August 17, 2004
Conventional Facades: Why the Republicans Have to Hide their Agenda
by Maureen Farrell
"Some wonder if the president might be influenced by evangelical teachings that envision an end-of-the-world battle between Israel and its enemies. It would be dangerous for a president to take a particular theology like that and apply it to world events." -- Former Nixon aide Charles Colson, U.S. News, March 10, 2003
"Their beliefs are bonkers, but they are at the heart of power: US Christian fundamentalists are driving Bush's Middle East policy." – The Guardian, April 20, 2004
"Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move." – The Village Voice, May 18, 2004
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Soon after Dick Cheney told Sen. Pat Leahy to "go f**k himself," the Republican National Committee feigned outrage over actor Alec Baldwin’s assertion that the GOP has been "hijacked" by "fundamentalist wackos." While the word "wackos" is indeed jarring, there are few suitable descriptions for the Harry-Potter-fearing, Armageddon-embracing, End-of-Days experts the White House reportedly cavorts with.
And while the Guardian used the more colorful term "bonkers" to describe this mindset, regardless what one calls it, a palpable stench of weirdness fills the air. After uncovering notes proving that White House staffers were "taking two-hour meetings with Christian fundamentalists," the Village Voice announced, "apparently, we're not supposed to know the National Security Council's top Middle East aide consults with apocalyptic Christians eager to ensure American policy on Israel conforms with their sectarian doomsday scenarios."
Baldwin or no Baldwin, does any of this sound normal to you?
But politics being what they are and diplomacy being what it is, former Clinton administration official Robert Reich denounced the use of the abrasive term "wackos," while agreeing with Baldwin on principle. "Undoubtedly the Republican Party is relying to an extraordinary extent -- it has relied to an extraordinary extent -- on right-wing religious conservatives. . . that is well documented " Reich said, "just look at who the ground troops of the Republican Party are."
Despite the fact that Karl Rove needs an extra four million evangelical votes in 2004, (Ironically, Baldwin’s younger brother, Steven, appears to be among them) and despite the fact that the Bush campaign has been caught crossing church and state lines to hustle votes, these ground troops will be mostly MIA at the upcoming Republican National Convention.
With undecided battleground states carrying substantial clout, it seems that God’s Own Party is conjuring up a special made-for-TV GOP fantasy world wherein John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger rule the roost and GOP Grendels -- the folks Lee Atwater once referred to as the "extra chromosome" conservatives -- remain hidden beneath the convention floorboards.
With polls showing that the majority of Americans (including coveted swing voters) favor stem cell research by as much as 70%, and with most preferring to keep religion out of politics, the GOP has plenty to hide.
So, though conservative figureheads like Rick Santorum, Sen. Sam Brownback and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have been recently added as speakers to quell unrest within the base ("If the president is embarrassed to be seen with conservatives at the convention, maybe conservatives will be embarrassed to be seen with the president on Election Day," Religious Right activist Paul Weyrich recently wrote), there will be little evidence of the greased-up, Bible-thumping turbo engine currently driving the party.
Yes, in lieu of the GOP Congressmen who’ve been peddling Christian nation legislation, Democratic ideologue Zell Miller will appear on the stump. Instead of agenda-maven Tom DeLay, we’ll see stoic Rudy Giuliani. And rather than the less-than-conventional John Ashcroft, John McCain will be selling the GOP soap.
"They put on a fake Potemkin Village version of the Republican party," Bill Maher recently lamented on Larry King Live, adding that Arnold Schwarzenegger "doesn't represent what the Republican party is really going towards."
No, of course he doesn’t. Zell Miller does.
What the Republican party is "really going towards," you see, isn’t what most Americans want. For the most part, Jane and John Q. Public aren’t praying for Armageddon or a star-spangled theocracy, and chances are, most don’t even realize how diligently some GOP activists have been laying the groundwork for both.
In 1992, Frederick Clarkson, the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, warned that the "wildest dreams of the far right in America may actually be within their reach — control of the Republican Party," and little more than a decade later, Christian fundamentalists are, to quote the Guardian, "at the heart of power."
"For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political movement, the president of the United States has become the movement's de facto leader," the Washington Post announced in 2001, long after Bush raised eyebrows by going to Bob Jones University and speaking before the Council for National Policy.
And when former Council for National Policy member Pat Robertson resigned as head of the Christian Coalition, it was considered a sign. "I think Robertson stepped down because the position has already been filled," Gary Bauer said, referring to President Bush’s role as the new head of the Religious Right. "You're no longer throwing rocks at the building; you're in the building," Ralph Reed added, regarding Christian conservatives' long struggle to gain control.
