Members of Congress regularly boost their reelection prospects in positive ways like voting in line with the will of their district and participating in the passage of landmark legislation. But we know all too well that they also engage in negative campaigning, lambasting their political opponents and even scapegoating minorities for problems that we must grapple with as a community. Another pernicious habit that appears to be getting more prevalent is the attempt to co-opt religious belief for political benefit.
Some of the many examples include a resolution to reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto and endorse its usage in all public buildings, public schools and other government institutions, and a resolution expressing support for prayer at school board meetings. And just this week Congress passed a bill, the World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2013, which will place a plaque at the World War II monument in Washington, D.C., “with the words that President Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed with the United States on June 6, 1944, the morning of D-Day.”
The prayer being referred to here mentions how “[o]ur sons … this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization.” While some soldiers may have been doing just that, there were certainly other soldiers who did not believe in a god, did not share the same religion, or simply weren’t fighting to preserve it.
Most government officials are well aware that working on these bills is a waste of valuable time since they accomplish little more than alienating Americans who subscribe to minority faiths and philosophies. In fact, there are many important bills that still await passage, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which would prevent discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity) and legislation that would raise the minimum wage. But as some Americans admit that the religious beliefs of a candidate impact their vote, many politicians see no downside to embellishing the importance of their faith and engaging in religious preferentialism.
It is important to note that there are politicians who categorically refuse to endorse religiously motivated bills or other pieces of legislation that would weaken the separation between church and state. And, of course, there are some evangelical “true believers” who genuinely wish to see their religious tenets enshrined into law no matter how it impacts the rights of others. But both of these types of politicians are in the minority.
Unfortunately, the politicians whose religious credentials run only skin-deep have yet to be called out for co-opting their beliefs for political gain, which means that this practice of pushing unneeded and sectarian legislation won’t end anytime soon. What’s needed is for average Americans to stand up and not accept their false declarations of religiosity, respond negatively to their religious pandering, and insist that they instead focus on what actually matters.
It’s past time that this shameful act is ended, before government institutions become even more reviled by an American public that recognizes how Congress is increasingly inefficient and disconnected from the issues they care about. Instead of disingenuously emphasizing beliefs that seem to help politicians in the short term but estrange Americans from their neighbors, Congress should put aside their faux faith once and for all.
By: Roy Speckhardt, The Huffington Post Blog, June 27, 2014
“One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other”: Chris Christie Has Some Pandering To Do In Advance Of His Next Campaign
A pretty significant religious right gathering it poised to get underway in a couple of hours, and the guest list is worth checking out.
Ralph Reed’s three-day Faith and Freedom Coalition conference begins today. This is your social conservative wing of the Republican Party. The speaking lineup:
* Thursday (from noon to 1:30 pm ET): Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX)
* Friday (from 9:00 am to 1:30 pm ET): Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Rick Santorum, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
* Friday (from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm ET): Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Texas Lt. Gov. nominee Dan Patrick, and Mike Huckabee
* Saturday (from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm ET): Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
This, by the way, is only a partial list. The list of luminaries who’ll be on hand for the right-wing gathering also includes Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who’s likely to be elected Majority Leader in a few hours.
There are a few important angles to this. The first is that the Republican Party’s eagerness to pander to extreme social conservatives is hardly a thing of the past. On the contrary, there are 10 sitting members of the U.S. House (including half of the GOP leadership team), six sitting U.S. senators (including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), and two sitting governors, all of whom will no doubt deliver red-meat speeches to this conservative evangelical crowd.
Second, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” Conference is hosted and organized by Ralph Reed, a disgraced former lobbyist. Why would so many powerful Republican leaders want to associate with Reed given his scandalous past? Apparently because much of the political world has decided Reed’s controversial past no longer matters.
And finally, Chris Christie? Really?
The scandal-plagued New Jersey governor can certainly speak to whomever he pleases, but agreeing to speak at a religious right event organized by Ralph Reed, of all people, isn’t exactly an obvious move. It was Christie, after all, who said he’s “tired of dealing with the crazies” after far-right activists criticized the governor for nominating a Muslim judge.
