Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pat Robertson

Billy Graham and the Temptations of Politics

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies. Read More

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies.

The writer Sheldon Vanauken has written about the fine line between zeal and anger. Admitting that he was caught up in the mood and action of the 1960s, Vanauken wrote that Jesus, he thought, would surely have him oppose what appeared to him to be an unjust war (Vietnam). “But the movement,” Vanauken conceded, “whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating.” And Jesus, he said, was gradually pushed to the rear. “Movement goals, not God, became first.” Vanauken admitted that that is not quite what God had in mind.

In 1951, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis the title of Commander of the British Empire, a high and appropriate distinction. But Lewis refused the honor. “I feel greatly obligated to the Prime Minister,” he responded, “and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always, however, knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.”

In his own way, what Graham is saying, I think, is that he wishes he had followed the Lewis example. I can understand why. For those of us who claim the title Christian, faith should always be more important than politics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be involved in politics; it simply means we should do so with care, with wisdom, with our eyes wide open.

The City of Man may be our residence for now, but the City of God is our home.

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RE: Peter Beinart’s Lamentation

Pete, I was torn about whether to follow up on your very adept post concerning Peter Beinart’s frustration (as well as that of much of the left) with Obama, America, etc. But I think it is important to call out blatant religious bigotry, and so, at the risk of drawing more eyeballs to his noxious discourse, I decided that this portion of Beinart’s rant deserves further comment:

Until a month or so ago, I genuinely believed that the American right had become a religiously ecumenical place. Right-wing Baptists loved right-wing Catholics and they both loved right-wing Orthodox Jews. All you had to do to join the big tent was denounce feminists, Hollywood, and gays. But when push came to shove, Sarah Palin didn’t care about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s position on gay marriage. In today’s GOP, even bigotry doesn’t spare you from bigotry. I wonder what Mitt Romney was thinking, as he added his voice to the anti-Muslim chorus. He surely knows that absent the religious right’s hostility to Mormons, he’d likely have been the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee. I look forward to his paeans to religious freedom when anti-Mormonism rears its head again in 2012.

And oh yes, my fellow Jews, who are so thrilled to be locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin against the Islamic threat. Evidently, it’s never crossed your mind that the religious hatred you have helped unleash could turn once again against us. Of course not, we’re insiders in this society now: Our synagogues grace the toniest of suburbs; our rabbis speak flawless English; we Jews are now effortlessly white. Barely anyone even remembers that folks in Lower Manhattan once considered us alien and dangerous, too.

This is as bizarre as it is inappropriate. Not to belabor the point, but Beinart knows as much about religious conservatives as he does about Israel — i.e., most of what he “knows” is wrong. There is great commonality among people of faith, and it is not based on cartoonish prejudices. Needless to say, what brings together observant Baptists, Catholics, and Jews — as well as a great many others — are quaint notions like the centrality of the Bible in their lives, the objection to hyper-secularism (which seeks to crowd them out of the public square), and, yes, a deep faith that America is a blessed nation with certain responsibilities in the world.

Sarah Palin cares not one wit about Rauf’s views on anything but the issue at hand, because she, unlike Beinart, can stick to the point. That point, in case we’ve lost track, is whether we should cheer a provocateur who will bring (and already has) untold strife to the country, anguish to 9/11 survivors, and cheers from jihadists, who would see the Ground Zero mosque as a triumphant symbol of Islam. As for Romney, I don’t recall his advancing views all that different from a number of Muslims. Or Howard Dean (who seems to realize that the Ground Zero mosque is “not about the rights of Muslims to have a worship center … it is a real affront to people who lost their lives”).

As for Beinart’s second paragraph, it is an unfortunate example of the bile that can be splattered on Jews by Jews, with nary an eyebrow raised by elite opinion makers. Had Pat Buchanan, to whom Beinart lately bears an uncanny resemblance, accused Jews of walking with Father Coughlin, or had Al Sharpton (before becoming part of polite liberal company) referred to Jews as “effortlessly white,” I imagine all sorts of elites would be throwing a fit. But now it is par for the course.

Beinart has either lost control of himself or is out to best the Beagle Blogger in playing to the angry, unreasoned left. There are, after all, lucrative books deals in doing that. Who knows what his motives are, but he might want to stop before Politico runs a forum on whether he, too, has gone around the bend.

