By Lynn Paris
Politics and Religion Revisited
I have thoroughly enjoyed the political arena during the last few months. Let me count the ways. First, I guess, is that no matter who you are or what your party affiliation, there is something exhilarating about having an African American AND a woman as the two battling it out for the Democratic nomination. It’s not just unprecedented; it changes everything for the future of politics in our great nation, which must be considered a positive thing.
Secondly, we have the most fascinating range of choices: a political neophyte, a political pro, and a seasoned politician. I call Senator Obama a neophyte only in comparison to the other two remaining in the race. Clearly he’s had experience in the Senate and in his home state of Illinois, just not a whole lot of it. He’s brilliant, articulate to the point of inspirational, and he’s captured the passion and imagination of many, especially our younger voters. Senator Clinton is the pro because she’s been politically involved far longer, and has more experience in all aspects of politicking: the good, the bad, and the ugly. She’s also brilliant, and articulate on the details, garnering her support and admiration from older voters, those who by nature tend to put a higher premium on wisdom gained through experience. Finally, I call Senator McCain seasoned, which is probably just another way of saying old. But he’s a genuine war hero, the real deal, a man whose courage has inspired me ever since I worked on the design of The National Prisoner of War Museum. And proclaiming his conservative credentials as he must, he’s still a 71-year-old political maverick, a trait I’ve always admired.
In fact, all three have proved that they can rise above partisan politics and reach across the aisle to get things accomplished. None is so firmly entrenched in partisan ideology that he or she can’t put that aside for the good of the country. Which is encouraging, except to those on the extreme left or right of their parties.
But what I’ve most enjoyed during the primary season has been that although it’s been about personalities and issues, it hasn’t been divisive in terms of pitting one part of the country against the other, or even worse, one religious group against the other. The questions that arise concern who can best protect our country against external threats, or who can fix the broken economy, or who, indeed is ready on Day One, but not who a particular group, en masse, should vote for because it is their moral obligation to do so.
Which to me means that the Democrats learned well the lesson of 2004, which is that playing to anything but God and country in America just doesn’t play very well, except perhaps in Hollywood. That’s pretty much based on the indisputable fact that while 16% of the population label themselves as “unaffiliated” in terms of religion, a whopping 84%, according to the recent Pew Foundation Survey on the Religious Landscape in America, categorize themselves as “affiliated” with a religion, and 78% of those are members of one of the Christian denominations. Even among the “unaffiliated,” 12% were not atheists or agnostics by their own estimation, but rather describe their religion as "nothing in particular," with about half saying faith is at least somewhat if not very important to them. It’s a fact that no one running for President can afford to ignore, regardless of what Bill Maher and friends might want you to believe.
So rather than it being a divisive issue, religion has become a common-to-all issue, which is to say, it’s no longer an issue. The fact that the Obama campaign felt it necessary to place a flier on the windshield of everyone’s car in our church’s parking lot stating that he’s a “Committed Christian” had nothing to do with him trying to attract religious voters to his campaign, but with the fact that he felt it necessary to combat the false insinuations about him being Muslim that had been circulating on the internet.
OK, so all the candidates are religious; all are Christians. Does this mean that the 1.7% of the population who are Jewish or the 0.7% who are Buddhists should feel disenfranchised? Absolutely not. Because the candidates all believe in freedom of religion as guaranteed in our Constitution, and in the establishment clause insuring that no religion should become the “national” religion, or receive preferential treatment over any other religion. Again, it’s no longer an issue.
So what ARE the issues? In the presidential election it’s going to come down to big vs. little government, Bush tax cuts or middle-class tax cuts, leaving troops in or withdrawing them from Iraq (which no matter what anyone says now will still depend on what happens in the next eight months) and CHANGE. For the Republicans, is John McCain enough of a change from George W. or too much of one? For the country, is Obama or Clinton change enough to win automatically? Does Obama have the advantage over Clinton when running against McCain based on the mere fact that he’s not a Bush or a Clinton? Or can Clinton, as she claims, stand toe-to-toe with McCain and argue the issues on a more equal footing? Will Obama’s youth and relative lack of Washington insider status make McCain appear too old and too tired, or will it make Obama appear too young and too idealistic? Or just young and idealistic enough.
We don’t know the answers to these questions. But we do know, with some certainty, that there won’t be some ideological sub-text going on that further divides the country.
I received an interesting email the other day, right before the Texas primary, from one of my most liberal, secular friends in California. I could almost picture her carefully parsing her words for fear of offending me.
The email said: Dear Texans, “I know it is a free country, so I just thought I'd forward my 2 cents. I really like Obama. I am reading his biography and think he's an honest guy with good morals and good sense. Happy voting tomorrow! ;)
PS - I'll always love you guys no matter who you vote for. Hope everyone is doing well!
That was “code” for “I know you have to vote for a Republican because you’re Christians, but I just wanted you to know that Obama has good moral values too.” And I could also imagine her surprise when I wrote back that I like Obama too, and had read “Audacity of Hope” ages ago. I was not telling her whom I planned to vote for. But I WAS telling her that no one else could or would tell me either. More importantly, though, I was letting her know that religion is not an issue. I’ll vote for the man or woman I think will make the best president of our country. In my opinion, that’s the only good reason to vote.
me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com