Discussion:
GOP insider: Religion destroyed my party (Religious cranks ceased to be a minor public nuisance in this country beginning in the 1970s and grew into a major element of the Republican rank and file)
(too old to reply)
Dr. AR Wingnutte, PhD - Conspiriology
2013-01-27 01:07:00 UTC
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Raw Message
This article is an excerpt from the book "The Party Is Over: How
Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class
Got Shafted," available from Viking.
Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult
lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized
religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the
transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides
a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its
followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war
worship, and the permanent culture war.

Religious cranks ceased to be a minor public nuisance in this country
beginning in the 1970s and grew into a major element of the Republican
rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa
presidential caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and
religion in the party. Unfortunately, at the time I mostly
underestimated the implications of what I was seeing. It did strike me
as oddly humorous that a fundamentalist staff member in my
congressional office was going to take time off to convert the heathen
in Greece, a country that had been overwhelmingly Christian for almost
two thousand years. I recall another point, in the early 1990s, when a
different fundamentalist GOP staffer said that dinosaur fossils were a
hoax. As a mere legislative mechanic toiling away in what I held to be
a civil rather than ecclesiastical calling, I did not yet see that
ideological impulses far different from mine were poised to capture
the party of Lincoln.

The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people
poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on
questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels
and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious
right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party,
and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All
around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to
science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-
year-old culture wars.

The Constitution notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious
test for the presidency: Major candidates are encouraged (or coerced)
to share their feelings about their faith in a revelatory speech, or a
televangelist like Rick Warren will dragoon the candidates (as he did
with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of
Christology, offering himself as the final arbiter. Half a century
after John F. Kennedy put to rest the question of whether a candidate
of a minority denomination could be president, the Republican Party
has reignited the kinds of seventeenth-century religious controversies
that advanced democracies are supposed to have outgrown. And some in
the media seem to have internalized the GOP’s premise that the
religion of a candidate is a matter for public debate.

Throughout the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, Mitt Romney was
dogged with questions about his religion. The spark was a hitherto
obscure fundamentalist preacher from Texas, Robert Jeffress, who
attacked Romney’s Mormonism by doubting whether he could really be
considered a Christian. The media promptly set aside the issues that
should have been paramount— Romney’s views on economic and foreign
policy—in order to spend a week giving respectful consideration to an
attention-grabbing rabble-rouser. They then proceeded to pester the
other candidates with the loaded question of whether they thought
Romney was a Christian. CNN’s Candy Crowley was particularly egregious
in this respect, pressing Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann for a
response and becoming indignant when they refused to answer. The
question did not deserve an answer, because Crowley had set it up to
legitimate a false premise: that Romney’s religious belief was a
legitimate issue of public debate. This is a perfect example of how
the media reinforce an informal but increasingly binding religious
test for public office that the Constitution formally bans. Like the
British constitution, the test is no less powerful for being
unwritten.

The religious right’s professed insistence upon “family values” might
appear at first blush to be at odds with the anything but saintly
personal behavior of many of its leading proponents. Some of this may
be due to the general inability of human beings to reflect on
conflicting information: I have never ceased to be amazed at how facts
manage to bounce off people’s consciousness like pebbles off armor
plate. But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes
into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe
in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap
grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to
believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins
be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as
before. Cheap grace is a divine get- out-of-jail-free card. Hence the
tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some
slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed
in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life.
The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual
foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they
publicly identify with fundamentalist values. In 2011 the Family
Research Council, the fundamentalist lobbying organization, gave
Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois an award for “unwavering support
of the family.” Representative Walsh’s ex-wife might beg to differ, as
she claims he owes her over one hundred thousand dollars in unpaid
child support, a charge he denies.

