By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
God Have Mercy
The Christian Right Wins Again
At the beginning of his presidential quest, George W. Bush went out of his way to welcome the odd fellows of the old New Right coalition. To that end, he hosted weekend gatherings in Texas that included the family-values preacher James Dobson, beloved pastor to millions of middle-aged female television viewers, and Ralph Reed, the feared political consultant to the Christian Right. In his own proposed programs the Texas governor doffed his hat to the Almighty. Like his father, promoter of the ludicrous "thousand points of light," Dubya, under the rubric of "compassionate conservatism," took up Reagan's ideas for turning FDR's social-welfare safety net into an industry for tax-exempt church charities. He spoke glowingly of projects such as pastors running cell blocks in his state's prisons. When asked which philosopher had had the most influence on him, he answered, "Jesus."
Certainly the blue-blooded Bushes aren't exactly the sort of people you'd expect to meet in a Pentecostal church. The Reagan White House reportedly hosted faith-healing prayer sessions (at times, the president is said to have paused to look up to see if He was coming). Dan Quayle, the veep choice of Dubya's dad, was perfectly at home in such settings, making campaign appearances before Christian groups, which sank into melodiously mewing trances. But can anyone imagine George W. Bush wiping the smart-ass smirk off his aging preppie face long enough to talk in tongues?
The Bush family has always been suspect among the New Right, and not just because of its less-than-zealous expression of religious beliefs. Remember that the right picked Reagan in the 1980 primaries over Bush in large part because they distrusted Bush as a lib symp (some even thought he was a Communist traitor) who had sold out the nation as head of the CIA and had ties to the hated Trilateral Commission, a pro-globalism group, which, to the Christian Right, presages the coming of the Beast. The Christers suspected Bush Sr. of being Satan's mole, a secular humanist, a member of the sapper gang in the early skirmishes of the great war of Armageddon that will sort out the Christians from the unbelievers.
Partly for this reason, Dubya is determined to suck up to the fundamentalist Christians, lest they sabotage him later on. The speech at Bob Jones University can be seen as a small step forward in the healing process between the Bushes and the fundamentalist right. Against the setting of the South Carolina primary, it was also a way to offset Gary Bauer, who had been steadfastly representing the Christian Right and was in the process of throwing his support to McCain.
It would appear that Bush's religious pandering ought to help Gore, offering him a chance to paint Bush into a corner as the candidate of the fundamentalist right. In so doing, Gore could reproduce the successful strategy used by FDR, who made political capital by opposing a group of right-wing Christian political losers, including the demagogic radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, the racist populist Gerald L.K. Smith, and Gerald B. Winrod, the charismatic Kansas preacher who fawned over Hitler. Before World War II, Roosevelt unleashed a furious attack against the Christian Right of that day, castigating them as traitors and even dragging them into court.
Of course, Gore is no FDR, and in terms of opportunistic choices, it seems he'd rather position himself with the Christian Right than against them. Thus, in the early primary fights Gore was busily reinventing himself again. So, in addition to having been a tobacco grower, a pig farmer, the inventor of the Internet, the savior of Love Canal, a combat soldier, a college basketball whiz, and the model for Love Story, the veep was revealed to have had a religious experience, which caused him to become a born-again Christian. What with Tipper battling Satan in pop music, they are the perfect Christian couple, suggestive of, say, Dan and Marilyn Quayle.
Under Clinton-Gore, the Democratic Party already has opened an accommodation with the Christian Right by weakening the social-welfare network and toying with the idea of government funding for private church schools and other church-based activities. And Bill Bradley hasn't been off-base highlighting Gore's shifting position on reproductive rights. If politics continues its current course, and Gore further convulses himself in an attempt to attract the Christian vote, handing over what's left of welfare to the churches will become a more viable political project in Congress. And pro-choice supporters may have more to worry about than they think.
Campaigning through California's Central Valley last week, "proud Reagan Republican" John McCain found himself in a nasty war of words with none other than the former president's son Michael Reagan, who hosts a popular West Coast talk show on the Premium Radio Networks. The heated chat ended with Reagan hanging up on McCain. A few extracts of this extraordinary exchange give an idea of the controversy that could dog McCain were he to become president: