Saturday, August 16, 2008

A little convenient

John McCain found himself in deep trouble with fundamentalist Christians. He had the unmitigated gall to suggest that a pro-choice vice presidential candidate (like Tom Ridge) might be okay. Sure, he said a pro-gay VP (like Michael Bloomberg) wouldn’t be okay, but the extreme cares more about stopping all abortion than persecuting gay and lesbian people, if only just.

So it struck me as very, very convenient that today the Chicago Tribune published an “exclusive” interview with McCain in which he talked about his religious faith. But it was more than that: The article detailed how McCain says he led worship services as a POW, and how he prayed “for another minute to keep going”.

The non-religious, or not very religious, may roll their eyes at several parts of the story, but they’re not the intended audience. The people who want to hear about someone suffering for their faith are, and there’s plenty of that in the article—plenty to make McCain sound downright holy.

The Tribune has become a bit weird ever since tycoon Sam Zell bought the paper, but I have no idea if he’s using his paper to promote McCain, or to avoid the appearance of slighting him. I know nothing at all about the reporter, Jill Zuckman, so I’m not suggesting she has a political bias. And maybe I’m being just a bit too suspicious about this, too cynical. But given the tone and direction of the McCain campaign, it’s only natural to think like this.

However, the clincher for me came at the end:

McCain's friends say they believe God had a plan for him, allowing him to survive to put him on the cusp of the presidency. He, too, acknowledges that idea, though cautiously. "I can't help but feel like that to some extent, and I'm not a fatalist," said McCain. "I think it's remarkable that I've been able to survive so much and to have the opportunity to do the right thing. I do think we make our own choices, but certainly I think I was meant to serve a cause greater than my self-interest."

Does that sound familiar? George Bush and his supporters said much the same thing, although Bush more directly claimed a divine mandate than McCain did. And that humility, of sorts, may actually work as well for McCain as Bush’s chutzpah did for him.

So, yeah, I think this article was too convenient to have been an accident or a coincidence, especially since it was published the day before McCain and Obama have a joint appearance at a California megachurch.

What troubles me about all this is that, as the article put it, “polling suggests voters view faith as an essential ingredient in a president.” That sounds like a de facto religious test for office, something the US Constitution forbids. That’s a topic in itself, but I wonder if this religious test has evolved more because voters truly think it’s important, or if they think it’s important because the media tell them it is. Articles like this make me think the latter is at least a factor.

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