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“The Mantle Of Sanctimony”: Christian Fundamentalism Is Weakening Force In Politics

In the waning days of March, a scandal has engulfed the Alabama State Capitol as Gov. Robert Bentley fired his top cop, who then turned around and accused the governor of having had an extramarital affair. The controversy engines hit high gear with the release of a salacious audiotape, in which the governor is overheard telling his listener how much he loves her and enjoys touching her breasts.

For all the inevitable handwringing and headlines, though, the accusations of Bentley’s romantic dalliance with a staffer — long-rumored in Alabama political circles and seemingly confirmed when his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in 2015 — are unlikely to damage his political standing. Nothing to see here, folks.

Except this: The disgrace of Bentley — a churchgoing, Bible-thumping moralist — is just one more gaping hole in the mantle of sanctimony that has afforded the Christian right a special place in American politics for the last 40 years. Though you will still occasionally hear rhetoric from the campaign trail that purports to espouse Christian values, fundamentalist Christianity — at least as a potent voting bloc — is pretty much a spent force in GOP politics.

If you have any doubt about that, just survey the current GOP presidential field, which is led by the narcissistic, non-Scriptural, thrice-married hedonist Donald Trump. Ted Cruz bet his presidential run on his bona fides as a true believer in the fundamentalist strain of Christianity, which emphasizes church attendance, public prayer and a narrow-minded moral code (at least for public consumption). But in primary contests so far, Trump has at least held his own with conservative churchgoers.

That’s the only thing about Trump’s baffling rise that prompts me to say a couple of hallelujahs. I don’t mourn the passing of fundamentalist Christianity as a commanding force; its adherents have done little to advance moral or ethical values.

With a precious few exceptions, they don’t promote social justice, or work to eliminate poverty, or campaign for compassion toward the “stranger” — immigrants. Instead, they have tried to impose their mean and rigid religious beliefs on public policy, misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and misunderstanding the civic underpinnings of a pluralistic democracy.

Their enthusiasm for Trump underscores what has always been true about that group: They have strong nationalist and authoritarian impulses; they’re xenophobes; they’re averse to social change. There is also, among some white fundamentalist Christians, a strong whiff of racism.

It helps to remember the early days of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979 and arranged a marriage of convenience with the Republican Party. As pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, he railed against the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools and denounced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “Communist subversive.”

Falwell abandoned that rhetoric after he became a nationally prominent figure, but he didn’t abandon his right-wing views on race. His foray into national politics began when the federal government moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the white-only private schools — “seg academies” — that sprang up in the wake of public school desegregation. Falwell had started his own seg academy in Virginia.

Given the animating passions of Falwell’s followers, it’s no surprise that so many conservative Christians have made a seamless transition to Trump. They had already shown themselves to be flexible on their principles, so long as their politicians continued to support the policies that were really important to them. Those include contempt for the poor, suspicion of Muslims, and a nationalist rhetoric that insists on dominance on the world stage.

Bentley has hewed closely enough to that line to make it unlikely he’ll pay any price for his alleged affair. (For the record, Bentley has stated, unconvincingly, that he has not had any “physical” relationship with the staffer.)

For example, the governor supported the state’s extremely harsh law aimed at illegal workers, even though it originally included a provision (since struck down by a federal court) making it a crime to “transport” an undocumented immigrant. Some critics pointed out that could punish a good Christian who offers an immigrant a ride to church.

Neither Bentley nor his supporters minded a bit.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, March 26, 2015

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Christian Right, Donald Trump, Robert Bentley | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Holier Than Thou”: Alabama Governor Exposed As A Hypocrite

He won’t admit it, but Alabama Governor Robert Bentley pretty clearly had an affair with one of his top staffers. The best proof of this is an audiotape that just surfaced of Bentley and his chief adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, having a very suggestive telephone conversation. The governor says he loves her, talks about locking the door if they’re going to repeat what they did yesterday, refers to touching her breasts, and more along the same lines. If this isn’t proof enough for you, the source of the tape is someone in Bentley’s family who suspected an affair was going on, and who took the tape to law enforcement in an effort to get Bentley to discontinue the affair. At the same time, in August 2014, Bentley’s wife of 50 years filed for divorce. Clearly she had all the proof she needed.

While rumors of an affair have swirled for a long time, it’s coming to light now because Bentley fired Alabama’s top police officer and this police officer immediately went to the press to argue that he had proof of the affair and that he had been fired for cooperating in an investigation of the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. He also accused the governor of misusing states funds to conduct and hide his affair.

