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In a withering critique of Republican leaders, Fred Rotondaro called on Republicans to end their campaign of deceptive campaigning and "birther foolishness" against President Obama's policy agenda.  Rotondaro, who is chair of the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, called on religious leaders to speak out against "any politician who campaigns by cultural distractions and who appeals to the basest sentiments in our nation".

We cannot allow Democrats or Republicans in 2012 to be distracted again by false charges, or racist dog whistles, or birther foolishness.  Americans deserve a serious discussion of the policies that are needed to keep our exceptional nation truly exceptional.

The public expects spin in political debate and it can handle spin from both parties. But the public needs truth not lies. And it is ultimately the public which must make the final decisions about America.

This is where the American religious community can play a vital role by insisting on truth in public policy debates. It can call to account, through the media, through organizational life, through its multiple social networks, any politician who campaigns by cultural distractions and who appeals to the basest sentiments in our nation. The bishops can continue the strong work they are doing in defending the poor and vulnerable by insisting on honesty. In their various pronouncements, they and we should single out offenders and hold them to a higher standard.

The attacks come on the heels of announcements from Catholic Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich that they would form exploratory committees and run for President.  As the 2012 fundraising season heats up, it's all about trust.

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Rotondaro spoke favorably of many aspects of the historical Republican Party, including their support of free markets, fiscal discipline, and commitment to a strong national defense.  He compared the Republican candidates of 2012 to John McCain, who in 2008 was willing to speak up against scurrilous attacks on Obama's American bona fides and his patriotism.  Noting that the 2012 candidates seem to be overtly appealing to the worst in their society, Rotondaro highlighted the political speech of Mitch McConnell, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin as prime examples of "dog whistles" used to promote bigotry over compassion.

The essay is a must read - one of those that should be saved and shared with every church-going Republican person you know.  Rotondaro didn't express naivete about the reality of political campaigns or spin doctors.  He noted that great American leaders from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt were maligned by their opponents and in the popular press.  

In addition, he compared attacks on President Obama's religion to the attacks made against John F. Kennedy in 1960, when he was elected as the first Catholic President: "Both reflect bigotry but only one was deceitful."

The battle for religious conservative votes will undoubtedly be a key to the 2012 campaign.  The passage of landmark health reform, financial regulations, and the Recovery Act (especially aid to states for Medicaid) appeal to religious conservatives who see government's responsibility to the vulnerable and the poor.  And the inclusion of the Stupak Amendment in health reform should directly appeal to abortion opponents who respect religious freedom and medical privacay.

The Democratic commitment to truth is a sort of "Trump Card" (pun intended) that directly opposes the bigotry, prejudice, deceptions, and hate speech of the religious right.  As Republicans attempt to define themselves by who they hate, Democrats continue to brand themselves for how they show love to neighbors in need.  And while Republicans have been able to appeal to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity (i.e., government shouldn't do what families and churches can do for themselves), Democrats highlight the efficiencies and practical wisdom of pooling resources and collaborating across the dividing lines of religion, region, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class.

Watch for Republicans to counter with a classic "So's your mom" argument - i.e., that "Everyone lies" and "Politicians can't be trusted."  Republicans prefer a muddy playing field because they're out of good ideas and have been forced to appeal to selfishness, fear, arrogance, and ignorance.

(By the way - are you in yet?)

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Originally posted to Benintn on Thu May 19, 2011 at 08:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Spiritual Organization of Unapologetic Liberals at Daily Kos.

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