Imagine "The Dating Game," except that Bachelors No. 1 and No. 2 tell you, the voter, what's wrong with the other guy's wooing.
John McCain: I'm not saying George Bush is an anti-Catholic bigot with a dirty campaign. I'm just saying he made a speech at Bob Jones University, which thinks Catholics are going to hell and opposes interracial dating. Stick with me, baby, and we'll make it a point of honor to exclude all the intolerant, evil influences that have been poisoning our party's electoral chances.
George Bush: I'm not saying John McCain is a liberal, exactly, just that he agrees with Bill Clinton about a whole lot of things, except for breast cancer research in New York. How can you pick a guy who wants to exclude Pat Robertson and New York breast cancer researchers from the big tent of this grand old party?
It's certainly politics as usual, a messy, unpleasant business where people go out of their way to exaggerate differences on both sides of the aisle. (Who knew Bill Bradley was an anti-black extremist out to keep the elderly from getting health care? Just for example.)
Who's to blame for the current religion wars? Some people blame George Bush. By mentioning "Jesus" in a debate he was either (a) pandering to Christian fundamentalists, or (b) exposing a frightening desire to establish a mandatory religion.
People who think this way love John McCain, who campaigns against the role of the religious right in politics. Good people, he says, have been led "astray" by bad leaders. It's time to put religion in its proper place, by which he means it's time to try to fan old religious flames by setting Catholic against evangelical for the purpose of electing John McCain, who gets really ticked off when anybody but him uses questionable campaign tactics.
The New York Times, naturally, waded in with extended applause: "Mr. McCain is trying to deliver a message about the religious right that cannot be dismissed, as Mr. Bush is trying to do, as intolerance on Mr. McCain's part. The essence of the message is that the Christian right wing is as much a political force as a religious movement, and that its leaders have exercised a bullying influence within the Republican Party."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.