Kerry and Religion II

Matt Yglesias and Ayelish McGarvey debate the proposition that John Kerry must broaden his appeal to religious voters to win the presidency in a TAP piece entitled, “Gotta Have Faith?.” It’s an interesting read.

I addressed the question a couple weeks ago, so don’t have much to add on the broader point. I agree with Ayelish, though, that “religious” is not a proxy for “Southern hick” or “idjit.”

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Religion, The Presidency, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moe Lane says:

    Huh; didn’t go through, apparently. We linked to this over on Redstate.

  2. George Tobin says:

    The religion issue is not as simple as being or not being religious. it is about (a) having some demonstrable values, (b) respecting the disposition and outlook of average people and (c) sincerity, character and moral consistency.

    Bill Clinton sold people on the notion that he may be a bad boy but deep down he accepts what his southern grandma taught about right and wrong. He actually did well among the constituencies that lean to the Religious Right.

    Bush resonates traditional values and is unquestionably sincere when he expresses them.

    Kerry has largely ignored, opposed and/or betrayed his own religious tradition in all matters relating to sex, life and death. He is openly at war with the teachings of the Catholic Church to which he professes loyalty. This tends to bring attention to the fact that he is rather shallow and highly ‘flexible’ on a lot of core issues. It is not the content of his personal theology but his cynical moral mobility that will be a problem for him.

    I think the American people could vote for an openly non-religious President so long as they still detected a strong ethical streak, candor and a respect for common sensibilities. The religion issue is reducible to the character issue combined with the issue of overt elitist contempt for Red State values and culture.

  3. Joseph Marshall says:

    “The religion issue is reducible to the character issue combined with the issue of overt elitist contempt for Red State values and culture.”

    I must respectfully disagree with this from many angles.

    First, Christian conservatives, or at least the most vocal of them, have a dynamic political agenda to change the lives of those of us who are neither. We think we should have something to say about this, at the very least. And we intend to say it rather sharply.

    When members of the Republican Party of Texas propose to add a platform plank stating, “The United States is a Christian nation,” it can only be interpreted by someone such as myself, who is both a Buddhist and a native-born citizen, as directly and openly prejudicial to the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In a political context those words can have no other reasonable meaning.

    England is a Christian nation because it has an Established Church headed by the Queen. Ireland is a Christian nation because it has an Established Chruch headed by the Pope. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation with the Sunni branch established. Iran is a Muslim nation with the Shia branch established. France is a secular nation which has disestablished all religions. And the United States is a secular nation which never established any church in the first place.

    The mere fact that a majority of the population here has been and maybe still is Christian is irrelevant to the political principle involved.

    A majority of Americans are also over five feet tall, but the only reason anyone would bother to make a party plank out of it would be disenfranchise people who were shorter than that standard.

    Second,let’s look at our current President for the moment: “Bush resonates traditional values and is unquestionably sincere when he expresses them.”

    Perhaps. But he also expresses a specific theological point of view with those values and does not bother to separate them in his actions as President.

    Both he and his government have maintained quite openly that certain individuals are inherently “evil” (he and his staffers have quite openly used that word) and, therefore, not due treatment according to the rule of law, whether our law or international law.

    And he has also maintained that his actions as Chief Executive toward these “evil” people is beyond the review and correction of United States courts. This is not just a political doctine, it is also a theological one.

    That Christians can do anything they please to people who are “evil” has been the bedrock of all claims to political authority made in the name of the Church from Constantine forward.

    As an American who believes in the absolute political primacy of the rule of law, I disagree with the President’s political stance on this matter. I don’t think my values in that regard are any less “traditional” than his and I think the Federalist Papers support my belief.

    As a Buddhist I reject absolutely the notion than anyone is irredeemably “evil” so I strongly disagree with the President theologically. But that merely means that I think his view is wrong, NOT that I think the values that inform it are contemptible.

    From outside the circle of Christianity, I observe that my Christian fellow citizens are sometimes exaggeratedly thin-skinned toward ANY disagreement with their views.

    Finally, as to “character”, I’m not sure exactly what most of my fellow citizens would prefer from their politicians in that regard. It seems to me that the President whose “character” was the strongest, Jimmy Carter, made the fewest of his fellow citizens happy while in office.

    Be that as it may, my test of character is the willingness to accept responsibility for mistakes. By that standard I can think of only two men currently on the political scene who have recently and overtly passed my test: Tony Blair and Howard Dean. Both have in the last year been quite overt and public about acknowledging such responsibility.