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Frank Rich on Hagee/Wright

Frank Rich points towards a double standard in the media's treatment of Wright:

None of this is to say that two wacky white preachers make a Wright right. It is entirely fair for any voter to weigh Mr. Obamas long relationship with his pastor in assessing his fitness for office. It is also fair to weigh Mr. Obamas judgment in handling this personal and political crisis as it has repeatedly boiled over. But whatever that verdict, it is disingenuous to pretend that there isnt a double standard operating here. If were to judge black candidates on their most controversial associates and how quickly, sternly and completely they disown them we must judge white politicians by the same yardstick.

I think this is about right. I actually think McCain's search for the Hagee endorsement is worse than Obama staying in his church despite the views of his pastor. A person remains in a congregation for a number of reasons, the pastor being just one of them. Churches are, after all (or, at least, for most of us), communities of faith, and not just Sunday entertainment provided by the pastor. Someone might stay in a church because of its commitment to service, its connections to a particular neighborhood or ethnic group, bonds with fellow parishioners, etc. Indeed, those who casually say that Obama should have left his church reveal to me a fairly shallow approach towards life in a church. Perhaps I say this because I'm Catholic. By necessity, we have a uniquely non-pastor-centered approach to Church. But I'd imagine the same is true to varying degrees even for more congregational protestants. (As an aside, it's at least ironic that so much of the Wright story is being flogged by Catholic journalists O'Reilly and Hannity. Stephen Colbert -- who is a weekly mass Catholic -- had the right take on this facet of the story. Continuing to attend mass, he suggested, does not signal agreement with how the Church has handled, say, the abuse scandal.)In any event, seeking out a pastor's endorsement is a different sort of calculation than deciding whether to leave a church because of occasionally controversial (even outrageous) comments made by its pastor. So I'm much more troubled by McCain's flirtation with Hagee than by Obama's decision to continue attending his church.

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



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Yes, it is noteworthy that it's Catholic commentators [I do not call them journalists] like O' Reilly/Hannity who are pushing the Rev. Wright story 24-7.Hannity graduated from a small L.I. HS seminary, Pius X, now closed, [good!] where 5 priests had been accused of abuse. Some have called it a 'nest'. Should Sean Hannity throw his Pius X H.S. diploma under a bus?

The Rich article does not mention Parsley, nor does it explain the depth of McCain's relation to Hagee and others. Rod Parsley calls for the U.S. to fulfill its divine mission and destroy Islam. He calls repeatedly for the eradication of a world religion with 1billion followers and 7 million in the US. Here's what he said, go to Youtube if you don't believe: "I do not believe our nation can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam". Yes, wonder how that plays in Baghdad and Riad and Istanbul. There's more. Parsley: "America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed". He also directly tells his followers that American Muslims are not loyal to America!McCain, not having won the nomination, sought this man out. Curried his favor. This is what McCain said on the stage with Parsley: "I'm very honored to have here one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide, Pastor Rod Parsley" ... shakes his hand and thanks him etc.McCain wants to be president. What does he tell the 7million muslim Americans? What does he tell our allies in Baghdad? What does he tell the world? A man calls for the US to destroy Islam, and McCain calls him a great leader in America, a moral compass, and a spiritual guide? How does this mesh with Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran? McCain says he has foreign policy expertise but hes playing into the paranoia and fear of Muslims.This is the type of person who McCain SOUGHT to get nominated and elected. Parsley's followers are being courted by McCain. What does it tell the world that our elected leader (if McCain wins) endorses, approves and believes to be a moral leader a man who calls for the destruction of Islam -- a religion practiced peacefully by 1 billion human beings? This is the kind of voter that McCain has sought to align himself with.While McCains personal relation with Parsley may be weaker than Obamas to Wright, the nature of the relation is of more concern because it is political. In a close election, the religious extremists can make or break McCain. Thats why hes courting them. That gives them leverage. It foretells more Bush-like policies on things such as birth control (RU-486), stem cell research, foreign aid, suppression of science in federal agencies, separation of church and state (or lack thereof), middle east policy, and more.Also, dont think that McCains relation with Hagee is just one appearance on stage. Look up Moyers piece on CUFI, in which McCain, speaking to Hagee and his followers, calls D.C. the city of Satan! How different is that from G-D America?For a moderate independent secularist like me, McCains relations with the religious right are scary. And what is the defense people make for McCain: its not as bad as Wright. Well what if Hillary is the nominee? The same question will remain. And furthermore, Obama is not seeking the black liberation theology vote. There is no reason to believe that an Obama president would feel he owes them anything. In contrast, a McCain president would indebted to Hagee, Parsley, Robertson, Fallwells successors, and the millions of votes they can deliver. Consider the following.McCain: " I know they favor that [peace] because of my close relations with them, and pastor John Hagee ... [who] is one of the leaders of the pro-Israel-evangelical movement in America." McCain also said "we should be so grateful for the support of the evangelical movement for the state of Israel, given the influence that they have, beneficial influence that they have over millions of Americans," Exactly! millions of votes is what this is about. people vote for McCain, they ought to know who they are in league with and who McCain will be beholden to.

