With God on His Side

Mark Pryor has a problem. A Democratic senator in a state Barack Obama lost by 24 points, in a region where party identification is an increasingly rigid tribal marker, Pryor needs to get voters to look beyond the D next to his name if he's going to win re-election next year. So how does he do it? By appealing to an even higher tribal identification. Forget politics, he all but says in his new ad—all you need to know about me is that I'm right with the Lord. Take a look:

The ad's first line is, "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in his Word." In America in general, and in Arkansas in particular, saying "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God" is sort of like saying, "I'm not ashamed to say that I love my children." Such courage! But of course, these days the fantasy of persecution is de rigeur among evangelicals, what with the War on Christmas raging, so it makes good political sense for Pryor to tell voters that like them, he feels the sting of discrimination when he sees a department store sign reading "Happy Holidays."

The context here is that Arkansas is not just a state with a dwindling number of Democrats, it's also one of the most religious states in the country, and of a particular kind. According to Gallup, Arkansas is tied for the fourth-most-religious state, measured by the proportion of people who say they are "very religious" (only Mississippi, Utah, and Alabama rank higher). And perhaps more importantly, according to the Pew Research Center, Arkansas is tied with Oklahoma for the largest percentage of evangelical Christians of any state, at 53 percent of the population. Arkansas ranks eighth in the frequency of attendance at religious service, seventh in the frequency of prayer, third in the percentage who say religion is very important in their lives, and fifth in the certainty with which people believe in God, with 84 percent saying they believe with "absolute certainty."

Lest you get your dander too far up at Pryor, Ed Kilgore points to Pryor's assertion that "The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right" as an admirable statement of humility, one that contrasts with the insistence of so many on the Christian right that they know exactly what God thinks about each and every policy question. That's fair enough. And it's a reminder that when politicians air ads whose essential message is, "I am super-Christian, just like you," there is some variation in exactly what they're saying. You may have a fundamental discomfort with this kind of thing, but some ads along similar lines (like this one, which starts with an almost identical line but then gets much more vulgar) are worse than others.

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