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January 10, 2004
Colbert King: Dean's a Fraud

Colbert King, the Washington Post columnist and no friend to Republicans, excoriates Howard Dean's attempt to suck up to the religious:

Dean captured the suck-up prize with his revelation that -- praise the Lord -- he has finally found a way to talk about his deeply held religious faith. Most remarkable, and the reason he won going away, was his explanation for how he reached this exquisite moment of sudden understanding. Was it a particular scene, some road-to-Damascus experience, that occasioned such a flash of insight in Dean? What, pray tell, set off Dean's new compulsion to openly discuss Jesus and his mastery of the Bible?

Dean disclosed that his willingness -- no, make that eagerness -- to start sharing his faith with any reporter, microphone or voter within the sound of his voice comes as a result of his travels on the campaign trail. Yes, credit Dean's journey -- not to Damascus but on the road to the White House, which happens to take him down to the Bible Belt in South Carolina -- for bringing about the Democratic front-runner's epiphany. Dean discovered, to use his words, that way down south in Dixie, "The people there are pretty openly religious."

The "Jesus Factor" announcement from Dean's camp last month became one of the many blunders of his December, and one likely to have far-reaching consequences. In the same way that Dukakis's tank ride made him a laughingstock on defense, Dean's bike-path Congregationalism threatens to expose him as a panderer and a pretender on issues of faith. Like it or not, Americans tend to be religious and so prefer executive candidates to whom they can relate on beliefs and values. This tendency is stronger in some regions than others. In New England and California, it's a lot less critical than in the South. It's also not partisan, or at least it doesn't need to be. Plenty of churches in the South and elsewhere preach populist, activist values that translate well to traditional Democratic social policies, while they also appeal to Republican law and order policies and foreign-policy goals such as support for Israel and our identity as a "city on a hill," also known as American exceptionalism.

If Democrats have lost touch with this bloc, it's not because religious values have suddenly skewed rightward over the past three decades, but because Democrats have become aggressively secular during that time, and Dean's support comes from the driving forces behind that secularism. Democrats haven't just sat by and allowed the ACLU to chase any vestige of religious expression from the public square; they've actively participated in their efforts and ensured that the judiciary that approves these efforts tends to activism, both political and judicial. When most Democrats pay attention to religious values at all, it's usually to equate them to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, except when the Democrats figure they need the religious vote.

That's where Dean's pandering comes in. Most politicians have enough of an ear to keep from making their pandering so obvious. However, Howard Dean is proving tone-deaf at almost everything except screaming on the stump. Rarely will you hear of a candidate openly discussing their plans to suck up to a segment of the electorate like Dean did with this issue, and it was done for a purpose. His message to his base was this: Don't worry -- I'm just talking about Jesus down South so that these hicks will fall in line. Otherwise, the only way you'll hear His name escape my lips is if I stub my toe on the rostrum. Colbert King is clearly not convinced of Dean's passion about religion:

After all, this is the same Howard Dean who said that "we have got to stop having the campaigns run in this country based on abortion, guns, God and gays," the same Howard Dean who once said his policy views are not formed by his faith. ... He says he prays daily and has read the Bible from cover to cover, but then reports that he rarely goes to church except for political events. He cites the New Testament's gospels as guiding influences in his life, and then holds up Job as his favorite book in the New Testament -- a flub he has to call back an hour later to correct.

Dean has made it this far in the race by staging himself as a plain-talking outsider whose passion and honesty will change the way things are done in Washington. But actions like this and others make it clear that Dean is fundamentally dishonest, even for a politician, and even people on the Left can see this clearly. King may give him the Panda Bear Award for sucking up, but the Democrats are about to make him their nominee for President based on the most secular segments of their base, and he's likely to thank the Lord for their support. Perhaps he may even quote some New Testament psalms during his acceptance speech.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 10, 2004 12:39 PM

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