The fundamental facts of the presidential race at this moment are that unemployment is high, the economy is by far the most important issue to American voters, and President Obama's handling of economic questions is overwhelmingly unpopular. Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and others are hammering the president daily on matters of job creation and economic growth.
Now some of Obama's activist allies and supporters in the press are engaged in a sharply focused effort to change the subject. Even as economic anxieties continue to rise, some of the nation's premier political journalists are consumed with the alleged influences of obscure religious philosophers on Republican candidates; on questions of creationism, evolution and the age of the Earth; and on the fantasy that a Republican president might transform the United States into an Iranian-style theocracy.
For example, the Daily Beast/Newsweek recently published an article titled "A Christian Plot for Domination?" claiming that Perry and Bachmann are "deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism" known as dominionism. A widely discussed article in the Texas Observer claimed that dominionists -- a "little-known movement of radical Christians" -- are readying an "army of God" to "commandeer civilian government," with Perry the "vessel" for their ambitions. Finally, The New Yorker published a long article claiming that Bachmann believes "Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns."
Surveying those articles, the executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, concludes that "an unusually large number" of Republican candidates "belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans." Perry and Bachmann, in particular, are connected to "fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity," which Keller says "has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction." Fearing that Perry or Bachmann could be a "Trojan horse" for a religious takeover of the government, Keller advocates strict questioning of candidates on doctrinal issues.
Put aside whether there is some bias against Christianity in these baseless charges, or whether liberals are proposing the kind of religious test for office that the Founders explicitly rejected. It has often been remarked that, given today's terrible economy, Barack Obama cannot run in 2012 on the theme of hope, as he did in 2008. With his record, he'll have to run on fear -- that is, on convincing voters that Republicans are just too scary to elect.