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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

John McCain Says He Could Lose Over Iraq War

Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters after a town hall meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, Monday, Feb. 25, 2008. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — John McCain said Monday that to win the White House he must convince a war-weary country that U.S. policy in Iraq is succeeding. If he can't, "then I lose. I lose," the Republican said.

He quickly backed off that remark.

"Let me not put it that stark," the likely GOP nominee told reporters on his campaign bus. "Let me just put it this way: Americans will judge my candidacy first and foremost on how they believe I can lead the country both from our economy and for national security. Obviously, Iraq will play a role in their judgment of my ability to handle national security."

"If I may, I'd like to retract 'I'll lose.' But I don't think there's any doubt that how they judge Iraq will have a direct relation to their judgment of me, my support of the surge," McCain added. "Clearly, I am tied to it to a large degree."

The five-year-old Iraq conflict already is emerging as a fault line in the general election, with the Arizona senator calling for the U.S. military to continue its mission while his Democratic opponents urge speedy withdrawal.

While most Republicans still back the war, many independents and Democrats don't. That presents a significant challenge for McCain and an opportunity for either Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

McCain acknowledged the war will be "a significant factor in how the American people judge my candidacy."

The lead Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain has consistently backed the war although he's long criticized the way it was waged after the Saddam Hussein's fall. He was an original proponent of President Bush's troop-increase strategy, having called for more forces on the ground for several years. Last spring, McCain went all in on the war by embracing it as Bush took heat for boosting troop levels to quell violence.

"We can fail in Iraq," McCain said Monday in an Associated Press interview. But, he added: "I see a clear path to success in Iraq." He defined that as fewer casualties and Iraqi troops taking over security to allow U.S. forces to return home. "All of us want out of Iraq, the question is how do we want out of Iraq," he added.

McCain has signaled that he plans to make Iraq and national security a major part of his general election campaign. Daily, he accuses both Obama and Clinton as wanting to "wave the white flag of surrender." Democrats, for their part, are arguing that McCain's candidacy is simply a continuation of Bush's "failed" policies. They have seized on a previous McCain remark in which he suggested that U.S. troop presence _ at some level _ could extend 100 years or more.

At a town hall-style meeting in suburban Cleveland, McCain accused Democrats of distorting that comment and sought to explain. "The war will be over soon, the war for all intents and purposes, although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years. But it will be handled by the Iraqis, not by us," he said. Like after other wars, he said, the United States then will decide "what kind of security arrangement we want to have with the Iraqis."

While McCain attracts voters across the political spectrum, he is sure to face resistance this fall for his Iraq position in Ohio and other swing states that have seen high numbers of residents die in Iraq.

Over the next eight months, McCain said he would take the same approach when discussing Iraq that he's taken all year as he won primary after primary on his way to securing the GOP nomination.

Speaking to reporters on his bus, he said he would "tell them that I understand their frustration and their sorrow over the sacrifice that has been made and then I try to explain to them what's at stake and what's going on there now. And that's the best I can do."

McCain said his candidacy will be successful "if I can convince the American people, the people of Ohio, that this is succeeding, that the casualties will continue down, although there are occasional spikes."

"So I have to, and I believe can, make an argument that the surge is succeeding, that we will end this war and have the Iraqis take over those responsibilities as we more and more assume support roles and then withdraw," he added.

McCain recalled reading a USA Today poll that he said showed most people believe the troop-increase strategy is succeeding, and said: "Now, still the majority of Americans want out of Iraq. And, I understand that, too. So do I."

The survey actually found that 43 percent _ not a majority _ said the troop increase is "making the situation there better," up from 22 percent in July.

Asked why he asked to retract the "I lose" remark, McCain said much else could impact his chances.

"We've got many months to go before the general election," he said. "But is Iraq an important part of the judgment that people will make of me, of course."

Original here

Time for Hillary to drop out?

 Sen. Hillary Clinton in Rhode Island.
Sen. Hillary Clinton in Rhode Island.

FROM CNN’s Jack Cafferty:

There’s a growing chorus of voices starting to call for Hillary Clinton to give it up.

