|'Taking back God'
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And then it was all over. By the second
week of September, after the news had made its run of the talk-show circuit,
Lieberman’s God-talk faded from the spotlight. Was the story simply eclipsed
by the debates, the convention, the Olympics? Or did the concerned parties
just head home after staking out their ideological claims?
The real reason may be more basic. Both campaigns placed great importance
on advertising their candidates’ religious credentials, in an attempt
to woo certain key sectors of the electorate. It began in the primaries,
when both Al Gore and George W. Bush made their born again-ness known;
since then, the two campaigns had been plucking an unequivocally pious
chord. "The Democratic Party is going to take back God this time," Gore
adviser Elaine Kamarck had boasted.
The decision to make Lieberman the running mate, Joan
Didion writes in The New York Review of Books, had been part
of this strategy--though it ultimately did not have the consequences that
the campaign intended. "The choice of Senator Lieberman was widely construed
as Gore’s way of ... ‘sending a message’ to the electorate. The actual
message that got sent, however, was not to the electorate but to its political
class--to the narrow group of those who wrote and spoke and remained fixed
in the belief that ‘the Clinton scandals’ contributed a weight that must
be shed." The campaign’s religious tone, Didion says, created a "dangerous
distance from the electorate."
The polls seemed to concur. Even as the two parties unleashed their own
public-relations salvoes, pitting choice of
against the merits of "WWJD,"
upwards of 67 percent of voters had little concern
for the religious question, surveys said. The media took note. Many pundits
criticized the campaigns for enlisting God toward political ends. And
the story of the vice-presidential candidate and his peculiar brand of
Jewishness quickly dissipated into the political ether.
But what about Lieberman and his Jewishness? Was all his
talk about God just an election-year ploy? Didion seems to think so: Lieberman’s
religious language, she says, "... can be set aside, understood as a nod
to those ‘pro-family’ or ‘values’ voters." Hers is an appealing, though
cynical, argument: the elites take up religion in an attempt to manipulate
the public. And if she is right, then the story we’ve just traced is little
more than a de-clawed cat, pouncing and scratching nothing. I hesitate,
though, to write off Lieberman’s religious-speak as just rhetoric. Rhetoric
is an easy target, but if we stop to examine its textures, it reveals
volumes. Instead of discounting our tale as a deflated "non-story," let’s
examine just how it missed the mark.
Religion in black and white
‘Taking back God’
The story behind the story
A new spiritual skyline