In recent days, two high-profile former Republican members of Congress have publicly stated that their party has become completely beholden to its right-wing base and are pointing to the Terri Schiavo debacle as the moment when they finally realized that “something has gone very wrong.”
From an interview with former Senator John Danforth, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Q: Religion and politics are two subjects themselves that are hard to reconcile. Have you been thinking about this your whole career?
A: For decades, I’ve been thinking about these two subjects, but not with the urgency of the past year and a half. This was triggered by the Terri Schiavo case; that was the specific tipping point in my own thinking. That was when I thought, “Something has gone very wrong here.”
Q: But these signs have been around for at least a decade or so, haven’t they?
A: Maybe I was obtuse. People like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have been involved in Republican politics for a long time. Of course, abortion has been a political issue since 1973. But in my own mind, it didn’t have the urgency until the Schiavo case. In the past year or so, what was maybe a general interest of Robertson and others in politics and one particular issue, namely abortion, has been transformed into something much more detailed and much more a full-fledged political agenda.
You have Terri Schiavo, the stem-cell issue, the gay marriage issue, the Ten Commandments in courthouses – all occurring about the same time.
But, I thought, particularly with Schiavo, something different had happened: Namely, basic Republican principles had been tossed overboard at the bidding of Christian conservatives.
Echoing the same note is former Congressman Dick Armey in an excerpt of an interview conducted by Ryan Sager for his new book, “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.”
What’s wrong with today’s Republican Congress?
“Where in the hell did this Terri Schiavo thing come from? There’s not a conservative, Constitution-loving, separation-of-powers guy alive in the world that could have wanted that bill on the floor. That was pure, blatant pandering to [Focus on the Family President] James Dobson. That’s all that was. It was silly, stupid, and irresponsible. Nobody serious about the Constitution would do that. But the question was will this energize our Christian conservative base for the next election.
Why does it seem Christian conservatives are more powerful now than in the 1990s?
“Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies. I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid. There’s a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn’t work unless it’s dumb, shallow as water on a plate. These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic. These issues become bigger than life, largely because they’re easy. There ain’t no thinking.”
Armey’s remarks are particularly surprising considering that he was named 1999’s Distinguished Christian Statesman by D. James Kennedy and, when he retired from Congress, the Family Research Council lamented his departure saying “We are going to lose a very good friend … He has met with us every single week. His staff is available to us when we go there, so it has been a close relationship. Over the years he has been the defender of the family.”
Presumably, Armey kept his feeling that people like Dobson are a bunch of intellectually lazy demagogues to himself when he was accepting his Distinguished Christian Statesman award or meeting with FRC on a weekly basis.