Pat Robertson, Maverick?

Criticizing Limbaugh and Obama is the latest sign of the Christian right leader's independent streak.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Lots of readers criticized Pat Robertson's critique of Rush Limbaugh in my recent interview with him but praised his harsh words for President Obama. Lots of other readers criticized Robertson's critique of Obama but praised his harsh words for Limbaugh.

Virtually none of you backed Robertson's unkind assessment of both the liberal president and the conservative king of talk radio. That got me thinking: Is the Christian right leader becoming a political maverick, another sign of the evangelical movement's increasingly post-partisan posture?

Besides my interview with Robertson, three pieces of evidence support my theory:

1. Way back in 2007, in the run-up to the presidential primaries, Robertson endorsed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the most socially liberal candidate in a sprawling Republican field. Giuliani supported abortion rights and gay rights, traditional deal breakers for the Christian right.

Fellow conservatives knocked Robertson's Giuliani plug as a ploy to stay politically relevant ("America's Mayor" was still considered a Republican frontrunner then), but it also could have been viewed as another sign that the evangelical movement's political agenda has moved far beyond the hot button issues.

2. Last year, Robertson appeared with the Rev. Al Sharpton in an ad to promote Al Gore's efforts to combat global warming. More than any other issue, climate change has been the one on which conservative evangelicals are making common cause with longtime liberal enemies.

3. Appearing on CNN just before Christmas, Robertson praised then-President-elect Obama as having "the makings of a great president." Receptivity toward Obama has emerged as a great divide between the Christian right's old guard and its new school, but Robertson, the aging culture warrior, is joining younger evangelicals in extending a hand to the new president.

I'm not arguing that Pat Robertson is as politically relevant as he used to be. The Christian Coalition, his political machine, more or less went bust more than a decade ago. But he still has a powerful platform in the 700 Club, so his newly mavericky political pronouncements still carry weight.

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