Friday, July 02, 2004

Pot-ocrat, Meet Kettle-publican 

Democrats are raising a hue and cry about the Bush campaign's plan to target churches. As a Democrat living in the South who recently participated in a presidential campaign, I'd like to warn the upset members of my party to lower their voices before they get branded as hypocrites.

At least around here, campaigning in and with churches is an essential part of winning an election for the Democratic Party. The main difference between what the Bush campaign is doing and what Democrats typically do is that Bush is targeting all churches, where as Democrats only target African-American churches. In fact, I doubt that Kerry could have won the Georgia primary without the help of these churches.

My husband, a native of the South, tells me that Democrats have been doing this for years. I've seen some of the church-targeted campaigning myself. Edwards campaign volunteers handed out flyers on the street outside churches on Sunday morning. I attended a meeting of a black elected officials organization in Augusta that met in a church where both local and national political candidates spoke. At John Edwards' candidacy announcement a gospel choir sang, a local preacher spoke, and a busload of little old ladies were driven in to the rally from churches in nearby towns.

This is how the church-targeted campaigning works around here, from what I understand. The pastor decides who he's going to endorse. Typically, this is either a prominent black candidate or someone endorsed by a well-respected black politician. The pastor tells his congregation why they ought to vote for this person. When I went knocking on doors just before the Georgia primary I heard several people say, "Edwards seems nice, but my church is voting for Kerry." Until recently nobody has complained about this, probably because there's a long history of black churches in politics - we couldn't have had the Civil Rights Movement without them.

What also helps bring in the votes are the buses for the elderly on election day. This is where I'm relying on anecdotal evidence from long-time South Carolina residents. Older church members who can't drive themselves to the polls are driven there on the church bus as a community service. I have heard tell of these voters getting off the bus as the driver reminds them "push the top button" (in this state you can vote a straight ticket just by pushing your party's button).

Recently, there's been a lot of grumbling that the Democratic party is taking blacks for granted, just assuming they'll always be reliable votes. People are starting to question black voters' loyalty to the Democratic party. Just because it's always been done this way, do we have to keep doing it and does it make sense?

Personally, I hope my church directory doesn't land in the hands of the Bush campaign. I know I won't be the only one in our congregation who's upset if it does. And I'd just like to see them try and campaign at my parents' church! You see, just because someone is Christian doesn't mean they're a Republican, the same way being black doesn't automatically make one a Democrat. But just because Republicans are making a big deal about targeting churches right now doesn't mean Democrats haven't been doing it for decades.


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