We don’t know yet whether Rick Perry will ultimately be the Republican who faces off against Barack Obama next year. But he is the subject of a conspiracy theory that bears a strange resemblance to the ones that some on the right have put forward against the president. While some liberals are wasting their time trying to argue that he should get no credit for Texas’ booming economy, others are honing in on Perry’s least attractive characteristic from the liberal frame of reference: his stance as a devout and very public Christian.

For the Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg, it isn’t enough to slam Perry for taking the separation of church and state too lightly. Instead, she attempts to link him to various church groups and beliefs that she claims are the Christian equivalent of Islamists. In this reading Perry isn’t merely an over-the-top evangelical, he is part of  “Christian Plot” to take over the country and impose a theocracy. This goes beyond the now typical liberal trope of smearing opponents such as the Tea Party as “terrorists” for their tactics. For the Daily Beast, Perry and Michele Bachmann are part of a fantastic conspiracy theory to do nothing less than destroy American democracy.

Goldberg echoes a theme taken up by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker’s scathing profile of Bachmann in which he attempted to conflate the candidate’s beliefs with those of various teachers and writers she has either encountered or befriended over the years. Gold berg does the same with Perry upon whom she tries to make him responsible for everything said or written by any pastor who ever prayed over him.

Goldberg’s point is that both Perry and Bachmann are closet adherents to Dominionism, a theory that holds that Christians have a duty to bring their faith with them not only into the public square but also into public office where their values and beliefs must infuse every act of government. Interpreted in a more benign manner, one could view this as a mission to fuse spiritual values with public policy. But since from the left’s frame of reference evangelicals are, by definition not benign, such beliefs are painted as nothing less than a call for theocracy.

Let’s stipulate first that there is nothing in their long record of public service that either Bachmann or Perry has done to make anyone believe they want a theocracy. Let’s also stipulate that trying to hold politicians responsible for the beliefs of every religious leader they are in any way associated with is not something that liberals believed was appropriate during the last presidential election cycle. Barack Obama sat in Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church for 20 years listening to radical anti-American sermons but to even raise this as a question was considered to be in bad taste in 2008.

It would be one thing if Perry could actually be shown to be directly part of a radical Christian theocrat group in the way that Obama was associated with Wright. But working off of a piece on a similar theme previously published in the Texas Observer, the best Goldberg can do to prove her thesis is to note that several pastors associated with a movement that she calls theocratic were part of Perry’s national prayer day gathering in Houston last week. While that event was rightly criticized for its non-ecumenical makeup, it was no threat to democracy or even the separation of church and state.

Whether those pastors can fairly be labeled the moral equivalent of Islamists is debatae. Considering that they have murdered no one and have done nothing that anyone has reported to actually undermine our democracy the charge seems to have more to do with distaste for their faith than any actual threat to American liberty

But to jump from that unsubstantiated claim to one in which either Perry or Bachmann can be seen as a sort of Manchurian Candidate covertly acting at the behest of these radicals who would impose a radical Christian theocracy on America is more than merely an absurd smear. It is, in fact, the moral equivalent of those on the right who persist in seeing Barack Obama as another “Candidate” who wants to impose Islam on the country.

Rather than worrying about Christians plotting to take over America, we ought to be more concerned with liberal journalists resorting to religious bigotry to smear conservatives.