Even though Al Gore and George W. Bush have locked up thepresidential nominations, they have quickly assured a worried nationthere will be no let-up in their ferocious campaigning for the WhiteHouse. As if we doubted it for a single moment.Too bad for them and even worse for us. I fear we are in for eightmonths of nonstop "speechifying," daily photo-ops, personal appearanceson hundreds of TV shows, and a steady barrage of negative commercials.God forbid either of these hard-driving professional politicians shouldtake even a one-day vacation from the campaign trail.Clearly, the American public will be subjected to repeated personaldescriptions of the candidates' "born-again" spiritual conversions aswell as pictures of Al and "W" attending church services every Sundaymorning.Because of the polling data, ministers, rabbis and priests will seevery little of Bush in California and New York, while clergy members inTexas won't be shaking Gore's hand too often. However, you can becertain the candidates will be making many appearances at various clergyassociations in swing states like Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri andPennsylvania.Gore and Bush will numb the electorate with endless orations aboutthe virtues of family values and the urgent need for public morality.The Republicans will happily re-run tapes of the vice president's 1996fund-raising visit to a Buddhist temple, and in the true spirit ofecumenism, the Democrats will counter with the Texas governor's long,problem-filled walk to the Bob Jones University podium earlier thisyear.You can be sure when Gore and Bush speak in storefront churcheswithin Hispanic barrios, the candidates will chatter away in carefullypracticed Spanish. And the two men will punctuate their appearances inAfrican-American churches with lots of high-fives all around.Gosh, for a moment we might even forget Al and "W" are graduates of,dare I say it, Harvard and Yale, and both come from elitistultra-establishment political dynasties.In the long run to Nov. 7, both men will wear their religions ontheir sleeves. The Southern Baptist Gore will eagerly seek to pin theextremist religious right label on Bush, and the latter, a UnitedMethodist, will do all he can to tar Gore with the "liberal" epithet,both religiously and politically. Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims andHindus can only watch the upcoming Protestant religious mud fight inbewilderment.
The highly visible role of religion in the 2000 campaign is instunning contrast to earlier presidential elections.In 1952 and 1956 Dwight Eisenhower, who was raised in a Mennonitepeace church tradition, twice defeated the Unitarian, Adlai Stevenson.Incredibly, Eisenhower became a formal church member--as aPresbyterian -- after he was elected president the first time. Ike'sentry into church membership was probably a recognition that an Americanpresident should, after all, be religiously affiliated.At a now historic 1960 meeting with a group of Houston Protestantministers, John F. Kennedy had to practically apologize for being aRoman Catholic. JFK felt the political need to assure the ministers hisCatholicism would not interfere with his duties as America's chiefexecutive.Richard Nixon attempted to micro manage things spiritual by invitingcarefully chosen clergy to conduct religious services inside the WhiteHouse. The Sunday services were by invitation only and were justified onsecurity grounds. However, critics said the the White House rites were aNixonian attempt to control religion for his own advantage and to avoidhearing sermons critical of his Vietnam war policies. The practice hasnot been repeated by later presidents. Interestingly, Ronald Reagan, afavorite of the religious right, rarely attended church services and hadlittle contact with his children. So much for presidential "familyvalues."But today it is politically unthinkable for a candidate to bewithout a religious affiliation or to maintain a spotty churchattendance record. Ironically, one of Bill Clinton's most indelibleimages (and there are many!) is the picture of him leaving church eachweek with his hands clutching both a Bible and his wife. It is onepresidential standard Clinton's successor will surely strive tomaintain.
What we will probably not hear from Gore or Bush is the kind ofrefreshing honesty exhibited by Abraham Lincoln who, at the beginning ofthe Civil War, was reported to have said that while he hoped to haveboth God and Kentucky on his side, if it were a choice, he would takeKentucky.