Steve Benen linked to this, um, fascinating article by Michael Medved on why America should never elect an atheist President. He offers three main reasons. The first two are risible: (1) How on earth would an atheist issue a Thanksgiving proclamation? or say the Pledge of Allegiance? and (2) a President needs to have a real connection with the people; since Americans are religious, how could an atheist manage this? (Answer, in both cases: easily.) The third is more interesting:
"On one level, at least, the ongoing war on terror represents a furious battle of ideas and we face devastating handicaps if we attempt to beat something with nothing. Modern secularism rejects the notion that human beings feel a deep-seated, unquenchable craving for making connections with Godliness, in its various definitions and manifestations. For Osama bin Laden and other jihadist preachers, Islam understands that yearning but “infidel” America does not. Our enemies insist that God plays the central role in the current war and that they affirm and defend him, while we reject and ignore him. The proper response to such assertions involves the citation of our religious traditions and commitments, and the credible argument that embrace of modernity, tolerance and democracy need not lead to godless materialism. In this context, an atheist president conforms to the most hostile anti-America stereotypes of Islamic fanatics and makes it that much harder to appeal to Muslim moderates whose cooperation (or at least neutrality) we very much need. The charge that our battle amounts to a “war against Islam” seems more persuasive when an openly identified non-believer leads our side—after all, President Atheist says he believes in nothing, so it’s easy to assume that he leads a war against belief itself. A conventional adherent of Judeo-Christian faith can, on the other hand, make the case that our fight constitutes of an effort to defend our own way of life, not a war to suppress some alternative – and that way of life includes a specific sort of free-wheeling, open-minded religiosity that has blessed this nation and could also bless the nations of the Middle East."
Leave aside the obvious point that an atheist President need not be amoral or materialistic, and could therefore appeal to a whole host of values, and the further fact that citing one's own Christianity or Judaism is unlikely to convince Muslims of one's benign intentions. (Crusades, anyone?) What fascinated me was the fact that, at last, a columnist at TownHall acknowledges that it is important not to play into Muslims' worst stereotypes about us. Personally, I think that it would be a mistake not to elect an atheist, regardless of his or her qualifications to be President, and regardless of his or her opponents', in order to secure a benefit in the "war of ideas" that might most charitably be described as speculative. But I absolutely agree with Medved that it is important to take into account the effects of our actions on moderate Muslim public opinion, and not to foster the impression that we are fighting a war against Islam needlessly; and I was glad to see him acknowledge that fact.
I was curious about one thing, though: does Medved make this kind of argument in any context other than atheist Presidents? So I searched his website, which seems to contain his various columns, for terms like "torture", "Abu Ghraib", and "Guantanamo." I also searched for "Iraq", to see whether Medved had ever made the same kinds of objections he makes against atheist Presidents to either our invasion of a Muslim country with no connection to 9/11 or our conduct of the war.
Curiously, I couldn't find a single column (or blog post, or anything) in which Medved made any such argument. Apparently, torturing Muslims, disappearing them into legal black holes, invading their countries without provocation, and little things like that do not provoke him to bemoan the fact that we are playing into people's worst stereotypes of us, or losing the battle of ideas. Only the thought of electing an atheist President does that. I wouldn't normally note the fact that someone didn't blog about something as evidence of much of anything, but for someone who purports to care about Muslims' ideas of us to mention Abu Ghraib only once, in passing, and Guantanamo not at all, seemed pretty striking.
Coming from someone who argues that slavery has gotten a bad rap, though, I can't say I'm surprised.