In a Newsweek column called “Hillary should get out now”, Jonathan Alter says if she wanted a graceful exit, now would be the time – before the Texas and Ohio primaries – to drop out and endorse Barack Obama. He says it would be the “best thing imaginable” for Clinton’s political career, meaning it would set her up perfectly for 2012 if Obama loses. Alter says Clinton doesn’t have a reasonable chance of winning the nomination, but he doesn’t think she’ll call it quits.

He writes: “The conventional view is that the Clintons approach power the way hard-core gun owners approach a weapon – they’ll give it up only when it’s wrenched from their cold, dead fingers.”

Meanwhile, in another tough piece, Robert Novak asks who will tell Hillary Clinton that it’s over, that she can’t win the nomination and the sooner she gets out of the way, the better the chances her party will beat John McCain in November.

Novak writes, quote: “Clinton’s burden is not only Obama’s charisma but also McCain’s resurrection. Some of the same Democrats who short months ago were heralding her as the “perfect” candidate now call her a sure loser against McCain, saying she would do the party a favor by just leaving.”

Here’s my question to you: Is it time for Hillary Clinton to admit defeat and quit the race?

Interested to know which ones made it on air?

Karen writes:
It doesn’t bother me that she would wait for Texas and Ohio. However, her mood swings have me question her mental state. How rude to “talk down” to another adult by saying “shame on you”… We need someone with dignity and a little class. Please, stop giving her a performance stage! It’s a bad act!

Vinnie from New York writes:
Jack, Let’s see how Hillary does in Texas and Ohio. If she can win by double digits in both states then it will give her campaign a new heart beat. Mr. Novak should write about something he understands, which is nothing.

J.C. from Raleigh, N.C. writes:
Jack, Why should Hillary drop out if she’s, as her campaign claims, raising $1 million a day? Think how many consultants, posh hotels, caterers, pizza shops, and Dunkin’ Donuts franchises can still make a bundle. Hillary’s

Lex from Stone Mountain, Georgia writes:
I saw Clinton giving a speech earlier, where she actually mimicked and mocked Obama like a 6th grader. She shows no signs of bowing out with grace.

David from San Bernardino, California writes:
No, Hillary needs to stay in the race to the very end! How would it look if the first real female presidential candidate just quit the race? Women would continue to be perceived as weak and not emotionally qualified to be president. Women are strong and smart and just as qualified as any man!

Jay writes:
The fat lady is singing. Can’t you hear her? For the good of the party, Hillary should step aside. Her campaign strategy only went as far as Super Tuesday because she assumed she would be the nominee. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Her time has come… and gone. For this cycle anyway.

Jim writes:
Absolutely. But she won’t quit until the writing on the wall is written with the Democratic Party’s blood.

Victoria writes:
Jack, You’re nuts. Heck no! I think you should drop out… of your job!

Original here

America the Beautiful Has Never Been More Hideous

President Bush and his Lawless Administration

No, this article isn’t going to delve into the illegal war in Iraq, although the evidence is mounting on that case as well. Today, I’d like to bring your attention to FISA. While the war in Iraq is an issue that will yield debate for decades and maybe centuries to come, FISA “modernization” is a matter that has not sunk in with the general public. We don’t have to die by the FISA sword just yet and as long as there are Americans standing in this nation, no one should sit idly by as corporations attempt to slip a fast one past our national interests.

A brewing FISA Controversy

Allow me to quickly explain how privacy is protected for American citizens normally, then I’ll get into FISA and the threat to our constitutional rights and American identity. Think about this issue like you do any federal law that aims to protect the privacy of American citizens while giving law enforcement officials the tools necessary to get the job done. Without going into too much detail, the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has traditionally granted American citizens the right to privacy without explicitly saying so in the language.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The 4th amendment helps serve as a framework that covers your right to be free from government intrusion, especially in your home and private space. If you’ve ever seen “Law and Order” or some other show where the main character agonizes over invading a suspected criminal’s home because of a lacking warrant, then you understand the concept of liberty that every American citizen enjoys. Even the most unscrupulous of characters are guaranteed the benefit of the doubt when it comes to privacy and that isn’t a blunder made by our founders or the countless courts that have visited the issue over the years.

