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“WTF Is ‘Natural Marriage’?”: When You Don’t Like The Way A Debate Is Going, Change The Terms

Today’s Politics 101 pop quiz: In the course of a fierce ideological battle, when it becomes clear that one side is getting its butt kicked, what are leaders of the losing team expected to do? A. Double down. B. Scare the crap out of their followers. C. Beg for money. D. All of the above.

No one really needs help with this one, do they?

So with public acceptance of gay marriage growing faster than Justin Bieber’s rap sheet, the culture warriors at the Family Research Council have been hawking their National Campaign in Defense of Natural Marriage. In multiple email calls to arms, FRC president Tony Perkins is urging people of “character and values” to “take a stand” by signing an on-line petition and, while they’re at it, donating a little something to this “counteroffensive.” By March 31, FRC wants—nay, “needs”—250,000 signatures and $1.1 million to “fund this demanding work of behalf of America’s families.” At that point, the e-petition will be deposited at the feet of the group’s latest hero, Sen. Ted Cruz, “in a public display of support for natural marriage.” Perkins pleads/warns/threatens: “I want to encourage you: natural marriage is not a lost cause in America—unless we give up and let the same-sex ‘marriage’ advocates have their way because we failed to stand up for what is right.”

Now, as a political obsessive subscribed to an unhealthy number of email lists, I receive a daily flood of overwrought solicitations from across the spectrum. Most I toss after a quick glance. But Perkins’s latest entreaties stopped me, not because of their tone or topic but because of their language. Specifically, I somehow missed the moment when “natural marriage” became the preferred term of anti-gay-marriage crusaders. (Sadly, despite several interview requests, the folks at FRC were unavailable to discuss this matter.)

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. As political rhetoric goes, “natural marriage” is ever so much more evocative—and, better yet, provocative—than the more commonly employed term “traditional marriage.” After all, plenty of folks would be amenable to, or perhaps even charmed by, the idea of an untraditional marriage. An unnatural marriage, by contrast, brings to mind all manner of unsavory couplings—like, for instance, the man-on-dog action that keeps Rick Santorum up at night. And, indeed, defenders of “natural marriage” talk a lot about how gay marriage is an affront to God’s “natural law.”

The folks at FRC did not, it should be noted, come up with the phrase on their own. The Catholic Church, for instance, tends to refer to “natural marriage” in contrast to “sacramental marriage”—the former being an exclusive, lifetime covenant between a man and a woman of no particular religious backgrounds, while the latter is specifically the union of a man and woman baptized within the Church. In this context, a natural marriage, while good and legitimate, is nonetheless spiritually inferior to a sacramental one.

Less canonically, “natural marriage” is also at times used as a rough synonym for “common-law marriage.” Even if limited to the hetero variety, such non-ceremonial arrangements, recognized by only a handful of states, would seem to be a far cry from the super-stable family environments that natural-marriage advocates are ostensibly seeking.

Not that any of this much matters now, as “natural marriage”  has become a rallying cry for those looking to beat back, as Perkins puts it, “the agenda of the Progressive Left and radical homosexual lobby.” Back in 2004, a FRC pamphlet promoting hetero-only unions was all about “traditional marriage,” as were many of the group’s other communiques up through 2012. More recently, however, its commentary has been increasingly all “natural,” so to speak. Similarly, conservative groups like the Liberty Counsel (the legal nonprofit that takes up conservative causes pro bono) and Americans for the Truth about Homosexuality are solidly on the “natural” bandwagon.

As conservative spin doctor Frank Luntz taught us, if you don’t like the way a debate is going, you need to change the terms. Literally. Trying to rally a nation against the estate tax is a tough lift. But a “death tax”? Now there’s rhetorical gold. “Global warming” = scary and bad; “climate change,” not so much. In some cases, the differences may amount to no more than a couple of letters—say, the Democratic party vs. the Democrat party. And when it comes to firing up the faithful, not to mention separating them from their cash, “natural marriage” certainly seems to pack more gut-level oomph than its more “traditional” cousin.

