Frank Bruni: Democrats Need To Talk More About Religion When I'm Actually Paying Attention


New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni asked a very serious question this week: "Is God kipping the Democratic primary?" God is actually running in the Democratic primary. Unfortunately, no one's paying much attention to the campaign, and God's poll numbers are abysmal. This proves God is a black woman.

Bruni -- or more likely an intern -- checked the more than 30,000 words spoken at the most recent Democratic debate and confirmed that "almost none were about religion." But faith is so important in people's lives! Sex is, as well, but none of the candidates discussed favorite positions or preferred contraception methods. Bruni argues that Democrats have to match Republicans in Bible-thumpin' if they want to start winning elections.

BRUNI: If many Republican candidates travel far out of their way, toward the bogs of histrionics and hypocrisy, to recruit the Almighty into electoral service, many Democrats steer clear of religion. That's partly understandable, even admirable: In light of the rightful separation of church and state, they don't want to be seen as spotlighting or peddling any one creed.

But it's not necessary, and it's not smart.

What isn't smart is basing an entire opinion column on a faulty premise. Democrats talk about their faith all the time. Former candidate Kirsten Gillibrand claimed her faith drove her and guided her politics. She also slammed the GOP for promoting economic policies that were more Ayn Rand than Jesus Christ.

GILLIBRAND: I don't think the Republican Party is a faith-driven party. I really don't. I think when they don't feed the poor and don't vote for food stamps, when they don't care about families struggling and living in poverty, when they continue to invest in for-profit prisons, they aren't doing what the Gospel tells them to do: feed the poor, help the sick.

This NPR article from May 2019 that I unearthed using the research tool "Google" also states that Donald Trump's presidency had "energized" the religious left. Kids in cages will do that to you. Gillibrand wasn't the only Democrat to mention religion on the campaign trail. It seems like the only journalist covering Kamala Harris's campaign right now is the kid from The Sixth Sense, but seriously, y'all, the California senator tweeted this in August.

Harris often invokes scripture in her speeches. At the Poor People's Campaign event in June, Harris name dropped the Good Samaritan and insisted that Americans apply the Biblical parable to how we treat all our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable among us.

HARRIS: Neighbor is not about the person who shares your zip code. Neighbor is not about the person who lives next door and drives the same kind of car like you do.... Neighbor is that person you are walking by, who is homeless on the street.

Nicholas Kristof shared his colleague's column yesterday and double-downed on Bruni's inaccurate assertions.


C'mon! Elizabeth Warren "never mentions that she taught Sunday School"? Unless Kristof personally attended the classes she taught, the only way he would know she taught Sunday School is if Warren mentioned it at some point, which she has frequently (hat tip to Twitter user @PatrickAKarlson).

The above clip is literally called "What I Learned From Teaching Sunday School." Someone needs to write male political writers a prescription for glasses that'll let them see women over 40. Yes, Pete Buttigieg has discussed religion but he's not the only Democrat doing so, despite the implication from the photo illustration for Bruni's column. Buttigieg is speaking to a predominately white crowd in the picture, which is your first clue that something's amiss. Black voters are a major part of the Democratic electorate. Courting the black vote usually means visiting churches and not faking the funk on faith. We -- not me personally, of course -- are "the most religious of any racial or ethnic group in the country." Nine out of 10 black voters chose Hillary Clinton, who understands that "Two Corinthians" isn't a thing.

S.C. 2020: Sen. Kamala Harris at Royal Missionary Baptist in North Charleston, Sept. 22, 2019

Bruni and Kristof probably single out Buttigieg because he's clearly attempting to connect with white religious voters. According to Gallup, people fitting that description are most often Republicans. These are the people who voted for Donald Trump and will likely do so again no matter how many Christian Easter eggs Buttigieg drops in his speeches.

The white male-dominated punditry might find Buttigieg's religious remarks compelling, but Christian conservatives are already rejecting his message. Mike Huckabee and Laura Ingraham accused him -- without irony -- of "judging and attacking" people who interpret the Bible differently than he does.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg Judging & Attacking Christians Analyzed By Mike Huckabee & Laura Ingraham

Bruni warns in his column that unless Democrats fully embrace religion, which they've already done, Saint Donald Trump and his Republican stooges will run roughshod over them at the ballot box. This is farm fresh nonsense.

BRUNI: President Trump and his Republican allies are poised to paint Democrats as unhinged lefties not only in terms of health care and taxes but also in terms of cultural issues, including abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

Like I said yesterday, Trump is a known liar. Of course he'll claim that Democrats want to burn every Bible in America and put copies of the Kama Sutra in every hotel night stand (which is probably more helpful). It's just plain stupid to suggest Republicans in general have any credibility on religion when Donald Flippin' Trump is on the top of their ticket.

Trump doesn't actually talk about his personal religious faith because he has none. Only people who buy bridges in Brooklyn believe he's a genuinely religious person. What Trump does is extend his white male grievance politics to Christian conservatism. It's a neat fit because Christian conservatives wake up each morning with a cross strapped to their backs. Their persecution complex is so absurd they believe they are more discriminated than minorities. Trump's rallies in particular are showcases for his self-aggrandizement. He expresses no humility in the sight of an awesome God. Instead, he identifies and rails against the perceived "enemies" of Christianity, which are modernism and social equality. White evangelicals embrace Trump because he will protect them from a changing world.

[The New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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