09 October 2004
In terms of religious rhetoric, Kerry won a surprise victory in Friday night’s debate. Christian conservatives will likely stick with Bush’s clear opposition to abortion, and forgive him his apparent flip flop on stem-cell research. But Kerry was the one who got to say:
“Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today. But I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can’t do that. But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society. But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation.”
He also reminded the world he’s a Catholic. Smooth move, JFK.
Bush scored points with “faith in liberty,” inoffensive to secularists, a cue word to the believers among his supporters. But we suspect he didn’t really help himself with this:
“I wouldn’t pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn’t be said in a school because it had the words ‘under God’ in it. I think that’s an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution.”
There are two big errors in that statement, as even supporters of the “under God” phrase — maybe especially such supporters, versed as they are in the issue — would likely acknowledge. First, no one has proposed removing the Pledge from schools. Michael Newdow wanted “under God” removed from the Pledge. Second, no “strict interpretation of the Constitution” is possible on this issue, since the Constitution does not address allegiance pledges of any kind. So Bush hit hard against a straw man, a move that won’t win supporters among those who like their church and state separate, thank you very much, and won’t impress those for whom keeping “under God” in the Pledge is an issue of importance, worth real attention.