Of course, the proper rituals must be observed before an erring
politician can obtain absolution. In November 2011, at a forum
sponsored by religious conservatives in Iowa, all of the GOP
presidential candidates struck the expected notes of contrition and
humility as they laid bare their souls before the assembled
congregation (the event was held in a church). Most of them, including
Cain, who was then still riding high, choked up when discussing some
bleak midnight of their lives (he chose not to address the fresh
sexual harassment charges against him, which surely would have
qualified as a trying personal experience preying on his mind). Even
the old reprobate Gingrich misted up over some contrived misdeed
intended to distract attention from his well-known adventures in
serial matrimony.

All of these gloomy obsequies of repentance having been observed,
Gingrich gave a stirring example of why he is hands-down the best
extemporaneous demagogue in contemporary America. Having purged his
soul of all guilty transgressions, he turned his attention to the far
graver sins bedeviling the American nation.

If we look at history from the mid-1960s, we’ve gone from a request
for toleration to an imposition of intolerance. We’ve gone from a
request to understand others to a determination to close down those
who hold traditional values. I think that we need to be very
aggressive and very direct. The degree to which the left is prepared
to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional
religion is a mortal threat to our civilization and deserves to be
taken head-on and described as what it is, which is the use of
government to repress the American people against their own values.

That is as good an example as any of cheap grace as practiced by
seasoned statesmen like Gingrich—a bid for redemption turned on its
head to provide a forum for one of the Republican Party’s favorite
pastimes: taking opportunistic swipes at the dreaded liberal bogeyman.
How quickly one forgets one’s own moral lapses when one can consider
the manifold harms inflicted on our nation by godless leftists!

- – - – - – - – - -

Some liberal writers have opined that the socioeconomic gulf
separating the business wing of the GOP and the religious right make
it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is
no basic disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take
the country, merely how far it should go. The plutocrats would drag us
back to the Gilded Age; the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. If
anything, the two groups are increasingly beginning to resemble each
other. Many televangelists have espoused what has come to be known as
the prosperity gospel—the health-and- wealth/name-it-and-claim-it
gospel of economic entitlement. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of
God’s favor. If not, too bad! This rationale may explain why some poor
voters will defend the prerogatives of billionaires. In any case, at
the beginning of the 2012 presidential cycle, those consummate
plutocrats the Koch brothers pumped money into Bachmann’s campaign, so
one should probably not make too much of a potential plutocrat-
theocrat split.

Most of the religious enthusiasts I observed during my tenure on the
Hill seemed to have little reluctance to mix God and Mammon. Rick
Santorum did not blink at legislative schemes to pay off his campaign
contributors: In 2005 he introduced a bill to forbid the National
Weather Service from providing weather forecasts for free that
commercial forecasters—like AccuWeather, a Pennsylvania- based company
which had contributed to his campaign—wanted to charge for. Tom
DeLay’s purported concern about the dignity and sanctity of human
life, touchingly on display during the controversy over whether Terri
Schiavo’s husband had the right to tell doctors to remove her feeding
tube after seeing her comatose for fifteen years, could always be
qualified by strategic infusions of campaign cash. DeLay’s quashing of
bills to prohibit serious labor abuses demonstrates that even
religious virtue can be flexible when there are campaign donations
involved.

One might imagine that the religious right’s agenda would be
incompatible with the concerns for privacy and individual autonomy by
those who consider themselves to belong to the libertarian wing of the
Republican Party—the “don’t tread on me,” “live free or die” crowd
that Grover Norquist once called the “leave me alone” conservatives.
Given their profound distaste for an oppressive and intrusive federal
government, one would think they might have trepidations about a
religious movement determined to impose statutory controls on private
behavior that libertarians nominally hold to be nobody’s business, and
particularly not the government’s business.

Some more libertarian-leaning Republicans have in fact pushed back
against the religious right. Former House majority leader Dick Armey
expressed his profound distaste for the tactics of the religious right
in 2006—from the safety of the sidelines—by blasting its leadership in
unequivocal terms:

[James] Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies. I pray
devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being
stupid. There’s a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer
in schools. Demagoguery doesn’t work unless it’s dumb, shallow as
water on a plate. These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy
and can appeal to a large demographic. These issues become bigger than
life, largely because they’re easy. There ain’t no thinking.