The debate in question, however, may be beyond the point of such rhetorical retrofitting. These days, not even the veiled threats of bestiality, polygamy, and other comparably “unnatural” acts seem likely to derail the marriage equality train. Which may explain why, with less than a week left in its petition drive, FRC had yet to crack 10,000 signatories. Only 240,000 to go.

 

By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, March 27, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Backyard Barbeque To Food Fight”: CPAC, The Right-Wing Woodstock Or A Bad Family Reunion?

Like at a family reunion, the infighting at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) started long before anybody arrived.

First, the group American Atheists announced that it would be sponsoring a booth at the conference, with the goal of bringing conservative nonbelievers “out of the closet.” The religious right was not pleased.

“CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense,” said the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. But he made clear that atheists would certainly not fit under his umbrella: “Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God?” he asked. Good question.

So, the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, gave the atheist group the boot. In response, the atheists showed up anyway to debate attendees in the hallway.

Then there was the perennial problem of the gays. In 2011, religious right groups including the FRC boycotted CPAC after the ACU allowed the conservative LGBT group GOProud to cosponsor the event. Once again, the establishment sided with the religious right and for the next two years banned GOProud from participating. This year, ACU offered a “compromise” in which GOProud was allowed to attend the event but not to so much as sponsor a booth in the exhibition hall. The “compromise” was so insulting that one of GOProud’s founders quit the organization’s board in protest.

But what about the people who were too embarrassingly far-right for CPAC? Not to worry, there’s no such thing.

Although the atheist and LGBT groups were too far off-message for the ACU, it did allow the anti-immigrant group ProEnglish to sponsor a booth at CPAC. Just a quick Google would have told the conference organizers that ProEnglish is run by a zealous white nationalist, Bob Vandervoort. In fact, CPAC’s organizers might have recognized Vandervoort’s name from the uproar his inclusion in the event caused in 2012 and 2013.

Now, just because the ACU was ready to welcome anti-immigrant extremists doesn’t mean that that was enough for immigrant bashers. A group of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim activists who were worried that CPAC was going too soft on their issues organized an alternative conference across the street. One of their concerns was the perennial conspiracy theory that ACU member Grover Norquist is a secret Muslim Brotherhood agent. Another is that CPAC dared to hold a panel featuring immigration reform proponents.

They shouldn’t have worried. Three days of speeches on the CPAC main stage made clear that many prominent conservative activists have no intention of moderating their stance on immigration reform. Donald Trump told the audience that immigrants are “taking your jobs,” Rep. Michele Bachmann said she wouldn’t even consider immigration reform until they “build the danged fence,” and Ann Coulter, never one to disappoint, suggested that if immigration reform passes “we organize the death squads for the people who wrecked America.” Then, there was One America News anchor Graham Ledger, who used the CPAC podium to claim that because of immigration, schools no longer teach “the American culture.”

To be fair, CPAC did make some efforts at opening the Republican umbrella, hosting a panel on minority outreach off the main stage. But the gesture would have been slightly more meaningful if anybody had bothered to show up.

Any family has its squabbles. But this awkward backyard barbeque has turned into a full-fledged food fight.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For The American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, March 11, 2014

March 12, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, CPAC | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tax-Exempt Hatred”: The IRS Should Strictly Police Hate Groups Seeking Non-Profit Tax-Exempt Status

A few weeks ago, Forbes magazine published an intriguing column by Peter J. Reilly that asked an important question: If the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Family Research Council a hate group, should the IRS take action?

In the column, Reilly criticizes a paper by University of Georgia Professor Alex Reed. Reed argues that the IRS must do a better job enforcing its procedure 86-43, which is the standard it uses to determine if a tax exempt organization is advocating an educational point of view or one that produces materials that are factually unsupported, distorted or make substantial use of inflammatory and denigrating language. If it organization does the latter, the procedure indicates that it does not qualify for tax-exempt status.

