Steven Waldman: 2004 Convention Blog

Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman writes daily dispatches from the 2004 political conventions.


"A Calling from Beyond the Stars"

Bush is to God-talk what Clinton was to policy-talk and Michael Phelps is to swimming. He's the master, the best. Though he occasionally stumbles, for the most part, there is no one better at discussing faith in a way that is both inspiring and non-threatening. In sheer number of words, he actually spoke about faith less in his acceptance speech than Kerry did in his. But when he did, it was powerful. Instead of saying directly that we have divine mandate to fight for freedom in the world, he said "we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom."

In talking about the mothers of soldiers who died, he said, "And I have met with parents and wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I am in their prayers to offer encouragement to me."

And how brilliant was this story about an Iraqi man who had been tortured by Saddam Hussein? "During our emotional visit one of the Iraqi men used his new prosthetic hand to slowly write out, in Arabic, a prayer for God to bless America," he said. Bush certainly can't be accused of promoting American religious triumphalism: It's about Muslims calling on Allah to bless America!

Oh, and Did We Mention God Must Be Thanked for Giving Us George W. Bush?

However, it must be remembered that Bush was, in effect, the author not only of his own words but all the words uttered by the major speakers. They all were written or edited by campaign central command. So while Bush's rhetoric was subtle and inspiring, he signed off on speech after speech that heavy-handedly implied he was put in office at this moment by God Almighty.

"He is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge," said George Pataki.

"I thank God that on September 11th, we had a president who didn't wring his hands and wonder what America had done wrong to deserve this attack," he added.

"I thank God we had a president who understood that America was attacked, not for what we had done wrong, but for what we did right," he added again, in case you didn't get the message.

This echoed lines from Rudy Giuliani's speech:

"Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, 'Thank God George Bush is our President.' And I say it again tonight: Thank God George Bush is our President."

The Silent Scream of the Platform

The Republican platform, p. 92: "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution." That means the official position of the party is banning pretty much all abortions, not just partial birth. And yet in the speech Bush merely said he would work to value "the unborn child." His refusal to actually speak about one of the most important positions of the Republicsan Party platform struck me as not exhibiting the forthrightness and moral clarity about which he spoke in other contexts.

Faith-Based Unilateralism

I was surprised Bush had only one line about the faith-based initiative. That seemed like a missed opportunity since his approach to that issue is actually quite similar to the approach he took to Iraq, showing hte same sense of toughness and swagger. He met with resistance from the cumbersome legislative branch, so he went around them and enacted his policies through executive order.

Of course, one could argue it showed the same flaws in his style as well. Critics say that he actually could have had a bipartisan agreement in Congress on the faith-based intiative--there was strong support–-but he preferred scoring political points to building a broad consensus. (Even the guy who actually ran his program said Bush opted for going alone over bipartisanship: "I could cite a half-dozen examples, but, on the so-called faith bill, they basically rejected any idea that the president's best political interests-not to mention the best policy for the country-could be served by letting centrist Senate Democrats in on the issue."). Bush has, in fact, accomplished a great deal through unilateral action but did so in a way that didn't build a bipartisan political consensus that was within his grasp.

Mary Cheney Missing Again?

Was Mary Cheney, the vice president' lesbian daughter, missing again from the final family celebration on the podium after Bush's speech? I'm eager to hear the explanation but at first blush this continues to be appalling. Even the most conservative of religious conservatives say that it's the duty of the parent to give unconditional love to their child.

What possible explanation is there here that doesn't make the Cheneys look like ghoulish parents? I suppose we should wait for more information; perhaps she had an appendicitis attack and was immobile. More likely, either they discouraged her from appearing or she voluntarily exiled herself, not wanting to embarrass her dad, at which point dad should have said, "I love you. You belong up here with me."

As I wrote earlier, perhaps Mary said she couldn't wound her partner by going up there without her. If that was the case, the compassionate thing for the Cheneys to do would be take away the awkwardness by having the podium scene without spouses. They would have produced a slightly less cheery photo up but made a powerful statement about love, pride and family.

And this has nothing to do with one's position on gay marriage. Having Mary Cheney up there would have in no way contradicted either Dick Cheney or George W. Bush's policies on gay marriage. Bush should be asked about this, too. Powerful evidence was offered that, on a personal level, Bush is a compassionate man. So why didn't he go to Cheney and say: "Hey, don't sweat it Dick. Mary is part of our family. Don't worry about the politics"?

