The interview was conducted during my show yesterday, so I could only see some text as the mute button was on. I think Bill asked the governor if he really believed in Adam and Eve. The answer doesn’t matter to me so much as what the question represents: A huge breach in the previously widely respected understanding that such questions are not asked of presidential candidates and, if asked, politely turned aside as inappropriate in a nation built on the premise that religious tests are unconstitutional in law and that politics is best kept very clear of theological disputes appropriate to church debates and academic settings.
I wrote at length about the dangers of theology as a guide to presidential qualifications and as a subject for close inspection by journalists covering candidates in A Mormon In The White House. One part of the argument was that demands on Romney to explain his LDS beliefs would set evangelicals and Catholics at the top of a very steep, very slippery slope. O’Reilly’s interview questions confirms that my concerns were justified, and the slip down the slope begun.
My hope is that all the candidates greet this new enthusiasm in the MSM for theological inquisitions with a common response along the lines of:
I am running for the presidency because I love this country, care about its future and the future of its people. I believe it has been greatly blessed by God. It has been blessed with a great number of people who hold widely divergent views about God’s plan for the world and how that plan affects them. I think every person running for president needs to keep in mind that he, or she, will be called upon to be president of all Americans, not just those Americans with whom he or she agrees on matters of theology. I think we all need to follow the examples of our great presidents in avoiding sectarian division and the trap of suggesting that some Americans are more American than others because of their religious beliefs. There’s only one size of citizenship, and it applies to all Americans. I don’t think discussions of personal theology contribute to the idea of a strong and united America, which is exactly what we need in these times, so with all due respect, ____, I am going to decline to answer that question because I think it falls into the category of questions that tend to divide Americans over issues of faith and religious belief without really advancing any goal of understanding or policy.
Meanwhile, over at The O’Reilly Factor, Mike Huckablee is talking. Lowell comments:
The interview, which took place on October 31, is fascinating in its own way. A transcript should be up soon here. At one point O’Reilly pressed Huckabee on his religious beliefs, asking, “Do you believe only those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven?” (A silly question to ask a presidential candidate.) Huckabee properly avoided a direct answer, saying only that for him, faith in Jesus Christ is the only path. In his view, Huckabee stated, the most important thing was for candidates to “be honest about” their faith. At first I wondered what he meant by that, but he later clarified that he’s talking about living up to one’s Christian beliefs, rather than professing Christianity but living a lesser standard.
In short, in his deflection of religions-based questions, Huckabee sounded a lot like Romney. I wonder if dialogues like this one aren’t actually helpful by putting the issue in perspective and taking pressure off Romney. It’s worth noting that Romney’s not the only very religious conservative running in 2008 – and that the questions Huckabee is starting to get are just as irrelevant to his candidacy as they are to Romney’s.
John adds briefly: It also worthy of note that just yesterday we passed on and seconded Jim Geraghty’s concern, in response to Ramesh Ponnuru’s “pragmatism,” that :
I realize Mike Huckabee has only been in the top tier for a short time, but I wonder if we soon hear questions about “the Baptist preacher factor” in his bid.
Such was very much O’Reilly’s tone with the interview. When he went to commercial and when he came back, he promoted the interview with the question, “Can a deeply religious person be elected president of the United States?”
We have been saying just about forever on this blog that attacks on religion, are just that, attacks on religion. Huckabee’s continued appeals to being “one of us” and the whole “second language” crack from above are backfiring – easily foreseeable. It was interesting to watch Huckabee become entirely dismissive and duck the question, and the comparison to Romney when O’Reilly tried to press it.
Huckabee seems to want it both ways – a lot. Consider this from Hugh Hewitt’s interview with him yesterday:
Several months in advance of that, I’d indicated that I might, that I did indicate I would commute his sentence. But after reviewing his case and deciding that he wouldn’t have supervision, I decided against it and denied the commutation.
Does that remind you of anybody? This is getting more political than we usually get here, but his veiled references to Romney’s religion on one hand, and in front of one audience, and his denial of it being an issue in another is just below the belt. My comparison’s to Jesse Jackson are seeming more and more appropos.