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Guess Who's Coming To Church?

I’ve been stewing over this Sarah Palin thing in a number of ways, with friends male, female, and Alaskan, far-flung family (my sister, in Nigeria presently, is taking heat for the bumbling electioneering in the US) and with many, many politicos who just can’t understand what’s up. I sought greater understanding with this piece, which argues that Palin was in fact a defensive pick--not in response to PUMAs and their ilk, but to Christians slipping away from the GOP.

Alan Wolfe has shrewdly pointed out many elements of Palin’s appeal to evangelicals on this site. But steadily, and with a barrel of cash and a righteous wind at their backs, Democrats have been doing the same thing. Despite getting short shrift in this election, the story of Democratic faith organizing is real. Remember this?

In Denver I had the chance to attend both an inaugural “Faith In Action” celebration (more tambourines than policy), as well as a serious, results-oriented “faith caucus” organized by the Obama campaign that went heavy on the social gospel that animates, among countless others, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. At said caucus were John Dilulio, Otis Moss, Jr. (who preached with MLK, and whose son is the current pastor of Trinity United Church in Chicago) and Jim Wallis, the influential progressive evangelical. There, as I report, a motley crew of believers listened to them and others make a case for the role of church, not in state but in public life. Rabbi Jack Moline of the Agudas Achim congregation in Virginia crystallized their “common ground for common good” message: "It makes no sense to speak of No Child Left Behind when we ourselves don't know where we're going," he said.

Obviously Obama has lots of work to do with Christians—namely convincing some he’s one of them. But there are hundreds and hundreds of boots on the ground for Obama for America and for PACs like Matthew 25, canvassing and testifying for the Democrats (Kerry had a single organizer with a single intern as his faith team in 2004). This is particularly unsettling, I'd imagine, for a candidate like John McCain who, despite Pat Buchanan's current enthusiasms, has not endeared himself to the religious right in his political career.

As in, it’s crazy to think that McCain really wanted to turn off independents and moderates with this manifestly unqualified, mega-religious woman. Rather, he sensed (or should have) a challenge and tried to neutralize it. If you’re inclined to be charitable toward McCain, this makes more sense than the dartboard approach that's being reported, and shows that Obama—as with his brazen attempt to register the 600,000 nonvoting black people in Georgia—is playing offense.

Update: Noam makes the same good point over at the Stump.

--Dayo Olopade