Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"not religion and not politics"

I was clicking past some channels on tv when something caught my eye on FOX news. I don't like FOX news - I don't like their coverage, I don't like their staff, I don't watch their channel habitually. But I stopped briefly because they were talking about presidential candidates, and apparently there's some controversy about Mike Huckabee's Christmas commercial. In it, he talks about how tiring the political commercials must be, and then he says the most important thing to focus on right now is Christ. In the background, there was a Christmas tree next to what looked like some shelving.

FOX News' question was whether this was an appropriate message from a political candidate. There were two people on a split screen talking with the reporter behind the news desk. One man in particular, an atheist, was disgusted. He said that the shelving resulted in a "subliminal cross" behind Huckabee's head, and that Huckabee's use of religion was shameful pandering to Christians and was insulting to everyone else - Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc.

Why is everyone so hung up on Mike Huckabee's religion? I can't say this enough:
RELIGION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH A PERSON'S CAPABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY SERVE THE PUBLIC. Whether a candidate is Mormon, Baptist, Catholic, Sunni, Shiite, Hindu, "animist," agnostic, or atheist among others, my questions are still going to be the same. Are you smart? Are you experienced? Can you lead? Can you work towards the good of all citizens? What are your plans for the country?

If Mike Huckabee or any of the other candidates want to shout their religion from the rooftops, I'd encourage them to do so. I think that it's a good thing when a person is not ashamed of what they believe. I fear that the climate of religious intolerance in this country necessitates that people be brave about what they believe, lest we lose our right as citizens of this country to worship (or not) as we please. Also, publicly identifying with one religion does not mean that you necessarily have no respect for other religions. But I have one caveat: don't think your professed religion alone is going to sway my vote. I am a Christian, but I would vote for an atheist if that atheist had the character and qualifications to do the job and was a better candidate than the others. That doesn't make me a bad Christian. It makes me an honest Christian and a conscientious citizen.

You know what happens when people vote a candidate in based on religion? George W. Bush. A narrow minded, short sighted, egotistical, wannabe-cowboy whose character I refuse to attribute to his professed religion. I don't think all Christians are great candidates for president any more than I think all Muslims are terrorists - that would absolutely ridiculous and unreasonable. People have the opportunity and the ability to assess a candidate without making dumb assumptions based on one characteristic about that candidate.

My point is it shouldn't matter even IF Mike Huckabee was reaching out for the Christian vote. He has a right to campaign how he wants - to show whatever side of him he wants to show. It's our responsibility as voters to determine whether or not we want this to influence our decision next fall. Maybe I shouldn't assume that voters have the capability of making intelligent choices - Bush received more of the popular vote in 2004 than I thought he should have received, given the very expensive and deadly war, and I'm sure a percentage of that came from folks who just wanted to vote for the guy who was "more Christian" than the other guy. But part of being an American is recognizing and respecting that other people are capable of making decisions and choices for themselves. As much as I disagree with the people who voted for Bush last time, I respect their right to make that choice.

And I respect Mike Huckabee's right to talk about the religious meaning of Christmas in a campaign commercial. And even if I fear that people may do the stupid thing and choose someone based on one characteristic alone - Christian, female, black, hispanic, male WASP - I'm going to hold out hope that we've learned from our most recent mistake.