Democrats More Eager to Talk About Their Faith

Post a Comment » Written on January 3rd, 2008     
Filed under: News
MANCHESTER, NH (June 3, 2007) – Editor’s note: Stan Friedman covered both the Democratic and Republican debates on behalf of Covenant News Service. Following is his report on the opening debate including Democratic contenders.

By Stan Friedman

Hundreds of journalists from around the world are seated at row after row of folding tables in a gymnasium on the campus of Saint Anselm College here in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Media tip sheets spread across each table remind reporters that the school’s name is Saint Anselm, not St. Anselm.

The media range from acclaimed syndicated columnists Mark Shield and David Broder to a local blogger, whose full-time job is that of an information technology specialist. I have admired some of these, such as Broder, since I attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism in the early 1980s.

Spin roomShields is easily approachable and gives me several minutes of his time while he eats a plate of fruit, and we discuss how the media is covering the intersection of faith and politics. He notes that some people with “elitist attitudes” are able to get away with putting down religious figures in ways they never could if talking about other professions, such as teachers.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, a devout Catholic who often stays at the monastery on the campus of Saint Anselm while covering the primary, has a book scheduled to be published on faith and politics. Prior to the start of the debate, he says that religion is “more important in a more complex way” in this election than in the past.

He observes that, unlike years past, Democrats rather than Republicans appear more eager to speak openly about the relationship of their faith and public policy.

“I think Democrats have rediscovered their voices on religious concerns,” Dionne says, quipping, “Democrats discovered God in the exit polls in 2004, and that’s okay because you can discover God anywhere.”

Dionne believes the candidates are genuine when expressing their faith convictions. “I think it’s very hard for someone to fake an engagement with their religion,” he explains. He cautions, however, that “No one ever really knows what is in someone else’s heart or if they are speaking authentically.”

That is equally true for candidates who hold strong religious beliefs, but rarely speak of them publicly, Dionne said. He mentions Joe Biden as an example.

Everyone has an assigned seat in the media room, and mine is at the back, but it doesn’t matter; we’re all watching the debates on TVs situated throughout the room. The sound is typical of any public address system in a gym. Sometimes it is difficult to understand what the candidates are saying.

By the time a three-minute break was completed in the middle of the debate, a transcript of the first half already was being distributed throughout the press center. Soon after, the responses of campaigns to the first half of the debate were already filling thousands of email boxes.

The Dodd campaign complains that the debate has been unfair because only four questions have been addressed to him, and he has had far less talking time than Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. He still had more time than Kucinich and Gravel, however. This is the email that was sent out shortly after the mid-debate break:


Despite very real differences in the presidential candidates’ positions on the critical issues facing our nation, the format of tonight’s CNN debate allowed for disproportionate amounts of time for candidates to discuss their positions. Below are the number of questions posed to each candidate, with the corresponding amount of time (in minutes) allotted per candidate:
•    Biden: 5 questions – 4:45 minutes
•    Clinton: 9 questions – 9:25 minutes
•    Dodd: 4 questions – 4 minutes
•    Edwards: 8 questions – 7:06 minutes
•    Gravel: 5 questions – 2:59 minutes
•    Kucinich: 3 questions – 2:28 minutes
•    Obama: 9 questions – 8:19 minutes
•    Richardson: 6 questions – 7:23 minutes

Other campaigns also already are emailing their respective spins. Richardson’s people just emailed position papers.

Speaking of spin, just a few minutes to go and the press is starting to pack up to head across the sidewalk to the “spin room” (accompanying photo) – yes, that’s the official name – where the candidates are slated to appear following the debate.

In the second gymnasium that is the spin room, it is clear that the Dodd campaign’s emails have struck a chord. All of the press is asking the candidates – or their representatives – as to the fairness of the debates. The networks later focus on this topic as part of their coverage.

Several of the candidates – including the three front-runners – don’t show, preferring to leave the spin to their campaign staff. Others, including Richardson and Biden, make an appearance.

The representatives for Gravel and, to a lesser extent, Kucinich, look lonely. Few reporters pay them any attention.

By 11:30, most of the reporters have filed their reports and columns and have moved on.

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