Armey had previously been an economics professor at several cow
colleges in Texas, and when he came to Congress in 1985, libertarian
economics was his forte. I do not recall religious issues motivating
his political ideology; instead, economics was what gripped him,
particularly the flat tax, which he tirelessly promoted. I believe his
departure from Congress was impelled not only by the fact that he was
not on the inside track to become Speaker, but also because of his
disillusionment with the culture wars, as his passionate denunciation
of Dobson suggests. But later, Barack Obama’s election and the rise of
the Tea Party induced a miraculous change of heart in Armey, as no
doubt did the need to raise money for his lobbying organization, known
as FreedomWorks. By 2009, Armey had become a significant voice of the
Tea Party. As such, he attempted to declare a truce between fiscal and
social conservatives, who would thenceforth bury their squabbles and
concentrate on dethroning the Kenyan usurper in the Oval Office. That
meant soft-pedaling social issues that might alarm fiscally
conservative but socially moderate voters, particularly women, who
lived in the wealthier suburbs.

In September 2010 Armey took one step further in his reconciliation
with the people he had called thugs and bullies when he announced that
a GOP majority in Congress would again take up the abortion fight,
which was only right and proper for those who held such a sincere
moral conviction. When the Republicans duly won the House two months
later, they did precisely that. State legislatures across the country
followed suit: Ohio, Texas, and Virginia enacted the most severe
abortion restrictions in any legislative session in memory. Suddenly
Armey didn’t seem to have any problem with social issues preempting
his economic agenda.

The Tea Party, which initially described itself as wholly concerned
with debt, deficit, and federal overreach, gradually unmasked itself
as being almost as theocratic as the activists from the religious
right that Armey had denounced only a few years before. If anything,
they were even slightly more disposed than the rest of the Republican
Party to inject religious issues into the political realm. According
to an academic study of the Tea Party, “[T]hey seek ‘deeply religious’
elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics
and want religion brought into political debates.” The Tea Party
faithful are not so much libertarian as authoritarian, the furthest
thing from a “live free or die” constitutionalist.

Within the GOP libertarianism is a throwaway doctrine that is
rhetorically useful in certain situations but often interferes with
their core, more authoritarian, beliefs. When the two precepts
collide, the authoritarian reflex prevails. In 2009 it was politically
useful for the GOP to present the Tea Party as independent-leaning
libertarians, when in reality the group was overwhelmingly Republican,
with a high quotient of GOP activists and adherents of views common
among the religious right. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, eight in
ten Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans. Another
study found that over half identified as members of the religious
right and 55 percent of Tea Partiers agree that “America has always
been and is currently a Christian nation”—6 points more than even the
percentage of self-described Christian conservatives who would agree
to that. This religious orientation should have been evident from the
brouhaha that erupted in mid- 2009 over the charge that the Obama
administration’s new healthcare reform plan would set up “death
panels.” While there was plenty to criticize about the health-care
bill, the completely bogus charge garnered disproportionate attention.
Republican political consultants immediately recognized that they had
found a classic emotional issue that would resonate with the same
people on the religious right who had been stirred up over the Terri
Schiavo case. The Tea Party, a supposedly independent group of fiscal
conservatives outraged by Obama’s profligate spending plans, fell prey
to the hysteria Republican Party operatives whipped up over end-of-
life counseling. This self-unmasking of the Tea Party may help explain
why, after three years in existence, public support for the
organization has been dropping precipitously.

