Politics & Policy

Rev. Hillary Takes the Pulpit

An unholy route to electoral victory.

I told Satan, get thee behind….

I told Lazio, get thee behind!

This interesting variation on the traditional hymn, “Victory is Mine,” about Christ defeating Satan, was magically morphed one morning into a political hymn about Hillary Clinton defeating Rick Lazio for a Senate seat. The scene was New York’s Emmanuel Baptist Church during the 2000 campaign. Pastor Darlene Thomas McGuire divined that Hillary’s opponent was not merely undesirable but downright evil. Lazio, a practicing Catholic, found incarnation as no less than the Prince of Darkness. McGuire led Hillary and her swaying congregation in this unique rendition.

Even the pool of reporters in the pews, who long ago sacrificed objectivity at the political altar, figured that this unseemly tune at least merited a polite question to Hillary (though certainly not a story). Reporter Beth Harpaz, who innocently covered this spectacle in her eye-opening book on Hillary’s campaign, asked the former First Lady’s opinion of the new lyrics. “She paused for a second,” recorded Harpaz, “then smiled and replied, ‘I love hymns.’”

So did the press, which, uplifted by that old-time religion, was experiencing an old-fashioned conversion. Usually hyper-sensitive to any integration of faith into politics — at least when done by a Republican — the media winked as Hillary barnstormed an astonishing 27 churches in two months prior to the November 2000 vote. She hit six New York churches on Election Day morning alone — twice the number George W. Bush visited through the first three years of his presidency, which, in Bush’s case, were memorials, such as September 11 services, and most assuredly not for campaigning, knowing he could never get away with what Democrats do habitually.

Inside these churches, minister after minister laughably asserted that these political rallies were not a political endorsement. Some opted for the added touch of canonization, calling Hillary everything from “a woman of God,” to, as one reverend dubbed her at the Metropolitan AME Church in Harlem, “another Joshua.”

Since her election, Mrs. Clinton has continued this ministry, and her message in these houses of worship is not always charitable. Take the case of her January 2006 sermon to a black congregation at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem. It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a time of national reconciliation on the hurtful history of race. Yet, the junior senator had not come to perform a healing. In ward-boss form, she barked at the crowd as a host of other white New York Democrats up for reelection sat nearby: “When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I’m talking about!”

Predictably, the secular liberal press was quiet on this political-religious cruise missile, as this campaign stop likewise flew under the radar.

And yet, Hillary realizes the limits of this outreach. Sure, these religious votes can help a Democratic nominee get close to winning the Electoral College, but not quite enough. For that, Senator Clinton has concluded that she needs the 2000 and 2004 “values voter” that twice elected George W. Bush.

According to CNN exit-poll data, those who attend church weekly or more went for Bush by 63 to 35 percent in 2004, essentially identical to 2000, when they chose Bush 63 to 36 percent — each time providing the Republican with an advantage of 5.2 million ballots.

Only three days after the 2004 vote, a determined Hillary went to Tufts University where she called it a mistake for Democrats to have ceded Evangelicals to President Bush. “I don’t think you can win an election or even run a successful campaign if you don’t acknowledge what is important to people,” she said of the importance of faith. She underscored areas where she thought faith-backed Republicans were vulnerable: Hillary said the Bible should be cited in debates over poverty, akin to how Republicans referenced Scripture to resist gay marriage.

However, like many Religious Left politicians, Mrs. Clinton was not understanding that the policy issues that animate these voters — from Evangelicals to devout Catholics — are not the minimum wage or Kyoto protocol but the hot-button social-moral issues. Consider, for instance, how these folks voted on abortion: Over a quarter of 2004 voters, 26 percent, said abortion ought to be “mostly illegal,” and went for Bush by 72 to 27 percent, or by 21.5 million to 8.1 million votes. Those 15 percent who said abortion should be “always illegal” cast ballots for Bush by 77 to 22 percent, or 13.3 million to 3.8 million, a Bush advantage of nearly ten million votes. This surge was mobilized by John Kerry’s stridency on abortion, surpassed only by the rarest of senators, like Senator Clinton.

That said, Hillary recently showed signs of getting the picture. She hired Burns Strider, a leading party strategist on reaching out to pro-life Evangelicals, which provided a surprising number of votes in November 2006 to the pro-choice governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, and the Ohio governor-elect, Ted Strickland. Her strategy has been to change her tone on abortion, but not substance. It is hard to imagine that these voters will budge so long as she refuses to compromise on a single piece of pro-life legislation.

The degree to which Hillary Clinton succeeds in slicing off a sizable enough sliver of values voters in 2008 remains to be seen. Until then, she will give it one heck of a shot, which means returning to the pulpit, as a sympathetic press continues its hypocritical silence in the hopes she will preach herself all the way to the White House.

– Paul Kengor, author of spiritual biographies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, is author of the newly released God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life. He is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa.


The Latest