The Common Good

Hillary Clinton Talks Religion

Source: CNN
Date: June 29, 2006

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Appearing before a religious conference earlier this week, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) told the audience that as a child attending Sunday school she would baby-sit the children of migrant workers so that their older siblings could join their parents at work.

"I was fortunate that at an early age, through my church, I was given the opportunity to expand my horizons," Clinton told the 600 adults and teenagers attending the Sojourners "Covenant for a New America" conference.

Politically, the story served two purposes for the New York Democrat. It allowed her to promote a developing Democratic message tailored to the faith community that ties the party's "compassionate" legislative agenda directly to moral values. And, personally, it allowed Clinton to speak about her own spiritually. The latter is not new for the former first lady, but it is a theme we could hear more and more if she decides to run for president.

"She understands where the Democrats need to go in talking about values just as her husband understood it," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "And she is going to go there."

As a party, Democrats have struggled to appeal to so-called "values voters," but in recent years they have tried to reconnect with this segment of the electorate that began drifting to the Republican Party during the Vietnam War. (See CNN's John Roberts' and Claire Brinberg's reporting on the Democrats' outreach efforts below).

But on Tuesday night, Clinton knew her audience and she hit on most of her points. You see, Sojourners is an evangelical organization lead by Rev. Jim Wallis, a populist who uses his political savvy to promote his number one cause: ending poverty. And Clinton focused on that theme with sharp rhetoric. While she did not directly chastise Republicans for Congress' failure to increase the minimum wage, it was clear her criticism was directed at the GOP.

"People can talk all they want about how they want to be part of ending poverty, but if they don't see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears the stories of millions of Americans and their children who are not able to be lifted out of poverty, because the minimum wage doesn't pay enough," she said. "Don't let people get away with nice words." The audience erupted into applause.

While Clinton talked about the need to help establish decent housing, create good paying jobs and feeding the poor, she did not speak on the red hot social issues such as abortion or school prayer. Wallis told the Grind he believes the religious right has spent too much time focusing on these divisive issues and not enough effort seeking a solution to ending poverty. For Clinton, it is a difficult tight rope to walk as she continues to talk openly on faith and religion without speaking directly about the controversial social issues.

"There is a risk here for her," said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "She may attract some support from people of faith, but may alienate some secular Democrats. That is where the balancing act comes in."

But like Rothenberg, Green believes that Clinton does "have some religious credentials."

Can Obama part the "red sea?"

Freshman Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) got rave reviews for his keynote address yesterday to the Sojourners conference and CNN's John Roberts and Claire Brinberg report on the Democratic Party's efforts to reconnect with "values voters."

"I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives," Obama said in his speech.

Since early last year, Democrats have reached out to religious leaders in an attempt to seek advice on how to promote their goals to people of faith. As CNN's Roberts notes "at stake is a huge swath of voters across the Midwest and through the South."

And Obama just might be the superstar emissary the party has been looking for to help them reconnect with these voters.See full transcript of the report