The major problem with American politicians is that they not only think God is on their side, but have to say it publicly.
That was my conclusion after watching the Iowa caucus results on Fox News and CNN (with frequent switches to the cricket to watch Ponting and Clarke score their centuries).
Okay, it wasn’t the first time I noticed this, but in Iowa, God was everywhere, as they said in my Baltimore Catechism, and He (or She) proved it by showing up in just about every political speech.
The moral and evangelical victor in Iowa, Rick Santorum, a former Senator and devout Catholic, who lost by only 8 votes to Mitt Romney, mentioned God several times in his post-caucus speech. He started with a romantic thank you to his best friend, his wife: “C.S. Lewis said a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words. My best friend, my life mate, who sings that song when I forget the words, is my wife, Karen.” Santorum then talked about another friendship, a sacred one: “For giving me his grace every day, for loving me, warts and all, I offer a public thanks to God.”
There were several other references to God, but the one the Obama campaign should be studying is this mention where Santorum explained how he had won the 1992 Congressional race in Pennsylvania:
“I won because I went out and worked in the communities like I grew up in, Butler, Pennsylvania, a steel town. How was I able to win as a congressman in a 60 per cent Democratic district and then in a 70 per cent Democratic district, which represented all of the old abandoned steel mills in Pittsburgh? All of them, all along the Monongahela River, those mills were in my district. And I ran in a tough election year, when George Bush Sr., was losing the election by a landslide in my district, and I got 60 percent of the vote, because I shared the values of the working people in that district … Those are the same people that President Obama talked about who cling to their guns and their Bibles. Thank God they do.”
Rick Santorum was referring to a comment Barack Obama made during the 2008 campaign about people in Pennsylvania being bitter about the lack of regeneration in their small towns and “who cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” His then rivals, Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans, criticised Obama at the time. Rest assured Santorum will continue to use this message in his God-fearing campaign until he runs out of money. It just so happens, Barack Obama was right. If you want to get a good idea of what people really feel in steel-town Pennsylvania, read the classic 2009 novel about failed dreams in the region, American Rust by Philipp Meyer. They don’t believe God is on their side.
If you want to learn more about Santorum, this is an excellent profile from the New York Times in 2005, the year before he lost his Pennsylvania Senate seat: http://nyti.ms/yDyNSS
Michele Bachmann, who pulled out of the Republican race after a poor showing in the state where she was born, told her supporters after the result: “I’m a very religious person, I’m not a politician.” Announcing her withdrawal overnight, Mrs Bachmann said she would back whomever her party chooses, and, of course, the higher authority: “My faith in the Lord God Almighty, this country, this republic, is unshakeable.”
Then there’s Rick Perry, the Texas Governor, who looked as if he might have had a chance of winning it all last year. But after several major gaffes, including forgetting the name of a Federal agency he wanted to axe, Perry went down quicker than a boxer with a glass jaw. The Governor mentions God all the time in his speeches, which is why he changed his mind about bowing out of the race after finishing fifth in Iowa. Perry hopes to make a comeback in the Bible Belt, where his well-publicised Christian conservatism will win him quite a few votes in the South Carolina primary — provided, of course, he remembers the name of the State he’s in at the time.
Despite his razor-thin margin, Mitt Romney remains the favourite to take out the Republican nomination, mainly because of his money and his organisation. But it’s going to get ugly with Newt Gingrich, who finished fourth, aiming to take revenge on Romney for allegedly being behind a negative ad campaign, which sent the former Speaker of the House tumbling from his leadership spot in the polls. He’s called Romney a “liar” for denying having anything to do with the ads and even worse, a “Massachusetts moderate,” as a former governor of the state where the Kennedys ruled, and conservative Republicans say he compromised too much to get Democrat votes.
And as Romney addressed his supporters, including his four square-jawed sons behind him (looking like extras in a Hollywood movie!), he, too, had to include the Supreme Being in his acceptance speech: “The right course for America economically, personally, morally is for America to restore the principles that made us the shining city on the hill, our conviction that freedom is a gift of God …” Romney’s problem is that he didn’t pick up any extra votes since he competed in the 2008 Iowa caucus, and he’s been campaigning for president for four years. And, as Philip Rucker of the New York Times points out in this article, many Republicans don’t believe he can be elected president: http://wapo.st/yBGASS In fact, one of the Republican candidates, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has dismissed the endorsement of Romney by 2008 Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, saying no one cares.
The most interesting candidate, and therefore the most unlikely to win the nomination, is Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and former obstetrician, most often described as a radical libertarian. Among other things, Paul wants to get rid of the Federal Reserve, scale back the US military worldwide, and withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. The 76-year-old politician celebrated his third-place finish in Iowa, with an enthusiastic speech to his supporters: “It won’t be long before there’s an election in New Hampshire and believe me this momentum will continue. We are going to keep scoring just as we have tonight … We will go on, we will raise the money. I have no doubt about the volunteers. They will be there.” (And I went back and checked his speech, and he didn’t mention God once!)
Paul’s populist message goes over well with young voters, particularly university students. And he believes he can beat Santorum in other states because the social conservative can’t visit all the districts as he did in Iowa. Both of their performances next week in the New Hampshire primary will be critical for the rest of the campaign.
And what about Barack Obama? Is he worried about this latest resurgence of evangelical fervor after the Tea Party made such strong inroads in the 2010 elections, resulting in the Democrats losing the House to the Republicans?
While Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the other GOP candidates blasted President Obama and his “failed promises,” they were still taking potshots at each other. In a video message to Democratic supporters in Iowa, the President said he was more optimistic now than four years ago: “I think the main message that we’re going to have in 2012 is that we’ve done a lot, but we’ve got a lot more to do, and that’s why we need another four years to get it all done.”
The Democrats are looking forward to what’s likely to be a bitter Republican campaign to secure a presidential nominee, and if the economy and job prospects improve, Barack Obama will probably stay in the White House for four more years.
But don’t put your house on it. If the evangelical Christians manage to get one of their candidates nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, the religious right will move heaven and earth to get him or her into the Oval Office.
Remember Sarah Palin? She was on Fox News on Tuesday night, along with the usual suspects, talking about the Iowa caucus result. She said she was not surprised at the success of Rick Santorum because he “is spot on with his policies on peace through strength in America and taking a hard line against Iran.”
I hope I’m wrong but I have a terrible feeling Sarah Palin may make a political comeback. And in that case, to return to my religious theme, God help us all.