And for the Rebuttal, Cardinal Egan

George Pataki: "Senator Kerry says, 'America should go to war not when it wants to go to war but when it has to go to war.' Well, Senator: the fire fighters and cops who ran into those burning towers and died on September 11th didn't want to go to war, they were heroes in a war they didn't even know existed."

New York's Cardinal Egan, selected by the Bush campaign to deliver the benediction Thursday night: "Make us, Lord, a people of wisdom and understanding who resort to conflict only when all hope of peace is lost."

Ann Coulter? Meet Ron Silver

Overheard: Conservative author Ann Coulter to actor Ron Silver, who spoke at the convention.

Coulter: "Your speech was spectacular! Spectacular!"

Silver: "So, please remember when you hear me on West Wing, those are Aaron Sorkin's words, not mine. I'm an actor."

Woodrow W. Bush

As I stood on the floor of the hall last night, I was thinking this could have been a speech delivered by Woodrow Wilson, the liberal Democratic president who led America in World War I. Bush mentioned the poor more than Kerry had and was more idealistic than Kerry was in his foreign policy aspirations. "The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom," he said. Of course, it was the Republicans who argued at the time that such romanticism had no place in foreign policy and that the main goal of military strength should be defend America, not advance freedom.

Mary Cheney's Absence

I gather that after Dick Cheney’s speech, Mary Cheney, the vice president’s gay daughter, did not go up on the platform with the rest of the family--her sister, her sister's husband, and their kids.

This strikes me as potentially a huge and poignant story. Perhaps the Cheneys told her she couldn’t come up, but I think that’s extremely unlikely. I’m guessing that Mary Cheney faced an excruciating decision. If she went up without her partner it would be a huge insult to her partner. If she went up with her partner, it might hurt or complicate life for her father.

Dick Cheney could have avoided putting Mary in such an awkward position by not having any family members up after the speech, but then that wouldn't have been as good a photo op. Did he end up humiliating his daughter in order to get a better image?

Is That a Cross on the Podium?

Is there a cross subtly embedded in the speakers' lectern at the Republican convention? When liberal talk radio host Ellen Rattner first starting complaining about this I thought she must be hallucinating. Then I looked at the picture on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. Sure enough, the light-grained wood makes a clear cross on the speakers podium. "It is a cross. It's an embedded cross," Rattner said. "You can't miss it." She said she didn't notice it until a friend of hers who was raised evangelical pointed it out. She suspects, therefore, that it was one of those symbols designed to be missed by all except evangelicals.

The problem, of course, is that any two lines intersecting form a cross, so if you look for them, you can find crosses many places.

A very popular 9/11 icon is a photo taken of two World Trade Center steel girders mangled into the shape of a a perfect cross. Christian merchandizers sell images of this by the thousands. So I suppose if Christians believe


is a genuine spiritual sign, it's harder for them to say the podium is just a coincidence.

"How Can We Shoot Liberals?"

The campaign set up a Grand Old Marketplace stocked with Republican paraphernalia stores. Convention brochures described it as the place for "Official Convention Souvenier Shopping."

I have to say, the Republican button peddlers had a much better and funnier variety than those at the Democratic Convention, which just offered stodgy Kerry-Edwards buttons.

But I was also amazed at how mean some of them were. Among the buttons I picked up the mini-mall there were:

"Beauty and the Beast" featuring a picture of Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.

"If They Take Our Guns How Can We Shoot Liberals?"

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" with photos of Bush, Kerry and Hillary.

"Hollywood Acts...Like They're Un-American."

Right near the "Christians for Bush" button was one that made me do a double take. It appears to be an elephant mounting the backside of a donkey. "Keep Bush on Top." Surely this isn't what I think it is.

Well, here it is so you can decide for yourself:


The Righteous Rule

By the way, the most common religion buttons were:

"Christians for Bush" (No buttons for other religions)

"When the righteous rule, the people rejoice. Prov. 29:2" (Photo of Bush, head bowed)

"One Man, One Woman. Just as God Intended. Bush Cheney 2004"

Zell Miller's Faith

Several hours before watching Zell Miller's keynote speech I went to a screening of a movie called "George W. Bush: Faith in the White House." It is going to be sent to most churches in America. The narrative in a nutshell: Bush was raised in a religious home (but not too religious because that would ruin the story), became a louse and a drunk, found faith, became a strong leader and a better person. They had actors re-enacting key spiritual moment like Bush's conversation with Billy Graham--and, in great detail, the time he rebuffed a campaign worker who wanted to have an affair with him.