Pete, I was torn about whether to follow up on your very adept post concerning Peter Beinart’s frustration (as well as that of much of the left) with Obama, America, etc. But I think it is important to call out blatant religious bigotry, and so, at the risk of drawing more eyeballs to his noxious discourse, I decided that this portion of Beinart’s rant deserves further comment:

Until a month or so ago, I genuinely believed that the American right had become a religiously ecumenical place. Right-wing Baptists loved right-wing Catholics and they both loved right-wing Orthodox Jews. All you had to do to join the big tent was denounce feminists, Hollywood, and gays. But when push came to shove, Sarah Palin didn’t care about Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s position on gay marriage. In today’s GOP, even bigotry doesn’t spare you from bigotry. I wonder what Mitt Romney was thinking, as he added his voice to the anti-Muslim chorus. He surely knows that absent the religious right’s hostility to Mormons, he’d likely have been the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee. I look forward to his paeans to religious freedom when anti-Mormonism rears its head again in 2012.

And oh yes, my fellow Jews, who are so thrilled to be locked arm in arm with the heirs of Pat Robertson and Father Coughlin against the Islamic threat. Evidently, it’s never crossed your mind that the religious hatred you have helped unleash could turn once again against us. Of course not, we’re insiders in this society now: Our synagogues grace the toniest of suburbs; our rabbis speak flawless English; we Jews are now effortlessly white. Barely anyone even remembers that folks in Lower Manhattan once considered us alien and dangerous, too.

This is as bizarre as it is inappropriate. Not to belabor the point, but Beinart knows as much about religious conservatives as he does about Israel — i.e., most of what he “knows” is wrong. There is great commonality among people of faith, and it is not based on cartoonish prejudices. Needless to say, what brings together observant Baptists, Catholics, and Jews — as well as a great many others — are quaint notions like the centrality of the Bible in their lives, the objection to hyper-secularism (which seeks to crowd them out of the public square), and, yes, a deep faith that America is a blessed nation with certain responsibilities in the world.

Sarah Palin cares not one wit about Rauf’s views on anything but the issue at hand, because she, unlike Beinart, can stick to the point. That point, in case we’ve lost track, is whether we should cheer a provocateur who will bring (and already has) untold strife to the country, anguish to 9/11 survivors, and cheers from jihadists, who would see the Ground Zero mosque as a triumphant symbol of Islam. As for Romney, I don’t recall his advancing views all that different from a number of Muslims. Or Howard Dean (who seems to realize that the Ground Zero mosque is “not about the rights of Muslims to have a worship center … it is a real affront to people who lost their lives”).

As for Beinart’s second paragraph, it is an unfortunate example of the bile that can be splattered on Jews by Jews, with nary an eyebrow raised by elite opinion makers. Had Pat Buchanan, to whom Beinart lately bears an uncanny resemblance, accused Jews of walking with Father Coughlin, or had Al Sharpton (before becoming part of polite liberal company) referred to Jews as “effortlessly white,” I imagine all sorts of elites would be throwing a fit. But now it is par for the course.

Beinart has either lost control of himself or is out to best the Beagle Blogger in playing to the angry, unreasoned left. There are, after all, lucrative books deals in doing that. Who knows what his motives are, but he might want to stop before Politico runs a forum on whether he, too, has gone around the bend.

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Never Learn, Never Look Back

The Washington Post’s ombudsman Andrew Alexander devotes his weekly column to explaining how the Post‘s food critic is above reproach. Fine. Over the last few weeks we’ve been treated to columns on reporters’ conflicts of interest (no, nothing to see there, move along), another on anonymous sources, and one more on a biased book review. So where’s the heartfelt examination of the Post’s coverage of the Virginia gubernatorial race? Hmmm.

No self-examination was forthcoming, no discussion as to why dozens and dozens of stories were devoted to Bob McDonnell’s twenty-year-old college paper — an “issue” the voters cared not a wit about. Odd, isn’t it, that on the most obvious example of bias and excess the Post wouldn’t want to clear the air and take a look.

Instead, this week the Post doubled down, screaming for the governor-elect to denounce comments made by Pat Robertson about Muslims. No, Robertson isn’t in McDonnell’s transition team and isn’t going to be in his administration. The Post breathlessly observes: “In addition to attending law school in the 1980s at what was then called CBN University, the Virginia Beach school founded by Mr. Robertson and named for his Christian Broadcasting Network, Mr. McDonnell served eight years as a trustee of the same institution after it was renamed Regent University.” The Post editors proceed to holler: “Doesn’t Mr. McDonnell owe them and other Virginians some reassurance that he doesn’t share Pat Robertson’s despicable view?” Actually, no. McDonnell is under no obligation to denounce every comment by a supporter with which he disagrees; no more than Obama is expected to denounce every controversial comment a supporter of his makes.

