Chris Matthews, from last night’s Hardball. His guest was talk radio host Racheal Maddow.
MADDOW: Well, it’s two sides of the same coin, as far as I can tell. And the real substantive story here is that almost all of the Republican candidates have argued against the separation of church and state, have argued for it to be less, have argued that it’s been overdone, that there ought to be more religion in the public sphere and that candidates’ religion ought not to be just seen as a private matter, which is what Kennedy argued in 1960.
Once you cross that line, one you say that religion ought to be a public matter, yes, you’re going to get ugly attacks on one another’s religions, particularly if you’ve got minority religion candidates in the race. This is what–this is what American politics look like if you get rid of the separation of church and state. I feel like this is a civics lesson for all of us.
MATTHEWS: OK. Matt–I guess we’ve never really had full separation because the Civil Rights movement was led by ministers, wasn’t it.
Wow. Next he’ll be asking, “If humans evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?”
Consider: That’s Chris Matthews. Former Peace Corps volunteer. He worked for Jimmy Carter and Tip O’Neill. A journalist for over twenty years. A man who’s been steeped in politics for most of his adult life. And yet he seems to believe in all seriousness that religious leaders being active in a social movement has anything to do with the separation of church and state. Or at least he is willing to pretend to believe that to pander to his right-wing viewers. Just incredible.
Even more remarkable is the context. Maddow said what you would hope would be the opinion of sane Americans everywhere. That it’s a bad thing when Presidential candidates make religious faith a major issue in a campaign, either as a positive or a negative, and that if you dislike it when people are attacked for their religious beliefs you should also dislike it when those same people deliberately make their faith the issue. And this was the moment Matthews decided to get surly and truculent.
But it was about to get worse. After Matthews and his simpering, empty-headed other guest (Matt Continetti from The Weekly Standard) got through giving Maddow a hard time about “In God we Trust” on the currency, “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and whether we should have a Congressional chaplain, we got this:
MADDOW: If that’s all they were fighting for, then there wouldn’t be controversy about Mitt Romney saying, for example, that he wouldn’t put a Muslim in his cabinet. There wouldn’t be controversy about the Republican candidates calling America a Christian nation. That’s the kinds of issues that are substantively what we’re fighting about. Whether or not “In God we trust”…
MATTHEWS: Who did that? Who did that?
MADDOW: … is on the money is a side issue.
MATTHEWS: Rachel, who said we’re a Christian nation?
MADDOW: Almost every Republican candidate has made that claim at one point or another. I mean, Romney’s argument centrally in his big speech on religion was that “Freedom requires religion,” and that…
MATTHEWS: Did he say we’re a Christian nation? I think you’re wrong.
MADDOW: He didn’t say we’re a Christian nation in that speech…
MATTHEWS: Did anybody say that? Did anybody say we’re a Christian nation in this whole campaign?
MADDOW: In this campaign–that’s a mainstream claim by Republican politicians. I can’t believe…
MATTHEWS: No, I’m just asking…
MATTHEWS: You said–you just said that they say this. I want you to give an example of one who did.
MATTHEWS: Name one Republican in this race for president who’s called this a Christian nation.
CONTINETTI: I’ll give an example. John McCain said we have Judeo-Christian heritage…
MADDOW: But that’s different.
CONTINETTI: … which is different, absolutely, from what–the kind of thing that Rachel is saying. It’s a different idea to express American heritage…
Ahem. John McCain did say that America was a Christian nation:
A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. What do you think?
I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn’t say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.
Fred Thompson later chimed in with this:
Speaking to reporters after the event, Thompson defended rival McCain’s statement that the United States is a Christian nation. “Factually, the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States is certainly a fact. I don’t know what he said past that. But I think that is in fact the fact.”
Matthews, of course, would not have a problem with that. He didn’t actually say “America is a Christian nation.” Certainly not. He preferred instead to use code about the nation’s heritage. That allows Matthews to play the fool on the Republicans’ behalf.
Broadening our scope a bit, here’s Iowa Republican representative Steve King weighing in on the subject:
I recognized that we’re a Christian nation founded on Christian principles, and we’re coming up to Christmastime. … It’s time we stood up and said so, and said to the rest of America, Be who you are and be confident. And let’s worship Christ and let’s celebrate Christmas for the right reasons.
The Texas Republican Party had it as part of its 2004 platform that America was a Christian nation. And that’s just what I found in five minutes of Googling. And that’s limiting ourselves specifically to the phrase “Christian nation.” Somehow I think that Mike Hucakebee saying as recently as 1998 that he wants to reclaim America for Christ, or Mitt Romney decrying secularism and coming as close as he possibly could to saying that atheists are not true Americans without actually saying it are very much in the spirit of Maddow’s comments. They are, indeed, common sentiments among Republicans, but Matthews and his brain-dead right-wing guest were perfectly happy to pretend otherwise and berate Maddow with their condescension and ignorance.
It’s impossible to watch something like this and still take seriously the folks who think Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are what’s wrong with the religious conversation in this country.