A few hours later Zell Miller yelled these words:

"I can identify with someone who has lived that line in 'Amazing Grace,' 'Was blind, but now I see,' and I like the fact that he's the same man on Saturday night that he is on Sunday morning."

It tracked nicely the official line on Bush's faith journey, which stresses not just his faith but his transformation. I was somewhat surprised that the film placed so much emphasis on his marital fidelity. With that fresh in my brain, I heard Miller's "Sunday morning" line as a subtle attempt to remind people of Clinton.

His other interesting religion line: "I am moved by the…fact that he is unashamed of his belief that God is not indifferent to America."

This was interesting on two levels. It appealed to the sense among many evangelicals that they are mocked and persecuted for their beliefs. George W. Bush has been unafraid to let it all hang out.

This line also delves into the controversial debate over whether God is specifically on America's side. In truth, most presidents have claimed God for the home team. Kerry took a different approach in his speech by quoting Lincoln: "I don't want to claim that God is on our side. 'As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.'"

Cheney on Evil

Cheney had only one faith-related line but it was an important one. He said Bush exhibited "a moral seriousness that calls evil by its name." I've long believed that, politically speaking, Bush's faith has strong appeal even among many people who aren't religious--because it seems to drive him toward moral clarity.

Billy Graham Shouldn't Get All the Credit

Campaign biographies, official and unofficial, say it was Bush's walk on the beach with Billy Graham that set him on the right path. Stephen Mansfield's book, "The Faith of George W. Bush," says that was an important moment but that actually it was another preacher who had already done the heavier spiritual lifting. Arthur Blessitt was an evangelist who achieved renown by carrying a 12-foot cross on long walks around the world. In April of 1982 he was in Midland, Texas. He got a call from Jim Sale, an oilman and Baptist Church member asking him to visit George W. Bush at Midland's Holiday Inn. According to Mansfield's account, which he attributes to both Blessitt and Sale, this is what happened next:

"After a brief greeting, Bush looked at Blessitt and said, 'Arthur, I did not feel comfortable attending the meeting, but I want to talk to you about how to know Jesus Christ and how to follow Him.'

"The evangelist reflected for a moment and asked, 'What is your relationship with Jesus?'

"'I'm not sure,' Bush replied.

"'Let me ask you this question,' Blessitt probed. 'If you died this moment, do you have the assurance you would go to heaven?'

"Bush did not hesitate. 'No,' he answered.

"The evangelist then began to explain what it meant to know and follow Jesus. He quoted Scripture after Scripture, commenting as he went, and making application to Bush's life. After he had outlined the Christian message, he said, 'The call of Jesus is for us to repent and believe. The choice is like this. Would you rather live with Jesus in your life, or live without Him?'

"'With Him,' Bush replied.

"'Jesus changes us from the inside out,' Blessitt continued. "The world tries to change us from the outside in. Jesus is not condemning you. He wants to save you and cleanse your heart and change your desires. He wants to write your name in the Book of Life and welcome you into his family, now and forever.' Blessitt then asked Jim Sale to tell of his own changed life, believing that Bush would relate to the testimony of a fellow oilman.

"When Sale was done, Blessitt said, 'Mr. Bush, I would like to pray a prayer for you, and then lead you in a prayer of commitment and salvation. You can become a follower of Jesus now.'

"Bush had some questions, though, and the two men took time to answer each one until he seemed satisfied.

"The evangelist pressed again: 'I want to pray with you now.'

"'I'd like that,' Bush said.

"Blessitt then prayed, asking Bush to repeat each phrase after him. The evangelist remembers the prayer as follows.

Dear God, I believe in You, and I need You in my life. Have mercy on me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, as best as I know how, I want to follow You. Cleanse me from my sins, and come into my life as my Savior and Lord.

I believe You lived without sin, died on the cross for my sins, and arose again on the third day, and have now ascended unto the Father.