So, aside from what one might think about adultery (Rebekah Caldwell Mason is married), there are some potential legal questions here.

Mainly, though, this is another example of hypocrisy. Gov. Bentley is a Deacon and Sunday School Teacher at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. He has served on the church’s Youth for Christ Advisory and Family Counseling Advisory boards. He was a 2009 recipient of the Christian Coalition of Alabama’s Statesmanship Award.

Back in January 2011, after he was elected but before he took office, Gov. Bentley spoke at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. What he said offended a lot of people.

“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit,” Bentley said. “But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.”

Bentley added, “Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”

Telling people who aren’t Christians that they aren’t your brothers and sisters seems pretty obnoxious but, Bentley tried to be reassuring, “We’re not trying to insult anybody.”

In any case, he strongly carved out the “Holier Than Thou” position and then proceeded to conduct an extramarital affair, possibly including the misuse of state funds, improperly tried to influence a corruption case against the Alabama Speaker, and he’s still lying about it.

He claims he acted inappropriately but he never had an actual physical relationship with his staffer.

No one believes him.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 24, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Adultery, Christians, Robert Bentley | , , , | Leave a comment

“Protecting Conservative Principles”: Alabama Blocks Local Control On Minimum Wage

It’s been nearly two years since Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced that her state would not only ignore calls for a higher minimum wage, but also that the state law would block any effort by local Oklahoma communities to raise wages at the municipal level. In other words, if a city in Oklahoma wanted a higher minimum, the state would effectively declare, “Too bad.”

Last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) made the same move, prohibiting local control over minimum-wage increases. And last week, MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported on the identical circumstances playing out the same way in Alabama.

Birmingham, Alabama, raised the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour on Tuesday. Two days later, the state took it away.

Alabama passed a bill Thursday, largely along party lines, that bars cities and counties from raising the minimum wage or requiring employers to provide leave or other benefits. Because the law applies retroactively, it wipes out Birmingham’s raise.

Republican legislative leaders fast-tracked the bill in order to pass it before Birmingham’s raise was set to take effect March 1. The GOP enjoys super-majorities in both houses. Within an hour or so of the bill’s passage, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) announced he had signed it.

It’s amazing how quickly Republican policymakers can move when they feel strongly about an issue. In this case, their zeal applied to blocking a city that wanted to raise its own minimum wage.

The L.A. Times reported that there are now 17 states that prohibit their own cities from raising a local minimum wage – because if there’s one thing the right believes in as a bedrock principle of their entire ideology, it’s the importance of local control, except when Republicans decide they actually believe the exact opposite.

As we discussed the last time this came up, contemporary conservatism generally celebrates the idea that the government that’s closest to the people – literally, geographically – is best able to respond to the public’s needs.

But when communities consider progressive measures Republicans don’t like, those principles are quickly thrown out the window.

So, let this be a lesson to everyone: when officials in Washington tell states what to do, it’s an outrageous abuse and clear evidence of government overreach. When states tell cities what to do, it’s protecting conservative principles.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 29, 2016

March 1, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Conservatives, Minimum Wage, State and Local Governments | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jeb Can’t Even Handle The Little Stuff”: The Simple Job Of Finding A Couple Of Handful Of People To Serve As His Delegates

We have a very convoluted system for electing our president, and particularly so within our party nominating contests. In some places we have caucuses that are followed by county and state conventions where delegates are selected to the two parties’ respective national conventions. In other places, we have primaries where delegates appear directly on the ballot. In these cases, it’s not just a matter of getting the candidate’s name on the ballot, you also have to field enough delegates to take advantage of the support you get from the voters. In Alabama, at least, Jeb Bush couldn’t meet this basic test.

One data point promoted by the Bush team as a show of organizational strength: Bush already is on the ballot in 13 states. But Ohio Governor John Kasich isn’t far behind, with his name on the ballot in nine states. First-term U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s team said they’ve put his name on ballots in 17 states and territories.

In Alabama, one of the Bush campaign’s top targets in March, Bush has endorsements from a member of Congress, a handful of state legislators and statewide officials. Yet, in contrast with Donald Trump or Marco Rubio, Bush wasn’t able to find a full slate of delegates to run on the ballot by Friday’s deadline.

“It’s been hard to recruit people to run because of how his numbers have gone,” said Chris Brown, an Alabama Republican strategist who worked for the Florida Republican Party when Bush was governor.

