Sep 09, 2009

It is hardly a secret that the Religious Right helped elect President George W. Bush and exercised extraordinary influence with his administration. But if we need more evidence, it's just been put on the table.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government (CREW) has just released a report tallying visits to the Bush White House by major Religious Right players. CREW filed a request for visitor records that coughed up the information.

According to a Sept. 4 CREW press release, the count looks something like this:

* For the period April 2001 through June 2006, Focus on the Family Founder and Chairman Emeritus James Dobson visited the White House 24 times; 10 of those visits were to President Bush.

* Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, made an astonishing 50 visits to the White House starting on Feb. 1, 2001, and continuing through March 16, 2008. Six of those visits were to President Bush.

* Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, made 43 visits to the White House between May 2001 and August 2006. Four of those visits were to President Bush.

* Gary Bauer, president of American Values, made 10 visits to the White House, starting with a Jan. 6, 2003, visit to Vice President Cheney and ending with a July 20, 2006, visit to President Bush.

* The late Jerry Falwell, of Jerry Falwell Ministries, made eight visits to the White House between May 2001 and September 2004. Three of those visits were to President Bush.

* Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, visited the White House 14 times between February 2001 and June 2006, including two visits to President Bush.

* The Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, made 19 visits to the White House between March 2001 and September 2006, including two visits to President Bush.

* The late Paul Weyrich, founder of Free Congress Foundation, made 17 visits to the White House between May 2001 and July 2005, including six visits to President Bush and one to Karl Rove.

* The Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, made three visits to the White House between July 2001 and March 2003, including one visit to President Bush.

Pretty appalling, huh?

Religious Right leaders with a deeply divisive and politically extreme agenda were making themselves right at home in the White House. A few of them practically lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue! (Did Andrea Lafferty leave her toothbrush and makeup case there?)

Fortunately, this crowd has much less influence with the Obama administration. But they are still waging an intense campaign to influence public policy. The Religious Right today is relentlessly bashing President Barack Obama and aiming its most intense lobbying at Congress and the state legislatures where elected officials are more susceptible to theocratic pressures.

The Washington Post reports that Perkins, Dobson, Bauer and their cronies have set their sights on defeating health care reform. The tactics are the same as always: demonizing Obama and top congressional Democrats and inflaming public debate, all in the name of their version of Christianity.

This may be bad for democracy and bad for the integrity of authentic religion, but it brings new recruits to the crusade and new dollars to the Religious Right's coffers. It also refutes claims that the movement is dead. Less powerful, happily – but far from dead.

"Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Henry Waxman have done more to energize Christian conservatives than any conservative leader could have done with this health-care package," Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty [sic] Commission, told The Post. "I, who never believed that we were dead, did not believe that it would happen this quickly."

Look for more of the sorry same from the Religious Right in upcoming months.