It’s the best and worst of times to be a citizen in God’s favorite nation. That’s one of the reasons why nearly all of the GOP presidential hopefuls descended onto the recent Faith and Freedom Conference panting after the blessing of aging phoenix boy wonder Ralph Reed. Once dubbed the “Right Hand of God,” by Time Magazine, the godfather of Christian fascism has blazed back onto the national scene after his double dealings with disgraced lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff led to a high profile fall from grace in 2006.
Coming on the heels of the similarly themed Values Voters and Conservative Political Action Conference, the Faith and Freedom Conference is one of the most visible platforms for the GOP candidates to establish their Religious Right bona fides.
Reed has reemerged at an especially crucial juncture for the Religious Right. In 2008 and 2009 mainstream pundits from Newsweek to James Carville sounded the death knell of Christian fundamentalist activism, declaring it to have been eclipsed by the Tea Party’s “populist” message of jobs, lower taxes, and small government. Yet the Religious Right’s influence never waned, it was merely reconstituted. It fired the debate over the U.S.’ status as a “Christian Nation,” fueled the birther movement, and brokered key anti-abortion legislation nationwide. It was further exemplified by the nexus of Old Testament justice and morality, American national identity, global capitalism and imperialism.
Capitalizing on these themes, Reed has sought to wed the Tea Party’s political momentum with the considerable grassroots apparatus of the Christian right. Reed personifies the Golden era of Religious Right activism, an era in which Operation Rescue thugs terrorized abortion clinics with impunity and Pat Robertson’s America-as-liberal-cesspit screeds helped animate the culture wars. When the Christian Coalition ruled in the ‘80s and ‘90s it was at the height of a national backlash against affirmative action. Racial animus over downsized jobs fueled the rise of the so-called angry white male. It was not a coincidence that white economic discontent and the perceived loss of white social status drove the Christian Coalition’s Reagan-Bush brokered push for theocracy. Culture war battles over school vouchers, prayer, abortion, and anti-sodomy laws were only the frontline of an agenda squarely focused on dismantling social welfare. Then as now, the perception that white males had lost ground informed the backlash against civil rights in general and women’s right to self-determination in particular.
Highlighting these themes, a recent survey by researchers from Harvard University and Tufts University concluded that many whites believe that they are now the primary victims of racism in the U.S. A 2010 poll from Public Religion Research reached similar conclusions, establishing a firm link between the Tea Party and white Christian evangelicals. Nonetheless, mainstream media never identify these allegiances as bellwethers of a deepening white nationalist movement whose “spiritual” center is Christian fascism.
Rumored presidential hopeful and Texas Governor Rick Perry captured this sentiment recently when he called for a national day of prayer on August 6th. Sounding the theme of imperiled American exceptionalism, Perry declared that “America is in crisis…As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.” As governor, Perry presided over deep cuts in childcare services for poor children, passed a law requiring sonograms for pregnant women seeking abortions, championed allowing states to opt out of Medicare and Social Security and publicly pined for a return to the Confederacy. His platform is indistinguishable from the rest of the GOP faithful (including Uncle Tom sideshow act Herman Cain), who have all carefully grounded their personal relationship with Jesus in the thinly veiled language of white supremacy—evoking a white American dream trampled by illegals, government handouts, and abortion on demand.
The media’s decoupling of the Christian right’s values wars from the Tea Party’s so-called populist focus deflects attention from the continuity between their agendas. They speak with the same voice, pull from the same purse, and ensure that “repentant” scoundrels who pimp for Jesus loud, long, and hard enough invariably find a soft bed and a willing toady in the middle American public.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.