Rick Perry, Civil Religious Naif

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Perry.jpgPace his defenders over at Politico’s Arena, but no one’s saying that Rick Perry doesn’t have the right to atone according to his own evangelical lights, or that he’s the first American political leader to call for a day of prayer and fasting. The reason tomorrow’s Reliant Stadium Revival has generated boos across the land is that from the get-go Perry has failed to observe the elementary principle of American civil religion, which is that when a pol undertakes an initiative of this sort, he’s got to be inclusive.

Warren Throckmorton has usefully pointed out that John Adams came to believe that he lost the election of 1800 because his endorsement of times of prayer and fasting in 1798 and 1799 was widely regarded as part of a Presbyterian plot to achieve religious hegemony in the new republic. Perry’s collection of religious right ultras, led by the American Family Association, elicits similar suspicions.

But forget about his clerical underwriters. Consider the message Perry has inscribed to his “fellow Americans” on The Response’s website: “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us
through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of
freedom we so richly enjoy.” Not God but Jesus. No wonder GOP wiseguys don’t think Perry’s ready for prime time. No American politician gets to talk to his fellow Americans this way, at least if he expects to be elected president.