In an interview with Brody, Barack Obama gives his version of the meeting he had with religious leaders in Chicago last week–who ran the gamut, he notes, from UCC president John H. Thomas to Franklin Graham. Obama says he began by quoting Ronald Reagan’s famous remark at the 1980 National Affairs Briefing in Dallas, to the effect that I know you can’t endorse me but I endorse you.
The irony, here, is that the National Affairs Briefing was the occasion when the nascent religious right, heretofore a miscellaneous collection of local battles and fledgling organizations, coalesced into a national movement allied (one might say, joined at the hip) to the Republican Party. The briefing brought together party apparatchiks with leading evangelical pastors like Jerry Falwell and James Robison (whose press relations guy was the young Mike Huckabee). The explicit business of the three-day event was to turn politically disengaged white evangelicals into engaged voters and party activists, working to advance a conservative family values agenda on behalf of the GOP. So in fact, the event was all about endorsing Ronald Reagan and his fellow Republicans–and Reagan knew it.
In his remarks to Brody, Obama expatiates eloquently on the importance of the work that pastors do in the world, disdaining the perception that “so much of the political dialogue” is “entirely tactical.” As in: “John McCain is going to try to peel off women, or I’m going to try and peel of evangelicals.”
None of these folks may vote for me, but I want them to know that there’s a possibility of me working with them to advance common goals, like reducing teen pregnancies, or making sure that we’re dealing with the homeless population, or dealing with the tragedy of Darfur. Those are all issues where I think we can come together, and that’s what I want to focus on.
By in fact including pastors who certainly will not vote for him, Obama made sure that he could say what Reagan said without seeming to be following in Reagan’s sly footsteps. Not bad.