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“Part Of A Deliberate Strategy”: The Religious Right Finds Its Man

The pattern started in earnest in 1996. Social conservative leaders weren’t sold on Bob Dole as the Republicans’ presidential nominee, but the religious right movement struggled to rally behind a credible alternative.

As we discussed in March, in nearly every election cycle that followed, a similar dynamic unfolded. In 2000, the religious right wanted John Ashcroft, who didn’t run. In 2008, the religious right hated John McCain, but it couldn’t settle on a rival. In 2012, social conservatives were skeptical about Mitt Romney, but again, it failed to coalesce behind someone else.

The movement and its leaders were absolutely determined not to repeat their mistakes. This would finally be the cycle, the religious right’s heavyweights insisted, in which social conservatives en masse made an early decision, chose a competitive GOP candidate, and helped propel him or her towards the convention.

And though I was skeptical of their organizational skills, social conservative leaders, for the first time in a generation, are doing exactly what they set out to do. National Review reported late yesterday:

James Dobson, founder of the Christian group Focus on the Family and one of the nation’s most influential evangelicals, will endorse Ted Cruz for president today, according to sources briefed on the announcement. […]

Dobson, sources say, has long been an outspoken voice on Cruz’s behalf, arguing in previous private gatherings that Marco Rubio was not sufficiently conservative to earn the group’s support.

The endorsement from Dobson, a powerhouse in religious right circles, comes on the heels of similar support from the Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats, the National Organization for Marriage, and GOP activist/direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie.

This isn’t a situation in which prominent social conservatives suddenly saw the merits of the Texas Republican’s candidacy. On the contrary, it’s part of a deliberate strategy.

National Review reported earlier this week on the religious right’s initiative to formally choose the movement’s presidential hopeful.

The initiative, spearheaded by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, had originally brought together a loose coalition of some 50 like-minded conservative leaders from around the country. Together, beginning in early 2014, the group – referred to internally simply as “The GROUP” – met every few months to discuss the state of the race, to pray for guidance, and to conduct a straw poll to see which candidates enjoyed the most support at each stage of the campaign.

It had all built to this day and to this meeting, where members would vote until they reached a verdict. Once finalized, their decision would represent the culmination of an oft-dismissed undertaking that began several years earlier and aimed at one thing: coalescing the conservative movement’s leaders behind a single presidential candidate in a show of strength and solidarity that would position them to defeat the establishment-backed candidate in the head-to-head stage of the 2016 Republican primary.

And two weeks ago, in a hotel boardroom in Northern Virginia, Ted Cruz cleared the 75% supermajority threshold “required to bind the group’s membership to support him.”

Dobson’s endorsement is part of the initiative’s rollout, and his Cruz endorsement will reportedly soon be followed by the Senate Conservatives Fund Ken Cuccinelli and the FRC’s Tony Perkins.

Will this translate into success for the far-right senator? It’s true that social conservatives’ influence over the direction of the Republican Party isn’t as strong as it once was, but this constituency still represents a significant chunk of the GOP base, especially in states like Iowa.

In a competitive nominating fight, which will likely come down to three or four people, Cruz’s formal alliance with the religious right may very well make an enormous difference.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 18, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Christian Right, Establishment Republicans, Evangelicals, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stealth Religion-Based Support”: Jeb’s Strategy With The Christian Right; Osmosis

If you are used to thinking of Jeb Bush as this Establishment Republican that hard-core conservatives–including the Christian Right–mistrust, this little nugget from a recent National Journal piece by Tim Alberta and Tiffany Stanley might be a jarring reminder of the long reach of Jeb’s family:

[P]owerful Christian conservatives are operating what amounts to a stealth campaign on Bush’s behalf. Some are old allies from the Florida days; others are holdovers from George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns. Some are both, including Ralph Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a longtime friend of Jeb’s who served as Southeast regional chairman of George W.’s 2004 reelection effort (and thus practically lived in Florida). Multiple GOP sources say that Reed has been urging Jeb Bush for several years to make a 2016 run and spoke with him recently to game out the campaign. Like many of the organizations that Bush’s supporters lead, Reed’s coalition demands impartiality from its leaders, so Reed can’t openly back his man—unless, as some suspect will happen, Reed ultimately decides to join the campaign officially.

