Sunday, August 08, 2004

William Safire Flashback

Interesting. From August 27, 1984:

That political direction from the pulpit went beyond impropriety; had it been allowed to stand, the ground under St. Patrick's Cathedral would have been rightly subject to real estate taxes paid by other political organizations. Gov. Mario Cuomo challenged the Archbishop's intrusion into the political system, and the Catholic prelate backed off a little.

No such sober second thoughts from Paul Laxalt, President Reagan's campaign chairman. ''Shame on you, Mario Cuomo!'' he cried, trying to curry favor by siding with the Archbishop. The President and his political vicar then turned truth on its head by suggesting that those who are trying to preserve the separation of church and state are guilty of intolerance, and invoking the name of Al Smith, the first Catholic candidate for President.

Shame on them for forgetting that Al Smith was defeated by the ''drys'' who imposed their Prohibition views on the rest of the population, and by the fundamentalist Protestants who led the whispering campaign that a Catholic President would be a vassal of the Pope.

The successors to those evangelical anti-papists of the 20's were the preachers at the Dallas convention. Today, fundamentalist intolerance is directed not at Catholics and Jews, but at the New Heathen: the unreligious and the privately religious who dare to disagree with their outlook on morality. Different targets, same spirit. In their zeal to put God in the classroom, too many preachers have taken the angel out of evangelism.

No President, not even born-again Jimmy Carter, has done more to marshal the political clout of these evangelicals than has Ronald Reagan - to his historic discredit. ''Dear Christian Leader,'' wrote Senator Laxalt last month to Texas ministers, part of the party's ''Christian Voter Program''; he urged them to ''organize a voter registration drive in your church'' to give them a voice ''that will surely help secure the re-election of President Reagan and Vice President Bush.''

That political proselytizing is surely so unethical as to be un-American. Since the Reverend Reagan has decreed that ''politics and morality are inseparable,'' with religion the common denominator, such a pitch for pulpit politics is akin to constitutional sin.