But what is clear here is that the Post is not chastened, has not given up its habit of fomenting hot-button controversies where none exist, and holding Republicans to a standard that would never be employed against Democratic politicians. The Post hasn’t looked back and isn’t about to change its tune. But one thing we do know: the voters don’t much care what the Post prints. Those darn voters have a mind of their own and seemed to have figured out the Post’s gambit.

The Washington Post’s ombudsman Andrew Alexander devotes his weekly column to explaining how the Post‘s food critic is above reproach. Fine. Over the last few weeks we’ve been treated to columns on reporters’ conflicts of interest (no, nothing to see there, move along), another on anonymous sources, and one more on a biased book review. So where’s the heartfelt examination of the Post’s coverage of the Virginia gubernatorial race? Hmmm.

No self-examination was forthcoming, no discussion as to why dozens and dozens of stories were devoted to Bob McDonnell’s twenty-year-old college paper — an “issue” the voters cared not a wit about. Odd, isn’t it, that on the most obvious example of bias and excess the Post wouldn’t want to clear the air and take a look.

Instead, this week the Post doubled down, screaming for the governor-elect to denounce comments made by Pat Robertson about Muslims. No, Robertson isn’t in McDonnell’s transition team and isn’t going to be in his administration. The Post breathlessly observes: “In addition to attending law school in the 1980s at what was then called CBN University, the Virginia Beach school founded by Mr. Robertson and named for his Christian Broadcasting Network, Mr. McDonnell served eight years as a trustee of the same institution after it was renamed Regent University.” The Post editors proceed to holler: “Doesn’t Mr. McDonnell owe them and other Virginians some reassurance that he doesn’t share Pat Robertson’s despicable view?” Actually, no. McDonnell is under no obligation to denounce every comment by a supporter with which he disagrees; no more than Obama is expected to denounce every controversial comment a supporter of his makes.

But what is clear here is that the Post is not chastened, has not given up its habit of fomenting hot-button controversies where none exist, and holding Republicans to a standard that would never be employed against Democratic politicians. The Post hasn’t looked back and isn’t about to change its tune. But one thing we do know: the voters don’t much care what the Post prints. Those darn voters have a mind of their own and seemed to have figured out the Post’s gambit.

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The Religious Left

For the last quarter-century, the MSM has focused almost all of its coverage on faith on the religious Right. One of the consequences of all the attention being given to the hate-filled sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is that it will draw attention to the religious Left in America.

It strikes me that the religious Left commits some of the same fundamental errors as the religious Right did during its heyday: too closely associating Christianity with politics; implying that a proper reading of the Bible will easily translate into a partisan agenda; tending to belittle and demonize political opponents. Both Pat Robertson’s and Jim Wallis’s willingness to vulgarize their Christian faith in order to advance their political agendas has been problematic for both sides.

But where the religious Left has set itself apart is in its stand on political issues. It was wrong, profoundly wrong, in its views on the nature and threat of Soviet communism; on its enchantment with “liberation theology” and Marxist dictators like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega; in its unmitigated hostility toward capitalism; in its one-sided criticisms of Israel; in its opposition to welfare reform. The list goes on. And as Reverend Wright has reminded us, there is a very deep, almost bottomless, hatred for America that runs through the hard Left and among some on the religious Left.

For decades, all the media glare has been on the short-comings of the Robertsons and Falwells. Fair enough: they are deeply flawed figures. But it’s long past time to concentrate attention on the words and mindset of those on the hard religious Left–people who attempt to pretty up the noxious views of Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky in the garb of religious faith and “social justice.”

If Jeremiah Wright’s ugly sermons highlight for Americans what the Left is preaching from its pulpits–and what they need to be held accountable for–that will be all to the good.

For the last quarter-century, the MSM has focused almost all of its coverage on faith on the religious Right. One of the consequences of all the attention being given to the hate-filled sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is that it will draw attention to the religious Left in America.

It strikes me that the religious Left commits some of the same fundamental errors as the religious Right did during its heyday: too closely associating Christianity with politics; implying that a proper reading of the Bible will easily translate into a partisan agenda; tending to belittle and demonize political opponents. Both Pat Robertson’s and Jim Wallis’s willingness to vulgarize their Christian faith in order to advance their political agendas has been problematic for both sides.

But where the religious Left has set itself apart is in its stand on political issues. It was wrong, profoundly wrong, in its views on the nature and threat of Soviet communism; on its enchantment with “liberation theology” and Marxist dictators like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega; in its unmitigated hostility toward capitalism; in its one-sided criticisms of Israel; in its opposition to welfare reform. The list goes on. And as Reverend Wright has reminded us, there is a very deep, almost bottomless, hatred for America that runs through the hard Left and among some on the religious Left.

