Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Deus ex Platforma [Updated]

    The Democratic National Committee created a stir on Tuesday by releasing their 2012 party platform sans any explicit mention of "God."  Jake Tapper of ABC News reports:
The Democratic Party’s 2008 platform mentioned “God” once, in this passage (emphasis added):
We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential. 
Explaining the removal, a Democratic official explained: “The 2008 platform reference is ‘God-given’ and is about growing the middle class and making America fair, not actually about faith. The platform includes an entire plank on the importance of faith based organizations and the tremendous work that they do. Further, the language we use to talk about faith and religion is exactly the same vocabulary as 2008. I would also note that the platform mentions: ‘faith’ 11 times; ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ 9 times; ‘church’ 2 times (one is a quote); and, ‘clergy’ 1 time.”
Over the past four election cycles, Democrats mention of "God" in their platform has certainly changed:
  • 2000 - 3
  • 2004 - 7
  • 2008 - 1
  • 2012 - 0
    While the complete removal of "God" is certainly attention-getting, the unnamed Democratic official has a point.  Substantively, there's not much change from 2008, the first time Barack Obama was their candidate. The change from the 2004 platform, however, is stark.  Here are the seven uses of "God" in the 2004 platform:
  • one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  • a common purpose to build one nation under God
  • all the possibilities your hard work and God-given talent can bring.
  • God gave America extraordinary natural gifts[.]
  • That is how we will ensure that God's gifts of nature bless all of God's children for generations to come.
  • each of us should be as equal in the eyes of the law as we are in the eyes of God.
    In 2004, the Democrats' platform had repeated, clear acknowledgements of God in the founding of America, its blessings, and its continuing success.  But in 2008 and 2012, there appears to have been a conscious decision to move away from speaking of the involvement of God in the affairs of America and towards the more generic "importance of faith based organizations and the tremendous work that they do," as the Democratic official put it.
    Republicans use of "God" and "faith" in their platform has changed dramatically as well, but in the opposite direction with a dramatic increase in 2012:
  • 2000 - 1
  • 2004 - 3
  • 2008 - 2
  • 2012 - 10
    So why the fluctuations?  For the Republicans, perhaps the influence of George W. Bush who famously cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher in the 2000 campaign is the reason for high numbers in 2000 and 2004, and the prevalence of economic issues in 2008 due to the financial crisis, plus the relative reticence of John McCain to discuss his religious faith, explains the dip.  But despite the economic concerns grabbing the headlines in the 2012 campaign, the conservative resurgence that began in 2010 has apparently had a significant social impact on the 2012 platform.  Seven of the ten uses are (coincidentally?) the "God-given" words that the Democrats dropped.  Here are all 10:
  • Reaffirm that our rights come from God
  • May God continue to shed his grace on the United States of America.
  • a free people using their God-given talents
  • solemn compact which confirms our God-given individual rights
  • primary role of government is to protect the God-given, inalienable, inherent rights of its citizens
  • defend the lawabiding citizen's God-given right of self-defense
  • opportunity to say the Pledge of Allegiance in its entirety, including "Under God," in public schools
  • taking advantage of all our American God-given resources
  • good stewards of the God-given natural beauty and resources of our country
  • based on his or her God-given talent and motivation
    The last eight years have produced a remarkable shift in the language of the two parties.  While no party has a God-monopoly, the process that produces a party platform is far-reaching and broad-based (see Appendix C of the 2008 Democratic platform that lists hundreds upon hundreds of platform meetings state by state,) and therefore gives clues about the grassroots party makeup and leanings.
    It has been said that a camel is a horse built by committee, and perhaps a party platform reflects the same ad hoc process.  But as far as both parties' platforms have moved on this issue in the last four to eight years, it's safe to say the changes were not random or extreme minority views.  Certainly believers should not put their faith in political parties to achieve religious ends.  But members of neither party should overlook the worldviews that the platform changes convey.  And worldview shapes policy.  If rights, freedoms, resources, and blessings are no longer "God-given", then who or what gives them?  Perhaps it's time to take a closer look at the words that do appear in the platforms.

Update: Here's a telling interview Bret Baier of Fox News conducted with Democrat Dick Durbin regarding word choices in the Democratic platform.

Update 2: As of 5:30 PM on Wednesday, via the Huffington Post:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Democrats have changed their convention platform to add a mention of God and declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
The move came after criticism from Republicans.
Many in the audience booed after the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ruled that the amendments had been approved despite the fact that a large group of delegates objected...
The party reinstated language from the 2008 platform that said "we need a government that stands up for the hopes, values and interests of working people and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."

No comments:

Post a Comment