So said Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, at a rally in the southern part of this state (scroll down to the bottom of this Washington Post blog posting).
"Barack Obama is a strong, Christian family man."
My question: How is Obama's faith relevant to his candidacy for the presidency?
My next question: Isn't this identity politics at its worst?
The answer to the second question helps us understand the first. This is all about identity politics. Barack Obama – an intellectual, Harvard-educated black man – has a difficult time relating to Joe Six Pack, who is white, and has probably never been to Cambridge, MA. Part of the political game is about identifying with voters. Obama needs to relate.
Bowing to political expediency, then, Obama needs to be explicit about his faith, because for many voters faith might be the only part of his persona that appeals to them. And for many voters personal appeal is just as or more important than policy proposals. Sad. But Christian faith makes a personal connection to many voters. Personal connection yields votes in November. Votes in November yields power on Innaugeration Day. Christian faith – in part, anyway – leads to political power. What would Jesus say about that?
[I'm not arguing that Obama's faith is a political creation. By all accounts, Barack Obama is a deeply committed man of faith. But politics has called for him – and his surrogates – to be explicit about his faith on the campaign trail and but faith to work for political ends.]
But this creates another problem. His "Christian family man" approach to campaigning in Ohio's appalachian region (see also his "Committed Chrisitan" flyer from the Kentucky primary) reinforces – rather than challenges – the notion that
A) we live in a Christian nation (a nation of Christians is not a "Christian nation");
B) we need Christian politicians to lead this Christian nation.
This faith-based identity politics is a direct affront to our Constitution, creating a de-facto unConstitutional faith-based requirement for the presidency.
And it is a direct affront to Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians in our country. The more our candidates perpetuate – rather than challenge, rather than change (to use Obama's word) – the faith-based mypoia of national identity, the harder we make it for religious minorities – or for Christians who do not want to play the faith-based game of identity politics – to claim their rightful place in the American democracy.
Oh, and don't get me started about the ways in which Christian faith gets distorted by politics. In fact, I fear more for the church than the state when the two get intertwined, but I don't think that either is served the injection of religion into politics. I've said that before, in many different ways, in my posts on Church & State issues.