Whatever their true private beliefs, presidential candidates in America are constantly required to provide proofs of their faith, often through their connections with various religious figures. Benedictions from the pulpit can bestow an aura of righteousness -- except, of course, when the pastor or minister is a disreputable kook whose endorsement should be an embarrassment.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain have suffered exactly this kind of indignity, under very different circumstances. Their contrasting responses revealed not only aspects of their own characters but also the enduring prejudices of the national media.
For an African-American politician, there could hardly be a less desirable supporter than Louis Farrakhan, the aging leader of the Nation of Islam. As the media never tire of reminding us, Farrakhan is a habitual bigot whose utterances have repeatedly denigrated Jews, Caucasians and homosexuals, among others, seeking to inflame his followers against these supposed enemies. He detects conspiracies of "international bankers," whose machinations he blames for all the world's troubles dating back to World War II. He warns that the evil ones ruling the planet will someday be destroyed for their sins, while those who obey his admonishments will be saved.
Well aware of Farrakhan's record, Obama forthrightly rejected the support of the unsavory minister. Unfortunately, his own Christian pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has chosen to associate himself with the Nation of Islam. At least Obama has clearly separated himself from Farrakhan's poisonous philosophy.
By contrast, McCain went out of his way last week to accept the endorsement of a Christian pastor with a deeply disturbing record of bigotry and extremism. That would be John Hagee, the San Antonio televangelist whose career is chronicled in God's Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, a new book by reporter Sarah Posner. . .
McCain continues to escape the hard questions that should be asked about his embrace of Hagee. Eight years ago, the San Antonio minister was among the political preachers, including Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, who denounced McCain and proclaimed George W. Bush to be the Lord's chosen candidate. Back then, McCain rebuked them as "agents of intolerance." He has sought to court their favor ever since -- and it is sad to see him genuflect now to the same kind of demagogue he once mocked.