. . . Monday June 14, 2004

On a Right Wing and a Prayer

There is it seems no better way to exalt your faith in god than to focus your religious devotion on personal gain. Either that or President Bush is really hoping that he can figure out a way to get James Caviezel to play him when they make a movie about this administration.

The centrality of religion in this President’s political life was on display once again during his recent visit to the Vatican when he pushed for more support from U.S. bishops when it comes to same-sex marriage and other potentially divisive issues.

Of course the desire to court Catholics and the willingness to use religion as a political tool (and unfortunately, a policy guide) is nothing new for President Bush. Don’t forget that a few weeks ago we were hearing a debate about whether or not pro-choice candidates should be allowed to take communion.

I wonder if the timing of that debate has anything to do with the fact that Kerry is Catholic?

Because Bush has at times turned his candidacy into a “crusade” and because he has such a strong following among evangelicals, opponents have often avoided the strategy of bringing religion into the mix.

Maybe the time has come. We have seen, one by one, Bush’s supposed strong points become his weaknesses; the war in Iraq, the bluster, the honesty question, etc. Will religion be the final pillar to fall?

Ron Reagan, in eulogizing his father, made reference Bush’s use of faith: “Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference.”

Forget wearing faith on his sleeve – from faith-based programs to scientific and medical roadblocks to biblical references during speeches about war – W is dressed in it from head to toe. Politically, he uses it both as a staff and a sword.

But maybe that’s a mistake.

Look at some of these numbers from a Time Magazine poll:

59% of very religious people support Bush

35% of very religious people support Kerry

(Less of a split than I would have imagined)

How do Catholics plan to vote?

45% support Kerry

43% support Bush

But only 33% even know that Kerry is Catholic

(in contrast to many of us who insist he’s still Jewish)

75% of Catholics disagree with Bishops who deny Eucharist to politicians who dissent with Church on abortion.

70% say Catholic Church should not try to influence Catholic politicians or Catholic voters.

And remember, Kerry has a commanding lead of 69%-22% among those who don’t consider themselves to be very religious.

Is there a chance that the Bush-Rove team has pushed the envelope too far on religion? Could it be that the President’s most core beliefs will ultimately lead to a separation of Bush and State?

I am convinced that the time has come for the Dems to ask this question: How much of a role do you want religion to play in the White House? I’m not suggesting that Kerry take to the road and hit people over the head with this issue. I am suggesting that Kerry offer some statements along the lines of what Ron Reagan said and that the Democrats do a better job of painting a clear picture of religion’s role in this White House. I think the issue trends towards Kerry if voters are given a good overview of what’s on the President’s sleeve and what’s up it.

Concentration is important!