Democrats & Liberals Archives

E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One

The Republicans are right. As much as it may pain us to hear it, we lost this election by not appealing to the majority of American voters. This election was the Democratic party’s to lose far more than it was the Republican party’s to win. We did lose it, and the blame for that must rightly be laid at our own feet. We do need to rethink our platform, as many have told us. We need to examine it in the light of reason, and more importantly the light of wisdom. And we need to understand where we went wrong. Or we will make the same mistakes again.

That said, it is important to keep in mind that reevaluating our platform to make it more inclusive, more universally appealing, does not automatically mean more centrist as some have suggested. The Democratic Party does not need to become "more Republican" in order to appeal to the country. Indeed, doing so would be a great disservice to the people of our country as it would in essence give them little choice between the two parties, effectively offering only one vision for the future of our nation. We owe it to them to maintain a plurality of visions to choose from.

Thankfully, that is not the path we need to take. The problem does not lay in the values held dear by liberal Democrats, so shifting our platform to the right is not the answer. The problem is that we have implemented these values within our political platform in ways which alienate a large portion of the population. It is that alienation which ultimately has defeated us. And which we must now eliminate if we are to retain a meaningful place in the future of American politics.

That is, of course, a bold statement and it must now be qualified with concrete examples of how our platform has implemented our values in ways which have alienated others if I expect you to accept it as true. The first example that I would like to offer is the doctrine of separation of church and state. This doctrine has a proud history in our country, having aided many just legal decisions. Underlying it is the fundamental value, shared by Democrat and Republican alike, that government is by and for "We The People" as a whole, not merely a segment of the population following a particular religion. As such, we cannot allow government to abridge the rights of the individual to practice their religion, nor can we allow government to promote one religion over others, if government is truly to be for all Americans equally.

That much both parties can agree on, but Democratic implementation of this value has alienated the very people who may have been our firmest allies in this: those people of faith who themselves prize freedom of religion in our country. Secularization, and the doctrine of separation of church and state, has left those of strong religious beliefs feeling as if that which is most fundamental to their own lives is unwelcome in government. The teachings and beliefs which sustain so many good men and women, which offer them guidance and wisdom in troubled times, and which connect them to the wisdom and faith of their ancestors can not be so lightly cast aside.

We have made a mantra of the idea that freedom of religion implies freedom from religion as well. And so it does. Freedom to not practice, as well as freedom to practice, is implicit in our rights. Atheism is as valid a religious path as fundamentalism. However, does this justify the systematic removal of religious references from government? While an understandable reaction by those fearing to lose their religious freedoms, can we not do better than this? Is there not a path to preserve religious plurality in America, and leave room for personal expressions of faith in our government as well?

I think there is, and I submit the following as one path to that end: religious plurality. Yes, the path and the goal are identical. If we wish to preserve religious freedom and religious plurality in America, one path to that is expressing a plurality of religions in our government. Some of the most stirring speeches of our nation's history have borrowed the words of the Bible. Some of the greatest civil rights leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself, were people of strong faith whose words and ideas were heavily influenced by their religious background. We abandon them all if we say there is no place in American politics for religion. So, rather, let us quote the bible as they did, let us find the wisdom in the teachings of Christ and Moses and the God of Abraham... but let us also quote the Koran, the Tao te Ching, the Torah, the Analects of Confucius, the Sutras of Buddhism, and every other text of faith whose words contain wisdoms that Man can profit by, regardless of an individual's faith. Let us not shun religion, but embrace it in its true diversity and splendor, placing no religion above another but welcoming them all. Such timeless, universal wisdom, when married to the knowledge and understanding of Creation which Man gains through science; should not be barred from any truly human affair.

Another area where our implementation of our core values has alienated a large portion of the population is the admittedly touchy subject of gay marriage. To be fair, this was likely inevitable to some degree because of the intense feelings on both sides of this issue, but it still behooves us to work to end that alienation without sacrificing our core Democratic values. Especially since the values underlying the Democratic position on gay marriage are ones that all Americans hold dear; namely, freedom of religion, due process, equality, and justice for all.

My criticism of our implementation is not to say that our goals are misplaced. We need not moderate our position from one of seeking equal marriage rights for gay couples to one of seeking civil unions, though many would espouse this as the inclusive path. Rather, it is our rhetoric that we need to address. Separation of church and state, when applied to something like homosexual unions which many religious individuals see as a clear sin, only underlines the mistaken belief that we are trying to remove religion from politics in order to promote a culture of sinful hedonism. Likewise, trying to draw a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage in our arguments is to simply widen the divide that separates those who value civil and religious marriages, respectively. It is time for an argument with more universal appeal.

I believe that argument begins with religion itself. Religious freedom is a value that Republicans hold no less dear than we. Let it first be understood that one of the things we are fighting for is the fundamental right of all religions to define their own marriage sacraments free of government interference. Let it be understood that we will stand up and fight for their right to define marriage, within their religion, as between one man and one woman only if that is what they desire. And then, when they realize that we are not their enemies in this, let us ask for their aid in return. Let us ask that they fight for the right of all religions to do the same, and to have government recognize all religious marriages equally. Including those between persons of the same gender. And let us further ask them to join us in asking the government to provide secular, civil marriages as an alternative to religious marriage for any who might seek it, heterosexual or homosexual.

In the struggle for free speech, it is often said that no matter how deeply we disagree with what someone has to say, we will defend to the death their right to say it. It is time for us to take that stance with marriage; no matter how deeply we disagree with the way another person defines it, we must defend to the death their right to enter into the marriage of their choosing with any consenting adult partner, and we must defend to the death their right to have the government recognize their chosen marriage as equal under the law with our own.

It is this type of inclusiveness, this new ecumenism which will allow the Democratic party to move forward. We must pursue our goals in ways which will benefit all Americans and bring them together, rather than further dividing this country into warring factions. It is time for a new, pan-American vision of the Democratic Party to emerge.

Let's stop trying to appeal just to our base, and start trying to appeal to America. That's where we go from here.

Posted by Jarandhel Dreamsinger at November 15, 2004 6:11 PM