CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published January 21, 2005, issue of January 21, 2005.

Kerry Forth: Cameron Kerry, Senator John’s Jewish brother, has joined the executive committee of the National Jewish Democratic Council. The post carries hefty duties: Committee members must pledge or raise $25,000 a year for the group. Cameron Kerry told the Forward he signed on “to continue the involvement I had in the campaign in outreach to the Jewish community on political issues,” adding that he enjoyed working with the Jewish Democratic leadership and wanted to expand his relationships in that circle. That could help his brother, who evidently still is keeping his eyes on the prize. “Kerry’s telling everyone he’s running for president again,” a Boston Democratic source said.

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Bush and Religion: Evangelical Christians were kvelling after President Bush gave an interview to The Washington Times on January 11, in which he said, “I don’t see how you can be president at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a relationship with the Lord.”

But their reading of Bush’s remarks was selective. Bush said many other things in the interview that showed he isn’t necessarily carrying water for them. “The great thing about our country is somebody can stand up and say, ‘We should try to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance,’” Bush said, in a reference to the suits brought by California atheist Michael Newdow. (The president’s faith in such pluralism was tested again this week: Newdow filed an appeal with the Supreme Court seeking to stop Bush’s plans to have two pastors deliver prayers during his inauguration.)

Bush also said in his recent interview: “I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit. That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban.” He added: “I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you’re not equally as patriotic if you’re not a religious person. I’ve never said that. I’ve never acted like that.”

Bush’s use of religious rhetoric was the subject of a talk last month by his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson — an evangelical Christian — at Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center. Outlining the instances in which Bush makes allusions to scripture in his speeches, Gerson argued that Bush’s use of religious rhetoric was no different from that of his predecessors, Democrat or Republican, and that he in effect is getting a bum rap from his political enemies.

“It’s not a strategy. It comes from my own background and my own reading of the history of American rhetoric,” Gerson explained. He said references to Christian hymns and scripture are “literary references understood by millions of Americans. They’re not code words; they’re our culture.”

Gerson said that the president’s speeches “have set out to welcome all religions, not favoring any religions in a sectarian way” and that Bush frequently has said “an American president serves people of every faith and serves some of no faith at all.” He added that the president “as a rule… hasn’t spoken from the pulpit. We’ve never done anything comparable to the recent campaign when Senator Kerry spoke in churches and used a passage from the Book of James to question the president’s faith.”

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