Jewish Journal

John McCain’s Jesus problem

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 11, 2008 | 7:01 pm

Have you heard? John McCain is going to church again.

Yep, his campaign wants you—conservative Christian voter—to know that he’s really a religious man. They know he’s uncomfortable talking about God, that he’s more fluent in the language of the non-God-fearing crowd, that he’s given aging Christian right leaders the heebie jeebies. And the best way to solve these campaign ills, they assume, is to publicly plop his tochis in a church pew.

And you wonder why I am tired of the exploitation of religion for political purposes?

Bring the Pain McCain, though, likely is just as frustrated by the marriage. Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone’s politics writer, observed McCain one Sunday at North Phoenix Baptist Church for an article about the Republican nominee’s presidential dilemma.

As I’ve mentioned before, Taibbi is not the most astute of conservative Christian observers, mainly, I suspect, because he allows his perception to be overly clouded by his deep disdain for their politics. But his article offers some good insights into why McCain is struggling so seriously in his attempts to court the evangelical voters that, much more than four years ago, appear willing to swing for the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama.

Just a warning: You’ve got to wade through some stomach-wrenching turns of phrase. I’ve posted a (fairly) clean snippet after the jump:

The real problem here might be that McCain’s stubborn refusal to pull a full-court Huckabee on the God front has coincided with (a) an impending economic catastrophe and (b) statements by one of his closest advisers, Phil Gramm, to the effect that America is in a “mental recession” and is a “nation of whiners.” As a result, McCain now has the daunting task of somehow keeping voters in economically hard-hit evangelical regions mesmerized by Bible-humping, gay-bashing bullsh—, despite the fact that he only started going to church regularly a month ago and as recently as a year ago was actually saying gay people are human beings. If he doesn’t, who knows — people might actually start voting according to their economic interests, which would be disastrous for a Republican Party that has duped America’s white underclass for decades, thanks to Christian conservatism.

But that’s only if McCain keeps up his present habit of not playing the God card on the stump. “If the contrast between the candidates on social issues is heightened enough, then those evangelical voters will eventually come back on board,” says James Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland who tracks voter demographics in real time for a project called Patchwork Nation. The project recently found that counties with large populations of Christian evangelicals have been hit especially hard by high gas prices and foreclosures, creating greater anxiety leading up to the election.

McCain with John Hagee

Gimpel concedes, however, that McCain is not doing a whole lot right now to “heighten” that contrast. “Yeah, he doesn’t seem very interested in campaigning on those social issues,” he says. “Unless he turns it around or gets surrogates to make that case for him, some evangelicals might sit it out.”

McCain is so bad at this game that when it came time for him to pick an evangelical date for the prom, he chose the one preacher crazy enough to make even trailer-dwelling Southerners nervous — John Hagee, a beach-ball-shaped apocalypse merchant whose views on Catholicism would raise eyebrows at a Klan meeting. Classic McCain: He kicks off his presidential run in 2000 by insulting North American vote-generating champion Jerry Falwell, then heads into 2008 with his arms wrapped around an obscure televangelist whose only electoral pull is in the next world. As a result, the most influential leaders on the Christian right are keeping their distance. “Uh, no,” says a spokesman for Focus on the Family, when I ask if Dobson has changed his mind about McCain, even with Obama on the ticket. “He hasn’t changed his mind. No way.”

Based on what Dobson said on the radio July 20—“I never thought I would hear myself saying this ... While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might.”—it appears he may be about to change his vote, even though he hasn’t yet. The rest of Taibbi’s article can be read here.

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