The New Establishment

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Dem donkey.jpgDan Gilgoff, late of Beliefnet’s God-o-Meter and now covering religion for U.S. News where he blogs as God & Country, has decided to crash our little three-way on religion and the Democratic Party. In a word, he objects to Pastordan’s denigration of Mike McCurry’s account of the Democratic Awakening. I’ll leave it to the good pastor to riposte as only he can. G&C Dan makes the case that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics United, Faith in Public Life, the Eleison Group, and the Matthew 25 Network are something new under the Democratic sun, and deserve credit for turning out troops on election day and lobbying their party on behalf of the poor and “reducing the demand for abortion.”
This returns our discussion to what we’ve been calling the Religious Industrial Complex (RIC). It’s an amusing name, well calculated to get under the skin of its members, but not really a very accurate one. There’s nothing industrial about it, nor is it much of a complex. What it really amounts to is an aspiring Democratic Religious Establishment, or DRE. As such it represents a counter to the religious right, which has alway been so allied with the GOP that it deserves to be called the Republican Religious Establishment (RRE). From its emergence on the national stage in 1980, the RRE has been about the business of making social conservatives–many of them, in the early years, nominal Democrats–into good Republicans, even as it sought to make the GOP the vehicle for a social conservative agenda. The DRE, for its part, has sought to persuade religious moderates (or moderate conservatives) to consider the Democratic Party a worthy vehicle for their values, and to get the party to take those values seriously, even if it cannot fully embrace all of them.
But while the RRE has had a pretty consistent agenda, which it has never been shy about enunciating, the DRE has a tendency to elide the tough issues. Sure, it’s against poverty and genocide and unjust wars. But where does it stand on abortion rights, on gay marriage, on hiring rules for publicly funded faith-based social services? In the name of “common ground,” it doesn’t like to say. That’s what drives mainline Protestant lefties like Pastordan nuts, and leads them to accuse the DRE of selling its prophetic soul for a mess of priestly pottage. With the Democrats now about to take charge in Washington, it will be more than a little interesting to see how the DRE comports itself, and what its place at the table of power will be.