Also, check out an excerpt from Sarah Posner's new book God's Profits out now from Polipoint Press.
1. Gaffes, God, and Demagoguery
Compare and contrast: Samantha Power, who has devoted her career to ending genocide and war, calls Hillary Clinton a "monster" and is banished from Barack Obama's campaign. John Hagee, who has devoted his career to disseminating conspiracy theories about Satan, secular humanists, feminists, environmentalists, LGBT people, Armageddon, Muslims, and Catholics, and on top of that advocates starting yet another war in the Middle East, endorses McCain for president. All McCain can muster is, "I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics." Later, McCain maintained that Hagee's anti-Catholic remarks had been "taken out of context."
The Catholic League's Bill Donohue, who led the charge in calling on McCain to condemn Hagee's anti-Catholic statements, including calling the church "the great whore," has now issued a statement that McCain did the right thing and, as far as he is concerned, "this case is closed."
What about all the other stuff? Well, never mind. After all, Donohue has a history of big-heartedness toward non-Catholics.
Rest assured McCain will not reject and repudiate the whole Hagee package. Hagee has too big a following and is too connected with the neoconservative foreign-policy brain trust for McCain to risk alienating. The neoconservative elites -- who rely on evangelical grassroots support -- are now, as Gregory Levey reported last week in Salon, engaged in a full-throttle lobbying and PR campaign to undermine the assessment of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran abandoned its project to assemble a nuclear weapon in 2003.
Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI) announced similar lobbying intentions shortly after the NIE was made public, when its executive director, David Brog, told CUFI members that "rest assured that we in CUFI will not be fooled or deterred by the headlines about the NIE. We've read the rest of the story. And we're more worried now than ever. We intend to redouble our efforts to secure economic sanctions on Iran. This remains the only way short of war to avert a tragedy."
McCain may well get explicit about the NIE soon, but meanwhile he's busy showing Hagee's followers that he's no Neville Chamberlain appeasing this century's Hitler, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Just like Bush appealed to evangelicals by using coded language (such as referring to the Dred Scott decision as code for his opposition to Roe v. Wade), McCain's new ad invoking the image of Winston Churchill was undoubtedly a ploy to appeal to Christian Zionists without alienating other voters.
One of Hagee's favorite motivators for his partisans is to compare them to Churchill (and its detractors to the Nazi appeaser Chamberlain). When likening Ahmadinejad to Hitler, Hagee cautions his followers against acting like an enabling Chamberlain and exhorts them to aspire to be a heroic Churchill. As Hagee told his followers in 2006, just months after launching CUFI, "if you compare world history from 1935 until 1939 we are reliving that era. In that era Hitler pledged to kill the Jews and the people of the free world were trying to come to grips with the rise of Hitler's dictatorship and the threat to democracy. Only Winston Churchill got it right!"
2. The Backstory
As Craig Unger shows in his most recent book, The Fall of the House of Bush, essential reading for anyone who wants to fully understand the relationship between neoconservative hawks and evangelical Zionists, McCain's need for Hagee's approval is nothing new. The relationship between the neocons and the Christian right has been -- a marriage of convenience to be sure -- serving the neoconservative war lust and the Christian right's agenda to take dominion over government.
This week I caught up with Unger, and we talked about how that alliance, which dates back to the 1970s, continues to serve the Republican Party's electoral strategy. In 1977, said Unger, then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, recognizing that the number of American evangelicals dwarfed the number of American Jews, saw the need to form an alliance with Jerry Falwell. "So you saw that relationship [between the Christian right and the neocons] grow and grow and grow," said Unger, "and it becomes enormously important with the Iraq War." After 9-11, Unger writes in his book, "if Saddam was Satan's man for the hour, to American evangelicals, it followed naturally that George W. Bush was God's." In our interview Unger added, "The ideology of the neocons is really a secular version of the [evangelicals'] theology" that God granted Israel the land from the Nile to Euphrates River, and that Israel should give up "not one inch."
