On Tuesday, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain dropped by Glenn Beck's radio program to argue that his previous promise to not appoint any Muslims to his Cabinet had been "misconstrued." As he put it: "I did not say that I would not have them in my cabinet. If you look at my career, I have hired good people regardless of race, religion, sex gender, orientation, and this kind of thing."
Cain's position now is that only radical Muslims would be prohibited from serving in his administration. That sounds reasonable. Except he told Laura Ingraham in April that he's never met a Muslim who didn't fit his definition of a radical—and in the same interview, alleged that Rep. Keith Ellison (D–Minn.), who's Muslim, has pledged his loyalty to Allah, not the Constitution. But even if Cain's original statement, and subsequent defenses of it, were misconstrued, he still hasn't adequately explained the rest of what he told Think Progress back in April.
When asked for examples of the "creeping attempt...to gradually ease" Islamic sharia law into the American judicial system he explained:
One judge did it up in New Jersey, and ruled in a case. Then last week we heard about a judge down in was it Texas? It might have been Texas where a judge said there was a dispute in a mosque and he was gonna consider 'eclesiastical' law in his deliberations, because of a dispute that was going on inside a mosque. This is the United States of America. Just because it's going on inside a mosque doesnt mean you execute the laws based on what's going on in the [mosque]."
Cain is right: This isthe United States of America. But everything else here is inaccurate. In the civil case in question—which was in Florida, not Texas—the judge (a Republican) ruled that he was going to use "ecclesiastical" law because both parties had agreed, per their mutually agreed-upon contract, to settle their dispute through ecclesiastical Islamic law, in the form of a Muslim arbitrator. That's totally normal; Christians and Jews also take advantage of independent arbitrators to settle disputes. If the government were to ban the use of such forums, it would mark a dramatic encroachment on the First Amendment's freedom of religion—I'm fairly certain that Herman Cain doesn't want to run for President on the platform of restricting Christians' free exercise rights. The actual trial, the judge noted, would be conducted according to Florida civil law; he was simply assessing whether the arbitration process had been handled properly.
Anyone can make a gaffe, which is how Cain is spinning his "no Muslims" comment. But the more serious problem isn't that Cain misspoke; it's that he has taken an extreme, unconstitutional position based on a conspiracy theory that could have been debunked in 30 seconds.
The GOP presidential field looks like it's starting to gel, but, via Byron York, Rep. Peter King (R–N.Y.) says we might see one more familiar face:
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose presidential campaign fizzled in 2008, is leaning toward another race for the White House, according to a close associate. New York Republican Rep. Peter King, who has known Giuliani for more than 40 years, says the former mayor "is very close to saying he's going to run."
"If he were to make the decision today, he would run," says King.
Giuliani wouldn't be the most perplexing name floated for the GOP presidential nomination. That honor belongs to Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who you'll probably have to Wikipedia, or perhaps King himself, who told supporters he would consider running if he thought it would be good for the Nassau County Republican Party.
But I'd be pretty skeptical of the latest Rudy rumor (there have been rumblings for a while), for the very simple reason that there doesn't seem to be any conceivable way Giuliani, thrice-married and previously supportive of abortion and gay rights, would win the Republican nomination. If anything, his odds in 2012 might be even worse than his chances in 2008, when he flopped fantastically. Since then, he's launched a second career consulting for South American police forces and lobbied for an Iranian dissident group that's considered a terrorist group by the State Department (which at least one law professor has suggested would count as material support for terrorism). Meanwhile, his signature issue—his handling of 9/11—almost certainly lost any vestigal relevance when Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last month. Oh, and then there's this guy.
In late January 2001, the day after George W. Bush was sworn into office, a group of conservative politicos including recently retired House Speaker Newt Gingrich gathered at Grover Norquist's Washington, DC, office for a meeting with influential faith leaders.
That, in itself, was hardly newsworthy. Bush had swept into office on the backs of values voters. But the gathering wasn't catering to evangelical Christians; the purpose was to discuss a variety of issues of concern to American Muslims—everything from political appointments, to civil liberties, to a Ramadan postage stamp. It was organized by the Islamic Institute, a think tank founded by Norquist, the conservative anti-tax crusader, and the guest list was culled from the ranks of Muslim–American organizations and community leaders. By some estimates, Muslims had turned out in huge numbers for Bush; at least one prominent Republican credited them with making the difference in Florida.
But those days are over, and if the rhetoric from the current crop of candidates is any indication, there's little hope for a rebound in 2012. Since 9/11, Republicans have turned a once-promising—and rapidly growing—voting demographic into a punching bag. Lately, Republican lawmakers across the country have further antagonized their Muslim constituents by pushing quixotic legislation to ban Islamic sharia law from being used in state courts. Even the founder of the group Muslims for Bush, Colorado GOPer Muhammad Ali Hasan, left the party, citing frustration with its newfound anti-Muslim "bigotry."
Now, as Republicans head full-steam into the nominating process, they face a choice: Tone down the rhetoric, or risk permanently alienating a community that's expected to double in size over the next two decades.
Last week, a Gallup poll showed that a majority of Americans support gay marriage. It was the third such survey this spring, and if you add in the number of Americans who support civil unions, public support for same-sex relationships has become the dominant position. Anti-gay marriage activists, though, aren't going down quietly; in Minnesota, a bill to put an anti-gay marriage referendum on the 2012 ballot recently passed the House, and conservatives in Iowa (with an assist from Newt Gingrich) successfully ousted three state supreme court judges who had ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. But this is a far cry from the days of, oh, 2004, when a flurry of anti-gay marriage propositions at the state level helped propel President George W. Bush to a second term.
