For weeks, Republican presidential candidates have been a running a gauntlet of ever-more draconian pledges put forth by party purists. Grover Norquist's anti-tax oath, the Susan B. Anthony List anti-abortion manifesto , the "Marriage Vow" and the "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge are just some of the multiplying litmus tests now demanded by social and economic conservatives alike.
But as the 2012 primaries approach, another de facto requirement for GOP White House hopefuls is emerging. That is, candidates must not only (a) proclaim that they have been called on God to seek the presidency, but (b) declare that divine intervention is the cure for what ails America. Call it the Divine Right Pledge. And so far, it's one most of the GOP field seems more than willing to take.
Of course, the GOP has long been parodied as "God's Own Party." But now, the Party of Lincoln is rapidly turning Honest Abe's mantra ("My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.") on its head.
"I'm not ready to tell you that I'm ready to announce that I'm in. But I'm getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do. This is what America needs."
If the Lord is calling on Rick Perry to lead the United States, Perry plans to call Him back when it's time to actually run it.
On August 6th in Houston, Governor Perry will tunnel under the wall separating church and state to lead The Response, an evangelical day of prayer and fasting seeking divine intervention for America. As Perry put it:
"I sincerely hope you'll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God's forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees."
Perry, whose faith-based policy like the governors of Georgia and Oklahoma includes asking residents to pray for rain for their drought-stricken state, later explained that the solutions to America's woes are above his pay grade:
"I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God and say, 'God, You're going to have to fix this.'
(That Perry may now skip the August 6 event in Houston may just be confirmation that God wants him in Washington DC instead.)
Rep. Michele Bachmann may not know much about history, but she does know that God is on her side. The self-proclaimed "fool for Christ," who in 2006 warned that "we are in the End of Days" and counseled "wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands," has been also called on by God.
As it turns out, more than once. In 2006, Bachmann announced that "God then called me to run for the United States Congress." But after explaining that she needed "inner assurance" from the Lord before taking the presidential plunge, Bachmann confirmed to Iowa Public Television that she had received it from Him.
"Well, every decision that I make I pray about as does my husband and I can tell you, yes, I've had that calling."
And Bachmann, who asked "that the Lord will give us a special anointing on how to put our team together," has in turn called on Him to smite her political opponents. In December 2009, Bachmann joined an evangelical "prayercast" asking God to stop health care reform. "We deserve Your wrath," Bachmann prayed and asked, "but would You yet give our nation mercy?" And in 2010, Bachmann proclaimed her vengeful God would really get his wrath on if the United States did not support Likud policy in Israel:
At a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Los Angeles last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann offered a candid view of her positions on Israel: Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist... "I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States...[W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel."
Of course, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have a lot of company among the Republican contenders claiming that God is in their amen corner. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who famously warned against the prospect of "man-on-dog" marriages, blamed liberal Boston for clergy sex abuse there and declared the American Left "hates Christendom," explained that his 2012 presidential run is "about going on to the battlefield and defending God's truth in the World." He knows this, because God told him so:
"It really boils down to God's will. What is it that God wants? ... We have prayed a lot about this decision, and we believe with all our hearts that this is what God wants."
Ditto for former pizza mogul Herman Cain. Cain, who would require special loyalty oaths for Muslim government officials and supports local bans on mosques, told a Tea Party event in April that the Lord wanted him to go from the pizza over into the fire:
Cain told the crowd about his battle with cancer in 2006, saying he's been "totally cancer free" for the past five years.
"You want to know why? God said, 'Not yet Herman,'" Cain told the crowd. "God said, 'Not yet. I've got something else for you to do.' And it might be to become the president of the United States of America."
While Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have been no-shows for the 2012 race, they too pass the Divine Right Pledge twin tests with flying colors. While God apparently didn't call Huckabee's number for 2012, last time around the Arkansas Governor explained his early success by citing "the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people and that's the only way that our campaign could be doing what it's doing." As for the half-term Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin explained to the February 2010 Tea Party Convention that "it would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country, so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again." And Palin, who asked Alaskans to pray for a natural gas pipeline and declared that her selection as John McCain's running mate was "God's plan," believed that despite grim polling numbers He would be with her on Election Day 2008:
"To me, it motivates us, makes us work that much harder. And it also strengthens my faith, because I'm going to know, at the end of the day, putting this in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on Nov. 4. So I'm not discouraged at all."
God, it seems, wanted Barack Obama in the White House.
God's Pledge, however, is proving more problematic for others in the Republican field. Newt Gingrich became a Catholic only after personally demonstrating that marriage is an institution between one man and three women in rapid succession. (Gingrich nevertheless blamed his philandering on "how passionately I felt about this country.") Fellow Mormons John Huntsman and Mitt Romney face an uphill task when even Fox News hosts conclude each is "obviously not...a Christian." Romney, who famously ruled out Muslims from serving in his cabinet, has yet to credit God for either his frontrunner status or for ensuring America's future success. But in his much-hyped 2007 "Faith in America" speech, Romney at least reached out to his party's evangelical primary voters by suggesting atheists had no place in the American community:
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
Then there's Tim Pawlenty. The supposed Sam's Club Republican whose tax plan is a massive gift to the money-changers has deployed his wife to make the case that "knowing that you're just going to rest in who God is, and he's going to lead the way every day." But while T-Paw is now following in the footsteps of George W. Bush by citing Jesus Christ as his political hero, three years ago Pawlenty compared himself to someone else:
Later in the speech, Pawlenty compared himself to Ricky Bobby, the coarse, clumsy NASCAR driver played by Will Ferrell in the comedy "Talladega Nights." In one scene, Bobby prays to God for Doritos and Taco Bell before thanking the Lord for his "red hot smoking wife." "I'm like the Talladega guy," said Pawlenty. "because I want to thank the Lord for my smoking-hot wife."
Of course, the belief in America's providential role in the world is a common one and a recurring theme throughout U.S. history. But America's greatness, as President Obama has repeatedly suggested, was "not inevitable... America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people." And while politicians routinely express their faith in God, it is now becoming disturbingly common for them to claim God's faith in them. (It does, as Michele Cottle suggested, provide a helpful cover for their naked ambition.) And that's a sadly ironic turn of events for the Party of Lincoln, one whose namesake after all lamented near the end of the Civil War:
"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."
As Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Sarah Palin and other Republican White House wannabes claim God's mantle for themselves and their nation, it's worth remembering the words of that Dire Straits song:
"Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)
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