I love You, Lord; take control of my life. I believe You hear my prayer. I welcome the Holy Spirit of God to lead me in Your way.

I forgive everyone, and I ask You to fill me with Your Holy Spirit and give me love for all people. Lead me to care for the needs of others. Make my home in heaven, and write my name in Your book in heaven.

I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and desire to be a true believer in and follower of Jesus. Thank You, God, for hearing my prayer. In Jesus' name, I pray.

"When the prayer ended, Bush was smiling, and Blessitt began 'rejoicing.' It was 'an awesome and glorious moment.'"

Republicans: The Secular Party?

Just when you think you've got it all figured out. The Democrats were supposed to be uncomfortable with religion and yet speaker after speaker in Boston got up and quoted the Bible and praised the Lord. Since Republicans actually love God-talk, it stood to reason that their convention would be a veritable revival meeting.

Instead, it's been more like an ACLU retreat, at least in terms of the use of religious rhetoric from the top speakers. None of the marquee acts on the first two nights so much as threw in a Bible passage. Democrats Bill Clinton and Barak Obama were downright Pentecostal compared to John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Laura Bush didn't even talk about her husband as a person of strong faith. Given that today's theme was "compassion," I thought they'd surely hit hard the President's "faith based initiative." None of the prime time speakers did so.

Earlier in the day, my colleague Deborah Caldwell went to a “Family, Faith, and Freedom” rally and found it subdued. Jerry Falwell and Gary Bauer, religious firebrands, were there but not allowed to speak. In fact, they weren’t even recognized from the podium. And check out the preamble of the Republican platform, the section that usually has the most inspirational rhetoric: not a single appearance of “faith,” or “God” or “Almighty.” Why the role reversal? For one thing, it's such a given that Bush and the Republicans are religion-happy, they really have nothing to prove. The Democrats, on the other hand, were trying to fix a perceived weakness, so they made a big point of it.

Based on the selection of the speakers, the Bush campaign is clearly viewing the convention as a way of appealing to undecideds more than to rev up the base. They did have two strongly pro-life speakers Tuesday night--Elizabeth Dole and Sam Brownback--but both were before the networks tuned in. No need to scare moderates, after all.

In fact, at this point, it must be clear that while Bush's religiosity has been mostly a positive, Americans still have some sensitivity about mixing politics and religion. A recent Pew Religion Forum poll found that 69% thought it was improper for political campaigns to ask for church rosters and that 65% said churches shouldn't endorse candidates. Sixty-four percent said it was improper for Catholic bishops to deny communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians.

But mostly the explanation is not that Republicans are suddenly religion-shy but that they're concentrating on the grassroots where religion is concerned. While the convention talks of other things, the party is busy implementing what appears to be the most sophisticated effort to mobilize religious voters in American history.

Red God, Blue God

As noted in these pages, the so-called religion gap is actually a church attendance gap. But why does THAT exist?

At a panel discussion Tuesday morning, Michael Cromartie, head of Evangelical Studies at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, suggested that the gap exists because 15% of Democratic voters now are secular, and the party has avoided religious rhetoric and moved to the left on social issues in order to appease that voting block. That in turn has made the party less welcoming to religious voters. The two Democratic panel members disagreed with each other over whether that was true. Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton's former press secretary, felt there was a grain of truth to that theory, but his old friend John Podesta, the former White House chief of staff, said he couldn't recall a single meeting where any adjustments in rhetoric or policy were made to appeal to secularists. "I just have never heard that point made," he said.

This being the Republican convention, the focus was on what mistakes the two political parties have made. But it's also time we asked what this God gap says about religion. Conversely, the question is not why less-frequent attenders vote Democratic, but why Democrats are drawn to church less often. Why are progressive houses of worship unable to create an urgent reason for liberal people to show up on Sundays?

The Olasky Controversy

When I mentioned the Olasky debate to Michael Cromartie, who is a friend of Olasky's, he simply put his hands over his face and shook his head.

Deny Communion to Arnold?

Each time a conservative Catholic suggests that Kerry should be denied communion because he's pro-choice, Democrats point out that few such criticisms get leveled against the pro-choice Republican governors of New York and California. But there is at least one pro-life group that has been consistent in applying its criticism in a bipartisan manner.