Reed writes that the IRS’ poor oversight of 86-43 has allowed many out-of-compliance organizations to keep their preferential tax benefits, particularly hate groups. Hate groups advocate hostility toward certain groups of people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. He references The Family Research Council, which has a long history of publishing offensive propaganda about the LGBT community.

Other tax-exempt organizations not mentioned by Reed, but with similar reputations include: the anti-LGBT Family Watch International,  whose research archive contains numerous offensive, junk science studies on gays and lesbians, and the xenophobic Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has volumes of distortions broadly denigrating immigrants.

Reilly argues that strict enforcement of 86-43 wouldn’t work because “if somebody expresses a view that you find threatening to your world view, you are likely to conclude that they hate you.” In other words, it would be impossible for any IRS employees to enforce 86-43, because any threat to their beliefs would trump their professional obligations. He ignores the possibility that the IRS could punish employees for targeting organizations based on their personal or political beliefs, an obvious, much needed reform given the IRS’s political targeting of tea party organizations earlier this year.

Both Reilly and Reed would do better not framing their arguments around what organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center deems hate groups. In fact, the hate group term doesn’t even need to be involved. Any organization whose educational materials don’t conform to the procedure should be scrutinized. The IRS must ground its enforcement on its rules, not the Southern Poverty Law Center’s position.

Enforcement has nothing to do with limiting an organization’s free speech. The Family Research Council, Family Watch International, Federation for Immigration Reform or any other group masquerading as educational institutions don’t need tax-exempt status to exercise their civil liberties. One is not necessary to the other.

Enforcement has to do with the fair application of rules designed to maintain the integrity of the tax-exempt system. Preferential tax treatment is, for all intents and purposes, a government subsidy administered through the tax system. If a tax-exempt organization is flouting the standards by which its status is awarded, it shouldn’t expect the government to continue to assist it in the coordination of its financial activities. The government is not obligated to make it easier for these organizations to threaten people’s basic rights and freedoms. In fact, the government has a moral, legal and ethical obligation to do the opposite.

By: Jamie Chandler, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, November 19, 2013

November 20, 2013 Posted by | IRS | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Meet The New Republican Party”: GOP Leaders Recommit To Same Old Far-Right Culture War

Earlier this year, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus accepted the fact that his party’s social conservatism had alienated many young voters, women, and moderates. The party would still adhere to its platform, Priebus said in March, “but it doesn’t mean that we divide and subtract people from our party…. I don’t believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics.”

At the time, this seemed quite sensible. Understanding the Republican Party’s unpopularity is a multi-faceted dynamic, but its economic failures and extremist tactics are only part of the larger problem. The GOP’s support for a far-right culture-war agenda — anti-contraception, anti-gay, anti-reproductive rights, anti-Planned Parenthood — has taken a toll, too.

This support has manifested itself in Republicans’ legislative priorities — the House GOP has been preoccupied this year with votes on abortion and birth control — but it’s not limited to Capitol Hill.

Marriage, abortion and religious liberty are the top cultural topics to be addressed at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit.

Conservative political issues will be a major part of the presentations, but the social-cultural issues “are what define us as an organization,” said retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin of the Family Research Council (FRC), a main sponsor of the annual conference, which is now in its eighth year.

Right Wing Watch highlighted some of the fringe extremists who’ll play prominent roles at the right-wing conference, but the key takeaway is simple: Republican leaders will join these fringe extremists as if they’re mainstream.

Looking over the list of confirmed speakers at the Values Voter Summit, we see several sitting Republican U.S. senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio), and many more sitting Republican U.S. House members (Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and Scott Turner of Texas).

The list of confirmed speakers also includes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was on his party’s national presidential ticket less than a year ago.