Ayn Rand, an occasional darling of the Tea Party, has become a cult
figure within the GOP in recent years. It is easy enough to see how
her tough-guy, every-man-for-himself posturing would be a natural fit
with the Wall Street bankers and the right-wing politicians they fund—
notwithstanding the bankers’ fondness for government bailouts. But
Rand’s philosophy found most of its adherents in the libertarian wing
of the party, a group that overlaps with, but is certainly not
identical to, the “business conservatives” who fund the bulk of the
GOP’s activities. There has always been a strong strain of rugged
individualism in America, and the GOP has cleverly managed to co-opt
that spirit to its advantage. The problem is that Rand proclaimed at
every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but
contempt for Christianity as a religion of weaklings possessing a
slave mentality. So how do Republican candidates manage to bamboozle
what is perhaps the largest single bloc in their voting base, the
religious fundamentalists, about this? Certainly the ignorance of many
fundamentalist values voters about the wider world and the life of the
mind goes some distance toward explaining the paradox: GOP candidates
who enthuse over Rand at the same time as they thump their Bibles
never have to explain this stark contradiction because most of their
audience is blissfully unaware of who Ayn Rand was and what she
advocated. But voters can to some extent be forgiven their ignorance,
because politicians have grown so skillful at misdirecting them about
their intentions.

This camouflaging of intentions is as much a strategy of the religious
right and its leaders—James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson, and
the rest—as it is of the GOP’s more secular political leaders in
Washington. After the debacle of the Schiavo case and the electoral
loss in 2008, the religious right pulled back and regrouped. They knew
that the full-bore, “theoconservative” agenda would not sell with a
majority of voters. This strategy accounts for Robertson, founder of
the Christian Coalition (who famously said that God sent a hurricane
to New Orleans to punish the sodomites), stating the following in
October 2011: “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay
off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the front-runners,
into positions that will mean they lose the general election.” I doubt
he thought the candidates held positions that were too extreme, merely
that they should keep quiet about those positions until they had won
the election. Max Blumenthal, author of Republican Gomorrah, argues
that this is a “lying for Jesus” strategy that fundamentalists often
adopt when dealing with the snares of a wicked and Godless world.
Since Satan is the father of lies, one can be forgiven for fighting
lies with lies.

Hence the policies pursued for at least two decades by the religious
right on the federal, state, and local levels. It usually starts at
the school board, after some contrived uproar over sex education or
liberal indoctrination. The stealthily fundamentalist school board
candidates pledge to clean up the mess and “get back to basics.” After
a few years they capture a majority on the board, and suddenly
“Catcher in the Rye” is heaved out of the curriculum and science
teachers are under pressure to teach the (imaginary) controversy about
evolutionary biology. This was the path to greater glory of Michele
Bachmann: Her first run for public office, barely a dozen years ago,
was for a seat on the school board in Stillwater, Minnesota. Up until
then she had drawn a taxpayer-funded salary for five years working as
an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, not, of course, because
she was one of those lazy, good-for-nothing government bureaucrats
that Republican candidates routinely denounce. She was secretly
studying the ways of the government beast so as to defeat it later on.

Bachmann, Rick Perry, and numerous other serving representatives and
senators have all had ties to Christian Dominionism, a doctrine
proclaiming that Christians are destined to dominate American politics
and establish a new imperium resembling theocratic government.
According to one profile of Perry, adherents of Dominionism “believe
Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’
over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of
what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media
and the arts and entertainment world.” Note the qualifier:
“stealthily.”

At the same religious forum where the GOP candidates confessed their
sins, Bachmann went so far as to suggest that organized religion
should keep its traditional legal privilege of tax exemption while
being permitted to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. The
fact that government prohibits express political advocacy is in her
imagination muzzling preachers rather than just being a quid pro quo
for tax-exempt status equivalent to that imposed on any 501(c)3 or
501(c)4 nonprofit organization. But for Bachmann and others of like
mind, this is persecution of a kind that fuels their sense of
victimhood and righteous indignation.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of the Penguin Group
(USA) Inc., from “The Party is Over” by Mike Lofgren. Copyright © 2012
by Mike Lofgren.




