Of everything coming out of this year’s Iowa Family Leadership Summit, the fear factor is what stayed with me.
It was a constant, discomfiting undercurrent, like a loose nail poking up in your shoe. It was organization President Bob Vander Plaats declaring this a time of “spiritual warfare,” and speaker Joel Rosenberg announcing America is “on the road to collapse” and “implosion,” and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, warning grimly, “We are living in some very dangerous times.”
The third year of the event sponsored by the self-described Christ-centered organization that seeks to influence policy and elections, brought big name politicians Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry to Ames, Iowa, this past weekend. They were there to rally the Republican base in the lead-off caucus state. But the upbeat, love-God-and-country tone of previous events appeared at times to have been replaced by a somber, calamitous note of foreboding. Even Satan got a few mentions.
Projected onto a giant screen to punctuate Vander Plaats’ remarks was a video filled with haunting images of Osama bin Laden, Adam Lanza and the Boston marathon bombings. It depicted a rising national debt, marijuana, Boys Scouts, gay rainbow flag and a woman holding up a “Keep abortion legal” sign. It ended with someone yelling, “God is dead. Hail Satan!”
Sponsors and speakers still exalted matrimony and procreation in heterosexual relationships, called for putting God back in the classroom and government, and called abortion murder. But this year’s message was: The nation is in moral decline. Ignore it at your own peril. That was even carried into foreign policy.
Rosenberg, an evangelical Christian born to a Jewish father, said the United States must not support a two-state solution in Israel because a sovereign Palestinian state “defies the biblical mandate.” Interesting that a Christian American would presume to tell Palestinian Muslims they don’t deserve a homeland because of what the Bible says. This follows an evangelical belief that Jews from around the world will gather in Israel, where the second coming of Christ will occur, and — though Rosenberg didn’t spell this out — be converted to Christianity.
“God loves you but if we don’t receive Christ, there are consequences,” Rosenberg warned.
Is fear a new strategy for the Family Leader and its affiliated Family Research Council and Focus on the Family? Is it a response to flagging interest and political losses? Organizers said there were 1,200 attendees, and that there has been steady growth in three years. But many seats were empty. Is it a concession they’re losing the battle over abortion and gay rights? Abortion has not been completely outlawed, even under a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority. Having succeeded in getting three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court voted out over same-sex marriage, a few years ago, the Family Leader failed in its more recent campaign against a fourth. Same-sex couples are celebrating wedding anniversaries with children and grandchildren, and the planet has survived.
What the planet might not ultimately survive — global warming — wasn’t on the agenda. In fact, if this were a true gathering of faith leaders, one might have expected some commitment to keeping the environment healthy, some compassion for the poor and immigrants. There were calls for abolishing the entire tax system that sustains the poor in times of need. There were calls for boosting border patrols to turn back young asylum seekers before their cases are heard. Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, boasted of having cut 1,400 state employees and cut property taxes, which fund education, more than ever in Iowa history.
But if it were a political forum to vet candidates, a Jewish, Muslim, agnostic or atheist one would have had no place there. In one video, Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, said, “The only place you get right with God is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.”
Outside in the parking lot, some protestors from Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, which describes itself as a social and educational organization, objected. “The summit is attempting to define legislation through Christian dogma,” said protestor Jason Benell. “They want to blur the line between church and state. That’s not what Iowans want.”
He also objected to the idea that faith was necessary to have a good family. His group sees a ramping up of religious rhetoric in response to the Family Leader’s “fear of losing its base.”
Everyone will, of course, vote according to their own priorities. But America is not a theocracy, so it’s alarming to see politicians, by attending and playing to the sponsors, play into the notion that worshiping Jesus should be a prerequisite for federal or state office. America also cannot base its Mideast policy on some biblical interpretation about Israel. Whatever our religious affiliation or lack of it, I’d guess most voters have better explanations for Sept. 11 or the Sandy Hook shootings than God’s revenge – and would like to practical, reason-based solutions from those seeking office.
By: Rekha Basu, Columnist, The Des Moines Register; The National Memo, August 14, 2014
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