Author sees “God Strategy” at work in U.S. politics

March 11, 2008

DALLAS – In America, church and state may be separate but the distinction between religion and politics has become increasingly blurred over the past couple of decades.

In the just published book “The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon In America,” authors David Domke and Kevin Coe chart the rise of religiosity in American politics and discuss its implications. They do so by, among other things, comparing the religious language used in presidential addresses, party platforms and other political discourse over the decades.

This includes some imaginative charts such as one that gives the total word count for faith and family in the Republican and Democratic Party platforms from 1932 to 2004. (The Republicans were a bit behind at one time but since 1980 have soared ahead in this count).

Domke, who is a professor of communication at the University of Washington in Seattle, spoke to Reuters about the “God Strategy” which he says has been used with effect by Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton as well as the Republican George W. Bush.

Q: Can you imagine a party or presidential candidate who could be successful today without employing the “God Strategy?”
A: My answer is no. The reality is that in American presidential politics not willing to publicly emphasize your faith will mean you will not be a serious candidate on either side of the partisan aisle.

Q: How do you see the God Strategy playing out this November?
A: It really is interesting. About six months ago when I looked at the six major candidates from the two major parties, for the first time in decades the Democrats were better situated for a fusion of religion and politics. If you looked at the frontrunners for the Democrats, Clinton, Edwards and Obama, all three of them had been … out publicly putting faith into their issue positions. Clinton had talked about her Methodist upbringing, Edwards had talked about it in terms of poverty, and Obama had talked about it in terms of God in the public arena. All three of them had been much more vocal than any of the major Republican candidates at that time, Huckabee wasn’t really on the radar screen. But when you looked at Giuliani, McCain, possibly Thompson, the reality was that it appeared that the folks on the Republican side were going to be less comfortable with all of this. Now you have McCain who is not very comfortable talking about his faith but will do it. I think we will see some more of that from him. He’ll do it as needed and that will work for him if Clinton is the nominee for the Democrats. If it’s Obama then I think Obama has the higher ground on religion and politics.

Q: You say in your book that the God Strategy in some ways threatens the democratic vitality of the nation? Can you elaborate?
A: In many respects the fusion of religion and politics is absolutely contrary to what the founders desired for the country. They fled religious sectarian violence, religious persecution and they set out build a new place where God would be part of the equation but there wouldn’t be a state, a national religion. And that was unprecedented …

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