The great newish online journal Religion & Politics alerted me to the fact that today is the anniversary of JFK's speech to the Houston ministers.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan has been a harsh critic of the Obama administration, but he is blessing Democrats and Republicans equally by giving the closing prayer at both parties’ conventions. The Republicans invited him first, and his acceptance raised questions about whether Dolan, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was lending the authority of the Catholic hierarchy to the GOP. But then the Democrats shrewdly invited him to pray at their convention too. Dolan shrewdly accepted.
I don't get that excited about the perennial calls for civility in politics. Treating others with respect is important, and I certainly have no problem with political discourse that's even friendly and good-humored. But it's not clear that the latter serves any purpose beyond itself—that it builds understanding or encourages useful moderation or enables compromise. Chatting may be generally preferable to yelling, but it's not really a solution to division and gridlock. I do, however, appreciate timely reminders that our neighbors include those we disagree with.
How should we decide who to vote for? Paul Root Wolpe thinks a candidate's personal ethics should be at the top of the list: When we care about a candidate’s character, we are really asking, Is this person authentic? Are their positions a true reflection of their inner values, or are they politically expedient? Is a change of opinion on an issue a result of the candidate listening to others, learning and making a principled decision, or is it a response to pressure, polls and popularity? . . . . It is in the American character to care about our leader’s values. We should be proud of that. I don't exactly disagree, but I don't find this all that helpful, either.
This new ad from the Obama campaign claims that if Romney wins he'll be an "outsourcer-in-chief." And here I thought we already had one of those.
So a pro-Romney Super PAC planned to focus on Jeremiah Wright--you know, because those decontextualized clips of a black pastor sounding angry didn't get played on the news enough last time around--but quickly changed its tune based on Romney's unenthusiastic response. Then a pro-Obama Super PAC clarified that it won't be going after Mormonism, and David Axelrod agreed. I'm certainly glad to be spared a barrage of prime-time crap about how black liberationists hate America (and even say "damn" about it!) on the one hand and about polygamy and special underwear on the other. But note this news story's assumptions.
"Between now and Election Day," writes Peter Beinart, "anti-Mormonism is going to be the Democratic Party’s constant temptation for one simple reason: there are votes in it." I'm not sure I'd call it the party's "constant temptation," but Beinart is certainly right that bigotry against Mormons remains a politically potent force in the U.S., and that the Democrats aren't above exploiting it. But is Beinart right that the Democrats have a bigger religious bigotry problem here than the Republicans do?