Why is it that the two things that should matter least with a political campaign, (with a record of historically not really mattering at all) are all we can seem to talk about, and vote along the lines of? What is it with everyone talking about those two terrible R's that were framed outside the constitutional structure (or at least amended to bestow freedom) in order to help keep them separate, those words of passion: religion and race? ... (and do you think it's mere coincidence that Republican also starts with an "R"?)
When JKF gave his famous speech about how religion would not and should not be a consideration in a political campaign, people seemed to absorb the message, and those few who spread the idea that JFK would consult the pope on every matter of policy-- well, it was a moot and silly point of contention. In fact, religion was never a very large point of interest in early American history when people chose their leaders. Many historians have thought Abe Lincoln, if he wasn't an outright atheist, was at least extremely averse to churchgoing and declarations of belief -- yet no one seemed the slightest bit apprehensive to nominate and elect one who is still considered a great American president. Historians also estimate that a man like Lincoln in terms of religiousity/spirituality would be disquialified from running in America today because of his lack of religious concern.
Carter and Reagan were probably the two biggest cataylsts when it came to changing the American political atmosphere in terms of religion and its impact on a candidate. Carter was the first to trully energize that sector of society that nowadays always seems on the tip of the Republican pundit's tongue -- Evangelicals. Back in the 50s and 60s, many people weren't even sure what the term "Born Again Christian" meant. The mostly-southern sect, up until Carter, had stayed away from politics and endorsements, because, like most religions they realized that politics was a dirty game, with a crowd of panderers. It just so happened that the era came when Republicans decided their party would do best to pander intensely to these huge groups of voters scattered and concentrated throughout the South and Midwest -- and they took the bait, as any group probably would when promised with policy changes that would promote their Christ-driven way of life.
Alot of people believe that abortion was the key issue that iginited the Evangelical's political passion and lobbying power. But those reports are largely exaggerated. The Reagan era, and Bob Jones University v. The United States (461 U.S. 574) was an important impetus that truly started the Evangelical shift towards political participation, and with it the power of practically every Evangelical congregration -- meaning strength in numbers, and the funding from churches, transportation to polls, etc. (In some ways, churches are more organized than the smartest of smart political campaigns with their community outreach efforts).
So the story of this case started with Bob Jones University losing its tax-exempt status from the IRS because of its segregation policies towards minorities. (This case is where, quite possibly, the idea of politics, race, and religion all converge in one spectacularly insane trifecta.) Because Bob Jones U refused to change their racial policy (most notably the ban on interracial dating), the Supreme Court required them to pay around 1 million dollars in backtaxes, and to officially surrender their tax exempt status. Reagan, who first hoped to let this case go by the wayside and leave the University with it's tax-exempt status intact, quickly reversed after much political pressure, and the Evangelicals not only felt betrayed by a candidate that pandered to them, but they also thought it necessary to increase their political influence in order to stop (what they felt) was the rampant politicking against their church and it's way of life. Now, we can't characterize all Evangelicals as racists, but rational people wouldn't have a hard time agreeing the support of segregated education was absolutely racist, and the Supreme Court ruled correctly.
This was the snowball that lead to the avalanche for Evangelicals; and since then the crushing weight of their voting force has been felt in the Republican party. The evidence is the heavy Southern Evangelical popularity for Huckabee, whose background and genuine support of the Evangelical right is the only leg he can stand on in this race, where McCain is all but a cert.
Why do we have to be co concerned with our political figures and their religious affiliation? Although this blog doesn't like Romney, his downfall was primarily religion--and it's not fair. When Romney's father ran for office in Michigan, his religion wasn't mentioned at all by the press or the voters. Why are we so diametric? Even the democratic candidates have to give the obligatory "I'm a highly spiritual person" nod. And what's with Bush saying that his favorite philosopher is Jesus? (this question is borrowed from an NPR piece) -- But why didn't anyone remind Bush that Jesus' philosophy was one of pacifism, and love for your enemies?
That is why everyone is walking around all frustrated. Some, if not most of the framers of the consititution were probably as bigoted and psycho-religious as some sections of our society still are -- but at least they knew how to separate all these aspects out into managable bits. Now, we might have paper thin mac books and airplanes, but sometimes it feels like those guys (yes, unfortunately all guys) in the 1700s had a bit more political perspective. Or at least the ability to compartmentalize.