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Suzanne O'Malley Headshot

What Do JFK and Huckabee Have in Common?

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A few days after Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama, I was training new voice-recognition software to understand my dictation. The set-up menu gave me several choices of things to read into a microphone. One was the Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy.

After noticing that Obama's slogan and entire campaign seem to have been cribbed from the first sentence of the 48-year-old speech, I found myself wondering who would be dumb enough to invoke "Almighty God" in line two of a nationally-televised address? Oh wait, that would be JFK and Mike Huckabee.

For the record, the second sentence in JFK's Inaugural is: "For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago." Kennedy mentions God three times in his brief speech and ends by telling Americans "here on earth God's work must be truly our own."

I confess I felt some shock in reviewing how freely the first Catholic president used the "G" word. Reverend Martin Luther King used it regularly, too. So does Mike Huckabee. The New York Times reported that Huckabee "defied expectations on Tuesday by winning contests in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and Georgia." Whose expectations?

How do my fellow reporters in their quadrennial pilgrimages to the "heartland" and the "Bible Belt," miss observing that many citizens get by everyday on prayer, meditation and their belief in God. In much of the nation, God is a neutral or even positive word -- an entity associated with help and refuge.

I spent much of the last five years away from the East Coast -- in Texas. The reporter in me couldn't help noticing that greater numbers of men than I was used to were church-goers. When they had crises, they talked with their pastors. They prayed. They studied the Bible. They had a spiritual side for which they were not apologetic. This by no means made them good or moral people, but it did, in my opinion, divide them from many politicians, reporters and newsmakers.

Watching pundits perplexed year-after-year by the "religious right" is enervating. Wake up people! It's not a mystery. Voters who are spiritual or religious prefer voting for politicians who don't think they're crazy.

So which candidate was most Kennedy-esque in references to the higher power post-Super Tuesday? Huckabee mentioned God three times; Hillary Clinton mentioned him/her twice. Obama, McCain and Romney tied with zero mentions, but Obama's oratory was so Reverend Martin Luther King-like, he seemed to have mentioned God.

At the end of the day, though, only the text of Hillary Clinton's speech evoked comment on "Daily in my prayer," read the post, "I ask God to make it possible for you to win and change the pathetic plights of the people of the world for good. It seems God is paying attention to my request!"

Finishing up my laptop's political training I went off-script to teach it the name "Obama." "Oh bummer," was what it typed instead.