I’ve written several times recently about the manner in which the Democratic candidates are trying to go after the religious voters who tend to vote Republican. In an ideal world, I would prefer that the candidates answer questions about religion as the fictitious Republican candidate Arnold Vinick does in this clip from The West Wing. Unfortunately the reality of current political life is that no candidate would so clearly respond as Arnold Vinick did in differentiating religion from politics. Vinick concluded by offering that “every day until the end of this campaign I’ll answer any question anyone has on government, but if you have a question on religion, please, go to church.”
One of those who asked a question at the CNN/You Tube debate shared my concern about the manner in which the Democrats are going after the religious vote. He asked, “Am I wrong in fearing a Democratic administration that may be lip service to the extremely religious as much as the current one? And if so, why?”
While hardly matching Arnold Vinick’s answer, Barack Obama had an acceptable answer:
OBAMA: I am proud of my Christian faith. And it informs what I do. And I don’t think that people of any faith background should be prohibited from debating in the public square.
OBAMA: But I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state, and I think that we’ve got to translate…
By the way, I support it not just for the state but also for the church, because that maintains our religious independence and that’s why we have such a thriving religious life.
But what I also think is that we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function. That’s what the founding fathers intended.
Besides outright standing up for separation of church and state, which is essential as many Republicans deny that this is what the founding fathers intended, Obama makes another important point which I’ve also noted here many times. Separation of church and state is not just a current liberal idea. Separation of church and state was an important idea to the founding fathers, and historically many religious groups also recognized the importance of this principle. The rights of everyone to worship, or not worship, as they choose can only be preserved if there is strict separation of church and state. As in so many other areas, Republicans demonstrate that their rhetoric of skepticism towards government does not translate to their policy decisions when they allow the government which they claim to distrust to become intertwined with religion.
Obama’s statement here on separation of church and state is clearer than anything I’ve heard from the other Democratic candidates, and obviously is a sharp contrast from the theocratic views of many of the Republican candidates–including GOP maverick Ron Paul. The Lippard Blog points out that Ron Paul is far closer to the Republicans as a social conservative than might be expected from a libertarian.
The social conservativism emanating from Ron Paul is a sign of the deleterious consequences of the failed attempts at conservative/libertarian fusionism. While I sympathize with Paul’s opposition to the war and some of his other positions, his absurd claim that “The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers” prevents me from considering him as a candidate, or believing his rhetoric of being a strict defender of the Constitution. Paul has supported keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, has co-sponsored the school prayer amendment, and supported keeping the Ten Commandments on a courthouse lawn. As with the other Republicans, Paul shows that he will cite the founding fathers and the Constitution when convenient, and ignore their principles when not. Barack Obama, a former professor of Constitutional law, shows a better understanding of this fundamental liberty than the candidate who is considered to be the most libertarian.