It has become an article of faith among party leaders that it was sheer strategic stupidity to cede the values debate to Republicans for so long
A president has to be a preacher of sorts, instructing, consoling, summoning citizens to sacrifice for some common good. But candidates are competitors, which means they seldom manage to talk about faith in a way that doesn't disturb people, doesn't divide them, doesn't nail campaign posters on the gates of heaven. Republicans have been charged with exploiting religious voters, Democrats with ignoring them: Hillary Clinton's voice gets tight as she recalls the mocking response she received when she first spoke in spiritual terms about the longing that people felt to invest in causes larger than self-interest. "I talked about my faith years ago and was pilloried for it," she says, and it is hard to tell if she is more impatient with the conservatives who presumed they held the patent on piety or with the liberals whose worship of diversity all but excluded the devout.
But maybe, she suggests, candidates have learned something from the holy wars of recent years. "Maybe we're getting back to where people can be who they are," she says. "If faith is an element of who you legitimately, authentically are, great. But don't make it up, don't use it, don't beat people over the head with it."
There was a certain purity to John Kerry's failure in 2004: when it came to religious voters, as the saying goes, he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.