One assumes many of those “crazies” will be on hand for the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s event today.
Indeed, the director of the New Jersey branch of the Faith and Freedom Coalition has repeatedly condemned Christie for being insufficiently right-wing on the issues social conservatives care about most.
But Christie’s national ambitions clearly haven’t waned, and despite the awkward fit, the Garden State governor apparently has some pandering to do in advance of his next campaign.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 19, 2014
Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, sent the pundits scurrying. Shocked and bewildered, they searched around for theories to makes sense of what they had not anticipated happening. Hundreds of articles were written and dozens of explanations were offered.
One of the more fascinating threads that emerged from the cacophony of ideas put forward in the days following the primary was the effort to find a Jewish dimension to the story. Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was the highest ranking Jewish lawmaker in American history, with aspirations to be Speaker of the House. When one adds to that the fact that Brat is a religious Christian who speaks frequently of his faith, the temptation to uncover a Jewish angle became irresistible. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the leading Jewish weekly the Forward, and a variety of other publications duly turned out articles examining, from every perspective, the Jewish and religious sides of the election.
The problem was that there was no Jewish angle, at least not one of any consequence.
David Wasserman, a normally sensible political analyst, got things going with a much-quoted statement to the Times suggesting that anti-Semitism was at play in Cantor’s defeat. Cantor was culturally out of step with his redrawn district, according to Wasserman, “and part of this plays into his religion. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” Sensationalist headlines soon followed. The Week, a news magazine, ran a story entitled “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish?” And the Forward ran an opinion column with the headline “Did Eric Cantor Lose Because He’s Jewish? You Betcha.”
But there was no elephant in the room. There wasn’t even a mosquito in the room. Nobody could turn up a single statement or piece of literature coming from the Brat campaign or anyone else that was even remotely anti-Semitic. And sensationalism aside, the ultimate consensus of virtually everyone was that anti-Semitism was not a factor of any kind in Cantor’s loss.
Conservatives, including Jewish conservatives, cried foul, charging that the point of the coverage was a deliberate attempt by liberals to smear Republican voters as bigots. Perhaps, although my own view is that it reflected media sloppiness and obsessiveness more than political conspiracy.
Another claim was that even in the absence of explicit anti-Semitism, the Brat victory represented a victory for evangelicalism and Christian politics and therefore a long-term threat to Jews and all non-Christian minorities. Vigilance about church-state separation is always appropriate, of course, but it is hard to see the threat here. Brat is often described as aligned with the Tea Party, which is a motley collection of organizations and activists; it has ill-defined religious positions not at all identical with those of evangelical groups, which are diverse themselves. Most important, there is much evidence that Americans are becoming less religious and not more so, and, as the gay marriage issue demonstrates, more tolerant in their religious outlooks.
Mr. Brat, of course, likes to talk publicly of his belief in God, and that is distressing to some people, both Jews and Christians. But God talk is acceptable in America, and people with liberal religious outlooks, President Obama included, also make reference to their religious beliefs from time to time. The key for politicians is to be sure that they ground their statements in a language of morality that is accessible to everyone; Americans need a common political discourse not dominated by exclusivist theology. As long as Brat—and others—stay on the right side of that political line, there is no reason to see this election as a religious watershed for Jews or anyone else, or a victory for religious coercion.
A third claim is that the Cantor defeat represents a disastrous decline of Jewish political fortunes. In this view, Cantor’s defeat is seen as part of a broader pattern: There are 33 Jews in the current Congress, both the House and the Senate, as compared with 39 in the previous one. But here again, this seems like an altogether arbitrary and unfounded assumption. Jews are well represented in all areas of America’s educational, business, and political life, and that is not changed in any way by the defeat of a Jewish Majority Leader in the House of Representatives.
Eric Cantor’s fall from political power is interesting and in some ways important. For decades to come, politicians and professors will study it as an example of what happens when a serious but self-referential politician loses touch with the things that ordinary Americans care about and gets caught up in the big-dollar culture of Washington. But they will say very little about the Jewish dimension of this affair—and that is for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist.