So how far has the pendulum swung? Even Jim Daly, president of the right-wing group Focus on the Family, seems to be waving the white flag. Here's what he told the evangelical World magazine in its June issue:
We're winning the younger generation on abortion, at least in theory. What about same-sex marriage? We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.
Daly has taken a more conciliatory approach to to traditional hot-button issues than his predecessor at Focus, James Dobson, so perhaps it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to see him speak so candidly. (For more on the shift to a kinder, gentler, skinny jeans-ier Focus on the Family, check out Stephanie Mencimer's piece on the group's hipster makeover.) But it can't help the anti-gay religious right to have such a prominent social conservative say that the crusade against gay marriage has essentially been lost and that it's time to accept that reality and move on.
This isn't a permanent cease-fire; Daly merely thinks that Christians need to get their own marriages in order before lecturing from the moral high ground: "What if the Christian divorce rate goes from 40 percent to 10 percent or 5 percent, and the world's goes from 50 percent to 80 percent? Now we're back to the early centuries. They're looking at us and thinking, 'We want more of what they've got.'" As he puts it, "we should start with how to get dads reconnected to the family and committed to their marriages."
Come to think of it, isn't that what an organization called "Focus on the Family" should have been doing all along?
In just a few short hours, you should know for sure whether or not you've ascended into Heaven, or been left behind (San Francisco, that means you!) to fend for yourselves as the armies of darkness descend upon the Earth in advance of the Tribulation. Politics can seem downright trivial as you nail down the last-minute details—purchasing an insurance policy for your not-so-rapture-ready pomeranian, for instance.
But for a large percentage of the American population, the Rapture's no laughing matter. According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 41 percent of American believe Jesus will return by 2050. The belief that the Rapture is not only coming, but coming soon has a very real, if subtle impact on the American political scene—through foreign policy, economics, and social issues like gay marriage. Is your favorite politician bracing for Armageddon? Here's a very incomplete guide:
Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor has been bullish in her support for Israel—she kept an Israeli flag in her Juneau office, and as a vice presidential candidate said that Americans should never-second guess that nation's policies. In 2009, she told Barbara Walters that "more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead." Those ideas didn't come from an international relations textbook; as a Liberty University researcher told the Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg, it seemed to mirror her own eschatological views:
"I've read that Palin has been part of an apparently unique movement I've heard of -- that her pastor, when she was in the Assembly of God, believed based on some personal revelation he claims to have gotten from God, that the Jews would move to Alaska during the Tribulation. But nevertheless, my understanding from what I've seen is that she holds fairly typical Protestant Zionist beliefs, and one of those beliefs is the regathering of the Jews in Israel."
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.): If Bartlett is left behind, he'll at least be well prepared. Earlier this year, the Maryland congressman and Seventh Day Adventist starred in the survivalist documentary, Urban Danger, in which he teaches viewers how to build a root cellar and can vegetables. Although the documentary never explicitly suggests what kind of catastrophe might require an underground shelter and stockpiles of food, interviewees suggest that it could be Biblical in nature. As the narrator puts it, "A storm is coming, relentless in its fury." Writing for the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine Spectrum, Alexander Carpenter called Bartlett's views, "faith-based apocalypticism" that are common among "fringe movements in the denomination."
Dick Armey: In 2006, the former Republican House Majority Leader, and founder of the powerful astroturf group FreedomWorks (which stirred up outrage over health care reform), told the BBC the Rapture was imminent: "We talk about the End Times, the day of Tribulation. Yes there seems to be, if you believe in Bible prophecy, there seems to be a great deal of the circumstances that was prophesised present at this time, and a lot of people believe that this is the time for that prophecy. They also believe that a free and a, what shall I say, well, Israel will be a consequence after those days of Tribulation, but that the whole world goes through a difficult time during those days of Tribulation."
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.): She's warned against the implementation of "One World" currency, advocated for a more pious military, and spread fears about the true motives of the smooth-talking leader who considers himself a citizen of the world—all of which feature prominently in Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series (although LaHaye has said that Obama is not the Anti-christ). So perhaps it's no surprise that Bachmann credits her start in conservative politics with a meeting with LaHaye's wife, Beverly. Bachmann has championed apocalyptic causes in the most literal sense, warning that if the United States fails to properly support Israel, a "curse" will be placed on the land. She has also been a regular guest on Jan Markell's "pro-Israel, prophecy-oriented" Olive Tree Ministries radio program.
Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher hasn't talked much about the Rapture specifically; that's what supporters are for. LaHaye was an advisor to his 2008 campaign. Also an advisor? Janet Porter, an Evangelical activist who has argued that former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson might be the Anti-christ, and calls for Christians to take over the government and media to prepare the Earth for the second-coming. Huckabee has also praised the Rev. John Hagee, the influential San Antonio mega-church pastor who mixes End Times eschatology with foreign policy through his organization, Christians United for Israel. (Hagee has called for the United States to "consider" military strikes against Iran).
Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Va.): Inspired by the Book of Revelations, Cole led the fight in the Virginia House of Delegates last February to ban employers or insurance companies from implanting micro-chips in people against their will. As Cole told the WashingtonPost: "My understanding—I'm not a theologian—but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times. Some people think these computer chips might be that mark." We're not theologians either, but this is what's known in the industry as Too Good to Fact-Check (TGTFC). And for the record: planting micro-chips in people's bodies against their will is definitely poor form, if not actually the work of the Devil.