A good example of how partisans will always construe whatever the other team does as worse somehow. If the situation were reversed, you'd be pointing out that Obama had just sought out an endorsement of a politically influential leader and that Obama wasn't agreeing with everything that leader stood for, whereas McCain had deliberately placed himself under Hagee's leadership for a 20-year period, had praised Hagee as his personal spiritual mentor on many occasions, had named a book after Hagee's sermons, and had named Hagee to an advisory board. Personally, I think the issue is rather trumped up on both sides -- McCain isn't a spiritual disciple of Hagee, and Obama isn't hankering to impose black nationalism on the USA. Both Hagee and Wright are convenient punching bags for the partisans of the other side.

Stuart, I respectfully disagree. We see from Bush some of the results of courting religious extremists to get elected. Obama courts no such figures or their voters. McCain does.

Like so much else in politics, the whole Obama/Wright, McCain/Hagee, et. al., debate is one where each side is shocked, shocked at what the other side did but not too worried when their own man (or woman--has Hillary had any pastor problems?) does the same thing. Perhaps it's just partisanship. Perhaps it's the fact that each side already knows and trusts its own candidate--and thus is not cocnerned about undue relgiious influence--but is also naturally wary of its opponent, whose policies, past, and future judgments it already suspects.As a McCain supporter, I truly could not care less about the Haggee "issue," other than to be glad it's not getting any traction in the media--I would need hard, irrefutable evidence of an anti-Catholic bias on McCain's part (and some evidence of how, within our legal system, that might harm me) before it would in any way alter my support for McCain. And I certainly don't think any such "evidence" exists. But for me, Obama's being part of Wright's church for so long does raise uneasy questions about what he truly thinks and what he would do as president--because he has said that this church and Wright were so important in making him who he is. Moreover, it's a question of his judgment. What ELSE that I find so wacky might Obama decide to do? That is far more troubling than McCain's seeking an obnoxious but powerful man's support for purely political reasons. Remember: for purely poltiical reasons, Eisenhower did not denounce Joe McCarthy ... yet that so-called "failure" on Ike's part did not stop him from being a successful president. Call me a cynic--I'll call myself a realist or pragmatist. But I'd much rather vote for a man who seeks the support of a pastor who hates Islam than the man whose pastor hates America.

Points well made Robert Reid, but the defense of McCain will fall if Hillary is the nominee. Furthermore, the religious extremist vote gave Bush the winning edge, as it might for McCain. That gives them political influence. What political influence is exerted on Obama?

JTS:Is there any actual evidence that "religious extremists" have had undue influence during Bush's administration? By all accounts, Bush is a deeply religious man who shares the views and values of those whom you call extremists. Thus, he took the actions he did based on his OWN deeply held convictions--you may disagree strongly with those convictions, but it is not accurate to suggest that those convictions or actions were anything imposed on Bush because of outside political influence.Again with Obama, I am not concerned that his pastor or his church might unduly influence him to some course of action he might not otherwise take--rather, I am concerned that his possible agreement with that pastor and that church indicate the directions in which he might want to take the country--just as you might have been concerned that Bush's religious affiliations might have indicated the course he would follow.As for Hillary, two points are critical: 1. Nothing changes if Hillary is the nominee because, as I said, I consider McCain's solicitation of support from Haggee, etc., to be a strictly political move that in no way suggests the policies McCain would seek to enact or any secret anti-papist agenda; indeed, it is Hagge far more than me who is likely to be surprised and disappointed by a McCain presidency.2. At this point, Hillary cannot win her party's nomination in any way that would not turn away a substantial portion of the African-American base, as well as many younger voters, thereby guaranteeing the election of McCain. So if Hillary is the nominee, McCain is the next president (which I suspect he'll be if Obama is the nominee as well, since a great many Hillary supporters haev already indicated they will not accept another Democratic nominee)

Robert Reid: Yes, there is plenty of evidence. Not sure what you would consider "undue", but the influence is undeniable. Do the research; I have. See, among many others. Stem cells, abortion, middle east policy, etc. Bush has strong ties to the religious right, which you can discover if you look into it, though simply following the news for the last 9 years should be sufficient to see it. The WSJ has run plenty of articles documenting it.

