If New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg were to actually run for president one wonders how he would fare among those Americans for whom a candidate’s personal religiosity ranks among their greatest concerns. I am speaking, of course, of the so-called “values voters.”
Now, let me immediately confess that I occasionally find myself hurling profanities at this category because it is so vague and imprecise. Here is one ambiguity that always burns my feathers: What do the values voters, as construed by the Faith and Values Industry, want? Do they require that a given politician profess: (a) a religion, any religion, as long as it is genuinely practiced? or, (b) their own particular religion?
If you’re a pious Mormon like Mitt Romney you sincerely hope the answer to this question is “(a)” because few politicians live their religion as earnestly as the former governor of Massachusetts (and few can, like Romney, claim that they have not as much as a tibia in their Faith and Values closet). If you’re a Baptist like Mike Huckabee, or a Catholic like Rudy Giuliani, you sincerely hope the answer is “(b).” For if such groups ever actually did vote as homogeneous blocks they would be serving up a handsome electoral windfall. And if you’re the current Mayor of New York City, you hurl profanities (but for a different reason) at values voters, not to mention the American electorate’s odd preoccupation with the personal religious beliefs of its public servants.
If values voters really do exist, the very competent, very capable, Michael Bloomberg is going to have the darnedest time winning them over. All mayors of the ultra multi-cultural Five Boroughs must learn how to speak a discourse of pluralism and tolerance. This Bloomberg can do solidly, though not spectacularly. But he appears very uncomfortable–John Kerry uncomfortable–speaking about his own religious convictions. I, along with many of his other constituents, had always attributed his reluctant and maladroit God Talk to the fact that he was a nonbeliever–an unremarkable identity in America’s greatest city.
I had assumed this until Bloomberg recently described himself as “short, Jewish divorced billionaire.” This was about as explicit a profession of faith as New Yorkers have heard from their unsentimental leader. Some Jews were surprised (though not necessarily upset) to hear Bloomberg publicly refer to his religion. Mindful of option “(a)” above, Opposition Research teams across America have surely taken note of what could be spun as a self-serving “conversion.”
Mr. Bloomberg is affiliated with Reform Judaism and this too augurs badly for his candidacy. Let us assume that he is deeply committed to his faith. Let us even assume that while he was skillfully micromanaging the City’s recent upswing, he secretly received his rabbinic training and ordination at Hebrew Union College on Broadway and West Fourth Street. My surmise is that even if this were the case, Rabbi Bloomberg would still fair poorly in the Red States. This is because Reform is an example of the type of secularized religion I have been discussing in previous posts. With its emphasis on human agency and social justice, it is nowhere near as obsessed with the role of the divine in everyday life as are certain varieties of conservative Protestantism. Highly educated, affluent and at peace with modernity, they resemble, in many ways, the small but influential class of urban-dwelling non-believers. A Reform Jewish candidate stumping among, let’s say, Evangelical Christians might be construed by them as a Unitarian, a secular humanist or even an atheist.
American voters–God Bless them–sometimes have difficulty permitting the private sphere to remain the private sphere. This deprives them, again and again, of credible political candidates. Mr. Bloomberg’s handlers may well teach him to communicate with Conservative Christian voters, but who will teach some of the latter to recognize that there is no necessary correlation between one’s private faith and one’s ability to effectively lead the public?
By Jacques Berlinerblau |
August 20, 2007; 9:30 AM ET
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