Barack Obama and John McCain Chase the Jesus Vote

The heartland wants a greater role for religion in public life. Are these people demented?


DAYTON, Ohio—The radio signal fades between Cincinnati and Detroit. There's fine country music around Cincy, the South's biggest northern city. And then, nearing Toledo, you can fiddle with the dial for the first mellow notes of Motown.

But in between it's classic rock and phone-in oldies. "Can you play something by Ricky Nelson?" she asks from her bed in a nursing home.

(Ma! It's a retirement community!)

And then there's Christian radio, which is all over the dial, celebrating the fact that 50,000 Christians gathered on the Mall in Washington last weekend to seek a greater role for religion in American public life.

A greater role? Are these people demented?

I just passed the giant-hands-of-Jesus statue on I-75. It's bigger than my house.

The preacher on the Christian station is telling me that enjoying life is sinful, because the pleasures of the Earth are but snares in "Satan's system" to steal our souls from Heaven.

The most reliable determinant of voting behavior is the depth of one's religious beliefs. And don't think the candidates don't know that.

Here in the U.S. of A., which purports to separate church and state, the first joint appearance of the two presidential candidates took place at a Christian megachurch last weekend. There, both men, with Heep-ish humility, genuflected to pastor Rick Warren and the clout of the evangelical vote.

In separate appearances, Barry and Mac disingenuously "confessed" their greatest moral failings. McCain regretted cheating on his first wife. Obama regretted his teenage use of drugs and alcohol.

Oh, please. They share the same moral failing: saying anything to get elected.

Why else would Obama be bounding around Midwestern meadows chirping, "I'm a Christian. I'm a Christian"? (Not that there's anything wrong with being Muslim, he carefully adds amid the mosques of Michigan.)

Why else would half the Republican presidential field, including McCain, abandon support for the teaching of evolution in public schools?

Wouldn't the Chinese and the Russians and our other global rivals love it if the United States took that turn toward the Dark Ages? Bye-bye, biotech industry. Let's ship some more good jobs overseas.

And now the radio is telling of a nutty local judge who has defied a federal court order banning the image of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, with the clever subterfuge of displaying the tablets in shorthand! I can't decide who is crazier: the judge, or the self-annointed Inspector Javert from the local civil liberties union who keeps watch on him.

Well, America is nothing if not a land of pleasing contradictions.

Yesterday, a few exits after the huge "Hell Is Real" sign, I passed a porno superstore, tucked safely at an interchange.

And now, Cincinnati's last great country station is playing Sugarland, evoking naughty images in my road-fried brain of Jennifer Nettles, with her frisky sensuality.

"Let's just lay here

and be lazy; Baby, drive me crazy."

All I want to Doo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo-Oo, indeed.