Jonathan Miller, State Treasurer of Kentucky, must be a very nice guy. This seems evident in every reasonable word he writes in his political manifesto, The Compassionate Community. He is also a partisan Democrat, and the subtitle of his book should read: Ten Values Behind Which I Believe the Democrats Can Unite America. His unique selling proposition to his fellow party leaders is that we need not fear religious Americans. Instead, we can craft a set of policies that will appeal to them, as long as we sprinkle some Bible stories around the party platform.
Miller goes on to demonstrate how this can be done, in ten chapters, each one built around a particular policy debate and personal reminiscences. So far, so good. Many of his stories are interesting, some are poignant, and more than a few of his policy ideas are new and sensible. Unfortunately, Miller doesn’t stop there. He feels it necessary to tie his proposals by very thin reeds to stories and characters of the Old Testament. His biblical interpretation is banal, and his attempts to make political hay are so transparent as to appear insincere. While this technique might work well enough as a speech in front of a friendly audience, it fails to convince as written word. The story of Noah and the Ark just can’t without violence be made into a parable in support of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Instead, what we have is a protégé of Al Gore — who has written an Afterword — trying to make the case for injecting religious language into policy debates, but in a very ecumenical, non-specific way. Miller goes beyond his own Jewish background to pull examples from Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, as if focusing on the Old Testament is somehow not quite politically correct. He fails to realize that what works for his political opponents is their sincere and outright appeal to religious commonality. I have no doubt that we will hear more about Jonathan Miller. His policy arguments, if not his religious ones, deserve a hearing. Afterword, appendices, index.