By: Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, a Writer and Lecturer, was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012; Time, June 16, 2014
“Mean Mike”: How Can “The Base” Fully Get On The Bandwagon Of Anyone Smiled Upon By The Godless Liberal Media?
An examination of the rather different tone associating Mike Huckabee’s proto-candidacy for 2016 was inevitable, and it’s been served up usefully by David Freedlander at The Daily Beast. In 2008, he observes, Huck had quite the reputation for being sunny:
Frank Rich, in The New York Times, wrote that Huckabee was the Republican Obama. Rich attributed Huckabee’s rise in the polls to “his message,” which “is simply more uplifting—and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian—than that of rivals, whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o’clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia.”
It was an idea that ricocheted around liberal blogs and talk radio outlets. Sure, Huckabee’s views on social issues were a bit out of right field, but they weren’t appreciably different from those of the rest of the GOP field. And the rest of his policy ideas, even when right-leaning, were bathed in a soft, summer camp biblical glow. People of faith, he said in one memorable speech, need to show that they “are not just angry folks mad about some things we don’t like, but people who have joy in our hearts. People who want to help those without housing to find it, those without drinking water to drink it, to help people who are hungry at night to know what it is to have food.”
Contrast that with today’s Angry Huck:
This new Huckabee told the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, “I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea than there is in the United States.” It’s the Huckabee who said Democrats want the women of America to “believe that they are helpless with Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.” Gone is the talk of evangelicals approaching the political sphere “with joy in our hearts.” Instead, Huckabee now wonders, “Why is it that Christians stand back and take it in the teeth time and time and time again?” It is this Huckabee who defended the Duck Dynasty reality star’s comments on gay marriage and civil rights in the South but accused those who criticize Chick-fil-A’s corporate anti-gay marriage stance of engaging in “vicious hate speech.”
Freedlander bats around several possible explanations for this new, more saturnine Huckabee, from the most obvious (the mood of “the base”) to the more personal (Huck’s furious at himself that he didn’t run for president in 2012). My favorite is the claim from an old rival in Arkansas who says it’s the Happy Huck that was a pose:
“He might have been a Baptist preacher, but he had a mean streak a mile wide,” said Jimmy Jeffress, a former Arkansas lawmaker who served in the statehouse during Huckabee’s tenure.
I’m guessing Jeffress isn’t a Baptist, since he seems to be unaware that meanness is a prized quality in some ministers of that faith community. I once saw a cap on sale at a convenience store in South Georgia with a message that expressed the approach perfectly: “Read the Bible daily. It will scare the Hell out of you.”
In any event, it will be interesting to see if the new Mean Mike persona cuts into the relatively good press Huck is used to getting from people who don’t actually agree with him on much of anything. Indeed, that could be part of the idea: How can “the base” fully get on the bandwagon of anyone smiled upon by the godless liberal media? If that doesn’t work, maybe Huckabee will have to put away the bass guitar.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 6, 2014
“A Theological-Political Vision Lies In Tatters”: Catholicism, George W. Bush, And The Cluelessness Of The Religious Right
Once upon a time, the religious right’s leading intellectuals told themselves an inspiring story. It went something like this: From the time of the Puritans all the way down to the early 1970s, American public life was decisively shaped by the moral and spiritual witness of the Protestant Mainline’s leading churches: The Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and Episcopalians.
But then the Great Collapse began, as these venerable churches sold their souls to the counterculture, abandoned the moral and religious tenets of historical Christianity, embraced a series of increasingly left-wing and anti-American causes, and saw their numbers (and then their cultural influence) plummet. Today these churches are an intellectual and demographic shell of their former selves.
This was a potentially disastrous development, depriving America of the theologically grounded public philosophy that it needs in order to thrive. But as luck — or providence — would have it, the decline of the Mainline churches set in at the precise moment when two other monumental cultural and religious developments unfolded: The rise of a politicized form of Protestant evangelicalism and a revival of intellectual and spiritual energy in the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II. The time was ripe for evangelicals and Catholics to come together to form a successor to the Mainline churches.
