But remember when you step / into your voting booth

How does that old saying go? Presidential politics makes for interesting one-night stands. In pursuit of a singular goal -- getting more votes than the other guy -- arguments are advanced during election season that would not be tolerated by the parties' bases at any other time. Witness President Bush advertising his pork-barrel tendencies to the wider electorate, and spinning his restrictive ruling on embryonic stem cell research as evidence that his administration is already cranking up the wattage to Dr. Frankenstein levels. Most on what we clumsily call the right (though not all) have come to accept this as part of the price of doing business with the Bush administration.

Similarly, most liberal Democrats are tolerant of Senator Kerry's on-again, off-again warmongering; his softness on gun-control; and his rhetorical opposition to gay marriage. There's an election to win, after all, and at least Kerry's not Bush.

The amplified religiosity of this election has made things more interesting. Many observers have noted the diabolization of the president by his opponents. To quote, well, myself:

[S]ome protest signs show actual horns and fangs dripping with blood. In the Evil Bush version of history, he stole an election and then took food from babes with his tax cuts. He exploited the tragedy of September 11 to his immense political benefit and the country's harm. Egged on by a neoconservative cabal, he fought a war for oil and Israel, and he threatens to further upset the global balance of power. Our commander-in-chief hates gays and minorities and wants to give industry free reign to pollute rivers and belch toxic gasses into the air. If he had his druthers, Bush would impose his own born again kind of Christianity, and perhaps his Southern drawl, on the rest of us.

If anything, things have gotten worse since I penned those lines, as the hostility has spilled over from demonizing Bush to demonizing his supporters. The most extreme manifestation of this is the fact that several Bush campaign headquarters have been attacked and vandalized. More mundanely, Richard Rushfield, stringing for Slate visited both Bush and Kerry strongholds in California. The trick is that he wore a pro-Bush shirt in Kerry country and an advertisement for Kerry in GOP territory.

Rushfield worried about a violent reaction from the Bushies, but he encountered "only shades of indifference -- head shaking, 'crazy idiot' expressions from older, very wealthy, very white folks in Newport Beach; terse nods from the middle- to working-class citizens of Bakersfield." In the Silverlake/Los Feliz and Brentwood areas of Los Angeles, he was called an asshole a few times and drew all kinds of comment and looks of undisguised hostility. One six-year-old girl stared at him "with a look so forlorn, I expect[ed] to learn that Dick Cheney just stole her crayons."

The shrillest opposition to Bush in the press has come from the alternative weeklies. [Alternative to what? - ed. Beats me.] The Stranger's endorsement of Kerry began "George Bush is pure scum." The illustration for Rick Perlstein's story in the current Village Voice (pictured above) is of Bush as a vampire, sucking the blood out of Lady Liberty's neck.

GetReligion has already covered one tack of the saner press's overreaction to Bush's faith. Go here for my take on last week's New York Times Magazine Ron Suskind cover story or here for Terry Mattingly's take on Jeff Sharlet's "Bush the magic Christian" piece over at The Revealer.

But another line of criticism has emerged, which we might call the Geraldine Ferraro approach. Several left-of-center pundits and pundettes have charged that Bush is a bad Christian, if that. It started with criticism of Bush's lack of regular church attendance and his unwillingness to fess up to mistakes he's made and finally metastasized into Ayelish McGarvey's article on the website of the American Prospect: "As God Is His Witness: Bush is no devout evangelical. In fact, he may not be a Christian at all."

McGarvey's arguments for this accusation:

1) The president is "neither born again nor evangelical" since he "did not have a single born-again experience."

2) He "does not live or govern under the complete authority of the Bible -- just the parts that work to his political advantage."

3) His refusal to publicly admit to error is evidence that he doesn't believe in sin.

4) He has money and is not a socialist.

5) He doesn't try to aggressively proselytize.

6) He is not Jimmy Carter.

Therefore: Conservative Christian voters should reject Bush at the ballot box.

What's the word here? Crassness? Irony? Opportunism? What McGarvey advocates, in the American Prospect, is nothing less than a religious test for public office.

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