http://www.salon.com/2012/08/05/republicans_slouching_toward_theocracy/?mobile.html
⊙_⊙
2016-03-22 04:18:39 UTC
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Raw Message
Post by Dr. AR Wingnutte, PhD - Conspiriology
This article is an excerpt from the book "The Party Is Over: How
Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class
Got Shafted," available from Viking.
Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult
lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized
religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the
transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides
a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its
followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war
worship, and the permanent culture war.
Religious cranks ceased to be a minor public nuisance in this country
beginning in the 1970s and grew into a major element of the Republican
rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa
presidential caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and
religion in the party. Unfortunately, at the time I mostly
underestimated the implications of what I was seeing. It did strike me
as oddly humorous that a fundamentalist staff member in my
congressional office was going to take time off to convert the heathen
in Greece, a country that had been overwhelmingly Christian for almost
two thousand years. I recall another point, in the early 1990s, when a
different fundamentalist GOP staffer said that dinosaur fossils were a
hoax. As a mere legislative mechanic toiling away in what I held to be
a civil rather than ecclesiastical calling, I did not yet see that
ideological impulses far different from mine were poised to capture
the party of Lincoln.
The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people
poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on
questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels
and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious
right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party,
and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All
around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to
science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-
year-old culture wars.
The Constitution notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious
test for the presidency: Major candidates are encouraged (or coerced)
to share their feelings about their faith in a revelatory speech, or a
televangelist like Rick Warren will dragoon the candidates (as he did
with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of
Christology, offering himself as the final arbiter. Half a century
after John F. Kennedy put to rest the question of whether a candidate
of a minority denomination could be president, the Republican Party
has reignited the kinds of seventeenth-century religious controversies
that advanced democracies are supposed to have outgrown. And some in
the media seem to have internalized the GOP’s premise that the
religion of a candidate is a matter for public debate.
Throughout the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, Mitt Romney was
dogged with questions about his religion. The spark was a hitherto
obscure fundamentalist preacher from Texas, Robert Jeffress, who
attacked Romney’s Mormonism by doubting whether he could really be
considered a Christian. The media promptly set aside the issues that
should have been paramount— Romney’s views on economic and foreign
policy—in order to spend a week giving respectful consideration to an
attention-grabbing rabble-rouser. They then proceeded to pester the
other candidates with the loaded question of whether they thought
Romney was a Christian. CNN’s Candy Crowley was particularly egregious
in this respect, pressing Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann for a
response and becoming indignant when they refused to answer. The
question did not deserve an answer, because Crowley had set it up to
legitimate a false premise: that Romney’s religious belief was a
legitimate issue of public debate. This is a perfect example of how
the media reinforce an informal but increasingly binding religious
test for public office that the Constitution formally bans. Like the
British constitution, the test is no less powerful for being
unwritten.
The religious right’s professed insistence upon “family values” might
appear at first blush to be at odds with the anything but saintly
personal behavior of many of its leading proponents. Some of this may
be due to the general inability of human beings to reflect on
conflicting information: I have never ceased to be amazed at how facts
manage to bounce off people’s consciousness like pebbles off armor
plate. But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes
into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe
in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap
grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to
believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins
be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as
before. Cheap grace is a divine get- out-of-jail-free card. Hence the
tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some
slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed
