Pontius Palin and Messiah Obama
My friend Rick Shenkman, who runs History News Network, recently published his new book Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter. Considering the legions of Democrats convinced that "Jesus was a community organizer; Pilate was a governor" qualifies as sound political discourse, I'd have to answer "pretty damn stupid."
According to Rush Limbaugh (citing Lexis-Nexis), the phrase was devised on September 4, 2008, by a Washington Post blogger. As of this writing, 10 days later, Google lists 13,300 hits for the phrase. Most seem to be from the left-wing echo chambers of the Internet, where Daily Kosites, Huffingtonistas, and Obamists have separated virtual shoulders, giving each other electronic high-fives for their wit. But not all are e-cranks: no less a journalistic paragon than Tom Brokaw hit Rudy Giuliani with the phrase on the September 14 Meet the Press. And even some high-ranking Democrats have jumped on the bandwagon, most notably former Gore campaign chair and current DNC member Donna Brazile and Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen. Brazile repeated the line on CNN last week, while Representative Cohen dredged it up on the House floor.
The phrase was intended to counteract the anti-Obama jab by GOP vice-presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin that even a small-town mayor -- her job before becoming Alaska's chief executive -- has more responsibility than a community organizer, Obama's self-described seminal experience. Palin was in turn responding to Democrat belittling of her as the "former mayor of a town of 9,000 people." (Of course, they can't exactly call her "the governor of a state as large in land area as all the blue states of 2004 combined.")
This Democrat trope is qualitatively different than the preceding merely political barbs, however. By invoking the founder of the world's largest religion -- considered not merely human but divine by orthodox Christians for two millennia -- as well as the Roman official who sentenced him to death, the Democrats are not just raising the insult bar but moving the rhetoric onto a field of battle that is supposed to be off limits.
First, it constitutes the religious left injecting religion into this campaign. It's an article of faith among the religious left and their secular media supporters that only the religious right ever contaminates the public square with religion, but that has been demonstrably wrong since at least the 1960s -- when the civil rights movement was led by black and white ministers. Only when conservative (usually Protestant) clergy got involved in politics in the 1970s and started invoking Jesus in support of causes like ending abortion did the media suddenly find something wrong with religious involvement in politics. Of course, the religious and secular left often cast what are to a large extent religious issues -- abortion and homosexality, to name but the most inflammatory -- as purely political or civil rights ones, and their willing accomplices in the media rarely, if ever, call them on it. The same holds true now.
If any prominent Republicans supporting McCain had said that "Jesus was a torture victim; Caiaphas was a law professor," they would have been drawn and quartered by the media. But I've yet to see criticism of Brazile or Cohen for injecting the views of the religious left into the 2008 presidential campaign. (For you Democrats who, like Howard Dean, still think Job is in the New Testament -- Caiaphas was the high priest on the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council that interacted with the Roman authorities in Jesus' time.)
Second, it's ahistorical to say that "Jesus was a community organizer." According to Wikipedia, community organizing "is a process by which people living in close proximity to each other are brought together to act in their common self-interest. Community organizers act as ... coordinators of programs for different agencies. ... Community organizers work actively, as do ... social workers, in community councils of social agencies and in community-action groups." What's striking about that definition -- besides its poor grammar and redundancy -- is how very little it has to do with Jesus' life and ministry.