The Significance of Perry’s Response

Four years ago and again this year, Mitt (the Mormon) Romney repeated the line: “We’re not electing a pastor-in-chief; we’re electing a commander-in-chief.” Addressing the congregation he had summoned to Reliant Stadium Saturday, Rick Perry begged to differ: “As I finish I want to ask each of you to bow your head in prayer, or go to that position of prayer, and pray with us.”Hats off to Perry’s team for putting out word that just 8,000 folks had RSVPed for the event, and then were able to quadruple the number in actual turnout. So instead of headlining the governor’s inability even to half-fill an arena in Bible-soaked Texas, the punditocracy pronounced The Response a successful gamble. Not so clever of the media to overlook the capacity of megachurches to get the buses rolling. Heck, you figure John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church alone put a few thousand fannies in the seats.The take-away for pundits ought to be that when it comes to mobilizing the Republican grass roots the real action remains, as it has for a generation, with white evangelicals.

Rick Perry, Civil Religious Naif

Pace 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.