I like Howard Dean, and think that he has made several good changes at the Democratic National Committee--most notably his 50 state strategy that is putting resources in the state Democratic parties in even the reddest of states. (We may not pick up Alabama in the 2008 presidential race, but I bet that Dean's 50 state strategy will mean more Democratic state and local officials in states like Alabama). Still, I agree with this Rothenberg Political Report that Dean's Easter message was a missed opportunity:
Two recent press releases from the Democratic National Committee reflect the party's continuous struggle to understand evangelicals in America.
A March 30 press release entitled "DNC Offers Passover Greetings" included a joint statement by Chairman Howard Dean and DNC Vice Chair Susan Turnbull. The release was appropriate and timely and included their definition of the event, though it ignored the religious aspect. "On Monday night, Jews around the world will begin celebrating Passover, a week-long holiday that commemorates the Israelites' freedom from persecution and slavery."
Then, a week later, the DNC celebrated Easter with another statement from Dean, including his definition of the holiday. "Easter Sunday is a joyful celebration. The holiday represents peace, redemption and renewal, a theme which brings hope to people of all faiths."
Dean's Easter statement seems to bend over backwards not to mention Jesus and demonstrates either a misunderstanding of the evangelical community or a fear of alienating other voting blocs with religious talk."
This press release, absent any reference to Jesus, without whom the Easter resurrection story is meaningless, is apparently a sad reflection of a 'lowest common denominator' religious outreach of the Democratic party," said Richard Cizik, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, "Wake up and smell the Easter lillies! This kind of outreach will not pass the smell test of any evangelical."
. . .
The DNC statement is striking, particularly since Democratic outreach to evangelicals is on-going (including Dean's speech at Eastern University just last week) and the importance Democratic strategists have put on using the right language to appeal to evangelicals. Democrats like to point to recent conservative evangelical leaders' attacks on Cizik as evidence that they are making progress, but based on Cizik's comments, evangelicals aren't moving en mass toward the Democratic Party anytime soon.
Dean and the DNC simply missed the target this Easter. The press release was astonishing because it's sole purpose was to acknowledge a religious holiday, yet it was painfully-worded to avoid being religious. If this press release was part of the Democratic Party's outreach to evangelicals, they probably would have been better off just skipping it altogether.