Outlook: Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics

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Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Monday, December 6, 2010; 11:00 AM

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will be online to discuss her Outlook piece, "Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics."

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Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Hi, I'm Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and I'm thrilled that there was such interest in my article about John Kennedy and freedom of religion. It is terrific that The Washington Post is giving me this opportunity to respond to questions and I look forward to answering as many as possible.

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Separation of Church and State: Do you believe there is a separation between God and state? Thank you, Mark Hopkins.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Separation of Church and State: Do you believe the crumbling of the wall of separation between church and state would eventually lead to the federal funding of private schools run by certain religions that are able to pass a government litmus test?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Current political trend: Do you find the current political trend of Palin supporters and so-called news agencies frightening and something we all should speak out against?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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JFK's Legacy: Do you believe Sarah Palin is trying do diminish the legacy of your late uncle and if so, why?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Palin and Religion: Why is it that any professed Christian would allow people to yell "Hang him" at rallies where she was slamming Obama? I mean, I think there are a lot of wolves in sheep's clothing out there who don't have a clue what Jesus and His teachings were about.Why are these people not being called on *their* un-Christian behavior? Seems that is at issue here. I don't see Ms. Palin as having a clue what walking the Christian walk is about.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Palin's credibility: Perhaps a tangential question, but should Sarah Palin's words really be taken seriously to the point of warranting a rebuttal? It seems painfully clear to me that many of the things she says or writes aren't well though out and only serve two purposes - firing up her supporters and lining her pocket with their money. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I don't see genuine conviction in her words - merely attempts to incite and inflame, and unfortunately that plays heavy in today's political climate.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Democratic Campaigns: The democratic party is very diverse, and this very diversity makes it almost impossible to put forth a decent campaign. Democrats have to battle Dixicrats who typically mix politics and religion; bluecollar workers who don't always agree with minority rights because they feel victimized by affirmative action, heavily left leaning audiences who don't think they do enough---how do you reconcile all these elements to bring about a consistent message and beat Republicans who manage not only to beat with one drum stick and lull everyone into a stupor?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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A new inquisition?: What an excellent and important essay! Your father was my political hero when I organized College Democrats for Kennedy in Louisiana in 1968. I later attended Boston University School of Theology, majoring in social ethics as a result of his inspiration. However, I think you are being far too charitable by suggesting that Sarah Palin and her ilk "miss" what the Constitution is about; rather, I believe they simply reject it and are eager to launch a new inquisition, becoming the American equivalent of the Taliban. It is a profoundly insidious outlook, all the more dangerous because at least one Justice of the Supreme Court seems to be on the same wavelength. What more can we do in the political arena to stand up to this assault on freedom of thought?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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ethics without religion: You quote Palin as saying, "morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs." I'd just like to offer up myself as proof that that simply isn't true. I was raised with no religious beliefs, and have raised four children without them. We are all good, just people who choose right over wrong every time. I once had a professor who told me he was amazed how righteous my family was considering we didn't go to church or practice any religion. I'm sure my family is not the only one. I just wanted it to be known that people can choose to do the right thing without God telling them to do so.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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What if...?: What if we all pledged to NOT cover Sarah Palin for, say, two weeks? Right now she gets publicity for everything...take away her forum and give us all a break.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Separation of Church and State: Ms Townsend fails to address the facts of American history in that the founders, and generations of Americans thereafter, allowed and encouraged the education of children by Christian churches. There was no public school system for generations. Also, separation of Church and State is not mentioned in any founding documents. Would Ms Townsend like to address these two omissions now?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Religion and politics today and a half century, and before, ago: One thing I believe people fail to grasp is that times and people change. The struggles that John Kennedy faced as a Catholic running for President reduced much of the previous religious prejudice so far that religion is far less an issue today. Prior to that, it was almost accepted political reality that a Catholic would have a serious problem being elected. Today, it is barely an issue. Thus, when people comment on religion today, the context of the public discussion has changed. Would it be more appropriate if Sarah Palin and others would first recognize the changed level of discussions and concentrate from there rather than criticizing comments from a past era when people had far different reactions to what was being said by the words that were said?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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A Thank you: Not a question but a sincere thank you, for saying precisely what I'd love to say to Ms. Palin's face. You are definitely someone I'd love to meet before I die.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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JFK: John F. Kennedy still inspires people long after his death. I wasnt alive when he was president, but still find his presidency and long lasting message to be inspirational. Sarah Palin not only gets Lincoln and Kennedy wrong, she gets Ronald Reagan wrong as well. Religion is something that should be observed between oneself and whatever religion they wish to worship. It sends a chilling message when Sarah Palin would sit in judgment of others religion and their beliefs. I just dont understand for the life of me how Palin has this much appeal within the Republican party.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Comment on Mrs. Townsend's article: Good article. We need more people to challenge these political televangelists that want to force their beliefs on America. Good job and God bless.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Thank you!

