1. After McCain Ditches Hagee, He A Gets Warm Reception at AIPAC and Advice from Ralph Reed
First John McCain dances with the stars of apocalyptic televangelism, then turns in his dance card. Now he gets some unsolicited advice from Ralph Reed, once the poster boy for the Christian right, later the business partner of McCain's old adversary, felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and now the author of a (ahem, fictional) political thriller. Reed says McCain should bypass evangelical leaders, presumably because of their pesky vaults of fire-breathing old sermons, and go straight for the grassroots.
In the past, this hasn't exactly proved to be a fruitful approach for McCain, who has appeared pained in front of evangelical audiences, but he was in his element at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference this week. There, brandishing one's neoconservative credentials and indulging the audience's hero-worship of Joe Lieberman gets you at least polite applause. But even though McCain got a decent reception, the audience didn't go gaga over him like it did over John Hagee last year. McCain's biggest applause line came at his mere mention of Lieberman, who, like AIPAC, has refused to distance himself from Hagee. Although Hagee did not return for an encore performance, his surrogates, CUFI's executive director David Brog and board member Gary Bauer, spoke on a panel called "Friends of Faith: Evangelical Christians and the Pro-Israel Movement," which was closed to the press.
The over 7,000 AIPAC delegates, the largest crowd ever assembled by the group, were reasonably enthusiastic as McCain paid lip service to the special relationship the United States and Israel enjoy, which played on the conference's theme, "Built to Last." The slogan, emblazoned throughout the D.C. Convention Center, it felt vaguely reminiscent of a car commercial and wouldn't you know, Chevy ran the "Built to Last, Built to Love" ad campaign earlier this year, when car sales were at a 15-year low.
The U.S.-Israeli relationship may well be built to last, but in AIPAC's (and McCain's) world it's not built to love, but rather to wage war. As Daniel Levy put it, McCain offered "the same vision of perpetual warfare served up by Bush ... . What was most remarkable though was how shallow and devoid of context McCain's understanding of the region proved to be. He is indeed positioning himself as the true inheritor of the neoconservative mantle." With his singular fixation on "Iran, Iraq and some terrorists running around in Gaza and Lebanon," McCain not only promises to mimic Bush in action, but in political mobilizing as well. Throw the masses their simple-minded red meat of diplomacy-never-works-with-Jew-hating-terrorists, he seems to think, and they'll follow the trail all the way to the voting booth.
2. Booing at AIPAC.
Nancy Pelosi was booed last year for speaking critically about the Iraq War and so this year AIPAC warned delegates before the conference not to boo Democrats. But some couldn't help themselves: An audible groan arose from the crowd when McCain reminded them that Obama didn't support the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and which overwhelmingly passed the Senate last year. (Obama will be speaking to the group this morning, after press time.)
McCain was followed by a panel discussion which included vice-presidential daughter and former State Department official Liz Cheney, who asserted that "the time for diplomacy with Iran is rapidly coming to an end," suggested that the presidential candidates "should take lessons from this administration," and extolled how the Bush Administration "has gotten it right" and has "been less successful when less bold."
That Cheney wasn't booed says everything.
3. Hagee Splits Evangelicals, But Can McCain Have It Both Ways?
I reported a couple of weeks ago that the religious right was not taking kindly to McCain's unceremonious dumping of Hagee, and that he would have trouble mobilizing voters as a result, but the Rev. Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, says the whole incident won't matter much in the fall for centrist evangelicals. Sider has been a critic of both Hagee's politics (and in particular, his opposition to a two-state solution) and his eschatology, asserting that a very small fraction of evangelicals ascribe to Hagee's view of the end-times. All evangelicals believe that Jesus Christ will return, Sider said, but only a small number of them believe the scenario can be laid out with the certainty (or the nuttiness) with which Hagee does.
Sider lamented the lack of polling data providing hard numbers on where evangelicals fall on these issues. But he conceded that Hagee-esque views on the end-times are more common among Pentecostals/charismatics than other evangelicals. A 2006 Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life survey found that Pentecostal/charismatic evangelicalism is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the
United States and the world, currently comprising roughly 30% of all American Protestants. Not all Pentecostals or charismatics are Hagee clones, of course, and many non-charismatics buy into similar eschatology. But a common perception, which Sider disputed, is that a majority of evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution. Clearly, more polling, with more detailed questions about respondents' views on the truth of biblical prophecy, Israel, and the end-times, is sorely needed.
Calling McCain's outreach to both Hagee and Rod Parsley "dreadfully uninformed," Sider added that neither the fact that he sought them out nor that he later rejected their endorsements will have much bearing on evangelical voting patterns in the fall. Instead, he argued that evangelicals will look at the candidates' positions on a host of issues, including abortion, gay marriage, poverty, and the environment. Yet while the evangelical center has branded itself through its expansion beyond abortion and gay marriage as core concerns, these issues are still very, very important, and even self-described centrist evangelicals remain very, very conservative on them. Case in point: Sider called Obama's position on abortion "extreme." But he demonstrates that he's not a compliant captive of conservative ideology when he calls the Bush tax cuts, which McCain wants to make permanent, "fundamentally immoral."
4. Hagee's Jewish Friends Don't Care that the Anti-Christ Will Be Jewish And Gay.
The battle lines are drawn. Many Jews, as well as evangelicals think Hagee has gone off the deep end, but for his diehard Jewish fans, one, two, or ten thousand more video clips of sermons are not going to change any minds. They will never be convinced that he is a secret anti-Semite, and they will continue to distinguish between his preaching (about which they claim not to care) and his politics (which they claim to adore).
Writing in The Jerusalem Post, neocon darling Caroline Glick sums up the essence of Jewish-neocon-Hagee alliance with "now is the time to stand united with our friends against our common enemies." For Glick, friends include evangelicals like Hagee and his backers at the American Jewish Committee and the Zionist Organization of America. Enemies include "international Left," "Islamic Jew-hatred," the "pro-Palestinian Jewish American lobbying group J Street," and "Democratic activists desperate to find a Republican counterpart to [the Rev. Jeremiah] Wright."
McCain may have hoisted a campaign trail albatross off his neck, but the right will continue to serve up a martyred Hagee -- its very own Wright, his great works reduced to a few unhinged sermons unearthed by political enemies. But let's be clear. Hagee's supposed good works serve one overarching purpose: the Christianization of the Middle East and the world through divinely-sanctioned war that will decimate the Muslim world. While Hagee's backers might be angry that McCain tossed him aside, who else are they going to vote for? McCain's bellicosity at AIPAC is a window into how he will on the one hand try to appeal to moderates by renouncing Hagee but nonetheless pander to the base by saber-rattling on Iran.
5. Hagee to Rack Up New List of Jewish Endorsers?
I'm told that more Jewish endorsements of Hagee are to follow those of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (the rabbi of Efrat on the West Bank) and former New York Mayor Ed Koch. (Ed Koch! Who cares what he thinks?) But Hagee's spokesperson tells me this week supportive statements are forthcoming from "Jewish organizations and individuals," as well as conservative, orthodox, and even reform "rabbis of significant size congregations," some numbering in the 2,500-3,000 range, who will be "separating themselves" from Union for Reform Judaism President Eric Yoffie and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Director David Saperstein. Will this list be comprised of people with more currency than Ed Koch? I'll report as soon as I find out.