In what often passes for serious debate…

In what often passes for serious debate there are some never-asked questions that would do a lot to clarify what lies in store for the American people when they cast their votes. For example, do they want a president who seeks guidance for his policies from the Bible or the Constitution? Or is being a “Christian Leader” as Mike Huckabee refers to himself in a commercial a presidential attribute? In the race to out-tough each other on national security and proclaim their abiding faith (preferably Christian) in their creator Republican pretenders to the Oval Office are once again engaging the public in a spectacle of fear and intolerance – – all this despite the fact that the Constitution specifically forbids any religious test as a requisite for holding public office.

It is hard to imagine a group less qualified to lead the nation. Even those with experience in the Congress, like John McCain and Duncan Hunter, seem to lack a vision that would move the country in a new and positive direction. Claims in recent years about the administration’s commitment to faith-based policies, family values and education have proven to be little more than superficial vote-getting ploys that have not served middle-class Americans well and have ignored the plight of the poor. And although most of these candidates do not mention President Bush by name, their positions are very much in sync with his.

Observing all this the publichas become increasingly cynical about its government and senses that something precious is slipping from their grasp. Only that residue of true believers in the Republican base and political insiders who have something to gain continue to support the president who has betrayed the trust of the American people and undermined the country’s status as a world power and moral exemplar. In the words of Retired General Wesley Clark, the current administration has “played domestic politics with foreign policy”, and even many of the politically uninitiated have begun to realize they’ve been had.

On the Washington Journal one recent morning, guest Peter Wehner, former Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives, received an astonishingly angry and distrustful reception from the listening audience. Callers of all political persuasions questioned the truthfulness of his comments regarding the reasons for invading Iraq and attacked his rationale on almost every issue he raised. In fact the only caller who came to his defense was a Republican who insisted that the other callers were all Democrats pretending to be Republicans and Independents – – a familiar accusation made by the right when opinion fails to support its position.

What was so striking about the barrage of angry questions was that it was an indication of just how far ordinary Americans have come to distrust the administration and disbelieve its representatives. It’s almost as if, when people watch the president or his press secretary Dana Perino, they have, in addition to their distrust, begun to find them more than a little ridiculous – – not surprising given that even in his premier moment at Annapolis the president introduced Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as Mamood Abbas.

And in another laughable momentKarl Rove appeared on the Charlie Rose show and ‘explained’ that Congress had pushed Bush prematurely into invading Iraq. Who knew? Those war-mongering legislators forced Bush to a pre-emptive, pre-emption without allowing him to assemble enough of a coalition to ensure success – – Rove’s latest assault on the nation’s credulity quotient. He said that he plans to develop the thought in his book which means that this incredible piece of nonsense will be repeated over and over until the gullible remnant of Bush supporters embrace it, sighing in relief that their hero has been vindicated on some level by the intransigence of Congress; others might wonder if it might possibly be that Karl Rove is just plain nuts.

Interviews with ordinary Americans indicate a desire for more information about substantive issues not propaganda or religious dogma. But for the most part the media hasn’t been asking the questions most of the electorate want answered. Favorite Bible passages, whether the Bible is literally true, overturning Roe v. Wade may be issues that interest voters at the margins, but if they still carry weight or enough weight to put a Republican in the White House come 2008 the country will be short-changed once again. If enough of the electorate allow wedge issues and fear to guide them at the polls we will continue to just muddle through instead of finding solutions to real problems both domestically and abroad.

It’s time to stop asking silly questions about religious predilections and return to what our founders intended. They didn’t consult the Bible at every turn, and God isn’t mentioned in the Constitution at all. Rather they tried to establish procedures that would allow leaders to do the work of the people in what would be essentially a nonsectarian government, whether that jibes with the hopes and dreams of today’s religious advocates or not.

Politics may drive the electoral process, and religion may form the basis for one’s personal behavior and concept of morality, but mixing the two is a dangerous and unconstitutional way of doing business.