Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Monica Lewinsky, God, And The Campaign

It never occurred to me that the Monica Lewinsky Affair would be a part of this Presidential campaign, and I certainly never thought it would be brought up by Hillary Clinton. I was wrong. At the recent "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College, without using Lewinsky's name, Senator Clinton alluded to the pain she went through because of Bill's affair. In terms that must have been clear to everyone who watched, Clinton said that her faith helped her get through her very public struggle and challenge. Those who are both for and against Senator Clinton agreed that she was obviously referring to the Lewinsky affair. She certainly wasn't talking about the pain of standing in the express line at the supermarket when the guy in front of her had eleven items instead of ten. So, why would she want to make the public think of Monica Lewinsky at this time?

I may be cynical, but I think there's a very simple answer. Despite that the separation of church and state is one of our country's basic principles, in recent years the line between the two institutions has become more and more obscured. Today it seems to be a requirement that politicians are not just religious, but that they are more religious than their opponents. For whatever reason, John McCain showed the good sense to skip the "Compassion Forum," but I guess the Democratic race is too close for either of them to take a chance of letting the other one get ahead in the God-off.

By bringing up the Lewinsky mess, I think Senator Clinton was saying, "My faith is greater than Obama's. In fact, it's so great, it even helped me forgive my jerk of a husband. Try to top that, Barack."

This Presidential campaign has been riddled with religion. We've had the flap with Obama's minister. Then there have been the false rumors spread about Barack being a Muslim. Hillary Clinton has said that speaking about her Methodist upbringing publicly does not come naturally to her. She has said this publicly over and over again. I don’t think there has been so much talk of religion in a campaign since the Nixon-Kennedy race in 1960. Of course, Kennedy assured the nation that his faith wouldn't be involved with his political decisions. Today, candidates seem compelled to assure the country of the exact opposite.

Have you ever heard of Messiah College before? I haven't. How would you like to have to play them in basketball? Your team probably wouldn't have a prayer. And imagine the looks you'd get, walking around with a sweatshirt that says, "Messiah" on it. It sounds a tad bit extreme, doesn't it?

But there was no way Obama and Clinton would have missed this event. At the "forum," Senator Clinton was actually asked, "Do you think God wants you to be President?" What do you think the Founding Fathers would have thought of that question?

How did we get to this point? Certainly, President Bush deserves some of the credit. Too many times, he has characterized the war in Iraq as a holy war. According to him, we represent all that is "Good," and we are fighting "Evil." The President seems unaware of the irony that these are the same words that those we are fighting have used to characterize themselves and their fight.

Both Democratic candidates represent themselves as agents of change. Apparently, this change doesn't apply when it comes to religion in politics. Skipping the Compassion Forum or telling reporters throughout the campaign that their religious beliefs are none of anybody's business would've been ways to demonstrate their sincerity about change.

Maybe the candidates have rationalized it as just one more thing they have to do to win – like kissing babies, bowling, or eating Philly cheesesteaks. But wanting to win so badly is no excuse for ignoring one of the most sacred, oops! I mean, important principles of our democracy.

Senator Clinton's desire to win is so great that she now exploits what was probably the most humiliating event in her life. And it's a shame, because it was an event that she handled with so much dignity at the time. But dignity walked out of this campaign months ago. Now it's all about winning. And I'd say that Clinton wants to win so badly that it shouldn't shock any of us if someday soon we see a commercial for Hillary that ends with, "This is Monica Lewinsky, and I have approved this ad."


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