At the same time that the nation's leading networks can't call Obama a "liberal" more than about once a year, NPR's religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty on Monday announced Rick Santorum was "very, very conservative" on the social issues, in addition to being "very pro-life." He even -- horrors! -- home-schools his seven children.
"He's Catholic. He's billed himself very much as the family values candidate," the reporter announced on NPR's afternoon show Talk of The Nation. "His wife Karen has homeschooled all seven of their children. He's surging in the polls because he's been very, very conservative on these issues." They also discussed if white conservative Christians dislike Obama because they're racists.
Hagerty added that evangelicals aren't too worried about the Catholic thing with Santorum:
By the way, I should say that if Catholics and Protestants --evangelicals no longer have a problem with Catholics. That went away back in the 1990s or so, and something like 82 percent of evangelicals have favorable views of Catholics. So that's not a stumbling block for him.
And he is very -- he -- you check the mark on the boxes on all of their big issues. He's very pro-life. He supports a federal marriage amendment. He says he'd work to limit birth control, to ban stem cell research, to reinstate the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He wants to pass a workplace religious freedom act, allow prayer at school events, including graduation, football games, that kind of thing. So he is really playing to evangelicals here.
Hagerty then moved to Gingrich and described his wife Callista as a "very devout Catholic," and then walked that label back by noting the "irony" of the "very devout" woman having an extramarital affair with a very prominent married man in Washington:
NEAL CONAN, host: Newt Gingrich is fourth in most of the polls. Previous, a month ago, we would have put him somewhere different, but at this moment fourth, and in some ways the most interesting. He has converted to Catholicism.
HAGERTY: That's right. His is a very interesting spiritual journey. He was born Lutheran. He converted to Southern Baptist in graduate school. And then in 2009, he converted to Catholicism. Now, the person who was central to that was his third wife, Callista. She's a very devout Catholic. She sings, actually, in the professional choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine here in Washington, D.C.
And what would happen -- they got married in 2000, and he began going to Mass with her every week to watch her perform. And he says it just kind of seeped in, this Catholicism, seeped into his psyche, so to speak. Now one -- many people would see a little bit of irony to the fact that Callista was the one that really led him to Catholicism, because he was having an affair with Callista for six years before he divorced his second wife. And so there is a little bit of irony in that, and I think a lot of people feel there is baggage there.
Host Neal Conan then wanted to get into the topic of why conservative Christians hate Obama so much. Hagerty presented it as odd that Obama would be presented as "godless" -- without noting he golfs on Sunday a lot more than he's in church, or that his administration wants to force Catholic hospitals into providing abortions and force Catholic Charities into providing adoptions to gay couples. The 'hatred" is very vague and unspecific and perhaps unfounded:
CONAN: Which raises a question - we want to get to calls in just a minute - but why is it that religious conservatives feel so strongly about Barack Obama, about the opponent, that they would vote for anyone in the Republican Party, as opposed to - other than on political issues?
HAGERTY: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with this policy when it comes to, you know, abortion, when it comes to gay rights, things like that. I think they don't like the health care policy. But I just have to say - and I'd be interested to know what others believe about this - I think there's just this visceral dislike for Barack Obama that I haven't seen in many, many years - maybe Bill Clinton. But there is a visceral dislike.
And I think - I mean, they talk about him wanting to make America godless. So I think there's this kind of visceral dislike that is at their core that has more to do with -- more than -- it's not just about policy. It's this kind of sentiment they have toward him.
Conan's pet theory (like NPR listeners) to accuse white conservatives of racism:
CONAN: And, of course, between now and then, we will see voting in the state of South Carolina, where, again, religious conservatives are thought to be, well, a major element of the Republican electorate. But here's an email we have from Susan: Why do apostolics [?] and evangelicals detest Obama so much? Going back to a question we were talking about with Barbara Bradley Hagerty a few minutes ago. The answer is obvious, she writes. It is racism. Do black evangelicals hate Obama? And, Barbara, I wonder -- I suspect not.
HAGERTY: I suspect not, too, but I bet John has the stats on that. I have -- I believe that black Protestants and black evangelicals are much more favorably inclined towards President Obama. John?
GREEN, University of Akron: Well, that's absolutely true. Some of President Obama's strongest supporters in 2008 and down to today are black Protestants, black evangelicals, other minority groups, including Hispanic Catholics. A lot of it, of course, has to do with race in a positive sense, but also with many of the policies that President Obama has pursued.
CONAN: And that said, is it fair to label his critics who are conservative, white evangelicals as racists?
GREEN: I think I'd be very cautious about that. There probably is some racial antagonism. After all, race has been a major issue in the United States for a long time and particularly among some of the older generations. Some of those tensions still linger. And so I'm sure it's part of the process, but I think there are some other factors there, as well. One is the fact that President Obama has very liberal policies -- from the point of view of conservative Christians -- on social issues, like abortion and gay rights. Also, he's presided over an enlargement in the size of government - from their point of view -- with his health care law and so forth.
It's nice that Professor Green can identify actual policy disagreements with Obama, but it's mildly amusing to see them as "very liberal....from their point of view." But Obama's enlarged government..."from their point of view"? How about from any point of view that's viewing reality?