Ahead of this year's election, leaders in each of the major political parties have presented their opponents as engaged in "war" against a major demographic group. Democrats claim that Republicans support policies hostile to women. Republicans claim that Democrats support policies hostile to religion. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) was an outspoken critic of using such language in political discourse on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.
"We've gone way too far with all of this, 'the president has declared war on religion.' That is absurd. The Chinese have declared war on religion. The Iranians have declared war on religion," said Cleaver, who is also a United Methodist pastor. "We've got to quit exaggerating our political differences."
Republicans are engaged in a "war on women," some Democrats have claimed, when they opposed requiring religious groups that are against contraception to provide their employees with contraception insurance coverage. These Democrats have also pointed to conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh's use of the words "slut" and "whore," and legislation that requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound as evidence of a "war on women."
President Obama's alleged "war on religion" is also based, some Republicans argue, on the mandate requiring many religious groups to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients, when their religious teachings are in opposition to those services. They also point to the administration's position in a Supreme Court religious hiring case in which it argued that the government can decide for a religious organization which employees can be exempt under federal anti-discrimination laws. (The court ruled 9-0 against the administration's position.)
"If you believe that the president is a Christian," Cleaver asked Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, "why would you still come to the belief that he is trying to destroy religion in this country? I think we've got to stop that. That is not doing this country any good at all, and the truth of the matter is, we know better. We know better, those of us who are in the public eye."
"Congressman, is it similarly wrong then for Democrats to say that the Republican Party is engaged in a war on women? Is that wrong?" Reed countered.
"Yes," Cleaver answered, "that is wrong, and I've never said it, not one time."
Cleaver then suggested to Reed that they both condemn extremist language coming from their respective partisan camps.
"Mr. Reed, what we need is for you and me, and I'm willing to do it, I don't think you would, when that happens, do what I do – I condemn it. If it's a Democrat, if it's my cousin, it's wrong. And, I think we need to stop that. It is damaging the body politic and it's further separating the people of this country."