During this past weekend’s Values Voter Summit, the annual family reunion of the far right, RWW posted many memorable video highlights. What does it all tell us about the Religious Right and today’s Republican Party?
First are foremost, Republican leaders are unwilling to distance themselves from the far-right fringes of their base, especially in an election year in which conservative evangelical voters are not tremendously excited about Mitt Romney. Romney took a pass this year, and it’s not hard to understand why. Last year, organizers maliciously put him on stage right before the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, who had ridiculed Romney’s Mormonism. A supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry denounced Mormonism as a cult, and the flap over Romney’s faith was the dominant story coming out of the gathering. It was much safer to let Paul Ryan represent the ticket this year, and to have other speakers like Rick Santorum and Rick Scarborough ensure evangelicals that voting for Romney was in fact a good thing. Romney did send a tepidly-received video, which seemed almost an afterthought. What is motivating these activists is not enthusiasm for Romney but their hostility toward the Obama administration.
Their pants are on fire
Conservatives love the Ten Commandments in theory. Ted Cruz bragged about helping to win Supreme Court approval of a display on the statehouse lawn in Austin; speakers suggested that taxation is theft and talking about inequality is covetousness, violations of commandments eight and ten. But everyone must have gotten a memo not to worry about number nine, bearing false witness. Because there was a whole lot of lying going on at VVS, just as there was at the GOP convention in Tampa. Here are just a few of the favorites:
- Obama gutted work requirements in welfare (Steve King, Rick Santorum). Bill Clinton dispatched this one in Charlotte.
- The President is always apologizing for America and did so in the recent crisis (speaker after speaker). Familiar, and false.
- The stimulus didn’t work and was money “wasted” (Lyin’ Paul Ryan)
- President Obama is acting like a king by not enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act. Whether by intention or ignorance, speakers are missing the crucial difference between not defending the act in court, which the administration is no longer doing, and enforcing the law, which the administration is doing, which is why married couples are suing to overturn the law that is denying them equal treatment under the law.
- There’s a “war on religion” raging in the U.S. (see below)
- Kamal Saleem
They got brass – and straw
Lots of people were clamoring to prove that, just like Paul Ryan, they’ve got brass, in the sense of Bill Clinton’s take on Paul Ryan: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.” Speakers at the Values Voter Summit loved to criticize the Obama administration for being divisive (enough said.) Rep. James Lankord accused the left of believing that the ends justify the means (see “pants on fire”).
Paul Ryan announced that the Republican ticket would be calling out the Obama administration for making straw man arguments. Meet just a couple of the many straw men that got propped up at VVS:
- Gary Bauer said that the media was not only criticizing Romney’s irresponsible and ill-timed comments about attacks on US diplomats, but that the media was trying to shift blame for events in the Middle East to Mitt Romney. Yeah, that happened.
- Rick Santorum said that the Obama administration believes that the US government can be a source of no good in the world but is the only source of good in America. Obama you see, doesn’t believe in families, churches or communities. Sure, Rick.
They are at war over religion
Religious Right leaders have been complaining for decades that their faith and freedom is under attack. Tony Perkins, Jerry Boykin, and Fox personality Todd Starnes used a panel discussion to decry, in Perkins’ words, the “relentless onslaught” against Christians by a “radicalized minority” driven by “anti-religious ideology.” Boykin invoked Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler while denouncing what he called an effort to move everyone in society away from the notion that there is a sovereign God. Star Parker sounded as if the war was already lost, declaring, “this is no longer a free country.” This year they’re getting more help from Republican officials.
- Rep. Lankford accused liberals of wanting to marginalize religion
- Rep. Tim Huelskamp claimed that “the biggest war being waged right now is against our religious liberties and traditional values.
- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor declared, “The fight for religious freedom starts here at home because we are one nation under God.”
- U.S. Senate candidate from Texas Ted Cruz claimed that President Obama has “manifested contempt for our religious liberty.”
Kirk Cameron, who is pushing his new movie, “Monumental,” about religion in early American history, focused not on the men who wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but on the Puritans, who he says created a society based on free enterprise. He did not mention that religious liberty was essentially non-existent in the society those Puritans created, which makes it a bit troubling that he’s hoping to elect politicians who will find the “reset” button and return America to its “factory settings.”
The conference also featured a vast amount of Muslim-bashing and wild conspiracy theories about Obama and Clinton getting ready to sell out Americans’ free speech and religious liberty rights to Islamists at the United Nations.
