Blogs > HNN > Why pols nowadays wear their religion on their sleeve

Feb 12, 2007 9:53 pm

Why pols nowadays wear their religion on their sleeve

Did you hear Obama say during his coming out speech that he is a Christian?

I admit I didn't like hearing it. Oh, here we go again, I thought. Another pol using his religion to advance his political ambitions.

He and oher pols might learn something from Richard Nixon.

Nixon, a Quaker, rarely mentioned religion in his speeches and certainly seldom referred to his own religion. He explained that he didn't wear his religion on his sleeve. He found other ways to connect to voters than through their religion.

But I am not hear to sing the praises of Richard Nixon, even though it's always fun when you have a chance to hold him up as a model of rectitude.

I want to explain why pols in the old days usually followed Nixon's approach.

Admittedly this is a complicated subject. There are many reasons religion now crowds the political table like some giant Turkey at Thanksgiving. Religious people were engergized by Roe v Wade. Pols like Reagan and Bush II have showed that there are votes in exploiting religion. And of course churches have helped Republicans reach a sizeable group of citizens.

But I remain convinced that the overriding reason why we hear so much about religion these days is because Protestants have learned that they can now talk about religion without having to worry that they'll be suspected of anti-Catholicism.

Until John Kennedy broke the Catholic line in American presidential politics Catholics often felt under seige. Ever since Catholic immigrants began showing up in America in large numbers they faced discrimination and sometimes outright rhetorical bigotry. To be a Catholic hater was ok in many places in this country.

Protestant pols who might have hought of using religion to advance their causes had to worry that Catholics would see nefariousness in the business. A Protestant couldn't say he was a Christian without a Catholic thinking he was being excluded. Catholics didn't refer to themselves as Christians, they referred to themselves as Catholics (usually).

So in a way we have Kennedy to thank for the freedom pols now feel to wear religion openly. Once he took the White House and overt bigotry against Catholics subsided Catholics could listen to a speech by a Protestant and not feel excluded when the subject of religion surfaced.

I wouldn't want to go back to the bad old days when Catholics felt discriminated against. But it's unfortunate politics has taken the turn it has. I believe we were all better off when pols kept their religious views to themselves.

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More Comments:

Stephen Kislock - 2/26/2007

I want a President who knows what the Constitution and The Bill of Rights are to the United States....

God, does not have a Favorite Religion nor do I think He/She is at all pleased with all this crap!

Save religion for Friday, Saturday or Sunday and Use the Constitution and The Bill of Rights for the work week!

HNN - 2/14/2007

He will hav to say it over and over and over again to get through. And even then there will still be millions who are uninformed.

Welcome to American politics.

Barack has a Muslim problem. Romney has a Mormon problem.

So much for Jefferson's blief that we would all be Unitarians in his lifetime!

John Richard Clark - 2/14/2007

I think Barack Obama, like JFK, has to openly discuss religion to clear up the American electorate's misconceptions. In 1960, some Americans actually believed that the Pope might influence JFK in foreign and domestic policy. Some of my students in 2007 are under the impression that Obama is, or had been, a Muslim. Some have even conflated Obama's candidacy with the story of the Muslim congressman who insisted on swearing his oath of office on a copy of the Koran.

An ounce of press conference prevention is worth a pound of message distraction and explanation once the campaign season reaches critical mass.