Why Rick Perry’s New Ads Are Wrong on Religion-And Obama
For a swaggering Texas cowboy, Rick Perry certainly does have a serious victim complex. In two different campaign ads released in Iowa this week, the Texas governor defends his faith from enemies named and unnamed. “I’m not ashamed to talk about my faith,” he says in the first spot. “Some liberals say that faith is a sign of weakness. Well, they’re wrong.” In the second ad, titled “Strong,” Perry bravely comes out as a follower of Christ. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” he says, before vowing that “as President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Perry’s life in Texas has been similar to that of the character Truman in “The Truman Show,” surrounded by handlers who warned him not to venture into the outside world where people wouldn’t understand or accept his faith. Remember, back in October when Perry first started to fade, his wife Anita said that he was being “brutalized” by his opponents “and our own party…because of his faith.”
(PHOTOS: Perry’s Life and Career in Politics)
It takes an unusual perspective to see the modern Republican Party as an institution that penalizes politicians for being religious. Just as it takes an unusual perspective to view the United States as a country in which members of the majority faith are consistently persecuted and denied rights. Perry may embody the sense of victimhood shared by many social conservatives, but he also knows that appealing to it may represent his only chance of staying alive in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. So he is striding guns blazing into the culture wars, with a message that Interfaith Alliance president C. Welton Gaddy calls “a new low…in the manipulation of religion for partisan political advantage.”
Indeed, Perry’s new campaign theme makes the big religion hubbub of the 2008 primaries seem downright quaint. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee found himself on the “Today” show, insisting that he did not intentionally film a Christmas message in front of a bookshelf that in certain light seemed to look like a cross. Perry would never employ such a subtle gesture. His ads are as unambiguous in their religious content as they are loose with their facts and insinuations.
Let’s start with Perry’s statement that he’s not ashamed to “admit” that he’s a Christian. We’ll set aside the suggestion that there is typically some barrier that discourages politicians from being open about their religious affiliation, because that’s clearly absurd. The more relevant charge underlying Perry’s remark is that Barack Obama won’t talk about his faith. Anyone who has paid attention to Obama’s speeches and language would have to concede that the charge is false. Obama’s remarks at the White House Easter prayer breakfast this year-in which he spoke of Jesus’ “unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection”-are arguably the most explicitly Christian that any President has uttered at an official White House event. Similarly, before the lighting of the National Christmas Tree last week, Obama spoke about the Christmas story and the teaching “at the heart of my Christian faith.”