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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

GOP's phone line to God

NEW YORK
THE REPUBLICANS are clearly saying that the presidential race is not just for the White House but also for the hot line to God. The Republicans talk as if they have DSL while the Democrats are still on dial-up.

One example of this was in a packed ballroom breakfast of Ohio delegates at last week's Republican National Convention. Ohio's Secretary of State Ken Blackwell quoted Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning writer who criticized both communist Russia and the capitalist West for forgetting God. Solzhenitsyn once said at a Harvard speech, "All the glorified technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century's moral poverty."

Blackwell used that to criticize a nation he said was morally impoverished and divorced from "the divine dimension." He said that the nation is lucky to have President Bush, a leader who understands "that America is at its best when God is at its center." Blackwell, who recently stumped with Bush in Ohio, said Bush and Ronald Reagan understand Psalms 11, which says, "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

Blackwell said gay marriage is the top issue threatening the nation's foundation. Bush supports a federal ban on gay marriage. Opponents of gay marriage are trying to get enough signatures to put the issue before Ohio voters this fall. "Marriage is one man and one woman," Blackwell said. "There is no larger idea, no more substantive conflict."

At that point Blackwell drew the distinction between DSL Republicans and dial-up Democrats. "We believe that human rights flow from God to the individual and are put on loan to the state. There is another view that human rights flow from God to government and then are loaned to the individual. Some of our friends on the other side get confused and think government is God."

At the Democratic National Convention, Senator John Kerry, the presidential nominee, said he does not wear his religion on his sleeve but is nonetheless guided by faith. That was a clear response to Bush's unabashed invoking of God, whether to support the diversion of federal funds to faith-based organizations or the deadly decision to invade Iraq.

As if to answer Kerry, the Republicans made God a featured guest in convention speeches. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani thanked God that Bush was president on 9/11. The former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik said he prays to God that Bush has your vote. Democrat turncoat Zell Miller praised Bush for being "unashamed of his belief that God is not indifferent to America." And New York's Governor George Pataki said Bush "is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge."

Such praise relieved Bush from talking much about God during his acceptance speech, because it is not clear how much God is too much God in the volatile world of swing voters.

His team does the talking. Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, says he wants to fire up 4 million evangelicals the GOP thought would vote in 2000 but did not. On the morning of Bush's acceptance speech, the GOP chairman, Ed Gillespie, worked a ballroom of Catholic supporters, pushing the fight against gay marriage and against abortion. Blackwell said that despite the understandable dominance of national security and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he expects social conservatism to be an important underlying force on Election Day. In Missouri, a state constitutional ban on gay marriage was recently passed with the approval of 71 percent of the voters.

"We are in a classic struggle," Blackwell told the Ohio delegates. "This is no time to be on the sidelines." In that struggle, Blackwell and Bush hope that their DSL stands for a Divine Secure Lock on religious voters. The Democrats have to figure out a way to prove that their phone is not out of order.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com. 

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