Privacy is important to American citizens, liberty and the right to be free of government intrusion is key to the foundation of our United States constitution and those rights have been severely crippled under the Bush Administration. The biggest threats to our rights are realized through two measures that betrayed the American trust over Bush’s years in office, “the Patriot Act” and “the Protect America Act”. For people paying attention, it’s no secret that the Bush Administration and his allies in the rubber-stamping Congress, worked hard to create names that deceive Americans into foregoing their rights so that they may wage “the War on Terror”.

So what is FISA and how does it affects you?

FISA stands for the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.” It is significant because it creates the legal standards for foreign surveillance. FISA’s modernization is supposed to focus on capturing terrorist organizations and individuals that might do us harm, but what about when the surveillance involves American citizens — directly or indirectly?

Almost immediately after Bush was inaugurated as President, he had a working surveillance program underway that would spy on American citizens. The system was developed through the department of defense or some other secretive government agency from prior administrations and possibly in conjunction with the telecommunications companies. Although the idea predated Bush’s days in office, his predecessors hesitated to set this in motion, perhaps because they had the common sense not to or maybe they were waiting for the perfect time to install the system. The important issue to focus on here is that Bush had no qualms about invading our privacy and violating federal law at the time he signed off on mass surveillance. Remember that September 11th didn’t occur for well over six months after the system was set in motion. The story that is fed to the public and through the clueless media is that President Bush enacted the spying program as a result of 9/11.

Bush and his surrogates in Congress argue this as a cause and effect issue and insist nothing fishy was going on. Terrorist attacked our homeland on September 11th, they argue, and therefore the President acted in “our best interests” by soliciting the assistance of the telecommunications industry — to install a mass surveillance program that would sweep the internet and phone records for intel. In that same light, the telecommunications companies acted properly because they fulfilled their “patriotic duty” to this nation and did so only at the request of the President.

Illegal Surveillance of American Citizens

The question before Congress is whether the United States should provide immunity to these corporations that were involved in a surveillance program that most likely violated the constitutional rights of millions of Americans. This “alleged” violation of our constitutional framework was done for the sake of amassing a database of all perceived threats to the American interest. The fact that the President and a few Senate Republicans in-the-know are so adamantly opposed to a FISA bill that allows the legal system to determine whether the law was violated is very telling of their motives. They have something to hide and a good handful of Americans in public office know what that something is.

As you consider FISA legislation and “spying on Americans without a warrant”, recognize that President Bush, with the assistance of his newly minted Attorney General Mukasey, has intentionally violated the FISA provisions of 1978. Neither President Bush nor his administration can use the excuse that he had no knowledge he was violating the law or that any of the mass intelligence gathering was inadvertently done. On Friday, Attorney General Mukasey released a statement about our national security and the executive’s intent to continue violating FISA of 1978 out of fear of “missing intelligence”.

You’re either with us or against us…

Attorney General Mukasey said that because immunity “is up for grabs,” telecommunications companies are “more and more uncertain, more and more hesitant to cooperate.” With that, the fear-driven tactics are once again renewed by the executive and like Mukasey’s predecessor Alberto Gonzales, he acts as a shield to executive accountability.

“So, my answer to mom and pop is we’re trying to keep you safe, but it’s getting increasingly difficult,” he said.

To complicate matters more, the Attorney General’s office is once again politicized, a serious problem that will lead to future legal entanglements for years to come.

“If the vote were held today, it would pass, by our count, because there are a majority of House members who support it,” Mukasey said.

Notice that the attorney general views this as an “us vs. them” and he puts himself squarely on the side of the Executive branch and with the handful of republicans that were aware of the illegal surveillance. The FISA currently enacted as law in the United States is as it was from 1978 until August of 2007 when Congress hurriedly passed the “Protect America Act”.

At the time, Congress did this so recklessly in large part because the President cited classified evidence of a serious and imminent terrorist threat to the United States and urged Congress to pass it or else. The last time Bush raised the specter of mushroom clouds and an impending attack from Iraq, he also averted legal accountability and hundreds of billions of dollars later there is no end in sight to the executive’s violation of the law. What is the difference between our situation in 2001 and the situation in 2008? For starters, we can do something about FISA in a way that we were unable to do with respect to the Iraq War.

Solving the FISA Crisis and above-the-law Executive Power

First, we must put a stop to all illegal maneuvering by our government and telecommunications companies by drawing the line on immunity as they have done.

