Many Americans are understandably turned off by how evangelical conservatives play the "God card" in electoral politics. But these Americans (liberals included) should be equally troubled when Democratic candidates act as though there is a religious test for public office.
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on the campaign themes being used by Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., the Democratic Senate nominee in Tennessee:
Ford, at 36, is young and black, and stresses his traditional upbringing .... One of Ford's television ads was shot inside the church his family attends.Nowhere in the ad does Ford actually say that church is the only place where one can learn "the difference between right and wrong," but, nonetheless, his statement feeds the misguided notion that people who either don't attend a church or do not believe in God must not have a moral compass that guides them.
"I started church the old-fashioned way: I was forced to. And I'm better for it," Ford asserts into the camera. "Here, I learned the difference between right and wrong."
There's another subtext to Ford's message that bothers me -- the implication that a regular churchgoer must be a good person worthy of public office. If this applies to someone like Ford, then it can also be applied to someone like Sen. Rick Santorum.
I've heard liberal friends say things like, "Yeah, yeah, I know ... but Democrats have to say things like that to get elected in those states." I don't agree with that. I think there are ways for Dems to win without relying on these kinds of messages. Besides, the more Dems say things like this, the more they feed a mindset that there is a religious test for public office.
Ford's statement may help him a little with evangelical voters, but even that doesn't make it right. If the only test for Democratic candidates is whether a message will get them a little more support from evangelical voters, then this would argue (wrongly) that Dems should:
a) support a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and/or
b) support posting the Ten Commandments in front of every public school.
Most of us are bothered when Republicans use churches or the bible as political props. It should bother us when Democrats do the same. Let's be honest. If Sen. George Allen ran a TV ad with the exact same script of Ford's ad, it would piss off liberals. And rightly so.