And then there were none

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Straight Talk Express.jpgAnd so, in one day, McCain has rid himself of the two troublesome clerics, disendorsing both John Hagee and Rod Parsley because he was shocked, shocked, at what had escaped their lips. To be sure, he did it gracelessly. He adjured one and all not to indulge in any moral equivalence by equating the vile Hagee with the vile Wright. Hagee had not been my pastor for 20 years–i.e. it only took me a few months to figure out that I had to throw the fat frog under the bus. As for the Columbus Chrysostom, well, the announcement of his jettisoning was slipped into a little phone conversation with the AP’s Libby Quaid from Stockton, CA: “I believe there is no place for that kind of dialogue in America, and I believe that even though he endorsed me, and I didn’t endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement.” (Actually, McCain did endorse Parsley, insofar as someone in Parsley’s position can be endorsed, by referring to him as “one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide.”) But Parsley’s anti-Islam rants had begun to make their way out into the wide Muslim world, and so the time had come to be lose the compass.
One of the odd things about the Hagee affair is that it did not end in the usual way. Usually, there’s some particular religious group–Catholics, say, or Muslims, or Mormons–who take offense at some remarks, and thus the candidate must disavow. Thus it was the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue who blew the anti-Catholicism whistle when Pastor Hagee surfaced in the present campaign, first inviting Mike Huckabee to his church and then giving his thumbs up to McCain. But there has been no outpouring of outrage from the organized Jewish community in reaction to the revelation that Hagee had, in a sermon perhaps a decade ago, allowed as how God had permitted the Holocaust in order to hustle the Jews off to the Holy Land. So far as I can see, only the leader of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, spoke out publicly, in the form of a letter of inquiry on behalf of his constituents to Pastor Hagee. Yoffie has in recent weeks stood out as a prominent critic of Hagee’s, in the face of his warm embrace as a friend of Israel by the likes of Aipac and Abe Foxman. One can only imagine the hue and cry had Jeremiah Wright been captured on tape saying that God had stood aside and let the Holocaust happen.
That Hagee’s claim was, in fact, not outside the pale of Judeo-Christian traditions of theodicy is beside the point. It is, evidently, not possible for the beneficent God of the American civil religion to be publicly blamed for acts of, ah, God like Katrina, or to be considered as permitting genocidal destruction for the sake of some greater good.
In any event, having cut himself off from his two most prominent clerical supporters, candidate McCain must now bethink himself more seriously than ever how to engage the support of his party’s evangelical base. This is something of a conundrum these days. Jerry Falwell is dead, and the other old lions of the movement don’t seem to be feeling so good themselves. If Bob Novak is to be believed, McCain recently spurned an invitation to meet with James Dobson. Mike Huckabee proved that it is still possible to turn out the evangelical vote across the GOP heartland, and (pace Novak) his endorsement of McCain seems wholehearted–but no one knows how much it matters. Presumably, the wise heads in the GOP, if there are any left, would like to get the evangelicals on board the Straight Talk Express without anyone else noticing. Good luck with that.