Democratic Platform Fight Leaves Democracy Losing Out
The official platform of the Democratic party was adopted late Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Religious conservatives throughout the nation were immediately up in arms about what—to them—was the 2012 platform's most significant edit: the complete excision of the word “God.” The Democrats were also criticized for not officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; some people attributed both of these alterations to Democratic hostility toward religion in America.
Not even 24 hours later, Democrats made an embarrassing set of last-minute adjustments to their platform. Those adjustments can be summarized in two-words: "God" and "Jerusalem."
This is just one more example of what a pathetic circus of noncommittal pandering party politics has become. Neither party's move made any sense logically, or even politically. The Republicans look like idiots because they criticized their opponent for having an opposing viewpoint, while the Democrats have branded themselves a giant bunch of pushovers, afraid of the promises they've made to their own party.
But there is an even more disturbing issue at play here. The events of the past few days demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the concept of a democratic nation, on both sides of our nation's political elite.
A democratic nation-state is supposed to be a political entity that represents the most interests of the most people, while maintaining a base-line of personal rights and freedoms that are protected regardless of the will of the majority. One of those rights is freedom of religion. But freedom of religion, as America's religious conservatives tend to forget, also includes the freedom not to follow any religion at all. With only 60 percent of Americans calling themselves “religious” in 2012, this right is not just some haphazardly invoked anomaly.
If our government is truly supposed to be representative of the entire American nation, it shouldn't be making specific references that are inclusive of one religious preference and not inclusive of another. And it's not necessarily just America's non-religious who are being excluded here. The 2008 Democratic platform (and the hastily doctored 2012 one) discusses giving people the chance to reach their “God-given potential.”
The relevance of this language isn't just restricted to people who believe in God; it is specifically restricted to a subset of believers whose God bestows potential upon individuals. Not every religion subscribes to the idea that we have some divinely determined destiny to fulfill. Deism, for example, worships a God who created the universe, but then took a step back; and different schools of Hinduism conceive of God in very different ways.
So “God” in a party platform isn't representative of a wide sector of Americans in the present day. But it also—contrary to what many religious conservatives insisted in their initial criticism—isn't representative of traditional, constitutional American principles of governance.
Let's not forget that some of the first American colonists were people fleeing religious persecution in England. America may have been founded by mostly religious men, but those who drew up its founding documents were insistent on the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.
Granted, America hasn't had the most stellar track record actually enforcing this idea—every president so far has openly practiced some form of Christianity, and somebody stuck “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954—but that doesn't mean we shouldn't start now. The Democrats were actually correcting an exception to the rule of an a-religious state, but they retracted their correction to make things easier on the contingent of America who remain in 236-year-long denial of the fact that our government is supposed to be run without religious influence.
It's funny how the more politicians try to return to traditional American values, the more they seem to reject the tenants of democracy upon which this country was founded. Perhaps next election, the Democratic party will get the courage not to cave to asinine Republican pressure to help them misrepresent America.
Reach Contributor Francesca Bessey here.