On Monday, GOP presidential candidate John McCain shook up the political world by delivering a strongly-worded speech in which he called Christian conservative leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance." Columnist Michael Kelly puts McCain's actions in perspective. Read the full text of his column here. Excerpted with permission from Jewish World Review. McCain crossed a true line on Monday. He not only rejected Falwell and Robertson, he rejected the idea of the Republican Party as defined by the absolutist values of the religious right--which is to say, he rejected the Republican Party as it stands. McCain made it clear that he would allow Christian conservatives a place at the table, but a relatively small place--just another mouth to feed. He would stand with the social conservatives on some causes, but they would be competing for favor on an issue by issue basis, and they would be competing against the people who elected McCain--people who either are opposed to, or do not care about, their crusade. The result would be a Republican majority in which the Christian right would be a marginalized minority. This is what McCain promised in Virginia Beach, and this promise is a large one. But, again, it is not necessarily as high-risk as it may seem. McCain is recognizing not what is probable, but what has already occurred.
The hour of the Christian right is well past. The movement has been without effective leadership for years, and rank-and-file Christian activists have grown profoundly demoralized by their failure to achieve their goals through the political process, and have turned away from it. As Margaret Talbot reported in a recent cover story in the New York Times magazine, Christian activists who 10 years ago were seeking to remake the secular world in God's image now seek only to escape that world. The Republican candidate who bows to the religious right is bowing not to might but (mostly) to memory. The Republican candidate who kicks the religious right (now that it is fairly safely down) is also playing to memory. But the first candidate is binding himself to past power. The second is exploiting the past to build a future power.
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