Today, about twenty volunteers from the American Life League protested outside a black tie pro-choice fundraiser attended by George Pataki and Rudolph Giuliani, both pro-choice Catholic Republicans. The signs: "You Can't Be Catholic and Be Pro-Abortion" and "Babies Die in Big Tent GOP." Joe Starrs, the director of the Crusade for Defense of Our Catholic Church, said he believed that the bishops should deny communion not only to Kerry, but to Arnold Schwarzenneger and George Pataki.

You're More Uncivil! No You! No You!

There's been much discussion about who caricatures whom most. Our beloved Loose Cannon rebuked Clinton for complaining about mudslinging and then did it himself. At the Red God, Blue God panel, John Podesta talked angrily about the conservative attacks on two different Kerry campaign officials working on religious issues. I've certainly met people this week and at the Democratic convention who caricatured their opponents in grotesque ways. I saw a guy with a Bush button dotted with swastikas and a woman wearing one saying "Terrorists for Kerry," for instance.

This is horribly depressing. Neither side even seems to realize it when they're demonizing their opponents. I'm not going to try to decipher which side is worse. Right now, I'm at the Republican Convention talking mostly to Republicans so I'm more conscious of their excesses. For instance, at a press conference Monday, the American Conservative Union said it would be sending to thousands of churches a helpful, factual pamphlet called "Who Is John Kerry?" Included in that booklet, which will be present alongside pamphlets for the church soup pantry or the Wednesday Bible study, are passages such as these:

"Liberals opposed the death penalty because apparently they don't think people like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer are really responsible for their grisly crimes. Beside, liberals seem convinced that nearly everyone on death row is innocent."

"Liberals don't seem to like traditional families either, because they apparently believe that Mom and Pop teach the kids to be little right-wingers. Many on the Left would like to see children raised in state-approved day care centers or by social workers."

"John Kerry…never met an abortion he didn't like."

"Liberals tend to disapprove of their own country. For this reason, they seem anxious to surrender our nation's sovereignty to any and all world organizations."

"As a young hard-shell leftist who had turned against the war, Kerry may have had an ideological predisposition to favor the communist regime in North Vietnam."

"Like many children of affluent parents, John Kerry joined the so-called New Left in its relentless attack on America."

"You'd have to search carefully through the annals of American history to find a US Senator whose public statements have been better crafted to demoralize our troops at war or to embolden our enemies to resist us more resolutely."

I'm all for churches encouraging their members to vote and to weigh what values are most important to them. But wouldn't it be exciting if houses of worship pledged that they would not allow material in their sacred spaces that dehumanized their opponents, grotesquely mischaracterized their views, or questioned their motives?

The Bush Daughters

I thought the Bush daughters were terrible, just as bad as Teresa Heinz Kerry had been at the Democratic convention. By speaking French in her talk in Boston, Teresa reinforced the idea that the Kerrys were elitist, haughty and, well, French. By issuing forth a string of superficial wise cracks, the Bush daughters reminded me of the less attractive qualities of their Dad. Maybe speechwriters who have no trouble telling some governor or senator to cut out an embarrassing paragraph, get less courageous when it comes to criticizing the candidate's offspring or spouse. I suspect these family appearances {including Laura Bush's strong performance} actually matter more than pundits think. Even though few would admit it, people do judge others by their children and mates. After all, they are walking, talking reflections of the candidate's "family values."

Terrorists for Kerry

Went to a party thrown by the estimable conservative magazine National Review. Spoke to a woman wearing an "I Only Sleep with Republicans" button.

"Hey, I thought Republicans advocated abstinence before marriage," I said.

"That's conservative Republicans," she said.

Who says they don't have a big tent? She said she's uncomfortable wearing Bush-Cheney material in liberal Manhattan, recalling the moment in 1996 when she was wearing a Dole-Kemp button on the subway and people literally got up and walked to another part of the car. It was the consensus of the Republicans I spoke to at this particular bash that Democrats were mean and intolerant. Of course they were wearing buttons like "Terrorists for Kerry" featuring a picture of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Giuliani Thanks God for Bush

I thought former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's speech was quite effective. Sure, there were ironies, like the fact that Giuliani could never be nominated by the Republican Party because he's viewed by many religious conservatives as something close to a war criminal for his support of partial birth abortion. But unlike some of the other speakers who merely conflated Al Quaeda and Iraq (i.e. we were attacked by Al Quaeda, so we struck back…in Iraq), Giuliani actually explained how pummeling Iraq fit into the war on terror.

