While the flap over Rush Limbaugh’s latest in a long line of offensive and hateful commentary continues on, other figures with (arguably) more longevity and influence continue their assault on Barack Obama and what they see as the decline of Christian America. To wit: the Texas intellectual entrepreneur David Barton, who provides the footnotes for the “war on religion” thesis that currently has captivated the right.
Most recently, Barton’s post, “America’s Most Biblically-Hostile President,” details a theme that has become known to the public largely through the Gingrich/Santorum bloc: that Barack Obama has led the most actively anti-Christian administration in American history. This is a talking point with a lot of traction across the airwaves and blogosphere of the right.
Given Obama’s frequent Christian testimony—explicit enough to make most founding fathers uncomfortable with its public expression of private matters—how can this view be so widely held?
Is it because, like Thomas Jefferson, Obama has been sitting in his office, snipping away with his scissors and cutting out the relatively few passages of the Bible that he has deemed worthy of inclusion in his own expurgated text of trustworthy Gospel sayings? Is it because, like Andrew Jackson, he has opened the White House doors to the huddled masses, yearning to sip some “cider” with the POTUS and his crew? Is it because, like Abraham Lincoln, he avoids any explicit mention of Jesus, and confesses that the ways of the Almighty are unknowable to humans?
No, of course not. Rather, it boils down to this: because Chuck Norris, Franklin Graham, and the American Family Association (whose biblically-based policy toward employees has been detailed by Sarah Posner) say so. And because David Barton has 47 footnotes that say so. Yes, it’s true: Bibles being burned by the military; the president allowing for the funding of stem-cell research; the denigration of Christianity and the “preferentialism” towards Islam; the Air Force Academy (in my home city of Colorado Springs) forced to pay to “add a Stonehenge-like worship center for pagans, druids, witches, and Wiccans”; the celebration of Iftar and conscious shunning of National Prayer Day at the White House; and on and on.
If you think this issue hasn’t caught fire with the base, just check out the screens of hatefully acidic commentary when Messiah College History Professor John Fea’s piece on Obama as the “most explicitly Christian President in U.S. History” found its way onto The Blaze. John Fea’s auto-da-fé came not only in the comments section, but in nasty emails, phone calls, and demands for his firing from Messiah College. As he discovered, the culture wars are real, and practiced even on those (like Fea) who largely have been critical of Obama’s actual implementation of his promises about faith-based policies.
More important than these blogosphere wars, however, is understanding something deeper about these screeds about Obama as the anti-Christian force behind the homosexual/Islamic/secularist/socialist/radical agenda.
The “deep history” behind the latest round of Christian right polemics can be followed back through a long tradition of worries about the decline of a Christian America. Ultimately, these can be traced back to the founding of the Republic. More directly, they emerge from the rise of Christian apocalyptic conservatism from the early twentieth century forward. Matthew Sutton details a similar assault on the FDR administration, one with numerous parallels to the contemporary campaign against Obama, in “Was FDR the AntiChrist,” a Journal of American History article whose findings are distilled in this New York Times piece. These themes carried forward into the “suburban warriors” who empowered the rise of the Goldwater right in Cold-War California, and then to what came to be called the “New Christian Right” of the 1970s and 1980s. Communism disappeared from the enemies list after 1989 (except for older Christian right stalwart David Noebel, who keeps even that faith while leading the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade even into his retirement), but Islam, an economic “New World Order,” the “gay agenda,” the always-present secular humanists and feminists, and numerous other threats arose to take its place.
A Religion of Fear
Perhaps this is because we always need a “Party of Fear,” whether it comes in the form of Federalists dubious of democracy in the New Republic, or nativists fearing the influence of “new immigrants” in the 1850s (or the 2000s), or contemporary commentators suspicious of Obama’s foreign, Islamic, or radical roots. Even from his grave, hack journalist Andrew Breitbart continues to taste that fear, and spread the hate. And a “religion of fear” serves a multitude of purposes for its followers, both titillating and politically energizing. Fear is fun—and fear is mobilizing.
