McCain Enable (Revised)

The first candidate for whom I ever voted in a presidential primary was a member of the Church of Latter Days Saints of Jesus Christ (LDS, aka the Mormons); although he had but one eye, I’m not sure I’ve ever found anyone since whose vision so impressed me. His name was Morris Udall, he was a congressman from Arizona, and his impact on environmental legislation alone has changed for the better the lives of every American. As Doonesbury’s Jimmy Thudpucker said at the time “He might be obscure, this man with a cure, an other, but brother, he’s pure.”

There are many reasons to snicker at Mitt Romney, and I join with all those on the right, left and center who chose to cast an amused eye (or even two) on his empty suit (two sizes smaller than the one unoccupied by his rival, Fred Thompson); those clothes truly have no emperor. But, when asked to join my enemies on the religious right, or my friends on the secular left, in looking askance at him because of the religion with which he chooses to affiliate, I am somewhat less than comfortable.

The Constitution says that there shall be no religious test for public office, but, in all honesty, that prohibition applies solely to the matter of who shall be allowed to be seated once they are duly elected. How the voters actually choose who they support is going to be a personal decision, whether the Constitution likes it or not. That being said, the reality that a voter might make their decision for President by trying to encode the messages appearing in old “Ching Chow” cartoons does not make it any less unseemly for a candidate to indulge such behavior (although I suppose one could forgive long-shots like Dennis Kucinich for engaging in such; and, btw, has anyone ever seen him and “Ching Chow” in the same room?)

When it comes to irrational choices, nothing beats the unfathomable attraction so many otherwise sensible Democrats used to feel for John McCain (I call it "The Michael Lewis Syndrome", in honor of the McCain hagiographer who seems to have been suckered by the good Senator, without even realizing it, into a game of "Liar's Poker"). The one good thing about the War is that it has taken the sheen off the senior Senator from Arizona. No longer will otherwise liberal voters consider voting for him because they are impressed with his honesty. As has been stated far too many times for the point to still require argument, when such voters were confronted with the facts of the beliefs McCain really professes to embrace, they usually dismissed their qualms by saying; “he doesn’t really believe that stuff”. McCain’s then, is the sort of honesty which, when practiced by Romney, makes the prospect of Mitt’s nomination so much fun.

Luckily, liberal voters need no longer concern themselves with McCain’s reactionary social positions, and whether or not he actually believes in them, because on the one issue in which there is no dount of his sincerity, he wholeheatedly supports the President, in the prosecution of a war without either forseeable end, or good reason. And on those rare instances where McCain dissents from our Chief Executive on the matter of Iraq, it is to castigate the President for only getting us waist deep in the big sandy, when McCain prefers we be up to our necks in the quicksand.

Moreover, since McCain has rapidly evolved from frontrunner to also-ran, he’s been worthy of a lot less room cluttering the portions of the attics of one’s mind a sensible human dedicates to evaluating the overload of data available for consumption at the political smorgasbord.

So it is with mostly academic interest that I plumb what McCain meant when he said "I admire the Islam. There's a lot of good principles in it,…But I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith." McCain added he wouldn't "rule out under any circumstance" someone who wasn't Christian, but said, "I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead."

He also added the "Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation", proving that, like the man he hopes to succeed, he has not actually read the document in question.

(I should probably note, at this point, that I’ve previously covered much of this ground in far more detail and far better prose here: But, apparently some people still need the same old lessons drilled into their empty heads.)

On the other hand, it’s truly refreshing that, unlike some of the Christian Right he so obviously seeks to woo with such blithering ignorance, McCain feels no need to hide behind the use of the term “Judeo-Christian” when articulating their true agenda. Since McCain probably sees the agenda for what it is, but embraces it only out of expedience, he feels no conpunction about calling it by its true name.

Yes, of course, America is “a Christian nation”, in the sense that most of its inhabitants call themselves Christians. Naturally, a government in a democratic republic which does not reflect in some sense the majority values, such as they exist, of the culture of the society it seeks to regulate, is doomed to suffer a great deal of social tension. That’s a fact of life. But the enlightenment values reflected in the G-dless document called our Constitution have been engaged in creative tension with the nation’s commonly, but not universally, held religious values since the creation of our Republic. And pols have been simultaneously pledging fealty to both, to degrees greater and lesser, for nearly that entire time. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, but we expect our pols to pay tribute to these very different virtues simultaneously (even if they have but one bill in their wallets, and no change is available), by playing the role of polygamist, while pretending we are all one very happy family. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, “we are all Mormons now”. It’s really kind of complicated, if you give it much thought, and McCain has shown that he really hasn’t.

