Last month I wrote a story for Church & State speculating about possible new leaders for the Religious Right. I focused on Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Rick Warren and others.
One person I did not think to include was Ralph Reed, the one-time wunderkind who served as executive director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition from 1989 to 1997.
I didn't include Reed because, well, I figured he's all washed up. Reed ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006, a position he was supposed to win easily. That slot, in turn, would be his stepping stone to higher office.
It didn't work out that way. Reed's ties to disgraced casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff became an issue during the campaign. Enmeshed in that scandal, Reed lost the race to a relative unknown.
After that, Reed tried his hand at writing a political thriller titled Dark Horse. But Reed's career as a novelist also fell flat. The book tanked. (You can buy hardback copies on www.half.com, my favorite site for used books, for 75 cents.) Reed did some evangelical outreach work for George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and John McCain during their presidential campaigns but has otherwise kept a low profile.
So Reed is returning to what he knows best: running a Religious Right group. U.S. News blogger Dan Gilgoff has the scoop. Reed has formed a new organization he calls the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
"This is not your daddy's Christian Coalition," Reed boasted in an interview with Gilgoff. "It's got to be more brown, more black, more female, and younger. It's critical that we open the door wide and let them know if they share our values and believe in the principles of faith and marriage and family, they're welcome."
Oh, please! We've been down this road before.
I was at the National Press Club in Washington on Jan. 30, 1997, when Reed announced the "Samaritan Project," an effort by the Christian Coalition to reach out to blacks, Hispanics and even Democrats to combat poverty through "faith-based" efforts.
I was more than a little cynical, knowing that the Coalition had no track record on helping the poor. In fact, opposing legal abortion, bashing gays and beating on public schools constituted the bulk of the group's work.
Despite all of the hype, the Samaritan Project turned out to be nothing more than an effort to recruit minorities into the Republican Party. (Wow, what a surprise!) It made no progress on this front and was quickly abandoned, and Reed left the Coalition to start a political consulting firm nine months later. So much for helping the poor.
I could go on and on about the sleazy stunts Reed has pulled over the years, but I suspect that's more than even most readers of this blog would want. While it's always possible that Reed could emerge as a viable Religious Right leader, I don't think it's going to work this time. He's lugging around an awful lot of baggage.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition may provide Reed with a paycheck for a few years, but I doubt it will achieve much more. If I'm right, we'll all have cause to be thankful. The last thing this country needs is another meddlesome and extreme Religious Right group trying to tell us how to run our lives.