Editors Note: Im always surprised at how tolerant Americans are about extremist loons when they have the title “Rev.” in front of their names ... and, of course, when they also happen to be white, right-wing, fundamentalist Christian crackpots. For months, weve heard about Obamas hate-spewing pastor, Rev. Wright, but not nearly as much about the endorsement John McCain received from apocalyptic preacher John Hagee. My feeling is that a nut by any other name is just as nutty.


McCain’s Problem: His Taliban Wing

 

John McCain has never been an extremist. However, a significant segment of his base — the religious right, without which no Republican can ever become president — are extremists, which explains McCain’s on-again, off-again courtship of crackpot televangelist John Hagee.

If Barack Obama eventually wins the Democratic nomination, the GOP attack machine will inevitably portray him as a leftist fanatic and the most-liberal candidate in history — Mao Tse-tung and Vladimir Lenin rolled into one. For example, rants from Obama’s former pastor are in regular rotation on Fox News to demonstrate that Obama belongs to a church that’s a hotbed of radicalism.

And the right-wing media still castigates him for the Louis Farrakhan endorsement, exacerbating baseless suspicions he’s a closet Muslim, despite Obama’s repeated repudiations of Farrakhan, his lifelong Christianity and the fact he never sought Farrakhan’s endorsement in the first place. (How Obama could simultaneously be a Black Muslim and a far-left Christian is anybody's guess.)

McCain’s strategy has been to allow his surrogates to attack Obama, then tepidly distance himself from their efforts. (Hillary has flirted with similar tactics.) Far-right talk-radio host Bill Cunningham’s fear-mongering use of Obama’s sinister middle name “Hussein” at a McCain rally is typical; expect GOP operatives to routinely “mispronounce” the senator’s surname as “Osama” in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, conservative pundits bewail mainstream media characterizations of the religious right as the “Taliban wing” of the GOP. However, Rev. Hagee’s endorsement, which McCain actively sought, comes from the Christian equivalent of Louis Farrakhan, who’s every bit as radical — albeit at the other end of the political spectrum — as Obama’s pastor.

Hagee’s brand of Christianity is a crazy quilt of fundamentalist bigotry, and isn’t the least bit anomalous within the GOP base. As pastor of the 16,000-member Cornerstone Church, he echoed Pat Robertson in blaming New Orleans’ gays for hurricane Katrina (“they were offensive to God”), has called the Catholic Church the “great whore” and the “Antichrist,” publicized a slave auction with the slogan “slavery in America is returning to Cornerstone,” and spews attitudes about women (“feminists are in rebellion against God’s patterns for the family”) that are appropriate to the Middle Ages.

 

Hagee has also stated that all Muslims “have a mandate to kill Christians.” It’s an opinion he’s entitled to and one that many Americans share, but, with more than a billion Muslims worldwide, it would provide a dangerous foundation on which to construct our foreign policy. So it was a little disturbing that, before the attendant bad publicity forced him to repudiate Hagee’s endorsement, McCain was trumpeting the fact that he was “very honored” to have his support.

Connecticut’s foremost war monger, Joe Lieberman, has favorably compared Hagee to Moses, mainly for his support of Israel. However, the pastor’s apocalyptic theology requires a Jewish state to precipitate the Armageddon, during which two-thirds of the Israelis (those remaining unconverted to Christianity) will be killed. Hagee also considers war with Iran a necessity (which meshes well with McCain’s constant saber rattling) to bring on the End of Days, which he’s said U.S. government policy ought to be “hastening.”

John McCain has never been a religious fanatic. During one GOP debate, when he could have scored points with religious conservatives by echoing Mike Huckabee’s support of creationism, McCain had the integrity and modernity to confess a belief in evolution. But, despite his maverick past — he once called Jerry Falwell and his ilk “agents of intolerance” — McCain has shown an unwillingness to distance himself from the religious nut jobs and bigots this time around, because no Republican can be elected president without the partys Taliban wing.

Witness his newfound admiration for Falwell, at whose Liberty University he delivered the commencement address. He’s also spoken at the openly racist and anti-Catholic Bob Jones University, after having once criticized George W. Bush for doing likewise. As the GOP evolves into a Southern party increasingly dominated by right-wing evangelicals and fundamentalists, such pandering becomes more and more critical for Republican candidates.

This evolution is especially problematic for McCain, who still must prove his bona fides to the Anne Coulter wing of his base. Republican candidates normally run to the right in the GOP primaries, then feign moderation for the rest of the electorate during the general election (e.g., Mr. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” scam). But McCain doesn’t have this luxury, because the extremists have never really trusted him.

As the GOP’s national standard-bearer, McCain will have to downplay support for policies he once favored, such as stem cell research, that offend social conservatives. And we’ve already seen the erstwhile deficit hawk’s pathetic flip-flop on the Bush tax cuts, which he once called “irresponsible,” but which he now wants made permanent for reasons too specious and self-serving to waste time repeating.

How long can the Straight-Talk Express stay on its tracks if McCain must constantly waffle left and right to ensure the support of his Taliban wing, while clinging to his image as the sort of maverick independent whom moderates (former Reagan Democrats) could vote for? As depressing as it is to accept, politicians don’t get elected in the 21st century by talking straight.


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