#1. Members of the political press and unaffiliated Republican pols, gearing up for the meat grinder that the 2008 presidential race will certainly become, have all been scratching their heads and wondering aloud how Rudolph Giuliani can be leading in the early Republican primary polls when evangelicals, the so-called base of the party, should have a serious problem with his three marriages, two divorces and estrangement from his son. Typical of this sentiment, from the AP a little over a week ago:

Republican strategists say Giuliani’s troubled family relationships are likely to hinder his standing among conservatives who already have questions about his positions on social issues. They say the estrangement could raise a question in voters’ minds: If Giuliani can’t keep his family together, how will he keep the country together?

True, there have been statements of concern by evangelical leaders over Giuliani’s domestic circumstances. Richard Land, who is head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, recently stated that Giuliani’s 2002 divorce from Donna Hanover was more than just a regular old divorce; it was more like “divorce on steroids,” Land said. “To publicly humiliate your wife in that way, and your children. That’s rough. I think that’s going to be an awfully hard sell, even if he weren’t pro-choice and pro-gun control.”

As usual, though, the conventional wisdom only has it half-right, and Richard Land’s assessment of Giuliani gives us a clue about why. Evangelicals do not vote as a bloc, and they do not live their lives in uniformity, either. If you just listen to an episode of New Life Live, for example, one of many Christian lifestyle talk shows flying around our radio airwaves, you’ll immediately be struck by how much dysfunction exists in the lives of some people who are trying hard to lead Christian lives. Not only are divorces commonplace (a 2004 survey by George Barna Research, incidentally, found that 35% of born-again Christians have been divorced, which is the same percentage as you’ll find in the non-born-again population), but such topics as alcoholism, drug abuse, porn and sex addictions, adultery, and all manner of broken families form the bedrock of the discussions that take place on the program — and without exception, much to the credit of the hosts, such problems are dealt with in a forgiving and quite practical way.

It should be no surprise at all, then, that evangelical conservatives might flirt with voting with either the twice-divorced, thrice-married Rudy Giuliani, the once-divorced, twice-married John McCain, or the twice-divorced, thrice-married Newt Gingrich — who just happen to be three out of the top four Republican “candidates” in this pre-primary season. They can be said to reflect the American Christian circumstance, similarly to the way that some divorced evaneglicals also reflect the American Christian circumstance.

If McCain’s divorce is a “molehill” to Giuliani’s “mountain” of a divorce, according to Richard Land — who speaks on behalf of believers in a Bible that, according to Baptists, calls divorce a sin — then, at least as it concerns presidential preference among the voters of the Christian right, some divorces must be okay. Perhaps the average evangelical does not care so much if his or her presidential candidate has sinned — it’s more about whether he is repentant, and whether his social policies generally seek to restrain sinning or ignore the existence of it. Judging by McCain’s sinking poll numbers and Giuliani’s recent unmistakable ascendance, however, our working theory should be that Giuliani has the respect of a large portion of the Republican electorate on the basis of other attributes — his leadership after 9/11, for example — and that this may, just may, be more important to a few evangelical voters than either the question of sin or the state of one’s domestic life. That is to say, that some evangelical Christians may be quite forgiving and practical people. But we shall see …

#2 Is there anyone left in America who doesn’t believe that Fox News is a conservative news network? I’d seriously doubt it; however, recent coverage leads me to observe that Fox News ought to be given an award by the folks at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Apart from the fact that most polls put the support of American voters in favor of the Iraq War at somewhere around 30%, does anyone really remember the mainstream media — CNN, CBS, NBC or ABC, for our purposes — covering the “peace movement” so much these days? For the most part, those TV networks don’t bother with the radical left. They live in the political center — they eschew both long-haired, post-neo-Marxists and Ann Coulter alike.

Fox News, however, has contributed, perhaps unwittingly, to an outright revival of the media presence of the left-wing fringe. In yesterday’s coverage of the 4th anniversary of the war, Fox spent much of the day trotting out loonies who denounce Bush while claiming to have seen UFOs, and showing footage of protesters staging a “die-in” in San Francisco’s financial district. I would be tempted to say that such reporting actually earns Fox its marketing slogan, “fair and balanced,” were it not for the fact that Fox News generally dismisses the existence of moderate and even conservative voices who disagree vehemently with Bush’s prosecution of the war — good church-going people from here in the Heartland who wear suits that are too nice for lying down in traffic, and who would sooner ask their congressman for a tax increase than admit to having seen a UFO.

Of course, we know what Fox is about when they bring out the loonies — they’re seeking to trivialize dissent. The result, however, is that the crazy die-in people and the UFO guy get free publicity and great big TV audiences. Strange bedfellows, don’t you think?

#3 AMEInfo reports the following today:

Rumours that Algeria, Iran, Qatar, Russia and Venezuela will establish a gas cartel along the same lines as Opec next month have been re-iterated by the Russian daily Kommersant and reported by the AFP. It is widely believed an upcoming meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Doha on April 9 will be the venue for the announcement. Russia seemingly poured cold water on the idea last month.

Don’t get distracted by the substance of this — it won’t necessarily mean higher natural gas prices for us here in the U.S. in the short-term, at least not in a pre-Liquid Natural Gas world, in which gas will jump from continent to continent.

Look, instead, at the form of such activity. While we’re sparring with Venezuela and accusing Iran of waging war against us in Iraq, Russia looks like it is lending its imprimatur as a world power to a venture that will attempt to amplify the influence and economic significance of such nations within their own regions. Not hard to see Russia’s interest in doing that, is it? As an example, Venezuela currently imports a lot of gas and has had difficulty developing its own offshore fields. Rather than benefiting as a seller of natural gas, in the short term, what it really hopes to do is to capture the undying loyalty of Colombia and Bolivia, a pair of real gas exporters, by giving them a theoretically more favorable market into which to sell their gas. Then Chavez will ask them something like, “what has the U.S. done for you lately?”, and Russia will get Venezuela’s props for helping it build its South American empire. The outcome is less direct U.S. influence, and more indirect Russian influence.