President Bush now insists that he will not sign any bills that fail to include immunity for past “alleged” illegal activity. Despite the rhetoric and propaganda that he is making in statements to the press, with some organizations funding television ads against the House leadership, this isn’t a lack of the House of Representatives’ interest in securing our nation. The reason the house refuses to bring the measure to the floor for a vote is because it is finally standing up for the American people. The House leadership, for once, is showing the courage that our Senate Democrats have not. In fact, it isn’t an unwillingness to cooperate with the FISA modernization as they gladly offer the terms of the Senate or House bills for vote. They’ve become wise to the President’s political agenda, however. The only area where the House refuses to compromise is telecommunications immunity. What they refuse to offer is a free pass for any and all illegal acts undertaken by our government or corporations against our citizens. What they are doing right now, until they prove otherwise, is standing up for the people that make this government and nation worthy of praise and admiration.

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know that last week I wrote an emotional piece that garnered a lot of attention, especially over this statement: “I’ve never been more ashamed to be an American.” That was how I felt after the Senate stabbed all Americans in the back on the telecommunications immunity issue. As far as I’m concerned, the House of Representatives is the only hope that people like me and maybe you have for justice in this new era of super patriots, fear mongers and war profiteering.

America is watching and people of the world are at the edge of their seats because they, like I, see a glimmer of hope in America and this time it has nothing to do with Barack Obama. Perhaps America isn’t the brutal monster that some corporatist goons in Washington have converted this nation into. Yes, it’s true… “America the beautiful” has never been more hideous, but maybe this ugly duckling can turn into a swan if our leaders can show the courage necessary to fight this evil that has tainted our government.

Original here

Free Weeds

Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great. The laws aren't exactly indefensible, because practically nothing is, and the thunderers who tell us to stay the course can always find one man or woman who, having taken marijuana, moved on to severe mental disorder. But that argument, to quote myself, is on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating. General rules based on individual victims are unwise. And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend. If all our laws were paradigmatic, imagine what we would do to anyone caught lighting a cigarette, or drinking a beer. Or — exulting in life in the paradigm — committing adultery. Send them all to Guantanamo?

Legal practices should be informed by realities. These are enlightening, in the matter of marijuana. There are approximately 700,000 marijuana-related arrests made very year. Most of these — 87 percent — involve nothing more than mere possession of small amounts of marijuana. This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone. Most transgressors caught using marijuana aren't packed away to jail, but some are, and in Alabama, if you are convicted three times of marijuana possession, they'll lock you up for 15 years to life. Professor Ethan Nadelmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance, writing in National Review, estimates at 100,000 the number of Americans currently behind bars for one or another marijuana offense.

What we face is the politician's fear of endorsing any change in existing marijuana laws. You can imagine what a call for reform in those laws would do to an upward mobile political figure. Gary Johnson, governor of New Mexico, came out in favor of legalization — and went on to private life. George Shultz, former secretary of state, long ago called for legalization, but he was not running for office, and at his age, and with his distinctions, he is immune to slurred charges of indifference to the fate of children and humankind. But Kurt Schmoke, mayor of Baltimore, did it, and survived a reelection challenge.

But the stodgy inertia most politicians feel is up against a creeping reality. It is that marijuana for medical relief is a movement which is attracting voters who are pretty assertive on the subject. Every state ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved, often by wide margins. Of course we have here collisions of federal and state authority. Federal authority technically supervenes state laws, but federal authority in the matter is being challenged on grounds of medical self-government. It simply isn't so that there are substitutes equally efficacious. Richard Brookhiser, the widely respected author and editor, has written on the subject for The New York Observer. He had a bout of cancer and found relief from chemotherapy only in marijuana — which he consumed, and discarded after the affliction was gone.

The court has told federal enforcers that they are not to impose their way between doctors and their patients, and one bill sitting about in Congress would even deny the use of federal funds for prosecuting medical marijuana use. Critics of reform do make a pretty plausible case when they say that whatever is said about using marijuana only for medical relief masks what the advocates are really after, which is legal marijuana for whoever wants it.

