Charles Krauthammer has a great piece
running today at NRO (and I presume also the WaPo, though I trawled past NRO first this morning, so can't be sure).
In it, he points out that one's religious devotion shouldn't confer special status where politics is concerned-- even though several candidates (and not just Republicans, I might add) are trying it on. He says he "hasn't exactly invented hot water" with this argument, but I have to say, his point feels rather novel and noteworthy, particularly in the context of this campaign.
Krauthammer is right to point out Obama's playing of the religion card (I've noted his links with the likes of Rick Warren, which he's all too keen to exploit, before
). But what's noteworthy is that other Democrats, in the context of this campaign, have been willing to make religion an issue, too. Take for example Hillary, who as the Economist has noted
evidently considered becoming a Methodist minister-- something she's been happy enough to raise in the context of her campaign, presumably in an effort to counter Obama's own straight religious (as opposed to more issues-based) appeal to certain voters.
Then, of course, we have Huckabee and Romney-- the dynamic duo duking it out over immigration, taxes and yes, it would now appear, theology, with Huckabee making comments about Mormons believing that Jesus and Lucifer and brothers (and subsequently apologizing) and Romney getting offended about his faith being put front and center when just a week ago, he was claiming you can't have freedom without religion, and doing something quite similar (though without regard to a specific doctrine).
To me, all of it feels a little like a) getting away from this issues (something I abhor in politics) and b) making religiosity a qualifier for public office, rather than a personal attribute and right that should be protected. The worrying thing, for me, is that a lot of people don't have an issue with this. I've had countless emails from readers who proclaim that my objections to candidates making religious appeals (as all of the above mentioned have done to a greater or lesser degree-- and let's be fair, Obama and Huckabee are the two most guilty) are ridiculous and I'm some kind of secularist atheist who wants religion banned from the public square. They point out that Carter and Reagan engaged in this kind of politicking (something which, frankly, I am too young to remember) and that somehow, this proves there's nothing wrong with it (and that in fact, it should be encouraged).
I disagree-- and it's not because I'm a secularist atheist (actually, I'm a Catholic who prefers Latin Mass, putting me, I think, closer to Pat Buchanan and Antonin Scalia than Pete Stark where religious matters are concerned). It's because I think issues and policy matter. And while it's true that some members of some faiths tend to hold certain issue and policy positions (for example, I don't know a lot of Jews who think the US should curtail all foreign aid to Israel; likewise, I don't know a lot of evangelicals who think abortion at month 8 should be allowed), outreach on the basis of faith, as opposed to issues, strikes me as a bit lazy and indeed opting out of the real nitty-gritty of presidential politics: debating your opponents over specific proposals and solutions, as opposed to just making some groups feel warm and loved because, hey, you pray like them.
I'm not saying that issues and policy debate have gone out the window in this campaign, by any means. But I do think that the more religion is a focus, as opposed to particular issue positions that may be held by people of faith (or even a particular faith), the more debate on the big, important, critical stuff stops, or gets put on the back burner.