embracing high divorce rates.
--Republicans discriminate against people who are gay.
--Republicans embrace domestic spying.
--and so on…
Does it feel like a religious experience to listen to Air America Radio? That is a personal perception. But one thing is certain: The broadcast techniques employed are the same as those used by traditional religious organizations. The parallels are stunning.
There is one final dimension of the Democratic Party that has strong religious tones. It is the role of activists.
I think most people have a positive connotation for the term “activist”. People who are passionate about their beliefs deserve a certain amount of respect. But what if you made a small substitution in the terminology? What if instead of “Democratic Party Activists”, the term were “Democratic Party Evangelicals”?
Once again, the parallels can be striking. In religious circles, you think of people who are disciples, spreading the teachings of their religion. You’ve got young people going on missions and immersing themselves in religious thought. Can the same thing be happening within the Democratic Party? If you are a Democratic Party activist, does it feel like a religious mission to go to a Republican gathering and try to disrupt it? Does it give one a sense of pursuing a higher calling? In what ways are the feelings different?
I think religion and the Democratic Party become intertwined based on strength of belief. Former President Jimmy Carter makes a distinction in religious groups between “fundamentalists” and “evangelicals”. The evangelicals are OK; they are just doing their thing. The fundamentalists are the ones wearing the black hats. They have two bad traits:
1) They think they (and they alone) are right.
2) They feel that they don’t make mistakes.
His contention is that religious groups with this type of philosophy gravitate toward the Republican Party, and their influence is doing damage to America.
He certainly may have a point, but I wonder if he has considered whether the fundamentalist traits he lists are in any way applicable to the Democratic Party? The emphasis the Democratic Party puts on battling religion and religious groups consumes a lot of energy. Why the obsession with combating religion? Consider these questions:
-- If you believe in the right to an abortion as the primary component of your ideology, does that become your “God”? Does the Christian religious construct of “The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost” not have a rhythmic similarity to the words “Pro-Choice, Abortion, and A Woman’s Right to Choose”?
-- Do the Reverend Al Sharpton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson devote as much of their time to the practice of religion as to the practice of their politics?
-- Is Allegiance the core issue? When you define yourself as a member of the Democratic Party, is there an implicit assumption of the supremacy of your political beliefs? Does being a Democrat trump the calling of your religion, race, ethnicity, work affiliation, family, and even your country?
There is a long tradition of separation of church and state in America. If the Democratic Party is a religion, then it risks major philosophical and legal challenges. It also must be careful as it tries to divide Catholics based on their abortion ideology. The challenge is to acquire religious fervor in the devotion of its followers, but not to antagonize people of strong religious faith.
The melding of religion and politics truly becomes a potent force. We see it in the Middle East and other parts of the world. If your political figures are all from the same religion, the society and culture of the country are easily manipulated. It’s a path we’ve avoided so far in America, but it doesn’t hurt to keep our eyes open and be watchful as we head into the future.