Twice now in recent weeks, very specific and personal questions regarding religion have come up in Democratic candidate events for Bernie Sanders. First, moderator Chris Cuomo asked Sanders about his religion in a town hall run by MSNBC, one of the major news networks that blatantly favors the Clinton campaign — they’ve even run Clinton’s TV ads in the last two town halls during Sander’s speaking time, under the guise of showing it during the broadcast so he can comment on it. Then, Clinton visited several “black churches” in the Detroit area before the debate, including one with great wall art for fantastic photo ops. And then last night, at the CNN Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, a woman from the audience asked very personal and specific questions about religion, as well.
Coincidence? I wouldn’t be too sure. We’ve seen time and time again how everyone praising Hillary seems to have gotten the same memo on talking points to attack Sanders, and it appears the religion question may have even been a “plant” by the Clinton campaign.
In the case of this incident last night at the debate, some people noticed a very peculiar detail about the exchange between audience member Denise Ghattis and Hillary Clinton when it came time to answer her question about religion. Clinton referenced Ghattis’ church and that she had attended services there — multiple times, from the sound of it — even though that church wasn’t identified before Ghattis asked her question.
“I have been, several times, in your services and have joined in those prayers…”
This exchange has a lot of implications.
First, obviously, Clinton knows Ghattis, as she freely admitted that she knew what church the woman belonged to and she’d been to services there. It could be entirely coincidence, but the odds that someone Hillary Clinton has attended church services with in Flint, Michigan, would get to ask a question about religion seems like the kind of odds you really wouldn’t want to take with a bookie.
Second, why on earth are we asking candidates specific questions about religion in a country where the Constitution guarantees a separation of church and state? If the GOP wants to throw religion around as yet another tool for political gain with Republican evangelicals and the extreme religious right, that’s their business (although also inappropriate). Just as a person’s religion has no bearing on a job application — and employers are not allowed to ask or discriminate based on religion — so we should also treat our presidential candidates, who are, essentially, “applying” for a job.
Let me put out a little theory about what’s going on here and see if it makes sense, because it’s the subtext of this religious questioning that is so insidious. This kind of specific religious questioning is not standard for the Democratic party, so let’s ask ourselves now why is this suddenly such an important topic to the people running these debates and why a campaign might plant that kind of question. Let’s also think about something else that we haven’t seen before in regards to religion that has come up in this race, and this has a pretty obvious answer. Never before have we had a Jewish candidate so close to winning the nomination of either party.
Even in the town hall when religion was brought up, the first thought that popped into my head was this was a way of reminding voters about something that should be a non-issue. This was a way of reminding voters that Bernie Sanders, just in case you forgot, is Jewish. And if you agree that asking about religion is a sly way of reminding people of Sanders’ religion, that also carries the implication that being Jewish is a negative with voters.
So, in this debate, the first public event for the Democratic candidates since the town hall where Sanders just addressed the question of religion, a woman that quite obviously knows Clinton and has attended church services with her is asking again about religion.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign wants to make sure you remember that Bernie Sanders is Jewish, so let me repeat that again just in case you haven’t gotten it from the two questions he’s just been asked recently about religion. Bernie Sanders is Jewish. Got that? Does that change your vote?
Here’s a little hint for you, Hillary, and for all the networks owned by your corporate supporters. If you think reminding people that Bernie Sanders is Jewish will do harm to his campaign or might inspire voters to withdraw their support from him, do you really think that vote is going to go to you? Because if someone is swayed not to vote for Bernie because he is Jewish, that vote is probably going to go to the guy spouting hate to angry white supremacists and encouraging violence against black protesters before it goes to you.
If you think it sounds far-fetched that Clinton’s campaign would try to use religion against a candidate, ask President Barack Obama what he thinks about that, as he was accused of being non-Christian in 2008. Obama probably won’t comment, but Joe Scarborough will, laying blame for the rumors that Obama isn’t Christian right at Clinton’s feet.
“For Hillary Clinton to come out and criticize anybody for spreading the rumors about Barack Obama, when it all started with her and her campaign passing things around in the Democratic primary. Rich!”
Fellow reporter Joe Heilemann confirms Scarborough’s accusation that the Hillary Clinton campaign was the source of religious rumors against Obama in the full video below.
Asking personal questions about a candidate’s religion is not only irrelevant, but inappropriate in a country that has separation of church and state built into its very Constitution. What’s worse, planting religious questions into a debate in the hope some voters hold religious prejudices against your opponent is the worst kind of pandering.
[Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images]