The "Obama" factor.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 5 2004 7:06 PM

Why Americans Hate Democrats—A Dialogue

Tapping into the "Obama" factor.

The day after the election, Slate's political writers tackled the question of why the Democratic Party—which has now lost five of the past seven presidential elections and solidified its minority status in Congress—keeps losing elections. Chris Suellentrop says that John Kerry was too nuanced and technocratic, while George W. Bush offered a vision of expanding freedom around the world. William Saletan argues that Democratic candidates won't win until they again cast their policies the way Bill Clinton did, in terms of values and moral responsibility. Timothy Noah contends that none of the familiar advice to the party—move right, move left, or sit tight—seems likely to help. Slate asked a number of wise liberals to take up the question of why Americans won't vote for the Democrats. Click here to read previous entries.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

After the 2000 election, Democrats knew we would be up against an opponent with unlimited funds, unlimited resources, and the will to win at all costs. We knew we had to make some changes in order to compete. And we did.

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We fought a tough battle, and the results are clear: Our opponents took their campaign inside the church while we mobilized outside in the community. Our opponents waged a spiritual battle. We fought ours in the streets. We thought we were ready for this battle, but we competed on a limited political terrain. Before one vote was cast, we conceded most of the country to our opponents.

Robert Reich is absolutely right: Democrats can and must remain firmly rooted in the ideals of social justice. As one of my friends in Oregon reminded me in an early morning e-mail, this is not just about the Democratic Party. It's about the democratic rights of all Americans.

Like Jane Smiley, Diane McWhorter, and Walter Dellinger, I, too, hail from red America. The people from my native South are not necessarily more racist or less tolerant than other parts of the country. In fact, I find white Southerners to be more candid about their feelings on race and religion. Some of them honestly believe that by discriminating they are doing God's work, and instead of pulling out of the South, Democrats should re-engage them.

My entire family was, and still is, deeply spiritual, and in our own way, we all hold strong but tolerant religious views. Some of my siblings have abandoned the Catholic Church because they believe it fails to enforce the strict moral code of our faith. Now, a couple of them are what pollsters and others consider evangelical, Christian fundamentalists.

But, unlike those who spew hate and discrimination in the name of Jesus, somehow they have found a balance between their faith and what they term "fairness."

This is why I spent the last few days poring over the statewide and county-by-county results to see if there was any shift in how African-Americans cast their ballots. Although all of the results are still being tabulated and there are some votes yet accounted for, I can see some hints of a silver lining in the sea of red.

When one of my sisters—who, coincidentally, is a recovering Republican—was told in church that she would go to hell if she voted for Sen. Kerry, she stood up and denounced the preacher's message. Oh yeah, the religious right, armed with new recruits from the black pulpits, came after African-Americans with the same angry messages. But, as my niece confirmed in a phone conversation this week, they all voted for John Kerry anyway. Even my sister, the once-proud Republican, is now ashamed of what happened inside those churches.

You see, despite our personal differences on matters of faith and religion, we believe that in order to be good disciples of Jesus, you have to not only know his words but also perform his deeds. That is where we draw the line with those who spend hours and hours in church, only to come out and hate everyone around them.

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