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Joe Biden Writes About 'Restoring The Soul Of Our Nation'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Presidential candidate Joe Biden is calling attention to his Christian faith. Religion News Service published a commentary by the former vice president. Biden writes that his faith taught him to stand up to the abuse of power, to accept, quote, "the truth of the climate crisis," to reward work, not just wealth and, quote, to "be a nation that once again welcomes the stranger."

Michael Wear is with us this morning. He was director of faith outreach for President Obama's 2012 reelection, which, of course, was a reelection campaign for Joe Biden as well. Good morning.

MICHAEL WEAR: Good morning. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note a lot of the stuff in this commentary is stuff that Biden says all the time, about restoring the soul of the nation and middle-class families, supporting them. What feels new here to you?

WEAR: Well, it's the explicit tying in of his faith, which, for those who know former vice president, isn't new for him, but in this context, he hasn't made such a direct appeal to faith as he does here. And I think it exemplifies why he's been so resilient in this campaign, which is a major question. I think we spent much of 2019, or at least many did, waiting for Biden to collapse. What we've seen and what this op-ed exemplifies is that there are broad swaths of voters who feel like they know the former vice president, who feel like he's someone who has a core. And this op-ed brings faith to the front of that, but it affirms the central message of his campaign, which is that he's someone who's been resilient through tragedy, through challenges, and his resilience can kind of be America's resilience. That's the kind of message of this op-ed.

INSKEEP: Is it particularly meaningful that he names the branch of faith? He grew up Catholic.

WEAR: Yes. It sets him in a specific cultural and religious context, which is important. It adds some meat to the bones. He specifically mentions Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change and the environment. He specifically talks about - he names the churches he attended. So that's really significant. I would also say Catholics are a key bellwether, key swing...

INSKEEP: They're a swing constituency, sure.

WEAR: A swing constituency - but, really, this is about Joe Biden being Joe Biden. He's someone who - folks who know him know that he carries a rosary around with him, that he refers to his Catholic faith and that it's, again, seen him through tough times. He quotes Kierkegaard near the end of the op-ed about faith seeing through darkness. That's something that if you watch his stump, he prefers to directly - for him to talk about specifically in an op-ed about his faith brings to mind a lot of what Joe Biden has been through and how he's been such a consistent figure in public life.

INSKEEP: I want to ask if it's awkward for Democrats to talk about faith. And I want to specify what I mean by that. Barack Obama was a Christian. His opponents dealt with that by pretending he was not a Christian completely falsely. But there is something that's true, and that is that a large part of the Democratic coalition more than Republicans consists of nonreligious people, agnostic people, atheists or just people who follow faiths other than Christianity. Is that awkward for Democrats to bring up the subject?

WEAR: Well, so it's - so that's true. What's also true is that the Democratic Party includes the most religious people. So African Americans are in general the most religious constituency, highest church attenders. And so the Democratic Party is just a coalition with - on religion covers the spectrum here. What we've seen in this primary, not just with this op-ed, but really we've seen more faith references and rhetoric on the campaign trail than we've ever seen. There are a lot of reasons for that. The main one is it's a reaction to this presidency. The moral challenge of this presidency is Democrats see it and the opportunity it presents for Democrats to no longer sort of be on defense when it comes to values and morality but actually make the case that they are the party of values now when you're running against someone like President Trump. And so we've seen a renewed confidence among Democrats talking about faith generally but also just making a stronger values and morality case.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, why do you think it is that white evangelicals have stuck so strongly to this president?

WEAR: Oh, gosh, that is a big question. It's a mixture of Democrats' sort of sometimes antagonism towards faith, particularly conservative expressions of faith. There are some key policy differences. And it's also, you know, Donald Trump's very explicit case that he'll protect them and, unfortunately, Democrats not making a case to white evangelicals themselves. We didn't do that in 2016. Barack Obama is someone who made a direct case, and we saw some - he did better among white evangelicals than our 2016 nominee did. And hopefully, the Democratic candidates in 2020 correct that.

INSKEEP: Michael Wear, thanks so much.

WEAR: Hey, great to be with you.

INSKEEP: He was part of President Obama's 2012 campaign and is the founder of Public Square Strategies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.