This is very interesting. John Danforth, the conservative former Senator from Missouri, outgoing Ambassador to the United Nations, and Episcopal minister, has written an op-ed piece in the New York Times decrying the growing influence of the religious right in the Republican party:
BY a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube.
Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond. But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party.
I’ve been writing a lot about the internal struggle for control of the Republican party, and there certainly is one. The entire post election attempt to get out the “moral values put Bush over the top” meme was simply an attempt to consolidate and solidify the power of the Christian right within the party, as was the attempt to get Arlen Specter out of the party leadership. They are opposed in their efforts by two groups within the party – by libertarian-minded conservatives and by the core of pragmatic political consultants that run the party apparatus. The latter group, which includes Karl Rove, recognizes this tension and attempts to walk the line at all times. They know that they must have the votes that religious right leaders can turn out in elections, which is why they have weekly strategy meetings with James Dobson and others. But they also know that those people scare the hell out of moderate voters, without which no party can win at the national level, which means they can’t go too far in that direction without killing their viability with the 20% of the population that decides Presidential elections.
The problem they run into is that they can’t keep the religious right completely happy unless they go the whole way. You can see this dynamic at work in the Terry Schiavo fight. Both George and Jeb Bush made constitutionally dubious attempts to intervene in the situation but refuse to step clearly over the line and cause a constitutional crisis. But for the true believers, that’s not enough. James Dobson, Pat Buchanan, and Alan Keyes are just a few of the people who have called them cowards for not, literally, sending in the troops and telling the courts to go to hell. The protestors outside the hospice are waving signs comparing them to Pontius Pilate and worse. It’s similar to the Arlen Specter situation in that nothing but absolute agreement with them is enough. Specter got an 83% rating from the Christian Coalition, and he still was the target of a coordinated national campaign of villification and distortion from these people. Zealots, of course, know nothing of compromise. And when even conservative Christians like John Danforth are pointing out how extremist you are, you’ve gone off the edge of sanity.