McCain's efforts to make nice with the Christian right aren't just about mending fences over his alleged backsliding on abortion and gay marriage. They're also about proving his determination to carry out more war, and to pay only lip service to efforts to make a lasting peace in the Middle East.
3. Can McCain Pull Off What Bush Did?
McCain, of course, is now trying desperately to make up for having once called Falwell an "agent of intolerance," for being incapable of speaking in the evangelical language about his personal faith (as Bush did), and for having once associated with the foreign-policy realists disdained by the neoconservatives. "McCain is going to do everything he can to repair that," said Unger, noting that McCain's foreign-policy team is now stacked with neoconservatives.
Surely McCain's speech on Friday to the Council for National Policy (CNP), which, with its membership of neoconservative and Christian-right elites, was a cheerleader for the 2002 Iraq War, was intended to assuage both the Christian right and the neocons -- not to mention disgruntled anti-tax and anti-immigration activists. Although there were hints dropped that the CNP would break with its normal protocol of secrecy and release a copy of McCain's speech, his campaign said he delivered the speech off talking points, so no prepared text was released. The CNP, however, said the speech would be posted on its Web site in a week or so.(For more on the CNP's secrecy, see here.)
4. Has the Evangelical Center Arrived?
Yesterday, in a downtown Washington office building with a fabulous view of the television trucks staking out rendezvous de Spitzer, Third Way hosted a panel discussion on the emerging evangelical center. Third Way, longtime FundamentaList readers will recall, worked with some of the same religious leaders on the panel to draft Come Let Us Reason Together, which seeks common ground between progressives and centrist evangelicals on issues like abortion, LGBT rights, and the environment.
I'll be analyzing this phenomenon in the coming weeks, poring over new developments like the Southern Baptist Convention's new statement on climate change, today's discussion at the Family Research Council of Tony Perkins and Harry Jackson's new book, Personal Faith, Public Policy, which seeks to reframe the rhetoric and political tactics of the religious right, and panels about the role of faith at next week's Take Back America conference.
With the movement of evangelicals away from the Republican Party in the news so much lately, I asked the panel whether they thought Barack Obama's statement that the Sermon on the Mount supported his position on same-sex unions would appeal to evangelical centrists. "Most evangelicals still think that God's will for sexuality is between a man and a woman in lifelong marriage," replied the Rev. Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, after no one else on the panel leapt to address the question. "I doubt that many evangelicals think the Sermon on the Mount really is very relevant to the question of whether to support civil unions."
So much for that effort by Obama to reach that now coveted evangelical center.
5. The Right's Anti-Obama Campaign
"Is Obama Really A Muslim?" asks Rob Schenck of the Christian-right organization Faith and Action in a new Web video. "In the Muslim world, for a man to be born of a Muslim father is, in fact, for him to be Muslim," says Schenck. "Whether you can truly stop being a Muslim or not is something of an unanswered question." At the end, for anyone who could tolerate Schenck's f15-minute meandering, he concludes, "no, he is not a Muslim. And yet the question haunts us, how does the Muslim world see that?"
And the Web site Black Genocide, which aims to "reveal the disproportionate number of black babies exterminated by the abortion industry in America," calls Obama "The Minister of Planned Parenthood":
For those of you that don't know, Barack Obama became a "minister" of Planned Parenthood a long time ago. He's so good at carrying out their racist, murderous, agenda against Afro-Americans and society at large, they gave him a 100% score on his voting record. Planned Parenthood is following the strategy of their racist founder, Margaret Sanger, to the letter. Planed Parenthood is saying, "We have our poster boy! Get him out in front as a lure for their women and men. Get them into our abortion clinics and dismember their children by the millions!" You say absurd? No Way! Planned Parenthood's Valentine cards were sent out to hundreds of thousands of young people in the nation. Whose face is plainly seen waving to them with a big smile? Whose endorsement is given to this racist and calloused organization? Who is used to lure children to give credibility to its hideous plot? Barack Obama, that's who!
Maybe a Muslim, definitely a murderer. But at least not the Antichrist.