Politics & Policy

Pulpit Politics

Unholy double standards.

This past Sunday, John F. Kerry campaigned in a church–the East Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Cleveland. In other words, he did something the liberal press would never permit George W. Bush to do: If Bush were to speak in just one church on the campaign trail, the media would be venting outrage 24/7–but Kerry will be able to push for votes in churches with complete impunity.

Will Kerry’s approach in these churches be as shameless as Al Gore’s was in 2000? Gore barnstormed a number of churches in the closing days of the 2000 campaign, with the message that a presidential victory by George W. Bush would be a calamity for black Americans. In a Detroit church on October 29, Gore was introduced by the Rev. Charles Adams as a defender of civil rights–in contrast to Governor Bush, whom Adams described as a protector of the wealthy. Gore (correctly) informed African-American worshipers that they possessed “the ability to decide this close election.” From there, the vice president traveled south to address a congregation in Memphis, where he seemed to boil down the choice between him and Bush to one between good and evil. “Deep within us,” he said, “we each have the capacity for good and evil. I am taught that good overcomes evil if we choose that outcome. I feel it coming. I feel a message from this gathering that on Tuesday we’re going to carry Tennessee and Memphis is going to lead the way.” (Remember: George W. Bush cannot describe Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as evil; but Bush himself can be described as evil by Democrats.)

Moving on to Pittsburgh, on November 4, Gore held a rally at the Wesley AME Zion Church. Reverend Gore ascended the pulpit, where he screamed: “Then they rose up like a mighty army and they went to the polls! Let us vote together on Tuesday!” As he had before other African-American audiences, Gore pointed to the murder of James Byrd Jr., a black Texan dragged to his death by three white men in 1998 during the governorship of George W. Bush. He warned of the strict-constructionist judges that a President Bush might appoint, judges of an earlier era when a black American was considered three-fifths of a person.

Gore’s dire admonition frightened the worshipers. “I’m concerned now about the future of my kids,” said Raushana Ellison, 23, of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Though she had been registered to vote for five years, Ellison had never voted before. Now, she would run to the voting booth. Also attending Gore’s church talk was 67-year-old Willa Mae Tot of the Overbrook section of Pittsburgh. She, too, was now worried about Bush and the Republicans: “Their decisions will affect our children and grandchildren. That’s who we have to look out for now.”

The next day, just two days before the election, Gore was in Philadelphia, where he appeared with the sister of James Byrd, who described in vivid detail her brother’s mutilation. The graphic moment was described by the New York Times as “the emotional high point” of Gore’s day; the Texas murder, explained the Times, was how Gore “rallied his base.” The vice president then politicked in two black churches in Philadelphia. At the second of these, the Morris Brown AME Church, Gore told churchgoers: “There is an old African proverb–when you pray, move your feet. Tuesday is the day to move your feet.”

Did this matter in 2000? You bet.

Recall that on the morning of the 2000 presidential vote nearly every poll forecast a comfortable Bush victory. Why was almost every poll wrong? The answer was the African-American vote; that was the great unpredictable that swung the overall total. Al Gore had energized the black vote unlike any politician in recent memory.

In Florida, blacks went for Gore by 93 percent to 7 percent. Even in Texas, where Bush as governor once garnered 25 percent of black votes, he somehow managed to win only 5 percent. While Bush got more white votes in Illinois than Gore, the vice president’s 92 percent to 7 percent advantage among blacks gave him Illinois by a staggering 12 points. There were similar results in Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In Maryland, Bush won among white voters 51 percent to 46 percent–but the number of black votes was so large that Gore took Maryland handily, with 57 percent.

Blacks have historically voted Democratic by huge margins. In the 2000 contest, however, they voted in much larger percentages than usual. It was this black turnout that pollsters had not foreseen. The lesson of 2000 is obvious to Democrats: When the election gets close, head to African-American churches. (It wasn’t just Gore who had been prescient: According to the New York Times, senatorial candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton stumped in seven churches in seven hours on Election Day alone.)

The liberal media will raise nary an eyebrow over this flagrant mixing of church and state; no angry questions from Helen Thomas or irate articles by Dana Milbank and Maureen Dowd. Worse, as breathtakingly preposterous as it may be, John Kerry will go into these houses of God and accuse George W. Bush of trying to divide America by race. And liberals will continue to point the finger at George W. Bush for using God for partisan political purposes.

Paul Kengor is author of God and George W. Bush. He is also a professor of political science at Grove City College and a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution.


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