The secular blogosphere is lit up like a (strictly ornamental) Christmas tree over yesterday’s news that the Secular Coalition of America has appointed a former Republican lobbyist, Edwina Rogers, as its new executive director.
What says Berlinerblau? Berlinerblau is cautiously optimistic and says what he has been saying for at least seven years. Secularism’s engagement with the Democratic Party has devolved into an abusive relationship.
Asleep-at-the-wheel secular leaders, clinging to the sepia-tinged memories of knightly JFK and principled card-carrying separationist studs like Michael Dukakis, never fully understood that for more and more Democrats the affair was over.
The non-believing wing of American secularism (which is presently and regrettably estranged from the larger, less overheated, believing majority) has been slow to recognize this. As I noted in my 2008 Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics:
The good old days of McGovern and Dukakis are over. It is now high time that the godless reassess their relationship to the party without letting emotions and cheap nostalgia fog their analysis, for the sad truth is–to paraphrase the title of a recent self-help book for young women–that the Democrats just aren’t that into them.
I do not know Ms. Rogers personally–but I am pretty sure that a discussion with Mrs. Berlinerblau tonight will reveal that we are separated by one eighth of one degree of Northwest Washington separation–so I cannot say yet if an American secular group has done the unexpected: hired a competent leader. In these precincts, this commodity is in short supply (and for these reasons we all should say a little prayer for the knowledgeable and experienced Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State).
But, on the face of it, hiring 1) a professional lobbyist, 2) who is not a Democrat, and 3) who is not a dude, was a pretty clever decision. I have dealt with point 2) already for half a decade and have nothing more to add, save the observation that there are lots of reasonable Republicans out there who share my bewilderment at what the Party came to look like during the 2012 primaries.
As for point 1) I can’t tell you how badly secular leaders need to familiarize themselves with K Street and other Corridors of Power. My own occasional ventures to those spaces–as a private, and inebriated, citizen attending aforementioned northwest D.C. cocktail parties–suggests that few of these people have any understanding of, or interest in, anything having to do with secularism. This is where Ms. Rogers must work her magic.
Finally: dudes. Years back I used the phrase “‘tis a manly ship” to describe the demographic cast of American non-belief. Insofar as nonbelievers have come to publicly represent the face of secularism in this country and insofar as not all of the country is white, male, and in possession of an advanced degree, anything secular groups can do to break out of that mold is a positive development.
Ms. Rogers is confronted with a daunting task. For all of its chest-thumping and self-congratulatory praise, secularism’s standing in the judicial, legislative and executive branches is arguably at its lowest ebb since the 1950s. And don’t even get me started on its predicament in state houses across the country.
Welcome, Ms. Rogers. Good luck. You have your work cut out for you.