That would be different from the situation today. Today we have illegal marijuana for whoever wants it. An estimated 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, the great majority, abandoning its use after a few highs. But to stop using it does not close off its availability. A Boston commentator observed years ago that it is easier for an 18-year old to get marijuana in Cambridge than to get beer. Vendors who sell beer to minors can forfeit their valuable licenses. It requires less effort for the college student to find marijuana than for a sailor to find a brothel. Still, there is the danger of arrest (as 700,000 people a year will tell you), of possible imprisonment, of blemish on one's record. The obverse of this is increased cynicism about the law.

We're not going to find someone running for president who advocates reform of those laws. What is required is a genuine republican groundswell. It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children."

Such reforms would hugely increase the use of the drug? Why? It is de facto legal in the Netherlands, and the percentage of users there is the same as here. The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

Original here

How to turn white evangelicals into Democrats

Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan

Feb. 26, 2008 | Amy Sullivan is a senior editor at Time, a liberal Democrat, and an evangelical Christian. One of those things is not supposed to be like the others, but she argues in her new book that her fellow Democrats need to reach out to her fellow evangelicals if they hope to build an electoral majority. In "The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap," Sullivan describes how Democrats like Gov. Jennifer Granholm have won over white evangelical voters without changing sides on such hot-button issues as gay marriage and abortion. Sullivan spoke to Salon about the importance of language in reaching out to evangelicals, the supposed decline of the religious right, and why Democrats should court religious voters when they are doing so well among an even-faster growing demographic: people with no religious affiliation at all.

You were raised a Baptist, but you now prefer to call yourself an evangelical Christian?

Yeah. I guess I prefer "evangelical" because I, for years after high school, kind of bought into the spin that I [describe] in the book, that Democrats and Republicans alike have, which is conflating evangelicalism with conservatism. And I thought, "Well, I don't have politically conservative beliefs, so I must not be an evangelical." But I didn't turn my back on religion, and it was in the course of 10 years, in exploring more mainline Protestant traditions, that I really got in touch with what made me an evangelical. It has nothing to do with whether I cast a vote for a Republican or whether I think of myself as pro-life. It has everything to do with the fact that like most evangelicals, I rely more on the teachings of the Bible than the teachings of a church. It's very much a personal relationship with God, a personal interpretation of biblical teachings. And -- I write this in the conclusion of the book -- it wasn't until I went out to a Christian music concert to cover it, when I was standing in this crowd of 15,000 evangelicals, really holding lights in the darkness, that I looked around and realized, I am one of them. And I need to stop ceding that label to conservatives. Because the only way the stereotypes will go away is if more of us stand up and reclaim that and kind of come out of the closet as evangelicals.

You're pro-choice. Does that interfere with being an evangelical?

Well, I don't like the [pro-choice] label. I guess the reason I wrote about abortion the way I did in the book is because I have serious moral concerns about abortion, but I don't believe that it should be illegal. And that puts me in the vast majority of Americans. But unfortunately, there's no label for us.

Do you support gay marriage rights? And are you a biblical literalist?

No, I don't take every word of the Bible literally. I do believe in gay rights. And in fact very strongly. And I think that you'd find a surprising number of evangelicals feel the same way. But we don't get the press that other evangelicals do.

You mention in the introduction to "The Party Faithful" that part of what led you to write it was a recent incident in church. The pastor told the congregants that they had to vote Republican to be in line with God's wishes. When you were growing up, did you have pastors who were open political partisans?

Many of them might have been Republicans, but you would never have heard that from the pulpit. They didn't see it as relevant to what was going on in church. Church was all about what was going on with your soul. They focused on saving your soul. That changed probably sometime in the mid-'80s. And tragically, it went along with the rise of the religious right. Pastors began to get more political. Congregants got more political. When I was 10, I remember very clearly we were pulled out of Sunday school one week because one of the women in the church had put together a workshop for us on abortion. And she talked about marching at abortion clinics and protesting and blocking the entrances to clinics. And through all of this, I think my saving grace was that my parents were two very liberal Democrats. Even though they didn't explicitly say, "Don't pay attention to this," I think I had more of a questioning bias than other adults did in the church. So when people said there were people who go around and enjoy killing babies, I wasn't quite right with that idea. It can't be as simple as that.

The argument at the center of your book is that Democrats need to stop conceding the evangelical vote to Republicans. And you cite the Kerry campaign in 2004 as an example of the negative consequences when Democrats ignore the evangelical vote. Then you give the example of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has deliberately reached out to religious voters, as a model for how Democrats can run and win. So in your opinion, what are the main things Democrats should do to win the evangelical vote?

The biggest thing Democrats can do is to recognize that evangelicals can and do vote for them. Sixteen million evangelicals voted for John Kerry in 2004. So, to write off the entire constituency from the beginning is to ignore people that are already on your side. And obviously it makes it much harder to add to that total. So absolutely the biggest thing is to recognize that evangelicals are already part of the ranks of the Democratic Party. I point out Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, two evangelical Democrats. So that's not an oxymoron. And the other things are not a matter of pandering to evangelical voters.

You touch again and again on the issue of abortion and give examples of how Democrats can augment their appeal with religious voters just by subtle shifts in language. You write how some Democratic candidates are using the phrase "abortion reduction in addition to choice" when they discuss their positions. But isn't this just a form of clever marketing? Doesn't it obscure whether or not a candidate believes abortions should be legal?

None of these candidates suddenly start hiding the fact that they're pro-choice. No one who voted in Michigan was confused as to whether Jennifer Granholm supported a woman's right to have an abortion. What some Democratic candidates are doing would in fact just be clever marketing if it wasn't backed by policies that are being proposed right now in Congress to reduce abortion rates. There's really no argument about whether it would be a good thing to reduce the abortion rate. That's been something that's been standard policy with the choice groups in addition to everyone else for decades. The problem is, I've been talking to these folks for a long, long time, and they say, "Of course we want to reduce abortion! Don't people know that?" And I say, "No, they don't know that. And you don't get any credit for it if people only hear you talking about a right to choose."

If you take a group like Planned Parenthood, 90 percent of their efforts are on reducing unplanned pregnancies, and yet when they looked at the materials that were going out, 90 percent of their message was about abortion and a woman's right to choose, and they said to themselves, "There's a good reason people don't know what our work really is. And don't know that a very small percentage of what we do is related to abortion." So, I think you can call it marketing, but I think that's cynical, because I think it's more appropriately public relations to let people know what Democrats really stand for and what liberals really stand for when it comes to abortion. The thing I always come back to is, Republicans take for granted that their base knows that they're pro-life and they're not moving on that. And so the people Democrats need to speak to are those people in the middle who are kind of queasy about abortion but who don't want to see it outlawed. Democrats never mention reducing the abortion rate or the rate of unplanned pregnancies, and so they lose that opportunity to reach out to voters who are less sure about their position on abortion.

You suggest that Democrats should really emphasize this desire to keep abortions rare. But do you think these efforts will appease evangelical voters who firmly believe abortion is wrong?

You're never going to win over all evangelicals, and I don't think anyone has suggested that. But 40 percent of evangelical voters are politically moderate, and when you dig deeper into that, you find that abortion is not their key issue. They're very willing to vote for a candidate who differs with them on abortion. We did a poll at Time in November on this and we found that when we asked people that very question -- would it be possible for them to vote for a candidate who didn't support their view on abortion? -- very high percentages said not only that they could but that they did vote for these candidates.

In the book you frequently cite that statistic: 40 percent of evangelicals are moderates. Do they define themselves as moderates, or is that label based on polling data?

It's based on some fairly consistent polls that are done a couple times a year by the Pew Research Center. [They use] a battery of questions that ask people about their political beliefs and then a battery of questions that ask people about their religious beliefs. They [also] come up with categories of evangelical liberals, which are about 10 percent of the population. In some polls it's asking people to self-identify, and then in some polls it's developing categories based on their responses. These are folks who want to protect the environment, who want universal healthcare even if means having to higher taxes for it.

Moderate evangelicals have been voting with the Republican Party by default, because it was the one party that was speaking in terms of values. I always try to remind people that Republicans have been presenting solutions to moral problems. It doesn't mean that they were good solutions. Or the right solutions. But they were presenting solutions and they were acknowledging that the problem existed.

But what about the other 50 percent of evangelicals who aren't moderates or liberals? Do you think Democrats should campaign to them as well?

Instead of coming up with a strategy to micro-target different groups in the electorate, I really think it's just adjusting the path overall where they have refused to talk to any of these voters in the past, as when I talk in the John Kerry chapter about the field director who says, "We don't do white churches." Well, white churches are 75 percent of where your voters are. So if you don't go into white churches, you're not talking to conservatives or moderates or anyone else.

So I guess I think that those types of approaches aren't geared toward picking off a few voters here and a few voters there. They're geared toward changing the perception about the Democratic Party. And in some cases that perception was unfair and unearned by Democrats. And that was a result of Republican spin and conservative spin. But in some cases, there's something to it.

When you write off Catholics and evangelicals as not your voters, you're stereotyping. When you make fun of John Ashcroft or George W. Bush for praying, you are giving off a sense that there's something wrong with that. That there's something ridiculous about people who spend their mornings with prayer. And we've seen this in the polling data as well: When we ask people if they think Democrats are friendly to people of faith, only 29 percent think that now. And those numbers were in the high 40s and 50s a few years ago. So whether it's a result of Republican spin or failures the Democrats have had themselves, the end result is they're being seen as hostile to faith and they're not getting all of the religious voters who really should be with the Democratic Party.

If you could be getting voters and you're not simply because you're appearing to be antagonistic to them, why wouldn't you make the changes, even if you think they're cosmetic, to win those voters back?

Do you think that by making those changes they risk alienating the party's liberal base? That if there's such an emphasis placed on making abortions rare that liberal voters might not be certain whether a candidate is really pro-choice?

I just go back to the comparison with the Republicans. The Republicans have a base who give them credit. They don't have to explicitly say what their positions are just to reassure the base. That then gives them an opportunity to talk to people in the middle. It may be that some voters in the Democratic base continue to want to have these things articulated very explicitly to them by Democratic candidates. If so, then I think they're going to continue to get the same results.

On the issue of gay rights specifically, where many evangelicals believe that according to the Bible homosexuality is a sin, how can Democrats who believe in gay rights and support a gay marriage amendment appeal to evangelicals and to the liberal base?

Well, one thing with this issue is that it's very closely related to age. So we see with younger voters, evangelical and non-evangelical, that the issue of gay rights and gay marriage is much less of a controversial hot button to them than it is to their older counterparts. Democrats have been smart to recognize this. That said, again, I would point you to the elections in 2006 and those in Michigan and Ohio, where you had not just two pro-choice candidates running for the position of governor but two pro-gay rights Democrats, and they were both able to win nearly half of the evangelical vote ... There will always be evangelicals who will never vote for a pro-choice candidate, but you're also going to have a pretty large pool of voters who just don't want to have someone call their personal beliefs right-wing and intolerant. They're willing to set aside those beliefs and vote for someone with whom they disagree on those issues. They just don't want to be ridiculed for them.

Do you think the practice of pastors voicing political beliefs in church has tapered off recently with the evident failures of the Bush administration? Are pastors more wary of openly supporting a candidate in church?

I think it's certainly true that a lot of conservative Christian evangelicals are feeling burned by the Republican Party. They're starting to feel that it doesn't make a lot of sense for them to put all their eggs in one basket. At the same time, a lot of religious liberals who are starting to become much more active look at the religious right as a cautionary tale and they don't want to become the same in the Democratic Party. So I think they're much more cautious about becoming explicitly political in church. Not to say that people aren't political, but it's not greeted with the same openness as it was a few years ago.

After the 2006 election, many in the media declared that the age of the religious right was over. But evangelicals are showing up at the polls again this year, even when other Republicans aren't, as shown in the primaries and caucuses in Iowa, Kansas, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee. The winner of those contests, Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, outlasted every other major Republican contender except the likely nominee, John McCain. Do journalists and pundits actually have a good grasp on how evangelical voters think? It seems to me like they're engaging in projection and wishful thinking.

Certainly, there's a tendency to prematurely declare the death of the religious right. Pretty much every other year there are magazine headlines that either say the religious right is resurgent or that the religious right is over. That's a journalistic shortcoming. And you're right to say that much of that has to do with a lack of familiarity with the community, I think. But there's an important difference here between the leadership of the religious right (and you'll notice that [few] of them have come out for Mike Huckabee...) and the evangelicals in the pews, who may not, or most of them may not, think of themselves as part of the religious right. There are certainly those conservative voters who are frustrated with the Republican Party over the last few years but they're responding to Mike Huckabee because they see him as one of them, and importantly, not one of the Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson crowd.

According to the Pew Research Center, in the 2006 midterm elections, Democrats soundly defeated Republicans among secular voters, winning the vote of those who seldom or never attend church by 2 to 1. And according to a study conducted by the Barna Group, since 1991, the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled, rising from 39 million to 75 million in 2004, while the entire adult population has only increased by 15 percent. Why is so much attention paid to the Democrats' so-called God gap when so little is paid to the Republicans' inability to appeal to secular voters? Can't the Democrats win now and in the future by appealing to secular voters?

There was a study done in the fall of 2006 down at Baylor University that was very useful because it actually probed this question. We have seen a rise in the number of people who state they have no religious affiliation. That's not the same as people who identify as atheists or secular. It's just people who don't name a religious affiliation when asked in a poll. And what the people at Baylor did is probe that and try to find out how many of those people really should be accurately categorized as having no religious traditions. And what they found was that a significant percentage of people who said they had no religious tradition still engaged in what we would define as religious practices. They pray every day; many of them say they believe in God; a good number of them, when asked, could identify a house of worship. So I think what it's telling us is that religion is getting a bad rap. And it's getting such a bad rap that it's becoming something people don't want to affiliate themselves with.

But there's no question that the percentage of Americans who are more secular has grown in the last two decades. There are two important sociological reasons for this, and I'll bore you with this because I'm a reformed sociologist. First, you're starting to see the first cohort of kids who are secular and who were raised by secular parents. So it's not as if they were raised in a religious tradition and rebelled against it. They're second generation. And we've never really seen that before.

The second thing is just simply that the cohort of people who are not yet married or not yet with kids continues to grow, and there's a life cycle effect. We know that people stop going to religious services when they start going to college and when they're young adults. But they almost always go back once they get married and have kids. People seem to still think it's important to raise their kids in a religious tradition. But whereas, a generation or so ago, people would start having kids in their late 20s, now they're not having kids until their 30s. So it's just a simple matter of that cohort of childless Americans [being] much larger. But from everything we've seen, they continue to go back to church.

So just to bring it back to your question, I think it's inaccurate to look at the numbers and conclude that a growing number of Americans view religion as irrelevant to their lives. We know that's not true. There's a very consistent number, around 85 to 87 percent of Americans, who say that religion is an important part of their lives. And the demographic trends are actually moving in that direction because immigrants tend to be the most religious of those people in America. So for all those secularists who may be moving up into the ranks of the electorates, they're being outweighed by immigrants, particularly first-generation Asians and Hispanics, who tend to be much more religious than your average white voter.

Throughout the book you mention how deeply religious many Democrats are. You write that two-thirds of Democrats attend worship services regularly. And you show all these Democrats such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry who are very committed to their religious beliefs. Do you think that many Democrats underestimate just how religious many of the members of their party are?

Absolutely. It continues to shock people when I talk to Democratic audiences and I remind them that 87 percent of Americans say that religion is an important part of their lives. And that includes a heck of a lot of Democrats. Republicans are not getting 87 percent of the vote. I continue to meet people who insist, and these are hardcore Democrats, who insist to me that Bill Clinton is not religious, that it's just an act, that he had to go to church to put off his Republican critics and that he's really not a religious guy. Who find it inconceivable that Nancy Pelosi is a committed Catholic, [or think] that whenever she talks about faith now it's just the result of advisors and consultants telling her it's smart, when in fact this is a woman who's been quoting the Bible in closed-door meetings for decades. So I do think Democrats are kind of surprised to learn who the religious are in their midst and I think those are mostly the secular Democrats. The religious Democrats who I talk to are somewhat relieved because they had all been thinking that they were all by themselves.

How do you see evangelicals voting in this fall's presidential election?

I see evangelical voters voting the same way that everyone else does. They have serious concerns. They are concerned about the economy. They are concerned about not being able to provide healthcare for their families. They are concerned about the war in large part. And increasingly they're concerned about our place in the world. Like what we're doing to combat third-world poverty, what we're doing to protect the environment. The reason that I was writing about whether Democrats can become more savvy or aware of religious voters, is not to put religious issues on the agenda. It's to take them off ... and in so doing, focus on the issues that all voters really care about.

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