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Gutless Americans: Religion-Baiting Ascendant Heading into Election Day

12/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The following originally appeared on Religion Dispatches which is honoring Election Day with short posts from numerous contributors.

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The problem with cynicism is that it's lazy. Has no room to consider degree of infraction, no patience for the sweep of a spectrum. How are to know whether Jane Doe voted against Free Halloween Candy for Kids because she's a cold-hearted child-hater or because the sponsor of the bill owns a share in Nabisco? How are we to distinguish those stretching the truth from those obliterating it when most of the media's unbreakable First Commandment is Thou Shalt Present Both Sides of a Given Issue as Equal--Whether One Side is Objectively More True or Not?

In the week leading up to Election Day, with John McCain's campaign disintegrating and receiving appropriate opprobrium from across the political spectrum, not to mention the media, a number of races around the country turned ugly.

Over in the house, Virginia Republican Virgil Goode's campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee has been distorting the record of a group that his opponent, Democrat Tom Periello, founded called Faithful America.

In a comically dark TV spot that ought to have been sent directly to Jon Stewart, Periello is darkened, identified as a "New York liberal," while Faithful America is ominously described as a "liberal advocacy group that ran ads on Arab TV apologizing for the actions of US troops":

See if this sounds different: Faithful America ran an ad on al Jazeera expressing regret for the abhorrent abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib--sort of similar to the way that George W. Bush (quite appropriately) apologized to Jordan's King Abdullah at a Rose Garden press conference back in May of 2004: "I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families," Bush said.

Dan Nejfelt, Senior Communications Associate for Faith in Public Life, who urges citizens of all political stripes to sign Faithful America's petition calling for the NRCC to take the ad down, told me: "Slamming Faithful America for expressing regret over the disgraceful abuses at Abu Ghraib is just disgraceful. Whoever wrote that ad should be ashamed, and its sponsors should not only take it down, but repent for running it in the first place." Amen.

Incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) dipped into the Rove playbook, out and out scaring the bejeezus out of her constituents, charging that her opponent, Democrat Kay Hagan, is a "Godless American" who would all but bite the heads off chickens and tour with Ozzy Osbourne should she be elected to office:

The charge, that she attended a fundraiser put on by a group called "Godless Americans" (ergo: the sunday school teacher, Hagan, is a Godless heathen the Good Christians of North Carolina must fear) is so preposterous it prompted Lou Dobbs, and a gaggle of pundits, to spend a few minutes laughing at Dole's chutzpah:

So Dole ran a second "Godless Americans" ad, which promptly got her excoriated by nearly a dozen North Carolina papers, handily rounded up in a response ad from Hagan, which ends by telling Dole to not "bear false witness against fellow Christians." Ouch:

The Carolina papers' criticisms were uncharacteristically sharp, using words like "shameful," "egregious," "false," "insulting," and many noted that attacks this unscrupulous signal a sense of "desperation" in the Dole camp.

As if that weren't bad enough, the North Carolina Council of Churches echoed the papers' sentiments adding that "The overwhelming reaction to this ad has been disgust - directed at Senator Dole - for stooping this low and attacking a fellow Christian."

Politicians have a tendency to stretch the truth and misrepresent their opponents' records, but if we resort to blind cynicism or sweeping judgments about the nature of campaigns, we risk pushing false equivalencies between calumny and politicking.

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