The public philosophy promulgated by this new-fangled amalgam of evangelicalism and Catholicism (with the former supplying the foot soldiers and the latter providing the ideas) would be staunchly opposed to abortion and euthanasia. It would be strongly anti-communist. It would be passionately pro-capitalist. It would favor using military force to promote democracy. And it would re-describe the United States, its history, and its form of government in providential-theological terms, with the rights espoused in the nation’s founding documents declared to derive directly from medieval concepts of natural law.
Once the country (or at least a sizable majority) embraced this public philosophy — turning it into a governing philosophy — the United States would supposedly flourish as never before, protecting the unborn, unleashing economic liberty at home, defending democracy and fighting tyranny abroad, and most of all bringing the nation back to its properly Christian roots after the silly season of the 1960s.
It is exceedingly odd that Joseph Bottum has written a book — An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America — devoted to elaborating this story as if it were original to him, when in fact it is derived almost entirely from the writings of the man for whom both of us once worked: The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.
You see, I once edited Neuhaus’ monthly magazine First Things. When I quit to write a book denouncing the ideological project outlined above, Neuhaus brought on Bottum (then the literary editor of The Weekly Standard) as my successor. When Neuhaus died in January 2009, Bottum became editor-in-chief of the magazine. (Twenty-one months later he was summarily dismissed by its governing board for reasons that have never been publicly explained.)
Bottum, a published poet, is a gifted prose stylist. That gives a distinctive flair to his version of the story. But the story itself, in every detail, comes straight from the writings of Neuhaus and his small circle of ideological compatriots: Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Robert P. George foremost among them.
In Bottum’s hands, no less than in the essays and books in which it was originally formulated, the story has some explanatory power. The decline of the Mainline churches is indeed a significant event in recent American cultural and political history — and one that has received insufficient attention from both scholars and intellectuals. (My colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty’s thoughtful reflections on Bottum’s treatment of the topic can be read here.)
But the story also obscures far more than it clarifies. For one thing, Bottum can’t seem to figure out if the problems he identifies with post-Mainline America (including the absence of a unifying, overarching moral consensus and the subsequent rise in acrimonious conflict in our political culture) are a result of Protestant Christianity’s inability to defend itself against an aggressive form of secularism, or if, instead, what we call secularism is actually just a desiccated form of Protestantism (hence the reference to a “post-Protestant ethic” in his subtitle). Either way, Protestant Christianity is to blame for America’s problems.
Which is why Bottum (following Neuhaus and the others) turns to Catholicism for a solution.
The closest we’ve come to seeing this theological-political vision in action was in George W. Bush’s second inaugural address. You remember: It was a speech that consisted of a series of sweeping assertions about America’s God-appointed task to end “tyranny in our world.” (Bush made more than 50 references to “freedom” and “liberty” in a speech of 2,000 words.)
For Bottum, this was “the most purely philosophical address in the history of America’s inaugurations,” one that deployed “a Catholic philosophical vocabulary” rooted in natural law theory to “express a moral seriousness the nation needs.”
That’s one way to look at it.
Here’s another: The speech was a crude expression of American parochialism and pious self-congratulation — the kind of address you’d expect from someone who believed toppling Saddam Hussein was a sufficient condition for creating a functioning democracy in Iraq, and who thinks that presidential rhetoric can rise no higher than paraphrasing the lyrics to “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It was the speech of a simple-minded man leading a simple-minded administration.
The most interesting and original thing in Bottum’s book is a new-found pessimism about the practical prospects for the theological-political engagement he still favors. But I would be more impressed with this darkening mood if it grew out of a realization that great political leadership involves far more than moralistic sermonizing — and that something as partisan and sectarian as a Catholicized version of the Republican Party platform could never serve as the unifying, overarching moral vision of a pluralistic liberal democracy.
Instead, we’re left with vague, evasive statements about how “Catholicism as a system of thought proved too foreign” to play its appointed role as cheerleader for American exceptionalism.
Poor Joseph Bottum. Poor religious right.
They’re down for the count, splayed out on the mat. And they haven’t got a clue about what the hell happened.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, April 11, 2014