For decades, all the media glare has been on the short-comings of the Robertsons and Falwells. Fair enough: they are deeply flawed figures. But it’s long past time to concentrate attention on the words and mindset of those on the hard religious Left–people who attempt to pretty up the noxious views of Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky in the garb of religious faith and “social justice.”

If Jeremiah Wright’s ugly sermons highlight for Americans what the Left is preaching from its pulpits–and what they need to be held accountable for–that will be all to the good.

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Huckabee an Unlikely VP

Since Mike Huckabee’s surprise showing on Tuesday, talk about a McCain-Huckabee ticket has neared the level of legitimate speculation. The thinking is that Huckabee victories in southern states like Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, demonstrate the value of an Evangelical-friendly name on a GOP ticket.

When this idea was floated on Fox News Tuesday night, Karl Rove, in his new talking head role, dismissed it immediately—with good reason. Christianity Today reports that evangelical voters are now more concerned with national security than with social issues such as abortion. (Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani made that clear.) John McCain’s vision of the enemy as a threat to the American way of life is comfortably close to the Evangelical vision of jihad as a threat to Christianity. Somewhat shockingly, unlike some of the conservative media, Evangelicals can prioritize. John McCain has said many times (including, once, to me) that he’s looking for a strong national security vice president. He’d have an impossible time defending his choice of the man who didn’t know of the existence of the NIE on Iran. The compulsion to over-strategize in speculating about the McCain campaign has grown directly out of the Limbaugh-right’s insistence that McCain is embattled within the party. And in a national election, few evangelicals are going to pull the lever for Hillary or Obama over him. But if, after running almost entirely on national security, he hitched himself to a foreign policy ignoramus like Huckabee, he may first face detractors en masse.

Since Mike Huckabee’s surprise showing on Tuesday, talk about a McCain-Huckabee ticket has neared the level of legitimate speculation. The thinking is that Huckabee victories in southern states like Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, demonstrate the value of an Evangelical-friendly name on a GOP ticket.

When this idea was floated on Fox News Tuesday night, Karl Rove, in his new talking head role, dismissed it immediately—with good reason. Christianity Today reports that evangelical voters are now more concerned with national security than with social issues such as abortion. (Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani made that clear.) John McCain’s vision of the enemy as a threat to the American way of life is comfortably close to the Evangelical vision of jihad as a threat to Christianity. Somewhat shockingly, unlike some of the conservative media, Evangelicals can prioritize. John McCain has said many times (including, once, to me) that he’s looking for a strong national security vice president. He’d have an impossible time defending his choice of the man who didn’t know of the existence of the NIE on Iran. The compulsion to over-strategize in speculating about the McCain campaign has grown directly out of the Limbaugh-right’s insistence that McCain is embattled within the party. And in a national election, few evangelicals are going to pull the lever for Hillary or Obama over him. But if, after running almost entirely on national security, he hitched himself to a foreign policy ignoramus like Huckabee, he may first face detractors en masse.

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REPUBLICAN DEBATE: In Praise of Huckabee

It was a remarkable thing to see how Mike Huckabee worked his way out of a clever question about whether he really believes women should submit graciously to their husbands, as has been widely reported.  He made jokes, clarified the context, but then explicated the Biblical verse from Paul’ss epistle to the Ephesians without ever sounding defensive. There has never been a politician in America who knows how to mix religion and politics, Scripture and personal belief the way Huckabee
does, and in doing so, he shows how awkward and foolish Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Ralph Reed were. There is so much politically to dislike about Huckabee, but he is formidable.

It was a remarkable thing to see how Mike Huckabee worked his way out of a clever question about whether he really believes women should submit graciously to their husbands, as has been widely reported.  He made jokes, clarified the context, but then explicated the Biblical verse from Paul’ss epistle to the Ephesians without ever sounding defensive. There has never been a politician in America who knows how to mix religion and politics, Scripture and personal belief the way Huckabee
does, and in doing so, he shows how awkward and foolish Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Ralph Reed were. There is so much politically to dislike about Huckabee, but he is formidable.

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There’s Always a Mike Huckabee

We are six weeks away from the Iowa caucus, and as has frequently been the case, Republicans in the Hawkeye State are beginning to shine the light of their noble countenances on a candidate with no chance of winning the nomination. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is bidding fair to serve as this season’s “Republican Guy Who Is Coming Out of Nowhere to Place a Surprising Second in Iowa.” He follows in the Surprising Second tradition of Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Steve Forbes, the salutatorians of the caucuses in 1988, 1996 and 2000 respectively. The failure of these candidacies to make any real headway after Iowa (even though Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary a few weeks later) indicates just how little meaning anyone should attach to the Surprising Second. These Roman Candle candidacies do serve to remind other candidates, as Huckabee’s surge is reminding candidates this year, of the importance of social-conservative views to a significant swath of the the Republican electorate. But who didn’t know that already this year?