in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life.
The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual
foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they
publicly identify with fundamentalist values. In 2011 the Family
Research Council, the fundamentalist lobbying organization, gave
Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois an award for “unwavering support
of the family.” Representative Walsh’s ex-wife might beg to differ, as
she claims he owes her over one hundred thousand dollars in unpaid
child support, a charge he denies.
Of course, the proper rituals must be observed before an erring
politician can obtain absolution. In November 2011, at a forum
sponsored by religious conservatives in Iowa, all of the GOP
presidential candidates struck the expected notes of contrition and
humility as they laid bare their souls before the assembled
congregation (the event was held in a church). Most of them, including
Cain, who was then still riding high, choked up when discussing some
bleak midnight of their lives (he chose not to address the fresh
sexual harassment charges against him, which surely would have
qualified as a trying personal experience preying on his mind). Even
the old reprobate Gingrich misted up over some contrived misdeed
intended to distract attention from his well-known adventures in
serial matrimony.
All of these gloomy obsequies of repentance having been observed,
Gingrich gave a stirring example of why he is hands-down the best
extemporaneous demagogue in contemporary America. Having purged his
soul of all guilty transgressions, he turned his attention to the far
graver sins bedeviling the American nation.
If we look at history from the mid-1960s, we’ve gone from a request
for toleration to an imposition of intolerance. We’ve gone from a
request to understand others to a determination to close down those
who hold traditional values. I think that we need to be very
aggressive and very direct. The degree to which the left is prepared
to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional
religion is a mortal threat to our civilization and deserves to be
taken head-on and described as what it is, which is the use of
government to repress the American people against their own values.
That is as good an example as any of cheap grace as practiced by
seasoned statesmen like Gingrich—a bid for redemption turned on its
head to provide a forum for one of the Republican Party’s favorite
pastimes: taking opportunistic swipes at the dreaded liberal bogeyman.
How quickly one forgets one’s own moral lapses when one can consider
the manifold harms inflicted on our nation by godless leftists!
- – - – - – - – - -
Some liberal writers have opined that the socioeconomic gulf
separating the business wing of the GOP and the religious right make
it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is
no basic disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take
the country, merely how far it should go. The plutocrats would drag us
back to the Gilded Age; the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. If
anything, the two groups are increasingly beginning to resemble each
other. Many televangelists have espoused what has come to be known as
the prosperity gospel—the health-and- wealth/name-it-and-claim-it
gospel of economic entitlement. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of
God’s favor. If not, too bad! This rationale may explain why some poor
voters will defend the prerogatives of billionaires. In any case, at
the beginning of the 2012 presidential cycle, those consummate
plutocrats the Koch brothers pumped money into Bachmann’s campaign, so
one should probably not make too much of a potential plutocrat-
theocrat split.
Most of the religious enthusiasts I observed during my tenure on the
Hill seemed to have little reluctance to mix God and Mammon. Rick
Santorum did not blink at legislative schemes to pay off his campaign
contributors: In 2005 he introduced a bill to forbid the National
Weather Service from providing weather forecasts for free that
commercial forecasters—like AccuWeather, a Pennsylvania- based company
which had contributed to his campaign—wanted to charge for. Tom
DeLay’s purported concern about the dignity and sanctity of human
life, touchingly on display during the controversy over whether Terri
Schiavo’s husband had the right to tell doctors to remove her feeding
tube after seeing her comatose for fifteen years, could always be
qualified by strategic infusions of campaign cash. DeLay’s quashing of
bills to prohibit serious labor abuses demonstrates that even
religious virtue can be flexible when there are campaign donations
involved.
One might imagine that the religious right’s agenda would be
incompatible with the concerns for privacy and individual autonomy by
those who consider themselves to belong to the libertarian wing of the
Republican Party—the “don’t tread on me,” “live free or die” crowd
that Grover Norquist once called the “leave me alone” conservatives.
Given their profound distaste for an oppressive and intrusive federal
government, one would think they might have trepidations about a
religious movement determined to impose statutory controls on private
behavior that libertarians nominally hold to be nobody’s business, and
