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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Saturday, January 03, 2004


"Dean, whose wife is Jewish, ..."

posted by Aziz P. at Saturday, January 03, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
The link goes to a Google News search for the keywords "Dean jewish wife". There are legitimate critiques of Dean's stated assertion to invoke Jesus more publicly on the campaign trail - especially since Dean's assertion came so soon after Franklin Foer's article in TNR that asked if Dean had a "religion problem." But as Atrios notes, those critiques are not the ones that the conservative mullahs are making.

Rather than pointing to Dean's blatant pandering about invoking Jesus to question his understanding of the religion issue in the context of politics (and the baggage that Democrats in general carry about religion in politics, which the "under God" and the Alabama Granite Calf issues only underscored), the religious right is invoking the religion of his wife to question his commitment to Jesus Christ. Michael Totten decimates such arguments with ease, but that's tangential to my point: that Dean's response (increased public Christian religiosity) is not only unneccessary, but even potentially damaging.

There's no way Dean is going to make inroads with those voters for whom Pat Robertson's message about God's favoritism of Bush already resonates, and to whom his life-long political and social affinity for Judaism (and raising his children in that faith) are seen with suspicion rather than the frank admiration that they deserve. In the end, the people from whom Dean's religion problem is a problem (as Foer argues) are the ones for whom Dean's Jesus campaigning won't influence a whit. But there are other, more rational voters out there who may be receptive to a candidate on the issues of war and economy, but for whom Dean's religious posturing becomes a significant impediment.

Their critique of Dean on religion will be that he can't have it both ways. As an editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat argues:

What exactly does Dean believe about Jesus, and how is it relevant to his presidential candidacy? "Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised," he told the Globe, "people who were left behind." Dean makes it sound as if He might have been a Democrat. "He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it."

Not really. If that is all Jesus was (or is), then he is just another entry in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, to be read or not, according to one's inspirational need.

C.S. Lewis brilliantly dealt with this watered-down view of Jesus and what He did in the book "Mere Christianity." Said Lewis, who thought about such things at a far deeper level than Howard Dean, "I'm trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I can't accept His claim to be God.'

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God - or else a madman or something worse."

The secular approach to Jesus is in many ways more offensive to religious Americans (of liberal and independent stripes as well as conservatives) than simple non-belief. As more than one irritated blogger has noted, Dean's Christmas message mentioned Jesus exactly zero times - reserving his praise for FDR. Perhaps the best approach is to simply let Dean be Dean - and be true to his Congregationalist instincts of keeping faith private. After all, the way to win the South is on the economic message, remember?


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.