Yesterday I posted about the presidential forum that was held in Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. My three big problems with it were that it imposed a religion test on the presidential candidates, that Obama did not use very supportive language regarding gay rights when asked about marriage, and pretty much everything McCain said.
This morning in the Washington Post, conservative anti-feminist Kathleen Parker felt the same way:
His format and questions were interesting and the answers more revealing than what the usual debate menu provides. But does it not seem just a little bit odd to have McCain and Obama chatting individually with a preacher in a public forum about their positions on evil and their relationship with Jesus Christ?
The past few decades of public confession and Oprah-style therapy have prepared us perfectly for a televangelist probing politicians about their moral failings. Warren's Q&A wasn't an inquisition exactly, but viewers would be justified in squirming.
What is the right answer, after all? What happens to the one who gets evil wrong? What's a proper relationship with Jesus? What's next? Interrogations by rabbis, priests and imams? What candidate would dare decline on the basis of mere principle?
Both Obama and McCain gave "good" answers, but that's not the point. They shouldn't have been asked. Is the American electorate now better prepared to cast votes knowing that Obama believes that "Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him," or that McCain feels that he is "saved and forgiven"?
What does that mean, anyway? What does it prove? Nothing except that these men are willing to say whatever they must -- and what most Americans personally feel is no one's business -- to win the highest office.
Indeed. It proves nothing, it's nobody's business, it distracts from policy issues, and it sets us up to discriminate based on religion. There's no way that a Jewish or an atheist candidate could have given the "right" answer to a question about his or her relationship with Jesus, and there's no reason that he or she should be put in that spot.
Parker points out that the winner here was Rick Warren, and he definitely did profit from this whole circus. I think that I'd also add all the other leaders of the Religious Right, as every mainstream magazine wrote about the importance of religion (read: faking Christianity) for politicians. Democrats are particularly sensitive to what they read in those mainstream sources and the myth that someone has to toe the fundamentalist line to get elected in Real America. It turns Democrats into cowards because they think that the leaders of the Religious Right are the key to getting the masses to vote for them instead of just the right.
The fact that these folks have this much power is something that we need to be working against. When the entire political establishment decided that America is, on average, right-wing, with the left being everything from center-right to left, and extreme left as absolutely scary and the extreme-right (where I'd place Warren, since he did work for Bush) as just the quirkier side of American politics, it means that issues of equality get further marginalized. When one of the first things that a Democratic candidate feels that he need to say regarding same-sex marriage is that it's a "sacred union" between "a man and a woman," we have a new political center that is far to the right of the actual center of American politics.
Not that any of this should be surprising. What is surprising is that even a conservative like Kathleen Parker can sometimes call it out, no matter how much she and her politics benefit from it all. That should at least tell us that there is ground to make this argument on.