Unlike Barton, Breitbart claimed no particular Christian credential, instead reveling in the joys of political mudslinging. Barton, by contrast, has recently appeared in works with respected Christian historians, and exercises a quiet and long-lasting influence through his congressional connections, his intellectual one-stop-shop for all things Christian Nation, and his role as unofficial (and official) vetter of history textbooks. Like a one-man think tank, he steamrollers opponents with position papers, textbooks, blog posts, talking head appearances, and footnotes. In his work on the Christian origins of the United States, at least he has a modicum of evidence to produce, given the Christian proclivities of certain of the founders. In the war against Obama, however, Chuck Norris and Franklin Graham have to stand in the stead of Patrick Henry or Parson Weems.
Thus, for the anti-Obama agonists, the president’s overtly Christian testifying, praying with Billy Graham, championing of C. S. Lewis, and quoting of the Old Testament in major public speeches simply shield the fact that the enemy always comes clothed in righteousness—and that the Great Deceiver is among us.
David Barton summarizes it most succinctly: “Many of these actions are literally unprecedented—this is the first time they have happened in four centuries of American history. The hostility of President Obama toward Biblical faith and values is without equal from any previous American president.” Roll over, Thomas Jefferson.
By: Paul Harvey, Opinion, Religious Dispatches, March 9, 2012
Texas Gov. Rick Perry formally launched his presidential campaign last weekend, apparently hoping to upstage those competitors who were slugging it out in the Iowa Straw Poll. The event was won by Michele Bachmann, whose core supporters come from the same Religious Right-Tea Party crowd expected to be Perry’s base. He may have just made it official, but in fact Perry has already been running hard. A week before his announcement, he solidified the devotion of Religious Right leaders and activists with a defiantly sectarian prayer rally sponsored by some of the country’s most extreme promoters of religious and anti-gay bigotry. His financial backers began hitting up donors a while ago.
Perry is hoping to take advantage of a relative lack of enthusiasm for the current Republican field and its erstwhile front-runners. His potential to upset the field is reflected in the fact that he was polling in the double-digits before even entering the race, drawing far more support than candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum who have seemingly been running for years. Ed Kilgore at The New Republic wrote recently that Perry has become “the unity candidate of the GOP” because he “seems to perfectly embody the Republican zeitgeist of the moment, appealing equally to the GOP’s Tea Party, Christian Right, and establishment factions while exemplifying the militant anti-Obama attitude that holds it all together.” Perry does indeed draw support from both establishment and far-right Republicans: last year, prizes offered by his election campaign included lunch with GOP strategist Karl Rove and a spiritual tour of the U.S. Capitol with right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton.
The Religious Right
Perry’s love affair with even the most extreme elements of the Religious Right is a long-term relationship that started years before the recent prayer rally. Over the years, Perry has persistently backed the efforts of Religious Right activists on the Texas school board to use the textbook selection process to impose right-wing religious and political ideology on science and history textbooks. He has shown little respect for the separation of church and state and has worked to further restrict access to abortion in the state.
His re-election campaigns have relied heavily on church-based organizing and networks of far-right evangelical pastors mobilized by the likes of self-described “Christocrat” Rick Scarborough. According to the Texas Freedom Network, Between May 2005 and October 2008 the Texas Restoration Project held eight pastors’ policy briefings. Part of Perry’s invitation to the October 2008 event said:
While Congress occupies its time trying to legislate defeat in Iraq, we hope you will attend a Pastors Policy Briefing that will equip you to walk point in the war of values and ideas.
Rediscovering God in America — Austin is intended to remind us that excuses are not the proper strategy when facing evil and confronting enemies. Instead, we must rally godly people and seek God’s provision for the resources, the courage, and the strength necessary to win and, ultimately, glorify Him.
