Evangelical Power within the GOP
By 2000, Evangelicals constituted the heart of the Republicans’ core constituency. Eighty-seven percent of Evangelicals voted in 2000, and 87% of them voted for George W. Bush. They believe that free enterprise is the only economic system consistent with the Bible and that the nation’s religious heritage and values are under attack and require the protection of federal and state governments. They were certain that there is only one Christian approach to most political questions and that liberals encounter grave problems in being truly Christian. Former Senator John Danforth lamented in April 2005, “ Republicans have transformed our party into the arm of Conservative Christians.” So great was their power that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist appeared on a televised fundamentalist rally to claim that Democrats were engaging in “an assault against people of faith” because they had held up the confirmations of a few conservative nominees to the federal courts. Dr. James Dobson, an organizer of the event, went further, denouncing the federal courts because they were “unaccountable” and “a despotic oligarchy,” presumably because they did not heed the advice of fundamentalist and evangelical clergy.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman John Moran complained in February 1997 that the party was “in jeopardy” because the Christian Coalition and other rightists were on the verge of taking over the national organization. By 2002, the Christian Right comprised 28% of the GOP coalition and constituted the vast majority of the basis of the New Right. In the early nineties, the New Right was powerful enough to challenge the leadership of Country Club Republicans. Eventually, it seized control of the party in some states, including Texas.. Many of these people deny the principle of separation of church and State, wish to regain the Panama Canal, and insist that the United States should leave the United Nations.
The Christian Coalition, one of the principle elements in the Christian Right, trained 16,000 volunteers in organizing and how to speak and operate within the Republican Party. Many of them became party operatives, state legislators, and local officials. In 2002, Professors Kimberly Conger of Ohio State and John Green of the University of Akron found that in both 1994 and 2002 the Christian conservatives were well integrated in eighteen state Republican organizations, particularly in the Midwest and South. By the 1990s, the Christian conservatives were proving to be particularly effective in tight House and Senate races.
Although there was some talk in the late 1990s that the Christian Right was in decline., the reverse was true. In the years 1997-1999, Christian Right organizations generally experienced rising revenues. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network took in $196 million and Dr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family garnered $121 million. In barely a quarter century these organizations had become stable, with predictable revenue streams and enormous political clout. Their voter guides and continual political mailings have been very effective. In addition, conservative groups within mainstream denominations were having considerable success in diverting these churches from pursuing social justice. By the turn of the century, the Presbyterians seemed likely to become an evangelical body. Methodists, who found it necessary to appease their conservative wing, took a step in that direction in 2000 by taking a tougher stand against ordaining practicing homosexuals.
Some on the Christian Right like Paul Weyrich have voiced the suspicion that the Republicans are using them, offering a few symbolic victories but little more. Though there is much evidence to support this view, few Evangelicals and fundamentalists are inclined to believe it. In October 2006, evangelical David Kuo published Tempting Faith, which argued that the George W. Bush administration was simply using the Christian Right. Kuo had been second in command of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He claimed that though White House personnel would hug and praise evangelical leaders in public, they referred to them as “the nuts” in private. The religious leaders were also said to be “goofy” and “out of control.” In the 2004 election, the White House political shop used the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives to sponsor thinly disguised political meetings with religious leaders in twenty targeted states, and he believed that the numerous meetings in Ohio carried the state for Bush. Kuo noted that the Bush administration spent about $20 million less per year on assisting religious charities than the Clinton administration had.
Comprising more than a quarter of the Republican vote, the Christian Right became its most reliable element, its core constituency. Upper middle class and wealthy Republicans welcomed their assistance because conservative Christians made it possible to weaken regulatory legislation, hold down wages, reduce taxes for the rich and corporations, and slash welfare funding. However, the alliance was not a marriage crafted in heaven. The CEOs and suburban Republicans were uncomfortable with their allies’ positions on abortion, personal morality, education, and women’s rights. By the 1990s, Republicans were learning that in some places they faced political disaster if they promised the Religious Right too much. However, they needed the Christian Right as the core of their party and learned how to speak in culturally and theologically coded terms. It came to be understood, that the Christian Right was to receive little more than a few crumbs of symbolic victory.
Even Ronald Reagan, whose own outlook on sexual matters was probably libertarian, gave the Right little more than lip service on abortion. When the Religious Right held its annual anti-abortion rally on the Mall, Reagan would only address the crowd via a hock-up from the oval office; an annual rite which became an “open joke” among Washington insiders. George W. Bush was to occasionally repeat this ploy with similar success. In the election of 2000, it was apparent that Jerry Falwell and other leaders of the Christian Right accepted the new reality. He and Robertson endorsed George W. Bush, who did not meet all the criteria for an ideal Christian Right candidate. However, the Christian conservatives seemed perfectly happy with a few symbolic victories from time to time. The CEOs and upper middle class Republicans did not have to face the prospect of having to choose between economic benefits and enacting distasteful cultural policies.
The rhetoric of the cultural wars inflamed the Religious Right and cultural conservatives, but it also affected others who feared big government and who were generally suspicious of the intentions of Democrats. Their fear of liberalism and out-of- control big government often bred an indistinguishable anger. It would lead many of them to see politics it looked as combat and blood sport, the goal of which was not simply victories for particular policies, but to destroy the opposition. Conservative anger and paranoia about liberals were constantly fanned and reinforced on talk radio and some cable outlets and by pundits such as Ann Coulter. Over time a group bias was developed that defined opponents as profoundly immoral, and it lent itself to a moral inversion in which people saw themselves as righteous and their opponents as so evil that they should not share the same rights. The danger connected with this moral inversion was that people would lose their capacity for empathy and their moral inhibitions when dealing with others fade away.
The anger that fueled conservative politics energized voters and party workers, but it did not contribute to rational discourse. During his administration, President Bill Clinton became the focus of intense hatred. Later, some liberals admitted to a hatred of George W. Bush, and conservative columnists promptly identified the Bush haters as a “core threat to democracy.” After decades in the development of this collective psychopathology, it became very easy for many who shared this group bias to justify in 2004 the torture of Iraqi prisoners. It is doubtful that they had come to see liberals as people with fewer human rights, but in 2002 many found it easy to believe that Democratic opponents of George W. Bush were allied with terrorists.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!