This makes Jeb’s decision to blow off the big Iowa cattle-call of Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition this weekend a bit more interesting, eh? Seems Jeb would prefer quiet consultations with his close friend Ralph Reed to open pandering. And indeed, that’s the theme that comes through from stem to stern in the Alberta/Stanley article, which begins with Jeb simultaneously refusing a formal vetting session with Iowa Christian Right kingpin Bob Vander Plaats while trying to charm him privately. We also learn that last summer Jeb flew out to Colorado to hobnob with the leadership of Focus on the Family, and spent a whole day with Russell Moore, the highly influential head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He’s extremely close to the president of Florida’s Ave Maria University, sort of the Harvard of hyper-traditionalist Catholicism (and the site of Rich Santorum’s now-famous “spiritual warfare” speech). And he has the support and advice of Mark DeMoss, who was the Romney campaign’s chief liaison to conservative evangelicals in 2012–not to mention the positive memories of many Christian Right folk about his role in the Terri Schiavo saga of 2005.

At a minimum, if Jeb wins the GOP nomination, he will not have to waste time on any courtship of conservative Christians. But at a time when (a) some Christian Right leaders like Russell Moore are expressing a preference for less noisy and more strategically minded political champions and (b) there will be an awful lot of the noisy types in the field, Bush may be quietly competing already with Scott Walker for stealth religion-based support. And he doesn’t really even have to blow many dog whistles: it’s more a strategy of osmosis, where Christian Soldiers learn to view him as a comrade-in-arms who is all the more effective for trying not to set off too many alarms in the secular-socialist enemy camp.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 22, 2015

April 23, 2015 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Jeb Bush, Religious Right | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Covert Religious Supremacist Agendas”: The $1-Billion-A-Year Right-Wing Conspiracy You Haven’t Heard Of

Have you heard of the $1,750-per-person “Gathering,” which starts Thursday in Orlando, Florida?

Probably not. But if you’re female, gay, non-Christian, or otherwise interested in the separation of church and state, your life has been affected by it.

The Gathering is a conference of hard-right Christian organizations and, perhaps more important, funders. Most of them are not household names, at least if your household isn’t evangelical. But that’s the point: The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest. They’re probably behind that, too.

Featured speakers have included many of the usual suspects: Alliance Defending Freedom President and CEO Alan Sears (2013), Focus on the Family President Jim Daly (2011), and Family Research Council head Tony Perkins (2006). This year, however, they are joined by David Brooks of The New York Times and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post. What’s going on? Has The Gathering gone mainstream?

Hardly, says Bruce Wilson, director of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out’s Center Against Religious Extremism and a leading researcher on The Gathering. The selection of this year’s speakers, he says, is just the latest in a long line of misdirections and canards.

To be sure, untangling webs of funders, organizations, and campaigns can often feel like conspiracy-mongering. Your brain begins to resemble one of those bulletin boards from A Beautiful Mind or Se7en, full of paranoid-seeming Post-Its and strings. Wilson has been untangling these webs for years, and sometimes it shows. His many publications and his emails to me are long-winded, occasionally exaggerated, and sometimes hard to follow.

But often he’s dead on. And beneath the hyperbole, The Gathering is as close to a “vast right-wing conspiracy” as you’re likely to find. So with this year’s conference about to get under way, Wilson gave The Daily Beast an exclusive interview over email—heavily redacted here—about this shadowy, powerful network of hard-right funders.

Lets start with the basics. What is The Gathering?

The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity. Last year, for example, The Gathering 2013 brought together key funders, litigants, and plaintiffs of the Hobby Lobby case, including three generations of the Green family.

The Gathering was conceived in 1985 by a small band of friends at the Arlington, Virginia, retreat center known as The Cedars, which is run by the evangelical network that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. This stealthy network is known as The Family or The Fellowship. Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power described it in great detail.