In 2009, he participated in a closed-door session with Texas pastors sponsored by the U.S. Pastor Council, and hosted a state prayer breakfast that featured Gary Bauer as the keynote speaker. And last year, he was visited by a group of pastors associated with the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation, who told him that God had chosen him for bigger things; they were among the leaders of last weekend’s “Response.”
The Response itself was called by Perry but sponsored and paid for by the American Family Association, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its pattern or spreading false and denigrating information about gay people, and which promotes some of the ugliest bigotry spewed on the nation’s airwaves. Among the extremist co-sponsors and speakers at The Response were dominionist Mike Bickle, who has said that Oprah is a harbinger of the anti-Christ, and pseudo-historian David Barton, who claims that Jesus opposed progressive taxes, the minimum wage, and collective bargaining by unions.
The Tea Party Right
Perry also seamlessly blends the Tea Party’s anti-Washington fervor with the Religious Right’s Christian-nation vision. Last year, at an event sponsored by the Texas Eagle Forum, Perry said the November 2010 elections were “a struggle for the heart and soul of our nation.” Said Perry, “That’s the question: Who do you worship? Do you believe in the primacy of unrestrained federal government? Or do you worship the God of the universe, placing our trust in him?”
If it seems remarkable and contradictory that Perry would seek the presidency so soon after speculating on the benefits of seceding from the union “if Washington continues to thumb its nose at the American people,” it is no less contradictory than Perry promoting his anti-Washington book, “Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” while repeatedly requesting federal emergency assistance to fight wildfires that have raged in Texas this year.
The Economic Right
Perry is almost certain to make jobs — and his claims that Texas’ low-tax, low-regulation, low-wage environment would be good for what ails America — a centerpiece of his campaign. In fact he has been publicly praying about regulations that he says stifle business and jobs. That vision will almost certainly make Perry popular among the corporate funders that are increasingly funneling money into Republican campaigns in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that corporations have the same rights as citizens to influence elections.
Perry’s economic policies may be good for corporate profits, but they aren’t much of an economic model for the rest of us. Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wroteearlier this year:
Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere.
Debt owed by the state of Texas has doubled during Perry’s tenure as governor; the state’s per-capita debt is worse than California’s. And this year, Texas lawmakers wrestled with a budget shortfall that Associated Press called “one of the worst in the nation.” Perry’s budget relied heavily on federal stimulus funds to plug a massive 2010 budget deficit. The budget finally passed this year cut some $4 billion out of state support for public education and is expected to result in tens of thousands of teacher layoffs.
Meanwhile, Texas ranks at or near the bottom of many indicators of individual and community health. It is worst in the country in the percentage of children with health insurance and pregnant women receiving early prenatal care. It has the highest percentage of workers earning at or below the minimum wage. It has the lowest percentage of adults with a high school diploma. It is worst for known carcinogens released into the air and among the worst for toxic pollution overall.
The Right Online
Perry has sometimes adopted the Sarah Palin approach to media. According to the conservative Daily Caller, Perry declined to meet with newspaper editorial boards during his primary race against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, but “went out of his way to make himself available to conservative bloggers.” The Caller‘s Matt Lewis predicts that “a large percentage of conservative bloggers for sites like RedState.com” will “jump on the Perry bandwagon.”
Perry the Prevaricator
Perry statements have received no fewer than seven “pants on fire” ratings from Politifact Texas; he earned those awards for repeated false statements about his policies and his political opponents. Of 67 Perry statements reviewed by Politifact, 14 were declared false in addition to the seven “pants on fire” lies — while another 10 were rated “mostly false.” Only 17 were considered true (10) or mostly true (7), with 19 called “half true.”
Perry and the Republican Party
If Rick Perry does indeed become the Republican “unity candidate,” that will be further evidence that the GOP has become the party of, by, and for the far right — a party that has abandoned any credible claim to representing the economic interests or constitutional values embraced by most Americans.
By: Michael B. Keegan; President, People For the American Way, Published in Huff Post Politics, August 17, 2011