The speech had one fascinating religious moment. Describing the moments after the 9/11 attacks, he said, "Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, 'Thank God George Bush is our President.' And I say it again tonight: Thank God George Bush is our President."

The fact that Giuliani repeated that phrase made it one of those magical sentences that works in different ways for different audiences. Some heard the casual, colloquial meaning. But to those Americans who believe that God watches over world events, it had a deeper, more literal meaning. Bush and his aides have been quoted as saying that God wanted him to be president for a reason. Giuliani came as close to stating that as one could without blaspheming.

Whether by design or coincidence, this was also a speech that could attract Jewish voters. Guiliani traced the history of terrorism back to the murder of the Israeli Olympians in 1972. He then spoke about the murder of Achille Lauro passenger Leon Klinghoffer, who was killed because he was Jewish. He ridiculed the idea of Yasser Arafat winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The rise of terrorism, he was saying, resulted from the world's unwillingness to combat terrorism against Jews.

Salaam Alaikum. This Mike On?

When a Muslim woman named Zainab al-Suwajj, wearing a head scarf, took the podium and began her speech by saying, "I offer you the traditional Muslim greeting: As Salaam Alaikum--Peace be upon you," the convention crowd did not exactly burst into cheers. Perhaps the delegates didn't know whether it was polite to do so. They listened politely until she started thanking President Bush for liberating Iraq, when they grew enthusiastic. "America, under the strong, compassionate leadership of President Bush, has given Iraqis the most precious gift any nation has ever given another--the gift of democracy and the freedom to determine its own future," she said. "As Iraqis assume full sovereignty, they embrace the American people in friendship and gratitude. I promise you: we will never forget what your sons and daughters did for us." The crowd roared.

A Christian Teleprompter

When I read the prepared text of the speech by Mississippi congressional candidate Clinton LeSueur, I saw the line "The foundation of this great nation is faith," and thought there was nothing controversial in that. Chris Suellentrop at Slate listened to the actual speech, in which LeSueur declared instead: "The very foundation of this country is Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ."

"You Do Not Exist to Bless America"

The popular Christian author Max Lucado gave the benediction at the end of Monday's convention. The most interesting line: "Remind us, oh Lord, that you do not exist to bless America. We exist to bless you."

The full text:

Oh Lord, God of our fathers, You direct the affairs of all nations. You made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. We echo the declaration of Job: "God makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them." Please guide us.

You are the supreme strength of the universe. We trace every decision and blessing back to your hand. Thank you for this nation.

And have mercy upon her.

Please unite our citizens. Nurture the poor, abused, and abandoned.

Protect our children; keep our homeland free from harm. Remind us, oh Lord, that you do not exist to bless America. We exist to bless you. Remind us of your unquenchable, unconditional love.

Affirm us when we seek your will, forgive and correct us, when we don't.

Speak to us about the brevity of this life and the beauty of the next.

And, most of all, prepare our souls for the moment we meet You face to face.

We lay this election before you. And, in the end, Thy will be done.

By the source of mercy we pray.

To you be the glory forever and ever.


Fortune Cookie Messages About Cloning

Dick Cheney's comments last week about believing that states should be able to sanction gay marriages or civil unions prompted a counter-offensive from religious conservative activists.

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, told me today that it was Cheney's comments that prompted his group to propose a new amendment to the GOP platform getting the party on record opposing state laws that allow civil unions. "This was all clouded further by Cheney, which is why we took the opportunity to push this amendment," he said. The proposed platform language adds the sentence: "We further believe that legal recognition and the accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special union of one man and one woman which has been called marriage."

Perkins also showed off a big pile of fortune cookies today filled with messages designed to keep the President on a conservative message. "The party's fortune and future will be determined not by the stars but by how they position themselves" for conservatives, he said. The fortune cookies, which will be distributed to delegates, each have a special conservative message:

  • Real Men Marry Women:
    Support a Constitutional Amendment to Protect Marriage
  • Save the Constitution!
    Impeach an Activist Judge
  • Cures for Diseases - Know the Score
    Embryonic Stem Cell 0 - Adult Stem Cell - 45
  • #1 Reason to Ban Human Cloning:
    Hillary Clinton

    (Asked by one reporter whether the last one was a bit "mean," Perkins said, "If you can't take a joke, you don't need to be in politics.")