Naturally, as someone who may have to face voters again in Arizona, the former home of his regretfully departed friend (as lovingly and cloyingly documented by Michael Lewis) Mo Udall, and Udall’s extensive poligamistically enlarged extended family, as well as other families similarly situated, McCain’s made an exception for the Mormons. "The Mormon religion is a religion that I don't share, but I respect…More importantly, I've known so many people of the Mormon faith who have been so magnificent"

Ironically, as far as commonalities go, the Mormons McCain respects can be said, in many ways, to have less in common with  Jews, a group politicians are loathe to criticize (although it is hard to see where an exception for G-d’s chosen people fits into the new McCain doctrine), than they do with Muslims. The Islamic and Mormon strictures against alcohol make no exceptions for either Slivovitz or Manischevitz. Muslims and Mormons both acknowledge the holiness of Jesus; Jews do not, even though Jesus, neither Muslim or Mormon, was of the Hebraic persuasion himself. Both LDS and Islam evolved as the next generation from Christianity, each with its own Brand New and Improved Testament, while G-d's Chosen People are still Rappin' Old School (forget "The New Thang", we're still playing ragtime, athough in our Reform wing the pianist is sometimes Sun Ra, while the Reconstructionists prefer Cecil Taylor; I'm an Otis Spann man myself). Islam and the LDS can, in that sense, be said to be fraternal; why then does McCain feel about them so differently?

I’m not saying McCain is being hypocitical (well, maybe just a little) when he expresses his discomfort about a potential Islamic President (talk about a purely hypothetical concern!). He surely does feel that way. But not for the reasons he articulates. Rather, it is dead certain that he worries about whether a Muslim might not share his geo-political worldview. And surely, he has legitmate reason to feel that way.

There should be no religious test for public office, just an issues test. As I've stated in the past, I believe that all pacifists are morally unfit to hold a seat in Congress (the State Legislature or City Council would not bother me in the least) for their views on war and peace would prevent us from fighting in all wars, whether unjust or just. Surely extremism in the fight against genocide is no vice, and acquiesance to such evil is no virtue. And anyone who disagrees with me is welcome to step outside. It's not necessarily morally inconsistent to support certain military actions and oppose others. Pacifists can be consistent; for those of us who are not pacifists, nuance is the only alternative to moral reprehensibility. I supported Clinton's commitment of military force in Bosnia and Kosovo; I support Bush's commitment of force in Afghanistan. I oppose the war in Iraq. I would like to postpone to a later date making a decision concerning where I stand on Iran (preferably forever). One may disagree with all, none or several of my stances, but I am not fence straddling by making distinctions. Do I need to support all military actions to support any? I dare say, that would make me a monster.

But, not every pacifist is a Quaker, and not every Quaker is a pacifist; Richard Nixon was a Quaker, but no pacifist (although he was, for different reasons, morally unfit for public office). But, sad to say, if someone professes to embrace a religion which is pacifistic, it is legitimate to ask them if their political beliefs are affected by the doctrines of their religion. No one objects when Orthodox Jews are asked to clarify their opinions on sexual orientation anti-discrimination efforts, freedom of choice or tuition tax credits; I certainly make sure to ask them such questions. So, if John McCain feels Islamic presidential candidates need to be asked their views concerning the continued existence of Israel, holocaust denial, or the proper response to 9/11, I'm not going to offer any disagreement. 

And yes, I know none of those things are religious doctrines per se, but, being a Reform Jew, I incline to the idea that a religion is, de facto, composed of those beliefs actually held by its professed adherents, rather than what's contained in some ancient text. Repugnant views on such matters quite clearly permeate the publicly held positions of much of the Islamic world's leadership and street, so that even in a society as western influenced as Egypt, a TV series based on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" has proven more popular than the Sopranos. But, that’s not what McCain’s saying.

This all might be easier for a candidate who doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. I’ve heard doubts expressed all over the political spectrum about whether Rudy Giuliani believes in a supreme being. Do not count me as such a skeptic. It is clear to me that America’s former Mayor does believe in a higher power worthy of worship and submission. It’s just that he also believes that such a power has been married three times, lives on the Upper East Side and doesn’t speak to his children (although he will telecommunicate with his wife on any occasion; just keep his family out of it!).

At some level, Giuliani’s selective lack of sanctimony is refreshing, even when compared to some of the Democrats. On social issues, give or take an occasional alarming outburst, he seems the most socially tolerant of his party’s field (Mitt’s left his tolerance in his other empty suit). Does anyone believe that Giuliani would bar a Muslim from being president? Well, yes, so let me re-phrase that; does anyone believe that philo-Semite Giuliani has any problem with America electing to its highest office someone who is a non-Christian? My guess is that, if one defines such a term by values, rather than bloodlines, Giuliani might qualify as such himself; otherwise his only caveat would be that we not do so in 2008.  

Yet I’m not totally sure this should necessarily be considered an unequivocally good thing. In parsing the sorry Republican field, Giuliani may sometimes appear to be a beacon of reason, but ultimately, if I was forced to choose among them, he’d probably rank dead last among the plausible candidates, behind even "Matthew Harrison" Huckabee (although miles ahead of Tom Tancredo; the jury is still out on Duncan Hunter). Because, when it comes down to dust, the first disqualifying question in choosing a chief executive for our government is “would you lose sleep if this person had his finger on the button?”

On that scale, it might not be such a bad idea if a candidate’s first thought is to ask “What would Jesus do?” My biggest problem with Rudy is that he’d be more likely to be channeling Atilla the Hun.