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Republican: Afraid and Ashamed of Palin: As a moderate Republican, I don't feel I am represented by Ms. Palin, the tea party, or the (in my perception) the very left leaning Democrats. I feel the primary system is responsible for the fringes having so much control over our national politics. Would you comment on recent initiatives in the northwest to organize elections around the top vote getters regardless of party? I believe that would result in the appropriate marginalization of Ms. Palin, and her mirror images in the other party.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Thank you: I have no question I just want to say thank you. This was a great article and it says what alot of us want to say about religion and politics and what is happening in this country and where it is going wrong. And it is nice to hear someone putting Mrs. Palin in her place. Thanks again.... You come from a great family that really cares about people.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Religion: Your uncle J F Kennedy was absolutely right in keeping religion separate. Why did he not introduce the British model where despite the Queen being the Head of the Church and the Prime Minister selecting the ministerial heads and firmly advocating religious freedom, they have had managed to keep religion out of politics for hundreds of years?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Separating Church and State: Thank you for your very insightful article. What are the tests we can apply--or questions we can ask--to help us determine whether activities or statements are crossing the line that should be separating church and state?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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"Absolute" in the Houston speech: In a recent piece, Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee, mentions the statement from the Houston speech that says "The separation of church and state is absolute." Is "absolute" the right word there?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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"Non-theism" and government: There are an ever increasing number of Americans who have either ceased to believe in a celestial deity or believe "God" is absent or negligible in human affairs. In your opinion, why is this increasing minority - a minority which has grown to out number numerous religious minorities - forgotten about and so often openly discriminated against?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Sarah Palin: Do you believe Sarah Palin is trying to be as provocative as possible? She seems to have the talk radio persona of trying to be as outlandish as possible.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: i am not going to look into her soul and decide why she does what she does...Enough to examine her words

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Palin has it wrong. : When Palin wrote, "morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs." was she really not saying that 'it is my preception of morality and my preception of religion [fundalmentist Christianity] that should be the standand in America? Is that not the most exclusionary philosophy and thus unconstitutional view possible?

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Palin "Attacks": Do you worry that the legitimate points you make in your article might be drowned out by the "oh just another attack on poor Palin" meme in the media? I think she should be challenged but I get disheartened that even well thought out arguments get lost in this morass.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: As I said in the artilce...people without faith are certainly ethical....and to judge them as immoral contradicts Lincoln's request that we show "charity towards all"

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Consistency on civil rights and the Church: You and JFK are correct. However, how do you reconcile that Dems, Reps and MLK all appealed to religion and Christianity to advance civil rights (which I agree with)? Why were you and Ted K. inconsistent by carving out religion as "just personal and private" when the issue was what your Church calls "an intrinsic evil" -- i.e., abortion?

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Religion and Politics: I loved your article and agreed 110%. My question is - how did our nation get so far off track? Religious freedom and tolerance is part of the fabric of our history, and the constitution clearly says there is a separation of church and state. And yet, we are increasingly divisive as a nation with religion often at the center of that dialogue. Why is that? And why does anyone care what religion someone else is?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Good question....I think that many have a different view about when a fetus becomes a person...and so I think it is best to follow the Supreme court on this.. Ten Commandments explicty say that is wrong.