How much money are we talking about here?

The evangelical right financial dynasties and foundations that meet each year at The Gathering dispense upwards of $1 billion a year in grants. But even that is overshadowed by the bigger sums that The Family and The Gathering have managed to route from the federal and state government to fund their movement via the Faith-Based Initiative program, USAID, PEPFAR and other multibillion-dollar programs.

You mentioned the National Christian Foundation. I bet most of our readers havent heard of that, either. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The NCF was created, back in 1982 or so, to maximize hard right-wing evangelical Christian philanthropic giving. It was so novel and complex, the architects got a special ruling from the IRS, to make sure it was legal. The NCF has multiple overlapping legal entities and holding companies, but at the core is a huge donor-advised fund. The NCF is now the 12th biggest charitable foundation in America that raises money from private sources.

Since its founding, the NCF has given away over $4.3 billion, $2.5 billion of it in the last three years. The NCF gave away $601,841,675 in 2012—and is estimated to have given out $670 million in 2013.

One reason the NCF, a donor-advised fund, has been so successful is that it ensures anonymity for its philanthropists. Many of these individuals may fear a backlash, given the controversial causes that they support.

But we do know about the NCF’s leadership. Two of the NCF co-founders were tied to Campus Crusade for Christ, and the late Larry Burkett, a NCF co-founder, was also one of the co-founders of the Alliance Defense Fund/Alliance Defending Freedom, now the religious right’s preeminent umbrella legal defense fund. NCF’s other co-founder, Atlanta tax lawyer Terrence Parker, sits on the board of directors of the Family Research Council, and also The Gathering Foundation, which puts on The Gathering.

From 2001-12, the NCF gave $163,384,998 to leading anti-LGBT organizations. These include Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund), Campus Crusade for Christ (aka CRU), the National Organization for Marriage, and the Alliance for Marriage. They fund ex-gay ministries like Exodus International, exporters of homophobia like Advocates International, you name it.

The NCF is just getting started, though. The Green family—who were at The Gathering in 2008 and 2013—have said they intend to leave much of their fortune to it. And in 2009, Hobby Lobby-related contributions were the No. 1 source of NCF funding (about $54 million), which we know because Eli Clifton, funded by The Nation Institute, somehow got hold of an NCF 2009 990 Schedule B form, which shows NCF’s top funders that year (Hobby Lobby was No. 1, Maclellan Foundation No. 2).

On another note, Chick-fil-A’s VP and CFO, James “Buck” McCabe, is on the board of the NCF, and in 1999 no less than three of Chick-fil-A’s top leaders spoke at The Gathering (S. Truett Cathy, Dan Cathy, and Don “Bubba” Cathy).

Having worked in philanthropy myself, I can say that these figures are astounding. The leading private funder of LGBT issues gives out about $16 million a year. Which other funders will be there?

Other major players include the John Templeton Foundation ($104,863,836 in 2012 grants), the Barnaby Foundation ($39,939,489), the Christian Community Foundation (an NCF “spinoff”), and the family foundations of the DeVos families (including Rich DeVos, one of the original funders of the Christian Right), Howard & Roberta Ahmanson (operating as Fieldstead & Company—and among the most notorious right-wing funders in America), Adolph Coors, and many others.

Interestingly, some more secular right-wing funders—Scaife, Olin, Bradley—are not known to attend The Gathering.

And yet The Gathering also has some mainstream figures on the schedule, including David Brooks of The New York Times and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post.

Well, there are two possibilities. One, Brooks knows a bit about the underlying politics of The Gathering but doesn’t care, which is to say he’s on board with that political agenda to the extent he’s willing to lend his reputation to the event. Two, he’s relatively clueless. He’s been conned. Which would raise questions about his political acumen.