We are six weeks away from the Iowa caucus, and as has frequently been the case, Republicans in the Hawkeye State are beginning to shine the light of their noble countenances on a candidate with no chance of winning the nomination. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is bidding fair to serve as this season’s “Republican Guy Who Is Coming Out of Nowhere to Place a Surprising Second in Iowa.” He follows in the Surprising Second tradition of Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Steve Forbes, the salutatorians of the caucuses in 1988, 1996 and 2000 respectively. The failure of these candidacies to make any real headway after Iowa (even though Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary a few weeks later) indicates just how little meaning anyone should attach to the Surprising Second. These Roman Candle candidacies do serve to remind other candidates, as Huckabee’s surge is reminding candidates this year, of the importance of social-conservative views to a significant swath of the the Republican electorate. But who didn’t know that already this year?

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Giuliani’s Pseudo-Coup

Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president today. This is a coup, but not for any substantive reason. Taken strictly as an electoral matter, the Robertson imprimatur is almost certainly a wash — meaning that any votes it will generate will be offset by votes it will cost among those, even on the Republican side, who find Robertson a singularly unappetizing figure (including among Evangelical Christians, many of whom come from a different eschatalogical tradition from Robertson’s).

There are times when an endorsement really does mean something substantial — when, say, a governor with a powerful political machine at his disposal anoints a presidential candidate with the understanding that his machine will do whatever it can to get the candidate elected. This is not the case here, for the reasons I’ve outlined.

That Giuliani has managed to secure the endorsement of a formerly significant leader of the Religious Right was to be expected, if for no other reason that the endorser was bound to get a lot of attention from a hungry media that can’t get enough of this pre-primary season and the intriguing fact of a pro-choice candidate sitting atop the Republican leaderboard. That Giuliani’s endorser would be Robertson is also not surprising, because he has spent years trying to make up for his disgusting assent to the repugnant claims of the late Jerry Falwell that the American Civil Liberties Union and other secularist organizations bore some responsibility for the attacks of 9/11.

What we have here, then, is a Giuliani “pseudo-coup,” to adapt Daniel Boorstin’s great neologism about staged media events that have no intrinsic meaning. In 1961, Boorstin described a “pseudo-event” as a

happening that possesses the following characteristics:

(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.
(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported…

Endorsements these days are almost exclusively pseudo-events, and this one more than most. The reason it’s a pseudo-coup is that it’s become the story of the day. It will be discussed for the remainder of the week. It is an attention-generator, and a spotlight-stealer, since the news has drawn the media’s attention away from the endorsement of John McCain by Sen. Sam Brownback, who just dropped out of the presidential race.

Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president today. This is a coup, but not for any substantive reason. Taken strictly as an electoral matter, the Robertson imprimatur is almost certainly a wash — meaning that any votes it will generate will be offset by votes it will cost among those, even on the Republican side, who find Robertson a singularly unappetizing figure (including among Evangelical Christians, many of whom come from a different eschatalogical tradition from Robertson’s).

There are times when an endorsement really does mean something substantial — when, say, a governor with a powerful political machine at his disposal anoints a presidential candidate with the understanding that his machine will do whatever it can to get the candidate elected. This is not the case here, for the reasons I’ve outlined.

That Giuliani has managed to secure the endorsement of a formerly significant leader of the Religious Right was to be expected, if for no other reason that the endorser was bound to get a lot of attention from a hungry media that can’t get enough of this pre-primary season and the intriguing fact of a pro-choice candidate sitting atop the Republican leaderboard. That Giuliani’s endorser would be Robertson is also not surprising, because he has spent years trying to make up for his disgusting assent to the repugnant claims of the late Jerry Falwell that the American Civil Liberties Union and other secularist organizations bore some responsibility for the attacks of 9/11.

What we have here, then, is a Giuliani “pseudo-coup,” to adapt Daniel Boorstin’s great neologism about staged media events that have no intrinsic meaning. In 1961, Boorstin described a “pseudo-event” as a

happening that possesses the following characteristics:

(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.
(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported…

Endorsements these days are almost exclusively pseudo-events, and this one more than most. The reason it’s a pseudo-coup is that it’s become the story of the day. It will be discussed for the remainder of the week. It is an attention-generator, and a spotlight-stealer, since the news has drawn the media’s attention away from the endorsement of John McCain by Sen. Sam Brownback, who just dropped out of the presidential race.

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