    Might Conservatives Stay Home?

    The premise of today's press conference by the Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum, and the American Conservative Union, and many other conservative efforts this week, is to warn the White House that if they don't take care of conservatives they may not be able to generate enough turnout of conservative religious voters.

    But is that a plausible threat? At the same press conference that Perkins was raising that prospect, Richard Lessner of the American Conservative Union, said, "It's clear who the conservative is in the race: it's George Bush, not John Kerry."

    And, of course, this is exactly the White House's calculation. They can afford to tack to the center a bit at the convention because they can count on conservatives to loathe Kerry enough to vote against him.

    What's the God Gap?

    You may be hearing about the "God gap" and wondering what it means.

    There is no big spirituality gap. On measures of general spirituality, such as belief in God or the afterlife the parties are similar.

    There is, however, a church attendance gap. As a Pew Research Center survey in the fall of 2003 showed, people who go to church more often are more likely to vote for Bush over a Democratic opponent.

    Church Attendance

      Bush Democrat
    More than 1/week 63% 37%
    Weekly 56% 44%
    1-2/month 52% 48%
    1-2/year 46% 54%

    Those who go to church some but not weekly are split. As a result, the Bush campaign is trying to make sure regular church goers get to the polls and both sides are trying to sway the midle group. More analysis on WHY there is a church attendance gap as the week proceeds.

    Once Born (Kerry) vs. Born Again (Bush)

    Influential conservative writer Marvin Olasky, who coined the term "compassionate conservatism" and helped craft Bush’s original faith based agenda, has raised an interesting distinction between the spiritual lives of George W. Bush and John Kerry. In the course of a column about the paths they chose related to Vietnam, Olasky writes:

    "The other thing both of us [Olasky and Bush] can and do say is that we did not save ourselves: God alone saves sinners (and I can surely add, of whom I was the worst). Being born again, we don't have to justify ourselves. Being saved, we don't have to be saviors.

    "John Kerry, once-born, has no such spiritual support, nor do most of his top admirers in the heavily secularized Democratic Party. It would be great if he could say: 'I was young and vainglorious and often self-absorbed. I exaggerated and lied at times, and since then have thought it necessary not to disavow the fantasies I wove. But I do deserve credit for being there and serving my country in a mixed-up era in which I at times was also mixed-up.'"

    This prompted liberal blogger Josh Marshall to ask whether Olasky was saying “John Kerry fibs about his war record because he's a Catholic.” I wondered about that and a few other points so I wrote to Olasky, who emailed back quickly. Our exchange:

    Me: "Being born again, we don't have to justify ourselves." Could you elaborate?

    Olasky: I'm a sinner. My hope is not in my own actions, but in the finished work of Christ.

    Me: "John Kerry, once-born, has no such spiritual support." What do you mean here by "no such spiritual support"?

    Olasky: As I wrote, "he evidently does not believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Based on the evidence I've seen, he seems to want to justify himself. If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd be glad to see it.

    Me: If you don’t have to justify your actions, does that mean you don't have to lead a good you long as you accept Jesus Christ?

    Olasky: [After noting that he didn’t have time then to answer fully—I’d written him at 10 pm on a Friday night, after all—he wrote] I'll direct you (or your readers) to chapter six of Romans. Paul writes, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound. By no means." He then explains why we should not let sin reign. His thinking is far better than mine.

    Me: On a more pedestrian level. Isn't it hard to be a politician without "justifying" yourself? Doesn't President Bush (and any other politician) do that every time he explains why he behaved a certain way?

    Olasky: "Justifying" vs. justification; big difference between explaining actions and claiming a life of perfection.

    Me: I guess what I was hoping to explain to our readers was what the "such" in "no such spiritual support" means. In other words, by not believing that all have sinned--by wanting to justify himself--why does that mean he is denying himself of "spiritual support"? Is it that the gift of Christ's absolution is so liberating that if you forgo that benefit you carry an unfathomable burden?

    Olasky: Yes.

    Memo to clergy, bible scholars and religion reporters: Is John Kerry at a spiritual disadvantage being merely a "once born"?


  • Continued on page 2: »

    comments powered by Disqus