I’m very suspicious that Brooks’ planned appearance at The Gathering was an outgrowth of his heavy participation in the Faith Angle Forum of frequent The Gathering participant Michael Cromartie, who advises elite secular media on the culture wars, which he is also helping to wage. In 2008 Cromartie talked to The Gathering about the need to “infiltrate” secular media. His Faith Angle Forum was created to bring together elite journalists who covered religion and politics with “experts.” And experts they are—but they’re all picked by Cromartie, and many of them have been speakers at The Gathering, as well.

A lot of these issues are pretty unsurprising: fight the gays, fight abortion. But your research also shows that these Christian Right funders are behind a lot of climate denial.

Yup. Over the last decade, he NCF has pumped over $140 million into groups that oppose action to curb climate change and portray concern over global warming as part of a satanic conspiracy to impose a tyrannical “One World Order” or “New World Order.”

Michael Cromartie, whom I just mentioned, will be one of the presenters at The Gathering 2014. He is a signatory to the positions of the Cornwall Alliance, a rump religious coalition opposing action to curb human-caused climate change. The Cornwall Alliance was itself masterminded by E. Calvin Beisner, who helped coin many of the most popular arguments of the global warming denialist/inaction crowd, in a late 1980s-early 1990s book series project led and financed by Howard Ahmanson and his Fieldstead & Co.

Most of the major players in the Christian Right signed the Cornwell Alliance papers. The Ethics and Public Policy Center (NCF gave it $115,000 over 1- years), Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship ($12,768,852), Focus on the Family ($44,754,804), Campus Crusade for Christ ($55,233,717), Family Research Council ($17,707,343), Concerned Women for America ($160,163), American Family Association ($2,024,033), and others.

This is exhausting, depressing stuff. What keeps you going?

First, endless exposure to the politicized religious right renders the disturbing nature of the subject banal. So at one level, it becomes just another job specialization. Most days, I might as well be studying some obscure species of sea snail.

But I think the story of the politicized religious right is one of the biggest untold stories of our time. It’s the story of how a covert political movement, driven by a well-organized, -funded, and committed minority, has perturbed the political arc of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful nation on Earth—and how it has subverted the national dialogue.

I’m annoyed at the basic dishonesty of religio/political phenomena such as The Gathering that lay claim to the Christian tradition but ignore its underlying mandate of truth-telling. The semi-covert movement represented by The Gathering may not be able to conquer America and its “7 mountains” (Loren Cunningham, co-originator of the 7M motivational mantra, addressed The Gathering in 2001), but it nonetheless exerts considerable force on international politics, and not in an especially honest manner.

The world needs better. There are many problems to address. And I think world religions can become part of the solutions that guide us toward a better outcome in coming decades, but only insofar as they put aside covert, religious supremacist agendas and work for the common good of all. And workable solutions will require honesty—not currently a hallmark of The Gathering.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, September 25, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Christian Right, Evangelicals, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Suffering Is The Whole Point”: This Is Going To Hurt You More Than It Hurts Me

We’re now having a national debate on the merits of corporal punishment, an issue that has many facets and brings up all kinds all kinds of complications involving religion, culture, gender, authority, and tradition. I’m not going to begin to address even a small portion of them, but I do want to talk about one thing that gets me a little perturbed about this discussion.

If you actually look at what corporal punishment advocates (and yes, there are people who do that on a semi-professional basis) say, there’s a constant effort to characterize “good” corporal punishment as something that isn’t really all that unpleasant for the child. They say it should never be done in anger (and if more than one out of 20 actual spanking incidents in the real world isn’t done in anger, I’d be shocked), but only in a controlled, limited way that is over quickly, causes no injury, produces only temporary discomfort, and carries the ultimate message, “I love you.”

As Focus on the Family founder James Dobson wrote in his book Dare to Discipline, which has sold millions of copies, a bit of “minor pain” is the way nature instructs us about things that are unwise to do. “God created this mechanism as a valuable vehicle for instruction,” he writes. Dobson also recommends using a “neutral object” of some sort, “because the hand should be seen as an object of love.” And if your child cries for more than five minutes after a spanking, you can shut that whole thing down “by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears.”

I will give Dobson credit for not shying away from the central philosophical underpinning of corporal punishment, which is that the infliction of pain and fear on your child is the whole point of the practice.