particularly not the government’s business.
Some more libertarian-leaning Republicans have in fact pushed back
against the religious right. Former House majority leader Dick Armey
expressed his profound distaste for the tactics of the religious right
in 2006—from the safety of the sidelines—by blasting its leadership in
[James] Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies. I pray
devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being
stupid. There’s a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer
in schools. Demagoguery doesn’t work unless it’s dumb, shallow as
water on a plate. These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy
and can appeal to a large demographic. These issues become bigger than
life, largely because they’re easy. There ain’t no thinking.
Armey had previously been an economics professor at several cow
colleges in Texas, and when he came to Congress in 1985, libertarian
economics was his forte. I do not recall religious issues motivating
his political ideology; instead, economics was what gripped him,
particularly the flat tax, which he tirelessly promoted. I believe his
departure from Congress was impelled not only by the fact that he was
not on the inside track to become Speaker, but also because of his
disillusionment with the culture wars, as his passionate denunciation
of Dobson suggests. But later, Barack Obama’s election and the rise of
the Tea Party induced a miraculous change of heart in Armey, as no
doubt did the need to raise money for his lobbying organization, known
as FreedomWorks. By 2009, Armey had become a significant voice of the
Tea Party. As such, he attempted to declare a truce between fiscal and
social conservatives, who would thenceforth bury their squabbles and
concentrate on dethroning the Kenyan usurper in the Oval Office. That
meant soft-pedaling social issues that might alarm fiscally
conservative but socially moderate voters, particularly women, who
lived in the wealthier suburbs.
In September 2010 Armey took one step further in his reconciliation
with the people he had called thugs and bullies when he announced that
a GOP majority in Congress would again take up the abortion fight,
which was only right and proper for those who held such a sincere
moral conviction. When the Republicans duly won the House two months
later, they did precisely that. State legislatures across the country
followed suit: Ohio, Texas, and Virginia enacted the most severe
abortion restrictions in any legislative session in memory. Suddenly
Armey didn’t seem to have any problem with social issues preempting
his economic agenda.
The Tea Party, which initially described itself as wholly concerned
with debt, deficit, and federal overreach, gradually unmasked itself
as being almost as theocratic as the activists from the religious
right that Armey had denounced only a few years before. If anything,
they were even slightly more disposed than the rest of the Republican
Party to inject religious issues into the political realm. According
to an academic study of the Tea Party, “[T]hey seek ‘deeply religious’
elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics
and want religion brought into political debates.” The Tea Party
faithful are not so much libertarian as authoritarian, the furthest
thing from a “live free or die” constitutionalist.
Within the GOP libertarianism is a throwaway doctrine that is
rhetorically useful in certain situations but often interferes with
their core, more authoritarian, beliefs. When the two precepts
collide, the authoritarian reflex prevails. In 2009 it was politically
useful for the GOP to present the Tea Party as independent-leaning
libertarians, when in reality the group was overwhelmingly Republican,
with a high quotient of GOP activists and adherents of views common
among the religious right. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, eight in
ten Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans. Another
study found that over half identified as members of the religious
right and 55 percent of Tea Partiers agree that “America has always
been and is currently a Christian nation”—6 points more than even the
percentage of self-described Christian conservatives who would agree
to that. This religious orientation should have been evident from the
brouhaha that erupted in mid- 2009 over the charge that the Obama
administration’s new healthcare reform plan would set up “death
panels.” While there was plenty to criticize about the health-care
bill, the completely bogus charge garnered disproportionate attention.
Republican political consultants immediately recognized that they had
found a classic emotional issue that would resonate with the same
people on the religious right who had been stirred up over the Terri
Schiavo case. The Tea Party, a supposedly independent group of fiscal
conservatives outraged by Obama’s profligate spending plans, fell prey
to the hysteria Republican Party operatives whipped up over end-of-
life counseling. This self-unmasking of the Tea Party may help explain
why, after three years in existence, public support for the
organization has been dropping precipitously.
Ayn Rand, an occasional darling of the Tea Party, has become a cult
figure within the GOP in recent years. It is easy enough to see how