This obviously undermines Jeb’s main arguments for his own candidacy. He’s supposed to be competent and experienced. His team is supposed to know what it is doing and have a shot at matching the team the Clintons will bring to the general election contest. He’s supposed to have enough establishment support and resources to not have to worry about things like ballot access that can be a real challenge to cash-strapped and little-known candidates.

And, yet, even in a deep red state where he’s got significant establishment support, he couldn’t accomplish the simple job of finding a couple of handfuls of people to serve as his delegates.

It’s almost sad, really.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 10, 2015

November 11, 2015 Posted by | Delegates, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Right That Is Fundamental To Our Democracy”: Two States, Two Competing Futures For Voting Rights In America

“The Voting Rights Act has been an effective tool in protecting a right that is fundamental to our democracy,” declared a rising congressional leader in 2006, “and renewing this landmark law will ensure that each and every citizen can continue to exercise their right to vote without the threat of intimidation or harassment.”

Incredibly, that statement of unequivocal support for voting rights came not from a Democrat, but from then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Of course, while it’s easy to forget now, Boehner was hardly taking a courageous stand; despite a long history of right-wing opposition to the Voting Rights Act, Boehner was merely endorsing a bipartisan reauthorization bill that passed 390 to 33 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Upon signing it, President George W. Bush said, “My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court.” Nearly a decade later, the political landscape for voting rights has changed dramatically. We are now witnessing a clash between two radically opposing visions of American democracy.

One vision is on display in Alabama, where, half a century after civil rights activists marched on Selma, state officials are systematically undermining the right to vote. Following the implementation of a strict voter ID law, Alabama recently announced the shuttering of 31 driver’s-license offices across the state. The closures will make it more difficult to obtain the identification required to vote and will disproportionately affect the state’s black population. Indeed, as the Birmingham News’s John Archibald wrote , “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed.”

The other vision is on display in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently signed automatic voter registration into law, making California the second state to approve such a measure, after Oregon did so earlier this year. Under the new law, eligible Californians will be automatically registered when they apply for a new driver’s license or renew an existing one unless they opt out. The hope is that automatic registration will raise low voter turnout, which fell to 42 percent in the 2014 election. The law could affect an estimated 6.6 million voting-age Californians who are not registered. “We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process,” said California Secretary State Alex Padilla. “The right to vote should be no different.”

In short, while the Alabama vision seeks to restrict participation in our democracy, the California vision aims to maximize it. As my Nation colleague Ari Berman, author of “ Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” put it, “Unlike Alabama, California is using the power of the government to bring millions of new voters into the political process — treating the vote as a fundamental right, rather than a special privilege.”

The unfortunate reality, however, is that Alabama is not alone. Today, the Republican Party appears to view legitimate voting rights as a threat to its survival. In fact, limiting the number of people who decide our elections has become a central part of the Republican Party’s mission.

Just consider the record. Over the past five years, Republican state legislators have aggressively pushed voter ID bills and other policies that make it harder to vote, especially for Democratic-leaning minority groups, successfully passing laws in 21 states. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, which Republican leaders vocally praised a decade ago, in a controversial 5-to-4 ruling split along party lines. And in Congress, a Democratic bill designed to restore the law has just one Republican supporter in either chamber.

The competing visions are also apparent in the 2016 presidential race. This month, Republican contender Jeb Bush explained that he does not support restoring the Voting Rights Act because “There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting,” making it unnecessary to impose protections “as though we’re living in 1960.” In contrast, Hillary Clinton issued a bold call for automatic voter registration in June, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced an automatic voter registration bill in August. “Today Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting,” Clinton declared. “What part of democracy are they afraid of?”

It’s no secret why Republicans would rather prevent some people from voting. While they run up big margins in midterm elections with low turnout, Republicans have won the national popular vote just once in the past six presidential elections. Moreover, instead of answering to the American public, Republican candidates are increasingly beholden to the privileged few who fund their campaigns. In the 2016 election cycle, nearly half of the contributions to presidential candidates so far have come from just 158 families. As the New York Times reports, “They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male.” They are also overwhelmingly backing Republicans, of course, thereby “serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies.” It’s a strategy of delay, of buying time, of staving off the inevitable.

But change is coming whether Republican politicians and their billionaire backers like it or not. They have disgraced our democracy with their voter suppression strategy, but they are not powerful enough to stop it. They will eventually have to reckon with a country that is more diverse, more compassionate and more progressive. The Alabama vision will not prevail.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 20, 2015

October 26, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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