They’re happy to use God as a political club.
Speakers couldn’t resist mocking the Democratic Party for first having left the word “God” out of the platform and returning it and a reference to Jerusalem in a chaotic vote. Of course, not a single speaker noted the extensive section in the Democrats’ platform about the importance of faith in America; they were intent on convincing people that the disappearance of a reference to people using their “God-given” talents was somehow a sign of secularism run amok. Kirk Cameron got a standing ovation for declaring, “God is the platform.” A couple of speakers compared the three voice votes taken by Democrats with the biblical story of Peter denying Jesus three times – something Tony Perkins also did last week at his National Press Club speech. E.W. Jackson, appearing at Rick Scarborough’s breakout session on “Debunking the Myth of Separation of Church and State,” made a pitch for his new campaign calling for an exodus of all Christians out of the Democratic Party.
What war on women? This one.
Anti-abortion activist Lila Rose was among the speakers who mocked the notion that there is a “war on women,” while gleefully declaring her intention to destroy Planned Parenthood, which provides millions of women with their only access to basic health care. Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who was vilified by Rush Limbaugh when she publicly advocated for contraception coverage, was slammed by Star Parker as an “icon of promiscuity.” Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center said that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
They are at war against marriage equality.
Plenty of speakers pledged to keep loving and committed same-sex couples from being able to get married. A panel of activists from the four states where marriage equality is on the ballot this fall – Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington – pleaded with the crowd for financial support. Carroll Conley from the Maine Family Policy Council warned that marriage equality is the enemy of religious liberty, citing Dietrich Bonhoffer and saying, “this is our Coliseum.”
Anti-gay activist Harry Jackson had a workshop session promoting his current campaign, which seeks to use marriage as a wedge issue against President Obama and other Democratic candidates in seven swing states. Among the helpful tools Jackson handed out was a set of tips from anti-gay extremist Scott “Pink Swastika” Lively, which suggests that the key to defeating pro-equality arguments is to “[s]tand firmly on the truth that homosexuality is an objectively disordered condition deserving of social disapproval because it spreads disease and dysfunction.” The Lively document is a bit out of date, as it was written before the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v Texas, when state laws against homosexual behavior were still in effect; maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
They really hate President Obama.
OK, this is not exactly news. Hatred of President Obama has transformed the right-wing movement and Republican Party since 2008. Among the notable characterizations of President Obama were from Rep. Michele Bachmann, who called him “the most dangerous president we have ever had,” and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who called the president “the greatest lawbreaker in America.”
They’re Drama Queens
Speaker after speaker insisted that this is not only the most important election in our lifetimes, but the most important election in the history of the country. Rick Santorum even looked into the future and pronounced it the most important election anyone will ever be involved in. While this is indeed a critically important election, it is not for the delusional reasons they profess. If President Obama wins, Santorum warned darkly, we will be living in a country and a world that is “fundamentally different.” Eric Cantor said it would determine whether or not the very moral fabric of our country will be upheld or torn apart. Bill Bennett quoted Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke.”
The only kind of lust they embrace publicly is bloodlust
Sen. Rand Paul was met with stony silence when he spoke skeptically about war. Other speakers seemed eager for some kind of violent response to the recent attacks on American embassies. Bill Bennett was among the speakers who praised Romney’s widely-reviled statement accusing Obama of sympathizing with those who killed the American ambassador to Libya and others – Bennett bemoaned that the response had been “bleating” rather than a “terrible swift sword.” Gary Bauer said there was a crowd in Cairo chanting “Obama, Obama, we are all Osamas now” and said they should all meet bin Laden’s fate. Does Bauer think it would be in the U.S. interest to gun down protestors?
They are trying to keep Romney on message on Obamacare
Shortly before the Values Voter Summit, Romney went off message by starting to talk to the media about aspects of health care reform that he supported. His campaign walked those statements back as quickly as they could. There was no sign of nuance at the VVS, with Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz among those pledging to repeal every single word of “Obamacare.”
They can be exceptionally mindless
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, in a speech that seemed intended to position her for national office, was one of those making the de rigueur plug for “American exceptionalism.” What other country, Brewer demanded, had ever sent troops to fight for justice, acting not to dominate to liberate? She didn’t answer her question, which clearly implied that no other country had ever done so. Um, Canada? Australia? Our NATO allies? Rep. Steve King used vivid language in accusing President Obama and his “leftist minions” of “taking jackhammers to the pillars of American exceptionalism.”