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O: Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics.: Why did you bother to respond to the ignorance of Sarah Palin?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: I usually try to refrain from claiming what my relatives would think about present conditions....but thanks for asking!!

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religion: I do not think Palin actually believes what she has written about JFK. She desires an image as iconoclast and simply attacks a great Democrat to further that goal. She reveals a great deal about herself in this, perhaps most notably in her willingness to use religion as a weapon. Do you think Governor Palin is genuine in her position, or is she pursuing a political strategy?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: I don't know the inner workings of her mind...I do disagree with what she says...and so that it what I will focus on.

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Palin panders?: Do you think that Sarah Palin simply changes her viewpoints depending on the time and what audience she is trying to reach? It seems to me like she will always try to say whatever is popular among conservatives at the time.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: I don't know..>I don't follow her that closely.

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Bishops and Politics: It seems like liberals are very selective in the opposition to mixing church and state. When Catholic prelates are denouncing pro-choice stances of Catholic politicians (many of whom oppose even minimal restrictions on abortion), we are told that is mixing church and state. But I don't seem to recall such response from liberals when Martin Luther King Jr. was challenging segregation in the South back in the 1950s and 60s or when Jesse Jackson campaigned in black churches in his two presidential bids.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: People of faith..as you have rightly pointed out...have always put forth their beliefs...however one can use wisdom as to when it is appropriate and when not.

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Sarah Palin view of religion and politics: Your Outlook article was superb and finally a renowned Democrat has pushed back on Sarah Palin's demagoguery. How does the Democratic Party use your excellent commentary to paint Sarah Palin as the dangerous religious extremist she is, one who would apply her judgement to all of us using her own religious convictions? I think Americans will not tolerate being told what religious beliefs they must hold and if Palin can be labeled as the religious enforcer, that will begin to lessen her influence.Thank you.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Thank uou...I think that many people will question her on this!!

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separation of church & state: Please give an example where a politician's religious views should not guide him/her in making a decision to support or reject legislation. The Stupack amendment to the healthcare reform effort would be a great example to cover in your answer.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

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Myth vs. the Complexity of Understanding: To what degree do you think that modern life has overwhelmed most people, particularly the undereducated, and consequently people, and even many of our leaders, have resorted to advancing their religious identity rather than an actual understanding of the problems confronting our society today. Probably because the problems are far too difficult to understand and to explain in an effort to forge an agreement and resolution? If this is true, do you believe we are being served by all the social networking, or are we becoming even more resistive to change, as we come in contact with competing views, the incessant machinations of the media to provide a victim, and, in fact, just plain babble at times, of which this question may be a perfect example.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: THis is an excellent question...

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Elections and anti-Catholicism: Because America's commitment to religious freedom has been tarnished historically by not always tolerating freedom of religion for Catholics, do you think that a Catholic presidential candidate still faces a loss of votes because of religious predjudice--especially given the continuing bigotry spouted against the Catholic Church by some televangelists?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Well I think John Kerry suffered because the Bishops could attack him in a way that they could not attack a non Catholic...

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Palin and Romney regarding separation of church and state: I can't help but wonder if Palin and Romney are simply under-educated about the history of the separation of church and state, and the many ways religious difference has been the cause of war and oppression. They may not even realize the depth of the issue, and because they are so religious, are biased and may not want to hear it. (I had a Catholic education and was not truly educated/objective about this until a graduate education in sociology.)

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: do as they do....

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Sarah Palin is wrong about JFK, religion and politics: If religious belief is not the foundation of morality, what is?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: I started an office of Character Education in Marland...and we agreed to many virtues that we wanted our children to develop...including honesty, kindness, respect, respsonsibility, courage, fortitude ....People of faith and people of no faith did agree!!!

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Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Religion and politics may be subjects not to be discussed at dinner...but luckily the Post encourages us in other forums!!


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