JTS,I never denied that Bush has strong ties to the religious right--what I argued is that he SHARES the views and values and policy agenda of the religious right. It is possible to suggest that George HW Bush was never as conservative as he pretended to be while campaigning to be Reagan's heir, but his son truly is a true believer in both evangelical Christianity and modern conservative policies. Thus, it is not fair to suggest that George W took any actions because of who supported him--rather, those groups supported Bush because they believed he would take the actions he ultimately did. The differece is subtle--but it goes to the heart of the Obama/Wright, McCain/Hagee discussion: There is nothing to suggest that McCain is a true believer in Hagee's worldview; rather, McCain sought Hagee's support for purely pragmatic political reasons (and thus, as I said, he will likely disappoinmt Hagee) ... but Obama's longstanding membership in Wright's church, and his initial refusal to outright sever ties with Wright, suggest that his religious connection to Wrighta nd the African-American Church was--at least for a while--as strong as Bush's is to the religious left ... moreover, it is quite possible that Obama's current rejection of Wright is also just for pragmatic., political reasons, and that his heart really does remain more in sync with Wright than he wnats to admit, which is what is worrisome.

Obviously that's "Bush's connection to the religious RIGHT," not left

Robert,We can agree to disgree on this. McCain's religious views are "private" so we don't know much about what he believes. But he called D.C. the "city of Satan", and he's stated in public that he is thankful for the millions of votes Hagee can deliver. Anyway, MCCain's personal beliefs are irrelevant. When a group of voters like religious voters can determine whether or a candidate is elected, they have undeniable political power. Seems naive to believe otherwise."for purely pragmatic political reasons". Yes, that is what bothers me. It's a political marriage -- what will be the dowry? You try to down play McCain's alignment with the religious right. McCain's the one who called Parsley a great american leader. McCain's the one who is glad to have Hagee's support. McCain's the one who said "I know they favor that because of my close relations with them, and pastor John Hagee ... [who] is one of the leaders of the pro-Israel-evangelical movement in America. ... we should be so grateful for the support of the evangelical movement for the state of Israel, given the influence that they have, beneficial influence that they have over millions of Americans" (Jewish Journal). McCain himself admits that Hagee has the incluence of millions of voters and he has "close relations" with him. That's McCain talking, not me. Don't think McCain is going to get all the benefit of being in league with the religious right without paying the price in loss of moderate voters, Catholics, and Muslims who find many of their beliefs frightening and reminescent of Bush.Furthermore, you continue to defend McCain by referring to Wright. Obama has nothing to do with it. No wrong by Obama diminishes McCain's choices.You're going pretty far to say McCain is removed from the religious right. When a politician courts people's votes (especially those who can decide an election), there's a connection that you can't dismiss. Obama/Clinton don't court unions without some understanding that they'll be pro-union. That's just basic politics.

Ah, but the key thing is that very, very few people have even heard about McCain and Haggee whereas EVERYONE has heard about Obama and Wright--thus I doubt it will affect McCain's chances at all ... and the day the Muslim vote is large enough in this country to affect any national election is the day there's no point voting anyway, since THAT will be the true road to theocracy (of a sort that will make you wistful for the days of the religious right).

Maybe so. It took 6 months for the Wright story to reach the public's attention. There are 527 groups planning to make sure the public, including Catholic hispanics, know who McCain is aligned with and what he has said about them. He's not going to get the religious right vote without accepting the penalty that accompanies it.

We will have to wait to see which matters more to Hispanics--McCain's connection to Hagee or his support for immigration reform that most Hispanics applaud. Personally, I'm not worried a bit.

Robert, wait for the general election. Then we'll see how well McCain holds up under serious scrutiny.

McCain will hold up fine--the question is whether the Democrats will be able to tarnish his "maverick" image and tie him too closely to Bush and whether all those vast numbers of primary voters will actually turn out for the general election (especially when THEIR candidate didn't get the nomination) and whether they'll actually vote Democratic.In that case, if Obama is the nominee and I had to worry about whether the youth vote will finally actually turn out in any great numbers and vote--I wouldn't start measuring the Oval office for drapes just yet.

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