The 2008 Democrats realized something that they hadn't seemed to grasp in previous election cycles: faith matters to a whole lot of people. It matters so much, in fact, that it often influences their voting patterns. One could argue quite effectively that then-candidate Obama's ability to define his political views in light of his religious beliefs played a major role in making him the most successful Democratic candidate in years in terms of winning the votes of the faith-based community. And for a while, when the Democrats came to power, they maintained their faith-based outreach programs-- President Obama even expanded former President Bush's faith-based initiative offices in the White House.
Since then, though, little other than disappointment has ensued from the progressive faith community. The Democrats have been woefully unresponsive to many religious concerns, and even the president's religious advisers feel that they are not being heard. Moral language is really nowhere to be found in speeches by most Democratic politicians, and the "Faith in Action" page on the DNC's website is almost painfully out of date and unused. All of these issues-- and more-- were addressed in an excellent article by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post, asking, "Are Democrats pulling back on faith outreach?"
The answer, from my perspective, is a resounding "yes," and that upsets me more than I can say. I have long felt that the Democrats were woefully incompetent when it came to connecting to faith groups, and that the Republican lock on religion can only be unhealthy for the faith community. The problem is not the lack of opportunity for Democrats to phrase their ideas in a way that speaks to moral and faith-based perspectives, it is simply their lack of action. The problem is not that there is no value in framing political issues as a moral imperative (health care is a great example), it is that that value is seldom recognized and even more infrequently utilized to benefit the Democratic agenda.
The Democrats seemed to be getting back on the faith-based track a little more during the 2008 election. Obama spoke about his faith openly and framed his issues as a question of values, and many people-- including and especially people of faith-- responded to that. However, the recent backpedaling hasn't done them any favors, and if they fail to get back to that moral language, especially during the upcoming Congressional campaigns, the Democrats will once again risk losing control of the moral ground in the conversations to Republicans-- and that monopoly would be a huge loss to the country and to constructive dialogue.