Sunday, February 18, 2007

You may know that John McCain was in South Carolina today, where he made a campaign appearance at which he said Roe v. Wade should be overturned, then attended a pro-abstinence rally.

At that rally, McCain did something rather remarkable: He actually invented a new kind of sanctimonious rabble-rousing. What McCain did was to bring up his own suffering in a POW camp in Vietnam -- and imply that it's analogous to the struggle of members of his audience to remain chaste:

He also talked about his experience as a prisoner of war during Vietnam, and described some of the torture he suffered. His captors "wanted to make us do things that we otherwise wouldn't do," including confessing to war crimes, McCain said.

He and fellow prisoners were beat up for practicing their religion, but they continued to do it. "Sometimes it is very difficult to do the right thing," he said.

That's really new, isn't it? Other right-wing pols or pundits might assert that an American who's told to remove a creche from city property is suffering like someone in a faraway land who's been brutalized or imprisoned for having certain beliefs. But that's an analogy based on a far-off example. McCain was offering himself as the example, and saying that a kid who's tempted by the culture to have premarital sex is just like him when the guards beat him and his fellow prisoners for trying to pray -- which he has to know is preposterous.

That's shameless. But it's a new kind of shameless, so give the guy credit.


By the way, the editors of The New York Times Magazine picked a hell of a day to run this article by Gary Rosen, the managing editor of Commentary:

Try a quick political thought experiment. First, form a mental picture of the Democratic front-runners for president -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Now do the same for the leading Republican contenders -- John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Next (and this is the key step), imagine each of them in church, sitting in a pew, head bowed, or better still, at the pulpit, delivering a homily or leading the congregation in worship.

Strange, no? It's not hard to envision Clinton and Obama among the faithful....

But McCain and Giuliani? You somehow imagine them fidgeting during the hymns and checking their watches. The senator is an Episcopalian, the former mayor a Catholic, but neither man, you have to think, would be caught dead in a Bible-study group or could possibly declare, a la George W. Bush, that his favorite philosopher is "Christ, because he changed my heart." In the piety primary, the Democrats win hands down....

Er, in the case of McCain, apparently not.

And how can Rosen say this about Giuliani -- the guy who tried to get the Brooklyn Museum defunded and evicted after it presented the "Sensation" exhibition, which featured a "blasphemous" painting called The Holy Virgin Mary (this despite the fact that slides from the exhibit had been reviewed and approved by Giuliani's subordinates)? Believe me, President Giuliani will play the Catholic card as readily as William Donohue, multiple marriages notwithstanding.

Rosen's article is dumb in other ways as well -- he seems to be under the impression, for example, that Daniel Dennett and Jerry Falwell have approximately equal influence on our political life. But this assertion about piety is absurd -- we've been trained for years to discount the piety of all Democrats (even when, like Jesse Jackson, they're actually ordained ministers), while assuming that all Republican ears are touched by God's lips. That's not going to change, no matter who heads the '08 tickets.

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