Of course, the hypocrisy of all this is breathtaking. Liberals hadabsolutely no objections when churches and churchmen provided powerfulsupport for the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s and the anti-warmovement of the '60s and '70s. And in the '80s, when the Catholic bishopsissued a letter on the morality of nuclear weapons, liberals eagerly--andwithout First Amendment objection--welcomed the bishops' support of theirown assault on Reagan administration nuclear policy.
At the 1984 Democratic Convention, they were moved to tearful applause whenthe Rev. Jesse Jackson declared "God is not finished with me yet." Sixteenyears later, they gave Joe Lieberman a monthlong free ride when he beganinvoking his religious views and celebrating religious faith in a mannerthat would have earned savage attack had it come from a Republicancandidate.
It was only when Lieberman invoked George Washington's famous line from hisFarewell Address locating the root of morality in religion that embarrassedFirst Amendment fundamentalists felt compelled to start complaining. Hencethe current flurry of objections from the amen corner of separationists,beginning with the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith.
But the attack on Lieberman has been both halfhearted and limited. There isvery little incoming artillery from Lieberman's allies in the DemocraticParty. They would be apoplectic if, say, Republican vice-presidentialcandidate Dick Cheney were saying these things, but they are quite silentlydelighted to hear them from Joe Lieberman.
Not because they agree with him--I would guess many Democrats find hisOrthodox Judaism at best a curiosity--but because they realize what anextraordinary and serendipitous boon all his God talk has turned into. Imagine. For the first time in memory, it is the Democrats who are beingaccused of hyper-religiosity and excessive moralism. This, in a year whenthe whole subtext of the Republican campaign is that Democrats haveforfeited their right to the White House because of the rank corruption anddishonor this administration has brought to the office of the presidency. The more Lieberman becomes the focus of occasional criticism for waxingreligious and moral, the more blurred becomes the theme that underlies theentire Republican campaign--namely, the cleansing effect of throwing theDemocratic crowd out of office.
This is not to say Lieberman is using religion cynically. On the contrary.He has not changed his views on religion and faith and their place in thepublic square one iota. He has always believed what he is saying now. Exceptthat when he was just a senator, the ADL and others were not paying himparticular attention.
Lieberman's position on religion is not just highly principled, it is onethat conservatives and non-fanatical secularists have long found quiteadmirable. In a pluralistic country such as ours, it requires both ignoranceand prejudice to denigrate someone's views--whether on abortion or nucleararms--because they openly derive from faith or scripture.
The real cynics are Lieberman's fellow Democrats who scream from therooftops when Republicans invoke religion the way their candidate does now,but who have adopted a gleeful silence as their man wipes out the singlegreatest threat to their recapture of the presidency.