The God-o-Meter has sometimes wondered why Senator McCain doesn’t seem to hold the allure for religious conservatives that President Bush has, even though the Arizonan has seemed to stand close to the president on key social issues. And then along comes an analytical article, comparing Bush’s and McCain’s positions, by the estimable political reporter Elizabeth Bumiller in today’s New York Times. To be sure, she finds areas in which the two men are very different–on global warming, the uses of American diplomacy and the degree to which harsh interrogation techniques should be used against foreign detainees. But she also writes: “McCain’s positions are nearly identical to the president’s on abortion and the types of judges he says he would appoint to the courts.”

Indeed, McCain has been more direct in his public opposition to abortion than Bush. Last year, Bumiller reports, McCain said Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized many forms of abortion, “should be overturned.” And while he has has opposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, he campaigned two years ago in Arizona for an amendment to that state’s constitution that would have prohibited the practice. (The voters turned it down.)

On the other hand, McCain didn’t exactly endear himself to a good many high-level religious conservatives during his long battle for campaign finance reform. And then there was that incident in his previous presidential campaign, on Feb. 28, 2000, when he explicitly denounced the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance.” That phrase has oft been repeated to help explain why McCain has never quite been able to build the bridges to conservative evangelical Protestants that George W. Bush has done. But even then, the Arizona Senator attempted to be a good deal more nuanced in his approach to that group than he came across as being. In the speech he made that day, in Virginia Beach, home to Robertson’s broadcast operations and university, McCain preceded his criticisms with these statements:

 Evangelical leaders are changing America for the better. Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship, is saving men from life — from a lifetime behind bars by bringing them the good news of redemption. James Dobson, who does not support me, has devoted his life to rebuilding America’s families. Others are leading the fight against pornography, cultural decline and for life. I stand with them. I am a pro-life, pro-family fiscal conservative, an advocate of a strong defense…

And yet it is often within human nature to remember a slight, rather than praise. Here’s the great philosopher William James discussing what he describes as the reality of what we don’t actually see: “… the reaction due to things of thought is notoriously in many cases as strong as that due to sensible presences. It may be even stronger. The memory of an insult may make us angrier than the insult did when we received it.”



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