Dems Need More Faith, Episode LXXI: The Beer Caucus Proposal

You know what’s really important in my life? Beer. (Also coffee, the New York Dolls, and my granddaughter, but let’s stay focused.) Like-minded Democrats and I should really start a beer caucus dedicated to nurturing America’s greatest gifts: its hops, barley, wheat and above all its water, flowing through magnificent artesian springs to quench the thirst of the world.

We could afford to be magnanimous in setting our boundaries, inclusive of all manner of people of suds. Come from the North and the South, you ale-ites and you lager-quaffers! From the East and the West, you barleywine aficionados and you partisans of the Kölsch! Let us be united in our love of a gold cold brew. There’s no reason real Americans should let a piddling thing like the unreasonable hoppiness of the double-IPA divide us!

Hell, we could even include the occasional oddball, like those coastal elite wine-sippers, Kentucky bourbonists, even rum or tequila drinkers for a little diversity. Just so long as they’re willing to acknowledge beer’s place in shaping American values, they’re in. As no less an authority than Dwight Eisenhower has said, “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt drunken stupor, and I don’t care what it is. With us, of course, it is the hops-barley-water concept, but it must be a cool, refreshing carbonated mixture with all grains created equal.”*

I mean, think about this with me. Do you know how many votes we could unlock if we could only overcome the Democratic politician’s knee-jerk aversion to talking about beer? Trump, who wouldn’t know an American-style pale lager from a trash French saison, rode to victory in 2016 on the wings of 80,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If Democrats’ dour presidential candidates would only speak the everyday language of Budweiser, Bell’s Brewery, and Rolling Rock; if they would only punch through the taboo of being seen with a Yuengling in hand, why, they could take the white working class back in a heartbeat!

That’s not even to mention the Dixie and Shiner vote down south, Olympia in the Northwest, Grain Belt in Minnesota, the Sam Adams patriots in the Northeast! Dems are leaving an awful lot of support on the table simply because they’re not willing to chug swill like Scott Walker on a Miller bender.

What’s that you say? You say a beer caucus is a terrible idea? You say talking incessantly about alcohol would turn off many non-drinkers? You say plenty of Democratic politicians have been known to knock back a cold one, even though in the end voters don’t actually care if their politicians like beer?

Huh. Then why do I keep reading stories like this one?

The hook’s not bad: a progressive Mennonite (they exist) goes door-to-door as a Democratic candidate in the very not-progressive, very Republican town of Lititz, Pennsylvania. But then—shoehorned into a story on a Democrat talking about her faith—we find three solid paragraphs on how Democrats are “spotty” if not downright “hostile” to faith-talk. Oh, well. At least we’re assured that Democrats are religious, too. Did you know that sarsaparilla and root beer are the same thing?

There’s so many things wrong with this narrative, it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s go with how impervious it is to data: Dems win? They could have won bigger by talking about faith. Dems lose? They should have talked more about faith. More than likely, this candidate is going to have her ass handed to her. It’s a conservative area! Does that mean she should have talked more about her faith, or skipped it? Not necessarily. Faith may have nothing to do with it. But you’d never know it from a story like this.

(To be fair, this problem goes beyond faith. People do the same thing with economic inequality or confronting Trump or whatever their favorite hobbyhorse is.)

And let’s talk about the age of the Dems-Should-Talk-More-About-Faith narrative. My God, it practically goes all the way back “Tastes Great” vs. “Less Filling.” If you wrote out a list of all the articles that have announced breathlessly that Dems are finally breaking the mold by learning to talk about faith, it would be longer than one of those German bier boots and completely obviate the point those stories are trying to make. It’s more than a little galling to see a shot at unnamed Dems who are “hostile” to talking about faith in a story that mentions five or six of them.  

Even worse, the narrative ignores the changing culture and the reality that a not-insignificant number of Democratic voters aren’t affiliated with any particular faith. It’s as if it were 1954, and liberals were smarting over getting flanked by Ike on the In God We Trust issue. There’s a reason Schlitz Gusto is a niche brew, people. Tastes change, and so do politics.

There are subtler issues as well. As I said above, the hook here isn’t bad. When I lived in this district fifteen years ago, I came across more than one person who was astonished that a pastor could be a Democrat. So, things are changing, and it’s interesting to note that. At the same time, Real Americans aren’t identical with people who live in conservative rural areas, and neither are Real People of Faith. There are great faith stories to tell in New York City, and Berkeley, and LA, and all those other safe blue enclaves. I’ll bet you could find a liberal campaigner talking to people about their faith in one of those areas. I’ll bet you could find a bunch.

Then too, the Dems-Should-Talk-More-About-Faith narrative generally means Candidates Should Talk More About Faith, ignoring the average party members. It’s to the author’s credit that she cites Pew statistics about just how many Democrats are religious. If you want to see the Religious Left, look at black voters. That’s who they are, and if you think many of them don’t talk about their faith, you would be sorely mistaken. 

Which brings us to the last thing bugging me. Among other examples, the story mentions Kamala Harris speaking at a Southern Black church. Finally, Dems Get Faith! But which church is it? Why, it’s First Congregational in Atlanta, part of the United Church of Christ, which is of course part of the Liberal Mainline Which Is Dying Because It Is Liberal And Does Not Understand Real People Of Faith. So which is it? Is it a good thing that Harris is talking about faith, or a bad thing that she is talking to liberal faith people?

I don’t mean to suggest that anyone would try to attack Harris from both sides, of course. It just goes to show how the narrative is rigged for Republicans. Don’t talk about faith, you don’t get Real Americans. Talk about faith, but to the wrong people, you don’t get Real Americans. See how this game works? If you don’t talk about faith in conservative terms to conservative people, you’re not doing it right. Or you’re black, and here’s a nice pat on the head and a wonderment about why you don’t vote Republican. 

For the record, I have no problem with Dems doing faith outreach or organizing. That’s part of the game. I don’t even have a problem with people arguing they should do more of it, if they have some evidence to back it up. What I’m against is the one-size-fits-all response that comes up every effing time somebody talks about Democrats and faith. The trope is more played out than The Wise Cab Driver or Trump Voters Still Like Trump tropes. Religion reporters need to be smart enough to understand that the pressures to talk about faith are not symmetrical. Dems do not, nor should they, talk about faith in the same way Republicans do. So maybe instead of creating a narrative that implies they should, they could write a story about why they do things differently?

To put things another way, maybe we should expect Democrats to talk about faith if it’s important to them and/or important to their district? And if not, maybe they don’t have to? And maybe we should stop chasing some mythical Voter of Faith and instead start thinking about voters of many faiths, and no faith? Maybe when somebody says “Democrats should talk more about faith,” we should ask, “To who?”

And with that, I must ask you to buy the next round. Being a contrarian is thirsty work. Being right is even worse.

*Ike drank Scotch and said no such thing.