For years, reporters and talking heads have referred to Social Security as “the third rail” of American politics … if you want to stay in office, the conventional wisdom goes, you never touch it. But truth be told, Social Security has been tampered with several times in its history, and various reforms have been trotted out, if not always acted upon. Social Security has not, in fact, remained “untouched,” as one would expect of a true “third rail.”

No, American politics has another, very different, “the third rail,” which until yesterday, no major politician had dared touch in any serious venue. But President Obama touched it, in his inauguration speech:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.

This is truly a first. A national-level politician overtly admitted the existence of non-believers in the US, during a noteworthy event. It’s startling enough that Steve Waldman, founder of Beliefnet, took note of it, and further remarked how much American politicians have avoided making any reference to non-believers:

Non-believers are one of the largest political constituencies that politiians rarely want to acknowledge. A recent Pew Center paper reports that while 16.1% of Americans say they’re religiously unaffiliated, not a single member of Congress identifies that way. Basically, Christians, Mormons and Jews are, statistically, over-represented and unaffiliateds, agnostics and atheists are underrepresented.

If Waldman is willing to admit that non-believers are underrepresented (or completely unrepresented!), then you know it’s well past time we non-believing Americans were acknowledged.

I have to give our new president credit for this. Still, it would have been better, if he’d summoned the courage not to be flanked by clergy and if he’d opted not to close his address with “God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.”

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.