Bush’s own Messianic rhetoric aside, since G.W. barreled into power, there have been evangelical fingerprints throughout the Oval Office. From the U.S. approach to Iraq to participation in the global fight against AIDS to the failed Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage, the far reach of the far right has been felt like never before.
And though some of this is pure strategy (the million gays who cast their vote for Bush in 2000, for example, are too geographically scattered to make a dent in the 19 battleground states, so why not throw the Christian Right a gay marriage bone?) some of it is very real. Talking to callers on Larry King Live, Bill Maher offered an excellent assessment of just how intertwined religion and policy have become:
It is scary of course, except for the millions of believers, who, assured of their own salvation, anxiously await Armageddon (The Rapture Index "a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity" or "prophetic speedometer," if you prefer, says that, with a current score of 149, we’re at the "Fasten your seatbelts" peak of prophetic activity.)
In 1987, Coalition on Revival head Jay Grimstead began planning for a "long-range social and political takeover" of American politics. Five years later, author Frederick Clarkson wrote, "Never in the wildest dreams of the far right, nor for that matter, the rest of the GOP, did anyone think such people could get this far."
And five years after that, former presidential candidate and current American Values head Gary Bauer was one of the signatories of the Project for a New America Century’s mission statement (along with Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz), and, in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, signed an open letter to G.W. Bush, pushing him to attack Iraq.
Not too long ago, Rep. Tom DeLay also told evangelical Christians that 1) "God is using him to promote ‘a biblical worldview’ in American politics"; 2) He "pursued Bill Clinton's impeachment in part because the Democratic president held "the wrong worldview"; and 3) that "only Christianity offers a comprehensive worldview."
With the Values Action Team reportedly facilitating Religious Right causes through DeLay’s office, it’s not surprising that the most powerful man on Capital Hill (who scores 100% on the Christian Coalition's scorecard) recently announced that one of his policy goals will be "to reestablish what he sees as the rightful role of religion in public places. . . "
And, though various news sources have reported on ways Biblical prophecy is influencing political reality, the Guardian has highlighted George Bush’s and Tom DeLay’s involvement in it all. Describing how "dispensationalism," a doctrine which involves ousting the Palestinians in order to make way for the Second Coming of Christ, isn’t merely found in the pages of Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, but in American politics, Matthew Engel spelled out what few ever mention -- how, after the Rapture, the Antichrist will destroy most of the Jews. "In other words, these Christians are supporting the Jews in order to abolish them," Engle explained.
But will any of this Voodoo be mentioned at the Convention? Don’t bet on it.
Recently, Religious Right bigwig Dr. James Dobson appeared on Hannity and Colmes to discuss the convention controversy. "The Republican convention has in prime time a bunch of moderates: George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Where are the social conservatives? And are you disturbed that more people on your side of the Republican Party are not being represented in prime time speeches at the Republican convention?" Alan Colmes asked.
"Well, Alan, we haven't yet seen the entire list," Dobson replied, adding, "Of course, the president will be speaking. And he's a conservative."
Saying that as "a chairman of a large pro family organization that's a 501c3 [he’s] not in a position to endorse candidates," Dobson then proceeded to make a backdoor endorsement -- singing George Bush’s praises, while following Karl Rove’s playbook. Citing the "four million evangelicals who did not vote in 2000," Dobson reported that, thanks to the defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment (and, one surmises, thanks to G.W. Bush’s support for it) he sees a record turnout. "I see [evangelicals] more motivated, far more motivated than four years ago, " he said. "And it wouldn't take very many of those four million to make a big, big difference when the country is split."
Most Americans, however, scoff at the notion that 1) the Religious Right is anything other than a "fringe" annoyance or that 2) Jesus will make a comeback any time soon. But as certain as beefed-up WMD claims led to a preconceived war, fundamentalists are taking extreme measures to win their dream date with Jesus. Meanwhile, many Americans, like those slothful bunnies in Watership Down, will gobble the carrots the Republicans dangle, unaware that, in time, they could be soaking in the stew.
"I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004," Pat Robertson told his 700 Club audience earlier this year, promising that, "It doesn't make any difference what [Bush] does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."
And though Time called former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed "the right hand of God" in 1995, by April, 2004, Atlantic Monthly reported that Reed "has moved on from doing God's work to doing George W. Bush's."
And so it goes.
they'll be mostly tucked away during the Republican convention, the "ground
be working behind the scenes to make sure that George W. Bush wins
the White House. All the while praying
for God to deliver us from God knows what.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell