Did you watch last Saturday's presidential candidate forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church? The media coverage has made me want to scream, hey, progressives have values too!
Fortunately, we're doing more than yelling about it. With your support, People For is putting progressive values to work around the country this year with:
- a campaign to expose the threat to Americans' rights, safety, and health from a federal judiciary dominated by President Bush's judicial appointments;
- activists striving to keep people from being unfairly turned away at the polls this November, a deeply moral undertaking given our nation's history on voting rights; and
- People For the American Way Foundation is working with equality-affirming clergy in California to challenge homophobia in the church, and promote the value of treating everyone equally under the law.
It's great to be engaged in these great questions of our day.
But back to that forum for a minute. I have no problem, of course, with candidates reaching out to religious voters like any constituency. But there are at least two things that make me uncomfortable about the Saddleback event and the way it's been covered by the media. I worry about the precedent that seems to have been set this year for presidential candidates to be grilled on the details of their faith by journalists and preachers. There's a blurry line between candidates talking genuinely about what grounds their outlook and policies, and having the race for the presidency turned into a forum on which candidate is the "right" kind of Christian. That's definitely not the American Way. People For's Right Wing Watch blog has done some excellent reporting on this. While Rick Warren may call Sen. Obama a friend, and encourage civil debate, there's no question in my mind that his questions were far "friendlier" to Sen. McCain. His forum delighted the Religious Right's "old guard."
I'm also eager to challenge media coverage that buys into the Right's message that the only moral or values-based position on reproductive choice and gay equality is opposition to both. I happened to catch a piece on CNN on Monday in which BOTH interviewees — Religious Right leader Tony Perkins and a religious leader supporting Obama — spent much of the segment agreeing with each other about how Obama should water down his positions on choice. If CNN couldn't find a clergyperson to explain the moral underpinnings of choice, they didn't look very hard. We'll keep working to raise those voices.
I think it's important for our leaders, in their eagerness to reach as many voters as possible, not to back down from defending core progressive values. Some of these are equality, free speech, religious liberty (not intolerance) and a willingness to fight against poverty and abuses of human rights. Another core value is a women's right to make the most personal decisions about her health and family. That's no less a "value" than John McCain's stated belief that life begins at conception — and his support for a constitutional amendment that would make all abortion illegal. The same goes for the value of marriage equality, which polls show is being embraced by a growing number of Americans, even as the Right pours all its energy into fighting it.
I'm off to the Democratic Convention in Denver next week, in part to make sure that at least one party doesn't forget about progressives and OUR values. This work can be tiring and energizing at the same time — I'm sure I'll feel that way after a week at the convention! I'm looking forward to telling you about it.
If you had the same reaction — or a different one — to the Saddleback forum, feel free to let me know at Kathryn@pfaw.org
And as always, thanks so much for your ongoing support.