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USA Today did a piece this week on all the books coming out now about religion in politics. It features a write-up of Beliefnet overlord Steve Waldman and my fellow blogger Jim Wallis. Obviously all of these books were timed to coincide with what everyone believed would be the most God-centered election in American history. The GOP needed to coddle its evangelical base, and the Dems couldn’t let the God Gap continue to weaken them across the South and Upper Midwest. Is it me, or has all that talk gone away? Maybe it’s just temporary, but it seems to me that the God Primary feels so 2007. Last spring the Dems were tripping over themselves to sprinkle religious language throughout their speeches. TIME put Clinton, Obama, and Edwards on its cover in stained glass. Romney, of course, gave his defensive and elusive speech about religion. Then suddenly Mike Huckabee wins in Iowa at the start of the year and we seem to be off into a God-off.
The Democrats, meanwhile, seem to have left all the God-talk back in church. Clinton openly minimized the role of black preachers in the Civil Rights movement by suggesting it was only the deeply reluctant and calculating politicians (like LBJ) who could get anything done. Obama uses religious code words and rhetorical tricks, for sure, but neither he nor she is taking what was the consensus advice that grew out of the 2004 election: Sell your public policies with religious, or, even better, biblical justification. Not a whisper. Granted, a debate question could suddenly inject this language back into the conversation, but the debates appear to be shutting down for a while until the race takes better shape. And none of the sides seem anxious to go back to the altar. Don’t look now, but the most religious election of the millennium suddenly seems God free.