Parsing the “God” Blunder

September 5, 2012

The blunder I have in mind isn't leaving God out of the 2012 Democratic platform. It's putting it back.

One day after the Democratic Party did one of the most inclusive things it has done in years -- crafting a platform that omits any divisive mention of "God" -- they cravenly restored it. According to media reports, President Obama pushed hard, personally, to restore God (and a never-to-be-implemented plank recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel) to the platform. I don't blame Obama for the train-wreck that was the voice vote, in which the proposed platform amendment obviously fell short of the needed two-thirds majority despite DNC chair Antonio Villaraigosa conducting the vote three times in hopes of getting the result he'd been tasked to deliver. (In what banana republic is it OK to run a voice vote over and over until you win? Never mind that the amendment didn't win, and that Mr. Villaraigosa's declaration that "in my opinion as chair" it did was as counterfactual as Paul Ryan's marathon time.)

I want to stress that in this post (as in all of them, actually) I am speaking personally, not making policy for the Council for Secular Humanism. But speaking personally, this secular humanist is profoundly disgusted with the President, for disregarding -- and with DNC leadership for ultimately disenfranchising -- an almost-certain majority of the assembled delegates who felt that God had no place in a national political party's platform.

All this would have been less problematic if the 2012 platform had just held onto the God reference it carried in 2008. Unfortunately, the Dems accidentally did the right thing and produced a "God-free" platform. It seemed to many in the humanist/atheist community that this was a conscious nod to the fastest-growing minority in the country ... you know, us. Now I'm far less certain it was meant that way. It may have been a clumsy mistake. Still, no matter what was intended by removing God from the platform language, it's hard to interpret its ham-handed restoration as anything but a slap in the face of nonreligious Americans.

Of course, this won't be the first time that President Obama has disappointed seculars. Remember Candidate Obama's bold promise (in a speech delivered at Zanesville, Ohio) that he opposed federal funding for religious charities that discriminated in hiring on the basis of religion? As I reported back in February, it now appears that the Obama campaign silently reversed that position in exchange for slightly less frantic opposition by the religious Right. Surely as president, Mr. Obama has done little by way of reforming the Bush Faith-Based Initiative that goes beyond the level of rearranging knick-knacks on the proverbial mantelpiece.

I've seen a lot of rhetoric online suggesting that Obama is the only choice for secular voters in the 2012 campaign. A few more snubs like this, and that belief may start to change.

This is a revision of an item posted on September 5.