I used to believe that as I got older and gained more and more life experience, fewer things would bother me. Maybe I’m not aging after all, then, because going to the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit here in Washington was bothersome – as well as bizarre, boggling of the mind and baffling.
I’ve been going to Religious Right gatherings for nearly two decades, yet this one was as over-the-top as any I’ve ever witnessed. In other articles in this issue, Rob Boston does a terrific job of picking over the rhetoric of the speakers. I just wanted to add a few thematic observations.
Back in the ’50s, I remember seeing ads on television (it was not hi-def then, nor in color and the screen was circular) urging Americans to “Stand Up and Be Counted in the Fight Against Communism.” In the ad, crowds of people did indeed rise. At this event, communism was replaced by “Obamacare.” Just uttering it (always sneeringly) and then announcing you would repeal “every single word” of it or “undo” it or “dismember it” – I’m not sure that verb was used, but it could have been – would cause cadres of attendees to rise in applause, shrieks or other forms of affirmation.
The reference was nearly always followed by a phrase like this: “Government should not get between a patient and his doctor.” Right on! And, in predictable fashion, the speech would move later into an anti-abortion message with speakers vowing to stop every abortion or virtually every one.
But wait – couldn’t this be construed as government, the criminal law even, getting between a patient and her doctor? Perhaps the pronoun really does matter, or the level of hypocrisy is stunning.
Here’s another ironic twist to the essential message of this group: They talked about fealty to the “Constitution” (a version they apparently found in their sock drawer) constantly, but went into the stratosphere with glee when U.S. Rep. Ron Paul announced that all of his positions come from the Bible – military policy, tax policy and (of course) abortion policy. Some weird interpretation of constitutional rights is secondary to the belief that all policy matters need a biblical basis.
So, finding a specific scriptural basis for law is obviously good to this crowd. But you have to use the right scripture because this gang was clearly worried about shariah law running America. Wrong holy book, there. Please note that if you hadn’t heard this was happening, it is almost certainly because of the “liberal media” covering up the judicial enforcement of burqas in Boston.
Here is another little peculiarity: I believe in the right to assemble, the right to free speech and even the right to be annoying in public. Summit speakers were happy to refer to those assembled at the Omni Shoreham Hotel as “citizen activists”; on the other hand, the peaceful “Occupy Wall Street” protesters about 10 blocks away were a “mob.”
So, let’s see, if you add some hypocrisy, irony and peculiarity together you end up shaking your head quite a bit. I made a short You Tube video there pointing out that the 3,000 attendees were a real reminder that the much-vaunted “death” of the Religious Right by the election of Barack Obama – a media “talking head” claim that never made much sense – is blatantly wrong. These folks are living, breathing activists and voters who expect to make sweeping changes in the American landscape that even the late Jerry Falwell could not achieve.
As usual, I saw and chatted with many old nemeses, including former Christian Coalition leader Randy Tate, one-time presidential aspirant and head of the Campaign for Working Families PAC Gary Bauer and even Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum. (None of us are looking any younger, by the way.)
I have to admit that one positive thing came out of this year’s conclave. I was on the way to my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party that Sunday. She is a very conservative Pennsylvanian and was always a fan of Rick Santorum when he was her senator. (Rest assured, we don’t talk about politics at the Thanksgiving table.) He is now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
I found Mrs. Santorum roaming the halls and asked if I could have a few minutes with Rick so he could sign a birthday card for my mother in law. She graciously tracked him down, and I got a gift for the big event on Sunday.
When all is said and done, possibly the strangest thing of the whole gathering was the word of warning from Gil Mertz, the FRC staffer who serves as master of ceremonies. He reminded people on several occasions, “Don’t be the weird one.”
This was a reminder to people that the dreaded “liberal media” was watching for any odd sights or comments. I guess the batch of people dressed in Revolutionary-era regalia – with one fellow waving around his tri-corner hat at every opportunity – or the monarchy-loving, cape-wearing attendees from the American Society for Tradition, Family and Property were not the kind of “weirdness” Mertz was worried about.
After all, he could see them. It does get you wondering, then, what in the world he was afraid the media would see.
Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.