“Conversion” Commentary by Adam Kushner, TNR Primary, The New Republic, 1/8/04
Candidate: Howard Dean
Category: Intellectual Honesty
It has hard for strategically-minded Democrats not to be relieved when Howard Dean abruptly recognized his vulnerability on religion (though it was a bit worrying that he did so almost certainly in response to this article by Franklin Foer). But Dean's most recent tactic is either brazen, or astonishingly ignorant.
In his clumsy effort to neutralize the religion issue, Dean has announced that his Christianity informed his decision to sign the bill legalizing civil unions. Come on! A guy who, up through yesterday, told people he didn't let religion influence any of his policy decisions suddenly remembers that he made his most important one based on religion?
Nevermind that he was essentially forced by the Vermont Supreme Court to sign something like the bill he signed. Nevermind, too, that in the lengthy, impassioned speech Dean gave defending his civil unions bill in 2000, he never once mentioned God. (And it's not like Dean thinks his spirituality is some intensely private matter, either: His denominational change of heart came after a very public land-use fight, and his very public, very candid decision to inject religion into his campaign came with no apparent compunction about privacy.)
The interpretation of Christianity Dean now calls his own is exactly the kind of message a religious Democrat could use to outflank Bush's compassionate conservatism. "The hallmark of Christianity is to reach out to people who have been left behind," Dean said. If only there was evidence Dean had been a religious Democrat at any time before the last two weeks.