Kerry on my wayward son

Was I out of the country when the decision was made to turn the presidential debates into the Hour of Power? In round two, Kerry tried to offset some of the damage he was about to incur with his answer on the Silent Scream issue by saying that he was an altar boy back in the day and that that "faith" still leads him today. In last night's debate (here's a transcript), Kerry went all out with the faith offensive. It started out when he was answering moderator Bob Schieffer about whether the candidates thought homosexuality is innate (and thanks for opening up that particular can of worms, Bob) with Kerry explaining that "we're all God's children," including -- he actually said this -- "Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian"; not by choice but by divine fiat.

Schieffer threw out the fact that several Catholic bigs have opined that it would be a sin to vote for Kerry, to which Kerry replied, "I respect their views. I completely respect their views. [Liar! -- ed.] I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect those views. But I disagree with them, as do many." Then he launched into an attack on Bush's supposed intention to overturn Roe v. Wade, and I thought we were moving back to familiar territory.

But oh no. Kerry decided to revise and extend his remarks:

Now, with respect to religion, you know, as I said, I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I know that throughout my life this has made a difference to me. And as President Kennedy said when he ran for president, he said, "I'm not running to be a Catholic president. I'm running to be a president who happens to be Catholic."

My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There's a great passage of the Bible that says, "What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead."

And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That's why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.

In his response, the president avoided mentioning God or religion. In fact, the God talk had to be coaxed out of him by Schieffer, who asked, point blank, "what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?"

Bush replied:

[M]y faith is a very -- it's very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm's way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls. But I'm mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You're equally an American if you choose to worship an Almighty and if you choose not to. If you're a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you're equally an American. That's the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit.

Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, "Well, how do you know?" I said, "I just feel it."

Religion is an important part. I never want to impose my religion on anybody else. But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am.

I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we've unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt. I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe.

And take it away Johnny:

Well, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. I think it's important and I share it. I think that he just said that freedom is a gift from the Almighty.

Everything is a gift from the Almighty. And as I measure the words of the Bible -- and we all do; different people measure different things -- the Koran, the Torah, or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being. And people all find their ways to express it.

I was taught -- I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.

We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. There's one for the people who have, and there's one for the people who don't have. And we're struggling with that today.

And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith. I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead. I think we've got a lot more work to do. And as president, I will always respect everybody's right to practice religion as they choose -- or not to practice -- because that's part of America.

OK now, fun game. Given the content above, try to formulate front page headlines for the websites of, say, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times. Scratch something down; I'll wait.

In the order given, they were:

Personalities vs. policies are focus of final debate

A Deep Divide on Domestic Front: Bush, Kerry Spar Over Economy, Health Care, Gay Marriage in Last Debate

Energized Bush rips Kerry

The articles weren't nearly that bad. The Post, for instance, mentioned the testimonial stuff in the third paragraph and then cycled back to it later in the story and chewed on it for awhile. But all of the reports that I read seemed to have a hard time fitting the faith thing into a larger narrative.

Not that I blame them. I mean, just imagine trying to make sense of all of this on deadline:

Reporter 1: OK, and after Pell grants and gay marriage, Kerry launched into his altar boy shtick.

Reporter 2: Let's leave that out. He did that last time and we don't have many words to work with.

Reporter 1: We can't leave it out.

Reporter 2: Why not?

Reporter 1: That's the part where he compares himself to Kennedy. Major church/state implications.

Reporter 2: But the Kennedy thing doesn't make sense.

Reporter 1: Huh?

Reporter 2: Well Kennedy was saying, look, I was born this way, it's not like I'm going to take orders from the pope or anything, so chill. But Kerry launches into this thing about how faith guides everything he does--

Reporter 1: Except his votes on abortion.

Reporter 2: See, I don't get that.

Reporter 1: Get what?

Reporter 2: Well, if it's "transferring your articles of faith" to others to ban baby killing, how would welfare or pollution not make the cut?

Reporter 1: I dunno.

Reporter 2: If he said "faith without works is dead" and his faith is causing the government to use our taxes to do stuff that we might disagree with, isn't that imposing his faith on us? It doesn't make any sense.

Reporter 1: (Thoughtful pause.) Religion is heady stuff.

Reporter 2: Guess so. And Bush--

Editor: Ten minutes, guys!

Reporter 1: Uh, you take healthcare, I'll take the stuff about Laura and Lovey.

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