Charles C. W. Cooke:
On Saturday afternoon, two of the Washington Post’s crack political correspondents accosted Governor Scott Walker in the lobby of a JW Marriott hotel and asked him whether he believed that President Obama is “a Christian.” As is always the way with silly questions, this inquiry elicited a silly answer. And, as it was foretold, that silly answer provoked a maelstrom inside the bubble.
Had Walker been asked, “To which religion does President Obama claim he adheres?” he might well have responded without making headlines. But he wasn’t. Instead, he was prompted to weigh in on a question that he could not possibly answer: namely, whether the president is, in any meaningful sense, what he claims to be. “Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith,” Dan Balz and Robert Costa wrote excitedly, “Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.” And the critics screamed bloody murder.
But, really, how could he be so aware? None among us is able to manufacture windows into other men’s souls, and we should certainly not be asked to try — either on the record or off. Easy as it may be for Walker’s critics to pretend that his demurral revealed a tolerance for fever-swamp conspiracy theorizing, one can only imagine that the man would have been equally stumped had he been asked to weigh in on the faith of, say, Mitt Romney. As Soren Kierkegaard rather brutally observed, the question of what we mean by a “Christian” is extremely complicated, especially in a country in which most people claim to be devout. Presumably, Walker has a particular set of definitions and parameters; and, presumably, his Evangelical worldview requires that they be substantiated only by earnest investigation. If this is how we conduct our public discussions now, one wonders why the Post didn’t ask him to tweet out the meaning of life
For a question to be posed in good faith, it must be possible both for the respondent to deliver an honest answer, and for his inquisitor to accept that answer at face value. Evidently, Balz and Costa did not ask in good faith. Rather, they wanted a specific response, and they were determined to crucify their man if he didn’t give it to them. That, I’m afraid, is not journalism; it’s entertainment. Their goal wasn’t “asking questions”; it was enforcing a catechism. The intention here wasn’t to ascertain facts; it was to begin a call-and-response. For a brief moment in the lobby, the Washington Post was the high priest and Walker was the congregant. The inquisition did not end well. (Walker’s press team seemed to recognize this, and undercut him at the first opportunity.)
Politically speaking, Ross Douthat has a kernel of a point when he proposes that Walker could have answered the “bad question” more adroitly. Certainly, it would be nice if conservatives were not always so tongue-tied. But, in a case such as this, one really cannot extricate the question from the answer. Because the Post’s inquiry could only provoke one correct response — “yes” — and because the questioners knew that Walker was unlikely to repeat the words upon which they had conditioned his salvation, any longer meditation on how he should have addressed the ambush seems rather pointless.
To grasp just how farcical this game is, one needs only to run an eye across the list of those who are now feigning high dudgeon. Yesterday, on CBS’s Face the Nation, Obama’s former adviser David Axelrod pretended to be surprised at Walker’s remarks: “I don’t know why there is confusion,” Axelrod proclaimed, indignantly. Really? At present, Axelrod is running around the country promoting a book in which he confesses bluntly that Obama’s well-documented objections to gay marriage were nothing more than opportunistic lies. In 2008, Axelrodrecalls in one chapter, “opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church.” In consequence, he adds, Obama “accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union.’” Elsewhere, Obama would tell audiences that, being “a Christian, . . . my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman”; and that, “as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian . . . God’s in the mix.” Axelrod’s admission that this was baloney will sell him a lot of books.
After the very good presentation and impression Scott Walker gave at the conservative forum in Iowa, the media set its sights on him – is he the one? They want to know if Walker has “feet of clay”, like Tim Pawlenty, another highly regarded upper Midwestern Republican governor. It’s not like the media is in Jeb Bush’s corner. They may pretend by talking Jeb up now, then rip him into shreds (or at least try to) much in the same manner they did to McCain and Romney. It’s all an effort to pigeon-hole Walker, make him into a caricature.
By no means is Walker unaware of this. He is trying to give a non-answer answer. The best comeback to the question, on whether Obama is Christian or not, is to ask, “who’s saying otherwise” and leave it that.
Obama is a religious chameleon; he will be whatever the circumstances of the moment require. Liberals can do this and get away with it since the media is going to understand that this is just a liberal lying to get their way and not make issue of it.
I’m still undecided on Walker. There are to many pro-establishment incidents that are causing me to question his “conservative credentials.”.