McCain's God squad: Huckabee and Hagee

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Sen. John McCain is not a religious man, but he has people around him who are qualified to talk to God on his behalf.

For reasons that have more to do with electoral politics than a deep and personal faith, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee knows he has to genuflect in the general direction of Jesus Christ to get his party's nomination.

That's what conservative Republican candidates have done ever since casual churchgoer and astrology buff Ronald Reagan made conventional piety mandatory for anyone with White House ambitions.

Still, Mr. McCain has consistently passed on opportunities to talk about his faith publicly. Whenever he is cornered, he'll spout something trite and predictable so as not to alarm the GOP faithful for whom the mere declaration of faith -- no matter how anemic -- is sufficient.

Last month, the Arizona senator skipped the excruciatingly thoughtful Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., citing a scheduling conflict.

Not only did his Democratic rivals manage to show up, both bared their souls in what was arguably the most nuanced and informed audience Q&A to date.

For his part, Mr. McCain is smart enough to leave the thees and thous to the once "impious" Democrats.

Why say a word when pious surrogates like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Rev. John Hagee, founder and pastor of the 19,000-strong Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, are around to elevate your game for you?

On Friday, Mr. Huckabee showed just what kind of God-lover he was in a speech before the National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Ky.

"That was Barack Obama," the former Baptist minister said, responding to the loud sound of something falling backstage. "He just tripped off a chair. He's getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him and he -- he dove for the floor."

What was it that Jesus said about a good man saying good things that are stored up in his heart -- and an evil man expressing evil things that flow from his heart and out of his mouth?

Even a room full of Second Amendment enthusiasts knew better than to laugh at such tasteless banter about a gun being pointed at a prominent black politician -- especially 40 years and one month after Martin Luther King Jr. took a bullet in Memphis, Tenn.

It took Mr. Huckabee five hours to get around to issuing the standard apology for saying what was in his heart: "I made an offhand remark that was in no way intended to offend or disparage Sen. Obama," the Huckster said. "I apologize that my comments were offensive. That was never my intention."

On Sunday, the former presidential contender made it clear that there was nothing he would enjoy more than to be John McCain's running mate. Now that's a ticket the Dems could enjoy beating up on.

But Mr. Huckabee isn't the only man of God who wants to stay in Mr. McCain's good graces.

The Rev. Hagee, a big-time huckster who puts most shady preachers to shame in the "remove-the-log-from-your-own-eye" department, recently apologized to Catholics for preaching that their church was the "great whore of Babylon" spoken of in the Book of Revelation.

"In my zeal to oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its ugly forms," Mr. Hagee wrote, "I have often emphasized the darkest chapters in the history of Catholic and Protestant relations with the Jews. In the process, I may have contributed to the mistaken impression that the anti-Jewish violence of the Crusades and the Inquisition defines the Catholic Church. It does not."

The Rev. Hagee said he no longer believes Hitler conspired with the Catholic Church to perpetrate the Holocaust, but he hasn't exactly mellowed on homosexuals or Muslims -- his most frequent target these days.

The good reverend isn't a total neanderthal. He did apologize for sponsoring a mock slave auction at his church in 1996. "There is not one racial bone in my body," he said at the time. "I was trying to help the high school seniors raise money for their senior trip."

Remember, this is the preacher whose endorsement John McCain actively sought.

Meanwhile on the "values in politics" front, a fifth member of Mr. McCain's presidential campaign has had to step down in recent days because of embarrassing connections to lobbyists.

Still, Charlie Black, Mr. McCain's chief political strategist, remains on the campaign payroll.

In the past, Mr. Black has represented such stalwarts of human rights as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Jonas Savimbi of Angola and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. To his credit, he has yet to represent Satan. With Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Hagee on board, America finally has a presidential campaign with standards.


Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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