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Rod doesn’t agree with my explanation about the pass given to Hagee and McCain:

But Larison goes on to say that Hagee is getting a pass on his endorsement of McCain, or vice versa, because Hagee is pro-Zionist. I think this is way off. McCain isn’t being held responsible for Hagee because McCain didn’t spend 20 years sitting in the pews at Hagee’s church, and didn’t claim Hagee as his spiritual mentor. Everybody knows that McCain is not a particularly religious man, and doesn’t care for the religious right. Fault McCain for cynicism or weakness by making nice with them, and you’re on solid ground. But most people perfectly well understand that John Hagee’s theology has had little or no influence on John McCain’s thinking.

I’ll come to McCain in a moment. The most frequent reaction to the Wright controversy has not been, “Does this tell us what Obama really believes?”  Instead the reaction has usually been, “This shows terrible judgement, and reflects very poorly on him.”  Except for the most implacable critics, no pundit or blogger thinks Obama believes the things that Wright believes (Obama’s bigger problem is that quite a lot of Democratic primary voters do think this), and most have taken him at his word that he doesn’t believe them.  We float theories about why Obama stayed in the church and so on, but even Rod, who otherwise thinks Obama has been lying about what he knew about Wright and when he knew it, doesn’t claim that Obama believes these things.  So we’re not really talking about the influence on the candidate’s thinking, which makes the length of McCain and Hagee’s association and exposure to Hagee’s sermons (or lack thereof) far less relevant.  We’re determining what these associations say about a candidate’s judgement, and we’re also questioning whether presidential candidates should associate with such characters.  Normally, unfortunately, if an evangelical minister says something inflammatory or even mildly controversial, the media are all over it and remain fixated on it.  Not so with Hagee.  He received perhaps one news cycle of attention, and then vanished.  Remarkably, McCain gets credit for his obviously cynical manipulation of religious conservatives whom he viscerally dislikes–the very kind of thing that earns him the media’s endless devotion–and Obama effectively receives blame for being something like an intellectually serious and regular church-goer who has given some thought to what he believes.  (I’m sure the jokes have already been said, or will be soon if they haven’t, that Obama must be the only Democratic candidate in history who has suffered politically for being too frequent in attending church.)  Rather hilariously, Obama is simultaneously blamed as an opportunist looking for “street cred” and criticised as a willing disciple of Wright, as if there could have been no other explanation for his membership in the church.  Meanwhile, Hagee has mainstream political credibility because he happens to adopt the most extreme form of what Rod notes is a majority, popular position, and he is taken seriously not just by AIPAC but by a great number of political leaders of both parties who value him as an ally in advancing the “pro-Israel” cause.  In the real world, Wright is a small fry politically, while Hagee is a mover and shaker, so naturally we have been preoccupied with the small fry and ignoring the person who actually is in a position to make policy.  Hagee’s motives for taking the positions he does are not scrutinised very closely by most of the media, and the militarism that he preaches does not cause a ripple–it is only when he attacks Catholics in theological polemic that anyone bothers to notice, and even then it is mostly half-hearted.  “Oh, McCain rejects his comments?  Case closed!” 

When these associations have a direct and obvious relevance to important foreign policy questions, it seems appropriate to draw significant attention to what is absolutely a cynical alliance of convenience between McCain and Hagee.  Yes, we already know that McCain favours uncompromising, hard-line and militaristic policies, but Hagee’s endorsement reveals an important political dimension to this: McCain has allied himself with a prominent “pro-Israel” lobbyist (which, in political terms, is what Hagee is) to secure evangelical votes on the basis of his national security and Israel policy views.  McCain has joined together with someone who called the bombardment of Lebanon a “miracle from God.”    That’s fairly bloody-minded fanaticism, if you ask me, and I don’t throw around the label of fanatic very often: Hagee was justifying and glorifying the war in Lebanon, which included the bombardment of Lebanon’s civilian population.  I don’t know of anything that Wright has said that really equals this.  To the extent that you believe that Obama joined Trinity and embraced Wright to acquire political capital and “street cred,” how much more should we view McCain’s acceptance of Hagee’s support in the same way since we pretty clearly know that McCain has not joined together with him out of some profound sense of shared faith?  The alliance was made purely for political gain, which ought to make their association even more subject to scrutiny and challenge.  Ultimately, I care less whether Hagee influenced McCain’s thinking, which is already bad enough in my eyes, than I care about the public knowing what kind of people are influencing future administration policy on serious matters of war and peace.  Treating the two as a pair of pastors misrepresents the problem: Wright is a pastor (a wealthy, annoying pastor, but still just a pastor), while Hagee leads a significant lobbying organisation and is received by some of the biggest names in Washington as a friend and ally.  Wright’s influence on policy was always going to be vanishingly small anyway, and now it will be non-existent.  Hagee’s very real political influence will continue on.  That is the kind of influence the media ought to be scrutinising, not least since Hagee’s influence may have some impact on what the government actually does.  I think my original argument still holds up: Hagee’s influence is basically dismissed or ignored, because his views on policy do not seem especially outlandish or strange to the media, and the media are in any case hopelessly blind to McCain’s flaws.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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