John Danforth on Religious Right Influence

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.


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Beyond the Christian right and the party apparatus there exists another constituent that holds the keys to the Republican Party today. The Party as it exists is largely a grand coalition between the Christian right and the "big business" wing.

It is the Christian right that has faired the worse in this coalition, and not just being played time and time again, something many are beginning to wake up to. When politics and religion mix, it is religion that is co-opted, and it has been clear to me for years, that the Christian right has been cowed into accepting positions that clearly antithetical to much of the Bible. An example is that a doctrine of morality yielding wealth, at least middle class wealth, is now accepted in most evangelical circles. Debt, homelessness, poverty, etc. as moral conditions is the fundamental underpinning of much of "compassionate conservatism". Give a man to fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish, and if he starves it is his own damn fault.

Bush has been the poster child of this coalition, passing legislation which skews the playing field or strips the protections in favor of the large corporation at the expense of the individual and particularly the small business, while playing lip service to the Christian right with moral grandstanding, and a sprinkle of federal dollars. Worse, is that many of the Christian right believe that the "big business" agenda IS their agenda. Preaching on tax cuts from the pulpit, sadly, is perfectly acceptable to many people.

So long as the "big business" agenda continues to be implemented, this alliance will continue. That is, so long as they continue to win elections. As you and many others have indicated, the Christian right is now unbound, and there can be no placating them.

Where this will lead at this point is anybody's guess, but the next few years will be very interesting.

As much as this scares me to ponder, i can't help but think that Rove's mission is to balance the evangelical crusade of Bush against the imperial greed of Cheney to facilitate Norquist's dream of creating a one party nation. If we on the left hope to initiate counterpoint and poltiical pressure against this three headed beast we need to reinforce Danforth's notion of driving a wedge between Cheney and Bush. No matter how greedy and ugly big business can be, their agenda is capitalistic. And as such is susceptible to demonstrating that profits can be made in less egregious manners and indeed in ecologically and sustainably sound corporate practices. There really is no reason to engage the lunacy of the End Time believers.

I need to note one point further. I am on a crusade to rid the world of the "fishing" aphorism. We do not want to teach anyone to fish as the mass of edible fish has been toxified by mercury and other heavy metals. Teaching anyone to fish only continues to perpetuate the problems of neuropathologies that are ravaging children, including tens of thousands in the US. And given the new EPA rules, these problems will now only get substantially worse.

Do you mean to say:

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him until the toxic metal poisoning gets him."

Instead of teaching them to fish should we let them eat cake?

A man can fish only if he is near a lake or a stream. What is he supposed to do when the lakes and streams dry up?