How influential is the progressive left?

By Michelle Boorstein It’s been 19 months since the Democrats took the White House and the jury’s still on whether … Continued

By Michelle Boorstein

It’s been 19 months since the Democrats took the White House and the jury’s still on whether organized faith voters are having much influence.

Ten senators showed up to a roundtable Wednesday morning at the Capitol about faith issues. Most stayed only briefly, and host Harry Reid never showed.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Democrats’ Outreach Committee, began the event by focusing on the economy as a religious issue. This will resonate for many religious progressives who see the passage of the Recovery Act and expanded unemployment benefits as successful expressions of religious values. But this strategy will not work for many others who recognize that people of faith can disagree on fiscal policy.

Possibly the frankest lawmaker in the room was Sen. Dick Durbin, who said he struggles with the ethical ramifications of the war in Afghanistan, for which he voted– his only vote authorizing force since he came to Congress in 1983.

“The question has to be asked, ‘what have we achieved?’” said Durbin, who said he recently met a vet who lost all four limbs in the war. “It weighs heavily on me. I think more and more people are asking: how and when this will end?”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar addressed, perhaps unintentionally, a question many Democrats ask privately: How influential, really, are faith groups on the left? How vast are their e-mail networks? How organized are their members? How deep are their pockets? How aggressive are they willing to get? (Update/ Editor’s note: Sen. Klobuchar asked generally about the limits to what political advocacy faith groups can do. She did not ask specifically: “How vast are their e-mail networks? How organized are their members? How deep are their pockets? How aggressive are they willing to get?”)

Klobuchar was relaying conversations she had with some faith activists pushing her on immigration reform, and how she explained to them the challenges posed by a lack of GOP support. The activists, she said, didn’t seem especially interested in the politics, being primarily focused on what they saw as the moral imperative of reform.

“The question for me is, where does the faith community’s role begin and end?” she said.

She was making the point that some groups aren’t interested in politics or are limited by law in how active they can get, but it’s true that the religious left hasn’t produced powerhouses like the Christian right did.

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