As the Republican contenders for the presidential nomination headed into their final formal debate before the holidays, and thus the Iowa Caucus, the real debate was in the papers and on the airwaves over who is the most Christian, Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney, and who is playing the religion card with the most fervor.
In the long run, once the Iowa caucus is over, the question likely will, or certainly should, recede into the background. In Iowa where a huge percentage of the GOP electorate is identified as evangelical Christians, the perception of whom is the most Christian candidate certainly seems to loom large.
That issue drops off precipitously in New Hampshire, where taxes and how they should be handled can well be a more important issue to that state's GOP voters. Religion can wax and wane as a factor for the voters in later primaries depending on the state and region of the country, but overall it will be less of an issue for the larger electorate.
The religion issue has been hanging around this race for some time now, first when Romney declared he was running and it suddenly became important for the media to make sure every single voting American knew he is a Mormon. Then when Huckabee's star began its meteoric rise, it was deemed equally important that everyone knows he is an ordained Baptist minister.
OK, that's fair, but in the long run, is the religion issue the one that is going to decide the race for the Presidency? I don't believe so.
The media may like to make it appear that way, but for most voters, as long as a candidate doesn't wear a religious cloak for appearances only, or preach one way and act another, it is a facet of the candidate's overall makeup, but not necessarily the most important facet - so long as voters are assured that regardless of how important religion is to a candidate, individual religious beliefs will not turn into a religious mandate once the candidate is elected.
To be sure, Evangelical Christians are an important segment of the GOP base, and many of the Evangelical benchmarks are embraced by the rest of the base although perhaps not with the same degree of intensity.
On the other hand, anti-war, anti-capitalism socialists are an important segment of the Democratic base - and believe me, I am not comparing the two here. But look what happened just over a year ago when one segment of the Democratic base took hold of the media in Connecticut and made it appear that only an anti-war candidate would win the race for US Senate.
Incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman was thrown out of the race at the party convention level, and Ned Lamont was ordained as the overwhelming choice of the party movers and shakers. Lieberman then ran as an independent Democrat who supported our efforts in Iraq, and he not only retained his senate seat, he crushed Lamont, despite Lamont spending millions of his own money on campaign advertising that apparently didn't change anyone's mind.
By the same token, in 2000, when Sen. John McCain was inspiring voters in both parties and moving many independent voters to take sides for the first time in a long time, he ran smack into the religion issue, deciding to lock horns with some of the biggest names in Evangelical Christianity and coming out second best. McCain would have done better and gone further if he had just adhered to the rule of polite society that I was reminded of constantly when I was a child - don't argue religion or politics at the dinner table.
McCain couldn't get away from politics as an issue, but he sure could have avoided the religious debate.
Neither Romney nor Huckabee will benefit from a religious war under the guise of a GOP political campaign. Everyone knows the religious qualifications of both, and once the Iowa caucus is past, a continual drumbeat of "I am more Christian than thou," won't play out well further down the campaign trail.
Now that Huckabee has emerged from the pack as a major contender, it has become apparent that there are many issues for him to face. His record as Governor of Arkansas includes many snags that his opponents are holding up for scrutiny.
I have seen him on the Sunday television news shows several times, and he seems to be well equipped to explain his actions. On the other hand, I heard from an associate the other day who said Romney's response to a Huckabee ad that questioned the tenets of the Mormon religion really put the ball back in Huckabee's court and Huckabee didn't play it well.
I also have close associates who live in Arkansas and say Huckabee isn't ready for prime time as a presidential candidate, that he would have done far better if he had run for Senate.
Every candidate has a past that can, will be, and should be scrutinized. The question that will have to be answered by all candidates for president is not whether they have made mistakes in the past, but whether they have learned from those mistakes, grown from the experiences, and can reassure us that those or similar mistakes will not be repeated.
On the other side of his critics Huckabee has a major source of support from proponents of the Fair Tax, that would eliminate the federal income taxes, social security deductions, medicare deductions and a litany of other fees and charges, replacing them with a 23 cent national sales tax.
The Fair Tax was his issue alone back in last summer's Iowa Straw Poll. Now it is catching on with other candidates as well.
Despite attempts to portray it otherwise by its opponents, the Fair Tax would not result in another bureaucracy, or or cost far more than claimed. Reform of the massive US tax code would be a wonderful change, put far more money into the government coffers without coercion, and stop making criminals of people who work hard and want to keep what they have earned.
All that will be discussed at length in the coming year. But I don't believe Huckabee's record or his religion will be the deciding factors.
The candidate who wins the nomination and the 2008 election is the one who: makes a priority of real immigration reform, including shutting down the border and stemming the flow of illegals; who continues the successful efforts in Iraq, and brings our troops home IN VICTORY, and shuts down Iran; who is seen as standing tall for a proud America instead of constantly bad mouthing the USA; and puts an end once and for all to United Nations encroachment on US laws and vital interests.
Americans are sick to death of funding the bulk of the UN budget while our country is constantly portrayed as the source of all evil in the world in the UN General Assembly.
The winning candidate is the one who will stand up for America and be proud of American values. Which means the Democrats are a long, long, long shot to win, regardless of who gets the Democratic nomination.
America wants its pride back. America wants to maintain its status as a leader, not a doormat. America wants to end the hand wringing, it wants traitors prosecuted and punished, whether they are in the media, the CIA or the US Congress and they want it done NOW!
Americans will elect the candidate who puts America first because he believes in the real America, not the drivel that we hear constantly from the media and the Democrats.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007