Although it wasn’t surprising to see John McCain spend much of the past few years courting the Religious Right in advance of securing the Republican presidential nomination, he continued to pander even after his primary victory was all but finalized. Beginning with his speech to the right-wing activists at CPAC—which followed shortly after his main rival, Mitt Romney, dropped out—McCain seemed to step up his embrace of the fringe, picking up more and more endorsements, campaigning with apocalyptic televangelist John Hagee and “Patriot Pastor” Rod Parsley, and reaching out to the Council for National Policy.
McCain’s search for religious-right support might have raised a few flags. Hagee, for example, frames his support for Israel in terms of the end times, going as far as warning that any U.S. foreign policy decision that isn’t “pro-Israel” enough will result in God bringing a “blood bath” of terrorist attacks to America. Hagee also identifies the Catholic Church as the “great whore” of Revelation (a characterization he now denies) and said Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on a sinful city.
When confronted with some of Hagee’s extreme views, McCain simply responded “all I can tell you is that I am very proud to have Pastor John Hagee’s support.’’ After a lot of pressure from the Catholic League, McCain finally issued a bland statement: “I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee’s, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics.”
Indeed, McCain would have had difficulty criticizing Hagee any further—much less call the pastor out on his “profoundly distorted view of this country,” to quote Barack Obama’s critique of Rev. Jeremiah Wright—because McCain had sought out Hagee precisely for his extreme stance and the religious-right constituency he can reach.
Just as McCain sought out Hagee for his political clout, it was politics that brought McCain and Ohio televangelist Rod Parsley together on the campaign. When McCain brought Parsley on stage and called him a “spiritual guide,” that didn’t mean the senator had sent the Word of Faith preacher a financial “seed” in hopes that God would bolster his campaign contributions. Instead, McCain was embracing Parsley’s far-right political views and the political machine of “Patriot Pastors” he leads.
David Limbaugh, one of the many right-wing commentators who dismissed Obama’s speech on his pastor, claimed there was a “double standard” when it came to conservatives: “When the remotest connection can be inferred between a conservative and a bigoted supporter, there is always hell to pay.”
But in fact the opposite double standard seems to be in play: While Obama continues to be attacked for his personal relationship with a pastor whose controversial political ideology he’s rejected, McCain’s ongoing ideological relationship with the far Right—consisting, in essence, of him telling them he embraces their political views—remains unconnected to McCain’s political reputation.