The assumption of corporal punishment is this: the child did something wrong, and in order to convince the child not to do it again, I will subject them to physical anguish. Thereafter, their fear of living through that anguish again will be so powerful that it will constrain their behavior. That this is the logic at work is utterly undeniable. If that wasn’t the logic, there would be no point. You can’t say the purpose of a pain-based physical punishment is to “get their attention,” because there are a hundred ways to get someone’s attention. The purpose is to hurt them and render them fearful of reliving that pain.

By that logic, Adrian Peterson’s actions only seem a tad overenthusiastic. His four-year-old son snatched a video game controller from another kid, and as a consequence got a vicious beating from a muscle-bound adult. You can bet he won’t be snatching any more game controllers from anyone! Mission accomplished.

Or maybe he will; there’s a raft of research showing that “short-term compliance” — i.e., stopping what the kid is doing right at that moment — is pretty much the only positive outcome from corporal punishment, while it’s associated with a range of negative long-term psychological and behavioral outcomes. But even if you think that it’s good for your kid (or somebody else’s), you should at least have the courage to acknowledge that making the child suffer is the whole point.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 18, 2014

September 19, 2014 Posted by | Child Abuse, Corporal Punishment | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Marriage Con”: The Stabilizing Force In Society For “The Socialization” Of Men

The talk of marriage these last few weeks—whether about same sex marriage, young marriage or, most hilariously, Ivy League marriage—reminds me of a fight I had with a high school boyfriend. We had just gotten back together after a brief break up, during which time we both saw other people. He felt very strongly that I had done something wrong by dating someone else. He, of course, was in the clear.

When I pointed out the double standard, he explained his position thusly: If both women and men went around hooking up and having sex, society would be besieged by sexually transmitted diseases. It was up to women to be monogamous and sexually conservative in order to ensure that this wouldn’t happen. (Apparently men are incapable of such a feat.) The health of society, he argued, was dependent on women’s sexual decisions and relationship trends. No readers, I did not date Ross Douthat.

His teen boy logic—as baffling as it was—is actually not far off from conservative culture’s last grasp at saving marriage as they imagine it. And the core of these death throe attempts to hold onto a version of marriage that never really existed is the idea of women—chaste women—as a stabilizing force in society.

Take Focus on the Family’s “talking points” on marriage. Under the headline, “Marriage is Essential to a Thriving Society,” the organizations says straight marriage is necessary because it “socializes men.”

A society’s most serious problem is the unattached male, and marriage links men to women who help channel male sexuality and aggression in socially productive ways. Marriage and parenthood socialize men to care for and respect their wives, other women and children.

See, ladies? We need to be married so that men won’t go raping and pillaging. And let’s not even get into how single moms are told they’re a scourge on society—as if their relationship choices (or non-choices) determine the wellness of the country.

But marriage isn’t just for men’s and society’s benefit of course—if women don’t want to be sad and alone, we’ll hurry up and get a husband as soon as humanly possible. After all, there’s nothing more important a woman can do than be a good traditional wife. Even if you are a literal rocket scientist, the lede of your life will be about your commitment to your husband or your beef stroganoff recipe.

If traditional marriage benefited everyone—not just men and their pesky unsocialized ways—there wouldn’t need to be quite so much cajoling women about how fabulous it all is. (I will never forget the laugh I had when David Brooks assured women that “power is in the kitchen.”) The truth is that this desperate nostalgia for traditional marriage and antiquated gender roles will never be stronger than women’s will to be free from constraining norms.

Conservatives need to understand that what they’re pushing for is an impossible sell: Women’s subservience to the domestic as a cultural grounding force, while men get to work and explore and create? No thank you. We don’t want the good of society on our relationships’ shoulders.

There will always be wistful, wishful-thinking articles hoping to turn the tide on women’s sexuality and partnerships. But there will also always be more women thinking, “good riddance.”

 

By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, April 12, 2013

April 14, 2013 Posted by | Marriage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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