If the shoe fits
March 15, 2009 | What a difference a year makes!
A year ago, in April 2008, Barack Obama slipped up and uttered an uncomfortable truth about human nature:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Because he was speaking in San Francisco, hardly a blue-collar bastion, Hillary Clinton seized on the remark to bolster her charge that Obama was "elitist," and John McCain and the Republicans piled on. TV news became an accomplice by repeatedly airing video of Hillary in a bar drinking beer and a shot, while visions of the White House danced in her head. We all know how that worked out.
This morning I was reading Frank Rich's column in the New York Times and came across a quote from Tony Perkins, head of the right-wing Family Research Council — "defending Faith, Family, and Freedom." Perkins told Lou Dobbs on CNN, in response to a poll showing an increase in the number of Americans who say they do not have any religion, "If this poll is taken next year the outcome will be different, as the economy goes downward, I think people are going to be driven to religion."
So, does that make Tony Perkins an elitist? "Driven to religion" is a very revealing phrase, especially from someone who fancies himself a Defender of Faith. "Driven to" religion implies coercion. A kinder way to say it would be "attracted to religion" but "driven" reveals the mindset of the religious right: they want to force everyone to accept their view of the world.
Whether it's "cling" or "driven" there is a basic truth here; in times of uncertainty and upheaval, people become self-protective and look for answers. And that is what religion does — provide answers and certainty.
Obama's mistake was not in saying something untrue but in giving his political opponents an opening to use his own words against him. The first rule of American politics is, Say nothing that can be disagreed with or that might make someone, anyone, uncomfortable. (It's no wonder that Obama now relies so heavily on teleprompters for public speeches.)
Many people find comfort and inspiration in their religious beliefs, and I have no quarrel with that, only that I believe it unnecessary. It is possible to be a "good" person and lead a "moral" and "ethical" life without the benefit of religion. But when religion becomes a mechanism for control and exploitation, I draw the line. Strong words, but think about the dogma of the Catholic church (control) and the fundraising of the televangelists (exploitation).
Believe what you want, but don't for a minute imagine that you have any right to tell me what to believe or use your beliefs as justification for what you think I should do.
Last updated on Jul 16, 2016