This is what running on fear looks like. Could the president's political strategists be anything less than delighted with the work of Keller and his colleagues?
Out on the campaign trail, Democratic activists are trying to maneuver the candidates into statements to feed the Republicans-are-religious-nuts narrative. For example, in New Hampshire a few weeks ago, a young boy approached Perry with a series of questions about science. How old is the Earth? the boy asked. As Perry answered (he said he didn't know), the boy's mother pushed her son to confront the governor. "Ask him about evolution," she ordered the boy. "Ask him why he doesn't believe in science." Perry's answer -- that evolution is a theory that has "some gaps" -- provided more material for Keller and the subject-changers.
Elsewhere on the trail, so-called "trackers" from the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, David Brock's American Bridge and other organizations follow Republicans around, sometimes posing out-of-the-blue questions in hopes of throwing a candidate off message. "It's all about homosexuality, Islam, anything that is remotely sensitive socially," says Ellen Carmichael, spokeswoman for frequent target Herman Cain. "That's what they usually ask about."
Not even the longest of long-shot candidates is immune. Back in May, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson spoke at a tea party rally in Greenville, S.C., touting his record on job creation and spending cuts. After Johnson's talk, a staffer for the Center for American Progress approached him with questions about Shariah law. Johnson was baffled.
Meanwhile, with the economy still tanking, some liberal commentators have worked themselves into a virtual panic over religion. On one recent day, a Washington Post columnist declared flatly that "Rick Perry is a theocrat," while another discussed the urgent task of "saving America from Rick Perry."
Will these diversionary efforts succeed? Political journalists can talk about theocracy all they want, but Americans are still overwhelmingly concerned with jobs. The more hysterical the religious speculation becomes, the more voters will be able to spot an effort to change the subject.