Fri 5 Oct 2012
A few weeks ago I wrote a commentary which was eventually published in my “Middle East Muddle” column on Anthropology News. This was entitled “Between the Rock of Ages and a Hard Sell.” This was a month before the debate held earlier this week. Below I provide the first two paragraphs of my commentary, but you can read the whole thing here. After reading it, you can return here and see my update after the first debate.
As the 2012 presidential election draws near, the debate thus far has been anything but civil. Attack ads from all sides have been fact-checked and found wanting. A recent Pew poll found that 17% of registered voters still think President Obama is a Muslim and only 49% said he was Christian. Only 60% of registered voters are aware that Republican challenger Mitt Romney is Mormon. Of those who know Romney is Muslim 19% admit they are uncomfortable with his affiliation. To the extent religion matters, and anyone who thinks religion does not matter in American politics needs to think again, both the current Vice-President Joe Biden and the Republican candidate Paul Ryan are Catholic.
For voters in the Bible Belt this puts the choice on November 6 between a rock and a hard place, making it a hard sell for those who sing “The Rock of Ages” in Sunday morning services. Growing up decades ago in a proudly “fundamentalist” Baptist church in northern Ohio, I was told that Mormons were a cult, the Catholic church was Satanic and Muslims were obviously bound for hell along with all the others who were not born-again Bible believers. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were Baptist, but as astute politicians they did not promote the more extreme beliefs of their faith just as John F. Kennedy did not mandate Catholic doctrine. The last time around Obama was attacked for having belonged to a church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Both Obama and Jon McCain submitted to a religious litmus test in a televised forum hosted by Rick Warren, senior pastor of the one of the largest Protestant churches in America. This time, however, religion is taking a back seat to the economy, but the religious faith of each candidate is still the elephant in the room.
The first daily tracking polls after the debate, which the pundits gave to Romney hands down, show that there has yet to be a big bounce on the ground; even Rasmussen (which usually leans Republican) has Obama ahead nationally by 2 points on Thursday and Friday. Beyond the polls and pundits, however, it is still a very rocky road for Romney, whose etch-a-sketch performance in the debate will be hard to stretch against all the things he has been saying previously. Today’s drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8%, the same as when Obama took office, will blow out the tires of a campaign bus already in the ditch. But to my mind, the biggest mistake Romney made was promising to end the career of Big Bird. I realize that 8-year olds cannot vote (and depending on their skin color may not find it easy to vote when they grow up in certain states), but they can grab onto their parent’s arms and beg them to save Big Bird and Sesame Street. If Romney loses by a nose, it will be a combination of his own Pinocchio moments and the beak of an unemployed Big Bird.
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