And why are these guests important? Because it’s a reminder that no matter how much damage the Republican Party’s culture war does to the GOP’s reputation, they just can’t help themselves. The religious right movement may not be the powerhouse it once was — remember when the Christian Coalition was a major force in American politics? — but it still is a significant part of the GOP base, even if it helps drive mainstream voters away.

Indeed, for Republicans eyeing national office, this has become something of a rite of passage — if you want to compete for the GOP’s presidential nomination, you’ll have to suck up to the party’s theocratic wing.

A group of longtime Christian conservative activists are holding a private meeting Thursday in Washington to hear informal presentations from two of the most talked-about potential Republican presidential candidates: Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The gathering is being held in conjunction with the Family Research Council’s Values Voters conference, an annual gathering of Christian conservatives in Washington, but it is not an official part of that event. Rather, it is being staged by a loosely-organized group of Republican leaders that call themselves “Conservatives of Faith.”

The hosts include Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, the former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, the conservative talk show host Janet Parshall and Richard Viguerie, the direct mail pioneer, along with a handful of others from the conservative movement. [Robert Fischer, a South Dakota-based conservative organizer] is the group’s chief organizer.

Meet the new Republican Party. When it comes to social conservatism, it’s entirely indistinguishable from the old Republican Party.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 11, 2013

October 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“RNC Boosts Evangelical Outreach”: The Religious Right Is Not Too Pleased With Republicans

In the wake of the party’s election setbacks last year, the Republican National Committee has focused on outreach to a variety of constituencies that have been turning towards Democrats: Latinos, African Americans, younger voters, women, etc.

But it’s against this backdrop that we also see the RNC boosting its outreach efforts to a group of voters that ostensibly represents the party’s existing base.

The Republican National Committee has brought on a director of evangelical outreach to massage the party’s complicated relationship with religious conservatives, GOP sources told CNN on Saturday.

The party organization has hired Chad Connelly, a consultant and motivational speaker who, until this weekend, was the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.

Connelly resigned from that job Saturday and informed members of the state party’s executive committee that he will be taking a job at the RNC…. Connelly, a Baptist, has told multiple South Carolina Republicans that he will be steering the national party’s outreach to faith-based groups.

There are two broad questions to consider. The first is, who’s Chad Connelly? The Republican is far better known for his work leading the South Carolina GOP than engaging in faith-based activism. Upon taking over the state party two years ago, Connelly vowed to become President Obama’s “worst nightmare,” and then largely faded from the national scene.

That said, Connelly wrote an 80-page book in 2002, called “Freedom Tide,” which made a series of ridiculous claims about the United States being founded as a “Christian nation.” The book was panned for its inaccuracies and wasn’t exactly a best-seller

But the other question is, why in the world would the Republican National Committee have to focus on evangelical outreach right now?

The answer, I suspect, has something to do with the fact that the religious right movement isn’t nearly as pleased with its RNC allies as one might assume. As we discussed in April, many of the movement’s most prominent leaders and activists publicly threatened to abandon the Republican Party altogether unless it continues to push — enthusiastically — a far-right culture war agenda.

The threats coincided with a call from Tony Perkins, president of the right-wing Family Research Council, that social conservatives stop contributing to the RNC until the party starts “defending core principles.”

That might help explain why the RNC hired Connelly, but as we talked about at the time, it’s not at all clear what more the religious right community seriously expects of the party.

After all, Republican policymakers are banning abortion and targeting reproductive rights at a breathtaking clip, pursuing official state religions, eliminating sex-ed, going after Planned Parenthood, and restricting contraception. Heck, we even have a state A.G. and gubernatorial candidate fighting to protect an anti-sodomy law.

What’s more, folks like Reince Priebus are condemning Planned Parenthood and “infanticide,” while Paul Ryan is speaking to right-wing groups about a future in which abortion rights are “outlawed.”

And social conservatives are outraged that Republicans haven’t pushed the culture war enough? Why, because the RNC hasn’t officially declared its support for a theocracy yet?

Presumably, it’s now up to Connelly to help make this clearer to the party’s evangelical base.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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