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The Politics of Religious Bigotry

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Louis Farrakhan is the controversial, but influential, head of the Nation of Islam. Much has been made of his recent so-called "endorsement" of Barack Obama, in which he called him "the hope of the entire world." Farrakhan, of course, is considered by many to be anti-Semitic and is widely quoted as having called Judaism a "gutter" or "dirty" religion. Farrakhan has denied that he is anti-Semitic, saying that his remark was taken out of context. "I never referred to Judaism as a dirty religion," he says, "but clearly referred to the machinations of those who hide behind the shield of Judaism while using unjust political means to achieve their objectives."

In any event, he has made plenty of controversial remarks that have caused many people to conclude that he is racist and homophobic, as well as anti-Semitic. So even though Farrakhan never officially endorsed Obama, and even though Obama certainly never solicited Farrakhan's support, when asked about it in a debate, Obama both "renounced" and "rejected" Farrakhan's views and support. Although I'm sure that Obama was sincere in his remarks, it was, of course, important for him to make himself clear for another reason — he didn't want to alienate Jewish voters.

John Hagee is the controversial, but influential, televangelist who heads up a San Antonio megachurch. He has referred to the Roman Catholic Church as "the great whore" and a "false cult system." John McCain sought out his endorsement and happily accepted it, saying that he was "very honored" and "very proud" of the endorsement. Hagee, like Farrakhan, denied that he was anti-Catholic, saying ""I have always had great love for Catholic people and great respect for the Catholic Church. I am shocked and saddened to learn of the mischaracterization of my views on Catholics."

But when everyone's favorite scold, Catholic League President Bill Donohue, called on McCain to reject the Hagee endorsement, much as Obama had rejected Farrakhan's support, saying that Hagee "has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church," McCain found himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Should he reject the Hagee endorsement in order to not offend Catholic voters, or should he accept the endorsement in order to court evangelical voters? I suspect his campaign may have gotten out the calculator in an attempt to decipher which position would be more politically advantageous.

As of this writing, McCain is attempting to have it both ways, refusing to reject the endorsement, but saying, "I think it's important to note that pastor John Hagee, who has supported and endorsed my candidacy, supports what I stand for and believe in. When he endorses me, it does not mean that I embrace everything that he stands for and believes…I don't have to agree with everyone who endorses my candidacy. They are supporting my candidacy. I am not endorsing some of their positions."

McCain's stance is puzzling to many, since just days earlier he had instantly denounced right-wing radio host Bill Cunningham who was, shall we say, less than respectful towards Barack Obama in his warm-up act for McCain. Why denounce one right-wing bigot and yet accept the endorsement of another right-wing bigot?

The whole episode underscores McCain's dilemma — how far is he willing to go to suck up to the right-wing conservative base of the GOP while not alienating the moderate middle? Personally, I think he'd do well to follow Obama's lead and reject the Hagee endorsement. He'd be sending an important message that he doesn't tolerate bigotry and hatred. He may lose some votes, but he'd gain a ton of respect.

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About Doug DeLong


    Chris Korzen over at HuffPost has unconvered this gem. Back in 2000, when McCain was fighting Bush for the nomination, he attacked Bush for accepting an endorsement from the the fundamentalist Christian Bob Jones University, saying that Bob Jones was an anti-Catholic bigot. He sent out this robo-call to Catholics:

    “This is a Catholic Voter Alert. Governor George Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views. Several weeks ago, Governor Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements, including calling the Pope the anti-Christ, the Catholic Church a satanic cult! John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Governor Bush has stayed silent while seeking the support of Bob Jones University. Because of this, one Catholic pro-life Congressman has switched his support from Bush to McCain, and many Michigan Catholics support John McCain for president.”

    Can you spell “hypocrite?”

  • Irene Wagner

    Here you can listen to Hagee preaching that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. A Christian doesn’t have to reject Jesus’ Messianic role to recognize (as the apostle Paul did) that anti-Semitism is evil.

    Not that voting for candidates solely on the basis of their theology is commendable, but why would a Christian who DOES vote that way, one having even the most tenuous affiliation with historical Christian orthodoxy (Protestant OR Catholic) consider Hagee’s endorsement to be a plus for either McCain–or for Huckabee, whom Hagee also endorsed? Because Hagee’s on the “tee-vee” so he must know what he’s talking about?

    Why do McCain and Huckabee welcome Hagee’s endorsement? What’s in it for them? It’s all about Hagee’s ability to continue to whip up and sustain support among Evangelicals for the neoconservative vision of continuous war and American military presence in the Middle East.

    The neoconservative goal is an American Empire, not only in the Middle East, but globally, and has NOTHING to do with religion or faith. The neoconservatives are cynically using Evangelicals by telling them that the goal of US military presence in the Mid East is the protection of Israel. US involvement hasn’t benefited Israel, and it won’t benefit Israel. It will only bankrupt America, morally and economically.

    As for Obama, one has trouble setting stock in anything one hears in a speech of his anymore—including a rejection of Farrakhan’s support. Obama’s speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in April 1997 has him talking out of both sides of his mouth in a single speech: a stated conviction that the US should be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008–his votes to continue funding the war put the lie to his support of that vision, incidentally—and a firm conviction to the neoconservative principles, including the appropriateness of pre-emptive strikes to protect “U.S. interests” even if self-defense is not an issue.

  • patel1

    How about this for a double standard… Rev. Billy Graham’s comments about Jews and the deaf silence on them:

    “they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.”

    Listen to the comments

    Now why aren’t the Clinton’s asked to denounce and repudiate Minister Graham?

  • wdufkin

    People are’nt that stupid. I respect Hagee and I understsnd what he is teaching. I also respect the Catholic church and it’s true believers, Bill Donahue certainly. Under ordinary circumstances I would never vote for McCain but if he kisses up enough to the right, I might. I don’t see much difference between he and Clinton. I’d vote for either over Obama. He’s is no fool. Most folks in this country are still uncomfortable with the ideas of the likes of Farrakhan. He knows that would spell trouble. Let Obama be elected and he will be able to further Farrakhans views to the point that they are socially acceptable, if that’s what he has a mind to do, and I believe its a real possibility.