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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

VIEW FROM AMERICA: Born-Again Cynics Use The Jesus Christ Niche

My father had two prized possessions: a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about the Irish Catholic who didn't make it to the White House in 1928 and a huge framed photo of the Irish Catholic who did in 1960.

JFK once joked that after Al Smith lost to Herbert Hoover, whose slogan was "A vote for Smith is a vote for the pope," the New York governor had to cable the pope: "Unpack."

Jack Kennedy's shimmering wit could lighten any tense moment. But as he went through his crusade in '60 to convince voters a Catholic president would not build a pipeline to the Vatican, Catholics held their breaths in fear, murmuring, "Please, please, please, let him be president and he'll never, never, never mention religion." Kennedy vowed to keep a wall between church and state: "I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affairs."

How odd that 40 years ago, a candidate couldn't win unless he left religion out; now candidates think they can't win unless they bring religion in.

George W. Bush finally scored some debate points Monday night by supporting the holy trinity of ethanol, Jesus and soft money. When asked to name his favorite political philosophers, Bush replied: "Christ, because he changed my heart."

Pressed to elaborate, the Texas governor again showed his inability to go deep. His mouth curled down into that famous smirky look.

"Well, if they don't know, it's going to be hard to explain," he said. "When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me."

Translation: You're either in the Christ club or out of it.

Dick Morris, who told President Clinton that Monica wouldn't play well with the public, immediately proclaimed that Jesus would. The pollster enthused that Bush had "cut right into the evangelical vote."

In the era of niche marketing, Jesus is a niche. Bush is checking Jesus' numbers, and Jesus is polling well in Iowa. Christ, the new wedge issue.

When you take something deeply personal and parade it for political gain, you are guilty either of cynicism or exhibitionism. On "60 Minutes" last week, Al Gore declared himself a born-again Christian. And he told The Washington Post's Sally Quinn he often asked himself "W.W.J.D. f for a saying that's popular now in my faith, 'What would Jesus do?'"

It raises the question of whether the vice president and the governor want Jesus as their personal Savior or political savior. Genuinely religious people are humbled by religion and guided by it on the inside. They don't need to wear Jesus on the outside as a designer label.

Maureen Dowd writes for The New York Times, where this column originally appeared.