Obama’s Prayer

So President Obama spoke at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast, and it’s not just conservative gabbers who are mocking him for allegedly claiming direct divine sanction for his policy proposals. Here’s Politico‘s stupid headline: “Obama: Jesus Would Tax the Rich.”

I personally have little doubt that if Jesus of Nazareth had been in charge of determining how much various people were rendering unto Caesar, he would not have been particularly interested in the pleas of job creators that they need to engorge themselves with riches for the common good. And I’m certainly not alone. For example, the current and past teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (you know, the church that Obama is supposedly persecuting because he does not adequately accept the view that it’s all right to pocket government subsidies for health coverage while denying preventive services for contraceptives that most Catholics and non-Catholics alike utilize) emphatically embrace public policies aimed at economic fairness and social justice.

But matter of fact, Obama did not claim Jesus as co-author of his policies: He merely suggested that they are influenced by the values taught by Jesus, as he understands them. He went far out of his way to try to make that clear, saying: “Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us.”

This has been a central theme of virtually every major utterance by Barack Obama on the subject of religion and politics, most notably in his famous 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame: a warning against the arrogance of those who presume to speak for the Almighty in pursuit of their highly secular political agendas. It’s an idea that used to be called “the fear of God,” though it is almost entirely lacking among the noisy ranks of Christian Right leaders.

It’s hardly surprising that these folks are projecting their own usurpation of religion onto the president. Nor, sadly, is it surprising that presumably neutral observers like the headline writers at Politico don’t get it at all.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.