I’ve been living away from the Bible Belt too long to claim that I have my finger on the pulse of the Jesus vote. So I can’t say if Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani is the gift-wrapped advantage for Hizzoner some pundits seem to think it is. Perhaps it is, but Robertson’s influence peaked nearly thirty years ago. Today Robertson is mostly a media sideshow freak whose celebrity endures even as memory of whatever he was originally celebrated for fades away. Sort of like Britney Spears.
Even within the ranks of the social conservatives, Robertson is regarded as a tad over the top. Who among us will forget the time he claimed that the special protein shake he was marketing had enabled him to leg-press 2,000 pounds? Or the time he said God had given Ariel Sharon a massive stroke because he let the Palestinians run Gaza? (He did apologize for saying the United States should assassinate the president of Venezuela.)
My impression is — and I could be wrong — that these days Robertson claims a following only among a particular subset of Radical Christendom: those who hate Muslims even more than they hate women.
Robertsonâ€™s backing will surely give Giuliani a leg up among voters who believe that God sends natural disasters to punish Americans whose school board members believe in the theory of evolution, or who have the bad luck to live near an inclusive amusement park. (He warned Orlando that when Disney World welcomed gay patrons it was letting them in for terrorist attacks, â€œearthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.â€)
Yesterday, Robertson said that Americaâ€™s Mayor had won him over because â€œto me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists.â€ (So much for judicial activism.) â€œOur second goal should be the control of massive government waste and crushing federal deficits.â€
Now this is the part that I have never been able to get. When did government spending become part of the divine agenda? Is there something in the Bible about smiting down federal bureaucrats?
Keep it straight: Religious righties don’t look to the Bible to learn what to believe. They look to the Bible to justify what they believe.
Steven Thomma and Matt Stearns of McClatchy Newspapers say the Robertson endorsement has “fractured” social conservatives. The Robertson endorsement is significant because it shows the social conservative movement has not coalesced around any one candidate. I suspect this “fracturing” is mostly at the top. As I’ve written before, I think the rank and file of the movement would coalesce around Mike Huckabee if left to their own devices, but the “leadership” is determined to pull their followers in other directions. I can only guess why.
I suspect television bobbleheads, few of whom have ever attended a tent revival, will seize the Robertson endorsement as proof that Giuliani’s support for abortion rights (and his three marriages, and his proclivity for cross dressing, and his gay friends) will not matter to social conservative voters, even though those things probably do matter and Robertson isn’t speaking for anyone but Robertson.