Senator Brownback understood the temptation. He used to hate Clinton so much, he told us, that the hate hurt. Then came the Clintons' 1994 National Prayer Breakfast appearance with Mother Teresa, who upbraided the couple for their pro-choice views. Bill made no attempt to conceal his anger, but Hillary took it and smiled. Brownback remembers thinking, "Now, there's gotta be a great lesson here." He didn't know what it was until Clinton got to the Senate and joined him in supporting DeLay's Day of Reconciliation resolution following the 2000 election, a proposal described by its backers as a call to "pray for our leaders." Now, Brownback considers Clinton "a beautiful child of the living God."
Clinton, for her part, turned Mother Teresa's sucker punch into political opportunity. She met with the nun after the prayer breakfast, visited her orphanage in India, helped her set up another one in Washington (which has since become an apparently inoperative branch of Mother Teresa's conservative Vatican order, the Missionaries of Charity), and generally built a highly visible friendship with a figure whose moral bona fides also came with an anti-abortion imprimatur that couldn't but help Clinton on the right.
Of course, no matter how much Clinton speaks of common ground, she doesn't stand a chance of winning votes among pro-lifers. As Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council, command central for Washington's Christian right, told us, movement conservatives consider legislation like Clinton's Putting Prevention First Act, which supports greater access to birth control and sex ed, "just another condom giveaway."
But the senator's project isn't the conversion of her adversaries; it's tempering their opposition so she can court a new generation of Clinton Republicans, values voters who have grown estranged from the Christian right. And while such crossover conservatives may never agree with her on the old litmus-test issues, there is an important, and broader, common ground—the kind of faith-based politics that, under the right circumstances, will permit majority morality to trump individual rights. The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is "adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism." Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups' access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and "virtue" making a return to the classroom.
Then, as now, Clinton confounded secularists who recognize public faith only when it comes wrapped in a cornpone accent. Clinton speaks instead the language of nondenominationalism—a sober, eloquent appreciation of "values," the importance of prayer, and "heart" convictions—which liberals, unfamiliar with the history of evangelical coalition building, mistake for a tidy, apolitical accommodation, a personal separation of church and state. Nor do skeptical voters looking for political opportunism recognize that, when Clinton seeks guidance among prayer partners such as Coe and Brownback, she is not so much triangulating—much as that may have become second nature—as honoring her convictions. In her own way, she is a true believer.