Jewish American voters are getting their knickers in a twist (sorry -- reading too much British news lately) over Governor Rick Perry's conspicuous Christianity. Two items in particular have set off alarm bells -- the prayer rally he led this month and his reference to having been "called" to the presidency.
I confess that the first item did give me pricklings on the back of my neck. I like Perry very much on policy, but if he's going to suggest, through word or deed, that real Americans are only those who invoke Jesus to save the country from its discontents, he and I will quickly part company. I am not saying he has explicitly made any such allegation, but prayer rallies calling on any particular deity to rescue the country contain an implicit threat toward those Americans who aren't members of the club.
This kind of thing has the potential to morph into the dark side of "if you're not with us, you're against us." That may be far from the candidate's intention, but I can understand why Jewish Americans -- and Muslim Americans, and atheists, and everyone else in America who isn't Christian -- might be wondering a little anxiously just where the crowd under that tent will take the Jesus-invoking impulse.
Our own Jennifer Rubin, whom the Jerusalem Post identifies as "a bellwether of Jewish conservatism," put her concerns about the rally thus:
His words at the event were restrained but not ecumenical. And his use of public office to promote the Christian event was, to me, inappropriate. The event, while scheduled last December, is still reflective of the man who would be president. Would he do this in the Oval Office? Does he not understand how many Americans might be offended? Is he lacking advice from a non-Texan perspective?
As to the second point -- Perry's reference to having received a "calling" to the presidency -- come on. If anyone in American politics has ever believed he had a divine calling, it was Barack Obama. No one who swooned at Obama's messianic message during his campaign has any business criticizing Perry for claiming a heavenly inspiration.
Prayer rallies notwithstanding, conservative American Jews are impressed with Perry's record of job creation and heartened by his longstanding warmth toward Israel. During a visit here in 2009, he said, “When I was here for the first time some 18 years ago and I was touring the country, the comparison between Masada and the Alamo was not lost on me. I mean, we're talking about two groups of people who were willing to give up their lives for freedom and liberty."
Jewish Democrats, for their part, couldn't be happier with Perry's cross-waving. The Post cites a statement by the National Jewish Democratic Council in which it “encourag[es]” Perry to run, “given that his record will help repel American Jews and remind them why they support Democrats in historic numbers.”