Dean’s Empty Definition of Easter

April 11, 2007 · 12:05 AM EDT
By Nathan L. Gonzales

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 lilies! This kind of outreach will not pass the smell test of any evangelical."

Frankly, Webster's New World Dictionary, which is not regarded as a particularly spiritual or political source, has a better definition of Easter: "an annual Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus."

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 masse 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.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on April 10, 2007.