John McCain skipped the forum on faith at Messiah College. That gave more time for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to spar with each other over who was holier than thou -- smart. The Democratic candidates continue to trivialize faith with superficiality, and Sen. McCain was fortunate he didn't have a god in this fight. When your opponents are destroying themselves, the smart pol gives them plenty of room.
Hillary told the forum she communes with God in uplifting moments such as watching a sunset or walking in the woods. Her heart leaps at the daffodils, too. If Hillary took a page from Wordsworth, Sen. Obama sounded inspired by Theodore Dreiser. It was his Christian faith, he said, that led him to politics as a community organizer to help out-of-work steel workers in Chicago.
We heard once again how Hillary's faith helped her to survive Bill's philandering. No clinger is she. For his part, Sen. Obama (once more with feeling) repudiated the wicked remarks of his infamous pastor (who continues to spray venom from the pulpit). But nevertheless, he stands by the inspiring words of the "spiritual mentor" who led him to God. Americans respect the separation of religion and politics, but can they respect the candidate whose preacher loves the man and hates his country?
Religion in our politics has a long lineage. A New York preacher in 1800 famously attacked Thomas Jefferson for writing "against the truths of God's word." But this year's one-upmanship on God is part of a specific agenda for the Democrats. Four years ago, regular churchgoers voted overwhelmingly for President Bush over John Kerry, calling attention to the "God gap" in the two parties. The politics of Republican voters flowed naturally from the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which they see at work in their lives (bitter or not.)
Sen. Obama is still on the defensive over the remarks he made at a fashionable fundraiser for silk-stocking San Francisco Democrats, attributing the fact that working-class Americans "cling" to God and guns only in "bitter" frustration. This was a case of shooting first and worrying about it later, and overnight Sen. Obama accused Hillary Clinton of morphing into "Annie Oakley," the sharp shooter of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, immortalized in the Irving Berlin musical, "Annie Get Your Gun." Annie learned the hard way that "you can't get a man with a gun," but Hillary believes she has the opening to get her man with a gun (along with ol' time revival-hour Methodism). The candidate who never saw a gun control restriction she didn't like now waxes nostalgic over learning to shoot with her father in Scranton, Pa. She can drink beer with a Crown Royal chaser with the best of the hunters while simultaneously closing the God gap.
You don't hear much about "the chosen people" in all this, but polls suggest that liberal Jews split evenly between the two Democratic candidates. One recent Gallup poll suggests Sen. Obama runs better among Jews than among white Protestants and Catholics.
Conservative Jews are afraid of Sen. Obama's true sympathies in the Middle East. An American Jewish opinion leader, who lives in Jerusalem, says he's terrified. One reason why emerged in the discovery by the American Spectator of an interview in 2003 with Air Force Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak, now the co-chairman of the Obama campaign. When a reporter asked the general whether he blames Middle East peace process failures on the State Department or the White House, he replied, not so enigmatically: "New York City. Miami. We have a large vote here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it." That's more gracious, though not by much, than the Rev. Jesse Jackson's description of New York City as "Hymietown."
The Republican Jewish Coalition asked Sen. Obama to sack Gen. McPeak for not "putting the blame where it belongs -- on the Palestinian leadership and their continued reliance on terror." The Obama campaign repudiated the remarks, but not the man. That sounds familiar.
Jimmy Carter, poised to endorse Sen. Obama, is traveling in the Middle East this week. He was snubbed by the government in Israel because he expects to meet Khaled Mashaal, a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas exiled in Syria. Nasser al-Shaer, another Hamas leader, was thrilled with the hug he got from the former president in the West Bank town of Ramallah. A majority of Jews have been loyal to the Democrats since the New Deal was formed nearly 80 years ago. But, Ronald Reagan won 40 percent of the Jewish voters in 1980, and if John McCain does close to that, well, the Democratic nominee won't have a prayer to cling to.