Delaware Senator Chris Coons (who won his seat by defeating someone who was most certainly not a witch) is wrestling with the nature of the Democratic Party. Being a person of faith, he’s worried that recent surveys indicate more than a third of Democrats and nearly half of self-professed “liberal Democrats” are not only non-religious, but actually believe that churches “have a negative impact on America.”
This distressed him enough to pen an editorial which appears this week in The Atlantic. I’m perfectly willing to take Coons at his word when it comes to his faith, but his concern for his fellow liberals doesn’t seem to be entirely rooted in worries over the spiritual health of their eternal souls. I only say that because he immediately goes on to point out that the same studies show Democrats to be far outside the mainstream of American in this regard, with roughly 80% identifying with one religious faith or another. Of course, taking a strictly pragmatic approach, that’s a valid concern for people with elections to win next year.
A great deal of this lengthy op-ed then goes on to list a wide array of current issues under debate and explains how Democrats can arrive at the same conclusions on these subjects whether they are approached from a spiritual or secular angle. (Because apparently God – or all gods – are liberals.) By the time I made it through that laundry list of how the Godly and the godless can agree on topics including welfare, illegal immigration, climate change, sentencing reform and abortion my head was starting to spin. What was the point of all this? That’s when, at the very end of the essay, Coons gets down to the meat of the matter. Even if you see Democrats who don’t live up to the progressive “ideal” you need to work with them on areas where you agree or you’re all doomed.
Democrats welcome and celebrate our differences. Whether it’s race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation, we are fighting for a country that is open, tolerant, and accepting—and we shouldn’t yield an inch in that fight.
But we also need to recognize when we aren’t living up to our own admirable standard. We need to acknowledge when our own disagreements or beliefs keep us from engaging and working with those who might see the world differently.
Social progress is not a zero-sum game. Democrats can open our arms to new allies even if we don’t share all of their views. If we do, I suspect we won’t just move our party closer toward achieving our policy goals—we’ll move our nation closer to the promised land of civility, compromise, and progress.
What Senator Coons is attempting here is rather obvious. It’s a combination of a fairly ancient proverb (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”), and the wisdom of Ronald Reagan (“the person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally”). It’s a lovely sentiment and there’s a lot of truth to it. Unfortunately, this sage advice may find Coons on the outs with his own party fairly quickly. That’s not as much of a risk for him since he’s not up for election again until 2020 (perhaps why he was a good fit to make this pitch) but the whole Big Tent, Come Together mantra really isn’t selling with the Democratic base right now. In fact, they seem to be gearing up for some type of a purge of anyone who doesn’t fit into the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Keith Ellison brand.
Still, not that I’m looking to offer any help to the Democrats here, but Coons might want to keep a bookmark on this piece and bring it up again next November during the midterm postmortem. By then some cooler heads may prevail.