Bill Maher has always been a polarizing figure. From his rants on ageism and Millennials, to Republicans and religion in general, the HBO Real Time host and political satirist has never been one to shy away from the provocative spotlight, and his latest move is no exception. In a post on the Real Time blog on Tuesday, Maher stated that Jeb Bush had only converted to Catholicism for votes between his initial failed 1994 gubernatorial run in Florida and his second attempt in 1999. The 2016 presidential hopeful was simply a "convenient Catholic", he explained.
"Did you know Jeb Bush is Catholic? Neither did I," he wrote, citing the former Governor's willingness to utilize his religious beliefs in protecting life-support dependent patients like Terri Schiavo, but not in cases of capital punishment. Maher also suggested that the trend of converting for votes wasn't limited to one member of the Bush family, accusing President George W. Bush of doing the same in his heavily Evangelical Protestant home state of Texas, prior to a run for governor in 1994:
[George] W. became an Evangelical Protestant and coincidentally ran for Governor of Texas, where voters are 34 percent Evangelical Protestant / 24 percent Catholic. Jeb noticed his wife was Catholic after 22 years, and ran for Governor of Florida, where the voters are 26 percent Catholic / 25 percent Evangelical Protestant. The voters in both states were only 15 percent mainline Protestant, the faith with which Bush children come originally installed. Now, of course, who am I to question God’s power to work wondrous change?
Maher added that the brothers "tend to believe in whatever juju the locals do."
Maher's condemnation may sting, but he's not entirely wrong. For years, political candidates have been dancing around the topic of religion, employing their selected faiths to convince voters to both vote for and disregard one another. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who ran for president in both the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, has subtly propped up his back-and-forth on topics like abortion and stem cell research under the guise of religion, telling the conservative blog RedState in 2006 that Roe v. Wade "cheapened the value of human life", despite telling prospective voters in a 2002 gubernatorial debate that he would "preserve and protect a woman's right to choose" and was "devoted and dedicated to honoring" his word.
Romney, however, isn't alone in this regard: President Barack Obama has also pulled a similar move in recent years. During a campaign stop in Henderson, Nev. in 2008, Obama was asked about his views on gay marriage, to which he stated that, while he supported civil unions, he was "not in favor" of gay marriage, saying, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman." Obama had previously flip-flopped on the issue during a run-up to the 2004 Illinois Senate bid, calling gay marriage "unstrategic" and citing his religious beliefs as the reasoning behind his wariness. But in an interview with ABC News' Good Morning America in May 2012, just months before he won his presidential re-election bid, Obama claimed that his views on gay marriage had evolved.
In the interview, the President told ABC's Robin Roberts:
The word marriage [is] something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth. ... Over the course of several years, as I talk to friends and family and neighbors ... I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet, feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage....
At a certain point, I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
Whether or not it was a legitimate reversal or simply a campaign strategy didn't matter — it worked, with Obama winning back a second term in office in November of that year.
As the 2016 campaign cycle mounts into full gear, it will be important for voters to keep in mind that, while political commentators and news hosts like Maher may not exactly deliver the truth in a pretty package, the content of their message is absolutely viable.
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