By John Norton
Religion is turning out to be a major focus in the presidential primary election.
Part of the reason is that the candidates themselves are talking about it. As Russ Shaw reports this week (see Page 3), "religious affiliation apparently figures as a politically exploitable asset in the calculations" of some of the candidates, most notably Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Even Rudy Giuliani, the twice-divorced Catholic former mayor of New York, recently assured evangelical worshippers in Florida that "I can feel the spirit of God in this room."
Proof of religious conviction is especially something the country's large base of evangelicals is keen to hear. The country's "culture wars" have become fiercer in recent years, and evangelicals want to make sure there's a firm ally in the Oval Office to keep secularists at bay.
But the other reason why religion is such a focus this election season is that the mostly secular mainstream media is clearly squeamish, at best, about doctrinal religious belief, and has a vague uneasiness that a believer-president violates church/state separation.
A fascinating example of this was on display during the Republican candidates' debate hosted by Fox News earlier this month. A Fox correspondent asked Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, about his public endorsement of biblical language instructing wives to submit to the "servant leadership" of their husbands, and suggested that a candidate with such views might be unelectable.
Huckabee parried. Why is it, he asked, that everybody says religion is off limits, but the media's always asking me about mine? He made a joke that he should pass a collection plate, and then went on to say: "I'm not the least bit ashamed of my faith or the doctrines of it. I don't try to impose that as a governor, and I wouldn't impose it as a president. But I certainly am going to practice it unashamedly."
As impressive a show as it was, his -- and the media's -- emphasis on religion highlights one risk: it diverts valuable attention away from substantive policy issues. Should we really care about Huckabee's biblical interpretations or that Republican Mitt Romney, a Mormon, expects to inherit his own world in the afterlife? Shouldn't we get back to issues like abortion, health care, the war and the recession risk (see Spectator, Page 18)?
What we know of the candidates' religious beliefs will -- or should -- give us some indication of the private moral values that will inform their decisions. But what are far more important are the public policy positions they've developed and defended.
Write me at email@example.com.
-- John Norton