1.Spinning Straw Polls into Gold and Hoping for a Miracle
Of course the big news from the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit last weekend was that
Mitt Romney Mike Huckabee won the straw poll. Whether the landslide of support delivered by the summit attendees will translate into a Huckabee ascendancy, however, remains to be seen. It will be tough for him to overcome his gaping fundraising disadvantage in time for the early primaries. That's of no concern to Huckabee's supporters, though; as one of them put it to me, "we've seen bigger miracles happen."
But money -- not miracles -- matters to the Christian right leadership, and that's why they were sending pro-Romney signals ahead of the conference, much to the consternation of Huckabee's supporters. Huckabee, it seemed, was being left out in the cold by the "grasstops," but he denied that he was referring to the leadership when he accused Christian conservatives of being "more intoxicated with power than principle."
As Bishop Harry Jackson, a summit co-sponsor, told me a few weeks ago, "you've got to bring your own broader constituency to the game, and then the religious right will take you over the goal line."
FRC president Tony Perkins continued to defuse rumors of backing a third-party candidate, portraying it as a long-term possibility, not a real alternative in 2008. They can crunch the numbers just like the rest of us, and they know it would just translate into a Democratic victory. If Giuliani ends up being the nominee, Christian right voter turnout could be depressed without a third-party alternative, turning the election to the Democrat anyway. But with that outcome, at least the Christian right wouldn't be blamed for throwing votes to the Democrat, and they could then bank on the GOP to come begging in the next cycle. And so it goes.
2. Do Hot-Shot Endorsements Matter?
With all the media focus on What Saith James Dobson, I wondered how much influence his views had on the grassroots activists at the summit. Not a single person I interviewed said they needed Dobson's -- or anyone's -- stamp of approval to vote for a candidate. It's a plus, said everyone I spoke with, but it's not essential. Nor, they all added, is Dobson's refusal to endorse a candidate fatal.
That these activists don't need Dobson's imprimatur to support a candidate was evident in the straw poll results: Huckabee supporters were undeterred that Dobson has yet to utter anything at all about their guy. Although most summit attendees were unfailingly polite when speaking of their dear leaders, one incensed Huckabee backer characterized their failure to endorse his candidate "shameful."
Last week there was a lot of media attention on Bob Jones III's endorsement of Romney. The frenzy of coverage was driven in large part because the retrograde Bob Jones University (founded by Jones' fundamentalist grandfather) became a symbol of political pandering to fundamentalists when Bush spoke there during the 2000 campaign and failed to denounce the school's ban on interracial dating. But if people aren't swayed by the endorsement of the revered Dobson, the endorsement of Jones, who once called their icon Ronald Reagan "a traitor to God's people," surely won't matter either.
During the summit, Gary Bauer -- yes, that Gary Bauer -- in so many words called the Huckabee campaign amateurish, and wondered aloud to a widely-read Christian reporter whether Huckabee had the campaign organization or the polling numbers to go the distance. (Recall that Bauer scored just 8 percent in the Iowa caucuses in 2000, and 1 percent in New Hampshire, and dropped out before the South Carolina primary, when he endorsed McCain over Bush.)
Huckabee fired back at Bauer on Monday: "If more people in Gary's camp would simply help us a little bit, we would not only have more money, but we would be on our way to securing the nomination already."
3. Why Giuliani's Speech Was Both a Failure and a Success
Giuliani scored points for trying, but no one was buying his paean to Christianity as a religion of inclusion, his tales of parochial school, or his exhortation to simply trust him. (Who, in this audience, would trust a twice-divorced philandering baby-killer who has worn women's clothing?) Giuliani proved inept at producing the us-versus-them coded language that gets the juice flowing at events like this. The one exception was Giuliani's rant about "Islamofascists," a matter about which there was no disagreement among the candidates: Kill them! Seal the borders! Stay in Iraq! (Well, except for Ron Paul.) Anyone who listened to Perkins' call to action ("a war is raging for the soul of America") would realize that "inclusion" is not a buzzword that works. Unless Giuliani’s speech was intended as a plea to be included in the FRC circle.
What was missing from Giuliani's speech was present in Huckabee's: a reference to the evangelist Billy Sunday (who opposed alcohol, gambling, and dancing); stressing that "the language of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language;" unleashing a string of Biblical references Old Testament to New, including, most symbolically for Huckabee, how he was taught in Sunday school "that it was a lot better to be with David -- the little shepherd boy with five smooth stones -- than it was with Goliath and all his heavy armor."
Giuliani tried -- not very valiantly -- to erase his pro-choice record with promises to promote adoption, cut off federal funding for reproductive services, and nominate anti-choice judges. He continued his about-face from his previous opposition to the so-called "partial-birth" abortion ban, a highly charged issue with this audience. But there isn't room for two abortion flip-floppers to contend for the Christian right vote, and that didn't seem to get him anywhere. In the end, Giuliani may have gotten all he possibly could out of the appearance: mingling with the fringe of his party, and pretending that he doesn't think they're fringy.
4. Will the Real Huckabee Please Stand Up?
At last year's Values Voter Summit, Huckabee got a pretty stony reception for suggesting that the Christian right work with feminists to combat porn, with gay rights activists to combat AIDS, and with unions to make better workplaces. But this time he came back with all the venom -- and stock humor -- that sells to the FRC audience. Starting with a joke about the Nobel committee needing to count more chads before finalizing Gore's prize, Huckabee went on to call for sealing the border to stop illegal immigrants, fighting "Islamofascism," ending "the holocaust of liberalized abortion," and preserving "the holy word of God as it relates to the definition of marriage."
5. Co-Opting the Rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement
Regular readers of The FundamentaList are by now familiar with Bishop Harry Jackson, who is at the forefront of building coalitions between white and black biblical conservatives. I call them biblical conservatives because "social conservative" doesn't truly capture what's at the heart of their organizing principles: that the Bible represents the unerring word of God, and that all policy decisions should be based on their particular biblical literalism.
From the press conference opposing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, featuring black speakers from the FRC offshoot Network of Politically Active Christians, to Jackson's panel on racial reconciliation in the church, to Gary Bauer's unhinged speech equating people who are pro-choice with slave owners, there was increased energy devoted to turning civil rights rhetoric on its head. Portraying LGBT people, feminists, and pro-choice advocates as oppressors keeping Christians from practicing their faith, "back of the bus" became the shorthand for this perceived oppression -- and a rallying cry for white and black Christians to join hands in the fight.
During the panel on racial reconciliation in the church, Bill Owens, a pastor who has been visible in the movement's war on gay marriage, said that "black people are more conservative than you white people can pray to be," and claimed to be "insulted" by Al Gore visiting black churches. "Don't come around me pretending to know me," Owens snarled.
But the GOP wasn't spared either, nor were white Christian conservatives. Jackson accused the party of "pimping us" on the gay marriage issue. And in recounting an earlier discussion of Jena, an issue not raised by anyone else at the summit, Jackson mocked a white attendee who asked him, "why is it that you guys always try to defend one another? ... that boy in Jena, he was a criminal." Jackson said, "If I wasn't sweetly saved, I would have slapped his teeth out."
Contact me at tapthefundamentalist AT gmail DOT com.