Since the genesis of political parties, political machines have shifted positions on major issues along with society as they waxed and waned in popularity. We're about to witness another such seesaw move—this time on religion.
First, some background on recent partisan shifts. After the Vietnam War, the Democrats were seen as weak on defense, until former President (and naval officer) Jimmy Carter built up the nation's war machine to unprecedented levels. Republicans were the party of fiscal restraint and lower taxes until President George W. Bush invented "big government conservatism."
The Republicans still own the "tax cuts" issue, but they've lost a lot of ground to Democrats over who deserves the title of "the party of fiscal restraint." President Clinton left office with a record surplus. President Bush has upended that surplus into record deficit territory.
Now we're seeing yet another partisan oscillation—this time on religion. Two political debates this week brought this shift into detailed focus. At the Democratic forum hosted by the progressive Evangelical group Sojourners, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards waxed so poetic about God that they almost floated up into the rafters on angels' wings. Clinton said publicly that her faith in God got her through her husband's infidelity while he was in the White House.
Edwards sounded more like a preacher than a candidate, responding to a question about his biggest sin, saying, "We are all sinners....We all fall short, which is why we have to ask for forgiveness from the Lord."
Were we in church or in Washington?
Republicans, meanwhile, eschewed religiosity in their debate this week, with the exception of Mitt Romney, who espoused a deep belief in Jesus Christ.
The so-called God gap looms almost as large as the Holy Ghost in all this.
According to the Washington Post, "Voters who attend worship at least once a week account for 40 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls, and they tilt heavily toward the GOP. In the 2004 presidential election, the 16 percent of voters who attend church or other services more than once a week went 65 percent to 35 percent" for Bush.
So Democrats are seeing an opening as they go after religious voters. They do stand, however, to turn off moderate Democrats, particularly baby boomers, in the process. This group was raised to reserve church talk for Sunday services and keep God out of politics.
So Democrats are making, in this pundit's humble opinion, an unwise move as they shift their gazes skyward to win more support. As long as the Democrats are pro-choice and pro-gay rights, they'll never win the "in your face" religionists.