Pandering To The Masses

It is no secret that Howard Dean has a good chance of winning the Democratic Party nomination to run for president this year. He has made tremendous strides since this summer: his popularity, demonstrated by recent polls taken in primary states, is on the rise. He has overcome a once-prevailing view (among Democrats) that his left-of-center politics are no match for the centrist views of other Democratic candidates, let alone President Bush. But simply overcoming this doubt among the Democratic constituency is not enough. Howard Dean wants to prove that he too can use religion as an asset in the upcoming elections. Dr. Dean has begun to assert his Christian background—he was raised Episcopalian and is now a member of the Congregationalist church, although the rest of his immediate family is Jewish. Moreover, he has recently begun to speak out more on God and on his religion than he had before. There is only one real problem. Dr. Dean’s religious dedication seems, at best, superficial. For example, when asked by a reporter to state his favorite book of the New Testament, he responded resolutely, “Job.” Job is in the Old Testament. He exacerbated this theological boo-boo by expounding upon the virtues of Job; he argued that the book is upbeat. But, Job is not completely upbeat—God kills Job’s family before Job proves his faith. As humorous as Dr. Dean’s feigned religiousness is, it belies a very important and troubling trend in this country: religion in politics. For some reason, candidates feel that it is not only their qualifications and personalities that are being placed in front of the voters for consideration on election day, but also their religious views. President Bush used his faith to clinch the votes of the entire South in the election of 2000. His contention that he is a “born again Christian” led many to think that since he is a Christian, he is a decent man who would make a good president. But does one’s religion or adherence to the belief of a greater being make him a better or more moral chief executive? The answer is most certainly no. Furthermore, none of the president’s decisions should even be made in the interest of any particular religion. Moreover, what does politicians’ pandering to the American public using religion do to religion itself? When candidates are inventing false airs of religious devotion and dedication to woo voters, what are the implications for the religion? Surely religion is something more than just another means to get elected—but if not, what’s next: will advertisers use religion to sell products? Will people who are not adherents to a certain religion become outcast both in public office and the economy because their religious beliefs are not the religious beliefs du jour? American voters should look for more in a candidate than religion. Howard Dean has much to offer: many of his policies and views will benefit the American people. The religious establishment should not sway him in any of his political views or proposed policies; nor should the American people expect him to succumb to this pressure. Religion is a personal affair—not something that can or should be used by a candidate to sell himself.