her tough-guy, every-man-for-himself posturing would be a natural fit
with the Wall Street bankers and the right-wing politicians they fund—
notwithstanding the bankers’ fondness for government bailouts. But
Rand’s philosophy found most of its adherents in the libertarian wing
of the party, a group that overlaps with, but is certainly not
identical to, the “business conservatives” who fund the bulk of the
GOP’s activities. There has always been a strong strain of rugged
individualism in America, and the GOP has cleverly managed to co-opt
that spirit to its advantage. The problem is that Rand proclaimed at
every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but
contempt for Christianity as a religion of weaklings possessing a
slave mentality. So how do Republican candidates manage to bamboozle
what is perhaps the largest single bloc in their voting base, the
religious fundamentalists, about this? Certainly the ignorance of many
fundamentalist values voters about the wider world and the life of the
mind goes some distance toward explaining the paradox: GOP candidates
who enthuse over Rand at the same time as they thump their Bibles
never have to explain this stark contradiction because most of their
audience is blissfully unaware of who Ayn Rand was and what she
advocated. But voters can to some extent be forgiven their ignorance,
because politicians have grown so skillful at misdirecting them about
their intentions.
This camouflaging of intentions is as much a strategy of the religious
right and its leaders—James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson, and
the rest—as it is of the GOP’s more secular political leaders in
Washington. After the debacle of the Schiavo case and the electoral
loss in 2008, the religious right pulled back and regrouped. They knew
that the full-bore, “theoconservative” agenda would not sell with a
majority of voters. This strategy accounts for Robertson, founder of
the Christian Coalition (who famously said that God sent a hurricane
to New Orleans to punish the sodomites), stating the following in
October 2011: “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay
off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the front-runners,
into positions that will mean they lose the general election.” I doubt
he thought the candidates held positions that were too extreme, merely
that they should keep quiet about those positions until they had won
the election. Max Blumenthal, author of Republican Gomorrah, argues
that this is a “lying for Jesus” strategy that fundamentalists often
adopt when dealing with the snares of a wicked and Godless world.
Since Satan is the father of lies, one can be forgiven for fighting
lies with lies.
Hence the policies pursued for at least two decades by the religious
right on the federal, state, and local levels. It usually starts at
the school board, after some contrived uproar over sex education or
liberal indoctrination. The stealthily fundamentalist school board
candidates pledge to clean up the mess and “get back to basics.” After
a few years they capture a majority on the board, and suddenly
“Catcher in the Rye” is heaved out of the curriculum and science
teachers are under pressure to teach the (imaginary) controversy about
evolutionary biology. This was the path to greater glory of Michele
Bachmann: Her first run for public office, barely a dozen years ago,
was for a seat on the school board in Stillwater, Minnesota. Up until
then she had drawn a taxpayer-funded salary for five years working as
an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, not, of course, because
she was one of those lazy, good-for-nothing government bureaucrats
that Republican candidates routinely denounce. She was secretly
studying the ways of the government beast so as to defeat it later on.
Bachmann, Rick Perry, and numerous other serving representatives and
senators have all had ties to Christian Dominionism, a doctrine
proclaiming that Christians are destined to dominate American politics
and establish a new imperium resembling theocratic government.
According to one profile of Perry, adherents of Dominionism “believe
Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’
over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of
what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media
“stealthily.”
At the same religious forum where the GOP candidates confessed their
sins, Bachmann went so far as to suggest that organized religion
should keep its traditional legal privilege of tax exemption while
being permitted to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. The
fact that government prohibits express political advocacy is in her
imagination muzzling preachers rather than just being a quid pro quo
for tax-exempt status equivalent to that imposed on any 501(c)3 or
501(c)4 nonprofit organization. But for Bachmann and others of like
mind, this is persecution of a kind that fuels their sense of
victimhood and righteous indignation.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of the Penguin Group
(USA) Inc., from “The Party is Over” by Mike Lofgren. Copyright © 2012
by Mike Lofgren.
http://www.salon.com/2012/08/05/republicans_slouching_toward_theocracy/?mobile.html
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