Scott Walker did about as well as anyone could have, when asked by Washington Post reporters on Saturday whether he thought Obama is a Christian. (Which, incidentally, is clearly what happened. Walker didn’t bring Obama’s faith up himself; he was asked to comment on it by the reporters.)
Walker said he didn’t know. He went on:
Walker said such questions from reporters are reflective of a broader problem in the nation’s political-media culture, which he described as fixated on issues that are not relevant to most Americans.
“To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”
Walker said he does not believe that most Americans care about such matters. “People in the media will [judge], not everyday people,” he said. “I would defy you to come to Wisconsin. You could ask 100 people, and not one of them would say that this is a significant issue.”
Walker is actually spot-on here. The real story isn’t what he or any other American thinks of Obama’s religious profile. The story is that the media set themselves up to catechize Republicans on the matter, as if the media are the gatekeepers of a sort of political “Eucharist” and are testing a confirmation class.
I use the word “catechize” with intent. The mainstream media pursue high-profile conservatives and Republican politicians with questions that fit the definition of a catechism (emphasis added):
…a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.
…a series of fixed questions, answers, or precepts used for instruction in other situations.
When the MSM ask a question from the catechism, such as whether Obama was born in Hawaii, there is a catechetical answer to be given – an answer as predetermined as the answer to “What is a sacrament?” (For children confirmed in the Episcopal Church when I was, the answer was: “A sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”)
For the MSM, there is a political doctrine, about a number of issues, on which Republicans, in particular, are to be catechized: in the precise terms of the catechism, and only those terms. Obama is one of those issues.
There are good reasons why an evangelical Christian like Scott Walker might be unprepared to simply affirm that Obama is a Christian. The reasons go beyond what Byron York wrote about at the Washington Examiner yesterday, in a summary of poll findings on the American people’s confusion (or skepticism) regarding Obama’s religion. Franklin Graham raised some of them in February 2012, when he “waffled” on whether Obama is a Christian. In that instance, as with Scott Walker, Graham didn’t bring the subject up; he was asked by MSNBC host Willie Geist, “point blank,” whether he thought Obama was a Christian.
But why are reporters even asking this question? I just heard Mara Liasson on the Bret Baier panel, a few seconds ago, wonder why Walker didn’t “put this to bed” by simply saying Obama is a Christian. What does Walker need to put to bed?
Nothing. The correct perspective on this starts with acknowledging that the MSM are engaged in a game of their own when they catechize Republicans and conservatives on these questions.
Whether someone else is a Christian is a question that, for many people (e.g., Christians), goes to conscience, and is not to be answered in the affirmative merely on the basis of what another person has asserted. Demanding an affirmation that Obama is a Christian is demanding a doctrinal statement of faith, not an affirmation of facts that can necessarily be in evidence.
It does no service, to the public debate on legitimate political issues, for people on the right to have to make that latter point over and over again. Walker could have said, “Only God knows that about Obama for sure,” or something similar – but then he’d have to get bogged down in a discussion of what that means. Walker was right to deflect the whole matter and go on offense about the irrelevance of the line of questioning.
Walker did something else equally meaningful with his response. By refusing to answer the catechism, he avoided any implicit endorsement of the official narrative about Obama’s persona. I imagine the reason he didn’t just do what Mara Liasson suggests is that he’s not going to lend his endorsement to a proposition he’s not, in good conscience, certain about.
There are times when to play the game is to compromise your conscience, and you shouldn’t do it. Walker chose the narrow way, and I respect him for it.