Last week’s rejection by John McCain of two of his most coveted religious endorsement is an example of the unintended consequences of the conservative smear machine. With Fox News at its helm, the conservative smear machine pounded on the relationship between Rev. Wright and Obama until it practically became the channel's only newsworthy item. Little did they know that the more they hammered, the more McCain’s endorsements by the religious right would also come under scrutiny by the other cable news channels.
Back in 2000, the religious right had shunned Senator John McCain by rallying behind George W. Bush thus sealing the nomination in his favor. This year, it was clear once again that the religious right preferred Mike Huckabee over McCain, and once McCain became the presumptive nominee he was faced with the possibility that the religious right could desert him in November. Because of its inherent dogmatism, the religious right is not prone to support the “lesser of two evils” in a general election, and it is with this understanding that John McCain actively sough and got the endorsement of two of their most radical preachers: John Hagee and Rod Parsley.
McCain’s lovefest with the religious right was short lived and the relationship turned sour once more after Hagee’s and Parsley’s outrageous statements came under media scrutiny in the aftermath of the Rev. Wright hoopla. Once it was clear that the endorsements of these two preachers were becoming more and more a liability, John McCain had no choice but to rejected them. Unfortunately for McCain, by seeking and then rejecting Hagee’s and Parsley’s endorsements he has sent a clear signal to the political religious right that as much as he needs their support he’s not one of them.
Today, after having gone full circle, John McCain has managed to alienate one of the most important Republican constituencies. But the consequences of his rejection of the endorsements of Hagee and Parsley could go far beyond this election cycle. The fact that any word uttered by a preacher associated with a political candidate has now become a matter of legitimate media scrutiny can only spell disaster for the religious right. Preachers in the vein of Hagee and Parsley are no fans of compassion or inclusiveness and thus they will be wary of endorsing politicians for fear of being exposed for the bigots they are. They will also steer clear from endorsing candidates who seek their support only for political reasons for fear of being rejected at a later date.
Republican candidates will also be very careful before they seek the endorsement of controversial religious figures. In the age of You Tube, there could always be someone who is holding onto something controversial to be released at a later time. All this to say that the extent of the blowback from the ill advised conservative smear campaign of Rev. Wright might have turned what used to be a highly coveted prize for Republicans into a political liability.
The failure of the Republican smear machine to foresee the unintended consequences of their campaign against Rev. Wright says a lot about the short sidedness of the religious right which is in turn exemplified by the failed policies of George W. Bush. Galvanized from seizing the White House for two elections in a row, preachers such as Hagee, Parsley and Falwell had become more outspoken with the belief that their old testament rhetoric was ready for prime time. Unfortunately for them, the vast majority of the American people have not bought into their Manichean fervor as seen by the dismal approval rating of George W. Bush.
The unintended media spotlight that the Rev. Wright controversy has shone on John Hagee and Rod Parsley has forced them to retreat from the political arena and find refuge in the shadows where they had been relegated before the election of George W. Bush. And if these events can be of any indication, it may very well be the beginning of the end of the political religious right.