Sunday, September 9, 2007

Next Round Against the Religious Wrongs

If you worry that even with the republican party imploding left, right and center, the rovians will once again use their "Family Values" bag of tricks to pull out a victory in 2008, keep an eye on the Kentucky Governor's race now in its last 60 days.

Gay marriage, the ten commandments, prayer in schools - the republicans are preparing to launch all the Golden Oldies against the Democrats in October.

But this time, finally, there are definite signs that Kentucky Democrats have learned not only how to fight back effectively, but actually attack the repugs on their own "Family values" ground.

Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher, with a record of incompetence that rivals Smirky's - except for the dead people - has been reduced to running on the "we're christians and they're not" line.

It started in June, when Fletcher reversed his previous stand on expanding gambling on Kentucky. Through the May primary, Fletcher had said he would not oppose a referendum on expanding gambling, though he wasn't personally in favor of it.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Steve Beshear has been running since February on a promise to bring expanded gambling to Kentucky. Some polls have shown that a majority of Kentuckians support expanded gambling, and more than 80 percent favor a referendum on the issue.

After Beshear won the May Democratic primary, the first post-primary polls showed Beshear beating Fletcher by as much as 40 points (Beshear has since dropped to an 18-point lead.)

Ernie flipped and came out four-square against expanded gambling, and against even allowing a referendum.

Let's upack that flip: First, if Ernie had a record of accomplishments to run on, he could afford to maintain his previous neutrality. But his record being one of unmitigated incompetence, illegality and immorality, he desperately needs an issue.

Second, Ernie gains precisely zero new votes with this changed position. Voters who oppose expanded gambling on moral grounds are already republicans who wouldn't vote for a Democrat under threat of waterboarding. Democratic voters, like me, who oppose expanded gambling on the reality-based grounds that casinos are a really stupid way to grow an economy, are desperate to get rid of Ernie and are prepared to hold our noses and vote for Beshear regardless.

Third, and this is the fun part, Ernie's flip may actually lose him some votes from his base. Among the republican opponents of expanded gambling are a significant number who strongly favor a referendum. Some may actually be deluded that they can defeat that measure, but others may want to get their opposition to expanded gambling on the record, or just make their voices heard.

So Ernie has really stepped in it. He claims to oppose expanded gambling on moral grounds, but also opposes giving those who agree with him to chance to vote it down.

A month of expensive TV commercials by Ernie on the horrors of expanded gambling has gotten him nowhere in the polls, and that's why Kentucky Democrats are preparing for an avalanche of "Democrats (heart) Satan" commercials, probably starting in October.

But Beshear and the other Democrats on the state ticket have already seized the high moral ground in a way that the party's 2008 candidates nationwide would do well to study and emulate. Some examples:

On Gambling: Democrats taunted Fletcher during his speech at the Fancy Farm picnic that his faith-based opposition to gambling exempts Kentucky's iconic horse racing industry and the extremely popular church- and community organization-based bingo industry. In fact, bingo took place just a few yards from where Fletcher was condemning gambling. If Ernie thinks gambling is so horrible, Democrats asked, why doesn't he propose shutting down the race tracks and the bingo halls?

On the Ten Commandments: Back in the early '80s, when Beshear was Attorney General, he issued an opinion that yes, the U.S. Supreme Count decision banning publicly-funded religious displays does, indeed, apply in Kentucky. Fletcher claims this proves Beshear, the son of a Baptist lay minister, is Satan's Agent.

Beshear says this: My father used to say that it doesn't matter where you hang the Ten Commandments on the wall; it matters how you keep the Ten Commandments in your heart and how you follow them in your life. Ernie Fletcher has admitted to breaking the laws of the Commonwealth. My father would not consider that to be living the Ten Commandments.

On Prayer in Schools: While he was Attorney General, Beshear issued another opinion that yes, the U.S. Supreme Court decision banning spoken prayer in public schools does, indeed, apply in Kentucky. Fletcher claims this proves Beshear, the son of a Baptist lay minister, is Satan's Agent.

I have not yet heard Beshear speak directly to this issue, but it's an absolute gimme for liberals. Not that the religious wrongs give a damn about the New Testament, but just for the record, here is Jesus on public prayer (Matthew 6)

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

On General Morality: Until recently, repugs have been so effective in painting Democrats as evil, atheistic minions of Satan, that last year a substitute teacher in my home town who admitted to a fourth-grade class that she was a Democrat, was asked by one child, innocently and seriously: "Why don't you believe in God?"

Kentucky's unions aren't taking that crap lying down. They formed a 527 to stop Bruce Lunsford from winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary in May and now they're airing radio spots to attack the republicans' "Christian values." From Bluegrass Report:

The deliberately folksy spot takes aim at Governor Fletcher (R) and attorney general nominee Stan Lee (R) on "Christian values." The ad criticizes both for "implying they are God's chosen candidates" and then reminds voters that Christian values also includes things like soaring health care costs, affordable education, and good jobs -- issues that neither candidate seems much interested in talking about.

Unions being smarter than your average bear, they are running these ads not in the secular-humanist, Democratic-majority enclaves of Lexington and Louisville, but in the Fundamentalist capitals of south-central, eastern and western Kentucky.

On Gay Marriage: This one killed Dan Mongiardo's nearly successful challenge to Senator Jim Bunning in 2004, and could threaten Jack Conway's race for Attorney General. Not because either Mongiardo or Conway are in favor of gay marriage, or even civil unions, but because both men (Conway is married; Mongiardo engaged) are the subject of repug whispering campaigns that they are gay.

Nice try, but the worm appears to be turning on gay issues even in Kentucky. People are just tired of the fear- and hate-mongering, and starting to admit they just don't care whether someone is gay.

No poll numbers for you, but a pretty good anecdote: Met a 70-year-old woman this weekend who talked about her still-healthy and still-sharp 91-year-old aunt. The one issue on which the aunt really hates republicans is gay marriage. Sayeth the aunt: "I don't care who sticks what where!"

There are two keys to success in these Democratic attacks on the repugs anti-christian values:

1) Authenticity. As in NOT hypocrisy. The Kentucky Democrats making religious points are genuine Christians and have been all their lives. In their professional and personal lives, they live New Testament, Jesus-directed values. When they speak on the subject of religious values, they sound authentic because they are.

2) Democratic/Progressive/Liberal Values. Kentucky's unions are making the critical point that traditional Democratic values ARE genuine Christian values, and that republican values are not. This is critical. Democrats who apologize for traditional Democratic values as not being Christian enough lose (see Harold Ford.) Democrats who stand up proudly for their Democratic values win (see John Yarmuth.)

I have raged for three years now against Democrats attempting to win over "Family Values" voters by pandering to the religious wrongs. It never, never, EVER works. Members of the religious wrong would rather vote for Larry Craig or Mark Foley than any Democrat, no matter how "religious."

Moderate republicans and independents, however, are open to a Democratic candidate with the courage of her convictions, even if those convictions are secular humanist. Such courage might actually get all those non-voting Democrats off the sofa on Election Day.

Standing proud for Democratic values worked last November for John Yarmuth in Louisville. We'll see in 59 days if attacking repugs on their own "Family Values" ground works for Beshear-Mongiardo, Conway and the other Democrats statewide.