George Stephanopoulos might be Chief Washington Correspondent of ABC News, but that apparently doesn’t stop him from hosting partisan book parties at his Georgetown home for Democratic authors trying to help the Democrats "get religion" and nab some more voters of faith. In Thursday’s Washington Post, religion reporter Michelle Boorstein wrote a story boosting the new book by Michael Sean Winters on wooing Catholics back into the Democratic fold:
All the pieces were there for a classic Washington celebrity book party: George Stephanopoulos's gorgeously appointed Georgetown home, media glitterati like Chris Matthews milling around, a book about politics, a bunch of priests.
A bunch of priests?
If anything embodied the complicated, shifting and sort of weird relationship between politics and religion these days -- particularly on the left -- it was the party Tuesday night for local writer Michael Sean Winters's new book: "Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats."
The Washingtonian magazine website has pictures from the fete. (Unsurprisingly, Post columnist E. J. Dionne was also there for the religious-left gathering.) Stephanopoulos and Winters are apparently long-time friends. Winters managed the Washington bookstore Kramerbooks and Afterwords, and Stephanopoulos used to live above the bookstore when he first came to DC. The Winters bio touts a plug from Stephanopoulos:
In 2002, National Journal’s Hotline asked George Stephanopoulos, "Who is the most important person in Washington nobody has ever heard of?" He replied, "Michael Sean Winters."
Boorstein added color to the party scene:
The gay Jamaican insurance adjuster by the hummus was talking about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and how everyone would have ignored the Chicago minister had he been railing against gays and lesbians. The priest standing near Stephanopoulos's massive seashell collection was talking about how Pope John Paul II urged clergy to stay out of American politics, which is "the bread and butter of American culture." Winters, a former seminarian and political speechwriter, pined for the days when church officials made radio speeches paid for by the Democratic Party.
In a nation founded with a separation of church and state, "we have certain ideas about how religion and politics mix, where the line is....The line shifts, and Democrats have been on the losing side of that line, and we have to figure out how to be on the winning side," Winters told the crowd from the landing of the foyer's grand staircase, prompting an "mm-hmm."
Lately Americans across the political spectrum have been embroiled in debates about what is the proper place of religion in politics. Winters argues that it should be obvious that John F. Kennedy was wrong when he said religion is "a private affair"; instead it is the starting point for tens of millions of Americans when they describe why they believe what they do.
Not everyone at the party was completely won over by that idea. Wieseltier said the Democrats' deliberate pursuit of the faith mantle was a bit "cynical."
"Liberalism doesn't have to be hostile to religion, but it has to be skeptical of all absolute claims in the public realm. This idea that everyone should rush into each other's arms because that's how [Karl] Rove got [George] Bush elected is odd and unattractive."
This isn't the first time the Post has boosted Winters. At the end of March, Winters wrote a piece for the Sunday Outlook section touting how Pope Benedict would be dramatically at odds with President Bush on foreign policy when he visited America. George Weigel rebutted the piece on National Review Online, charging it had "won the pole position in this year’s chase for the coveted Father Richard McBrien Prize in Really Inept Vaticanology."
Screen capture above from Washingtonian magazine's Web site. The photo, taken by Chris Leaman, is of George Stephanopoulos with author Michael Sean Winters.