1. Evangelicals Campaign for Huckabee in Iowa
Former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee might be the king of the folksy one-liner, but charm alone doesn't explain the recent explosion of conservative Christian support for him in Iowa. According to the Washington Post, Huckabee has gotten more than a little boost from another king, the master of a coveted e-mail list of 71 million Christian voters.
Randy Brinson, formerly of the Alabama Christian Coalition and now head of Redeem the Vote, has, according to the Post, provided 414,000 contacts for Huckabee in Iowa alone, a full quarter of all expected caucus-goers. Redeem the Vote is a Christian organization devoted to registering young people to vote; it has been hailed as the second coming of the Christian right -- this time in a less divisive package. Huckabee's alliance with Brinson goes back to 2004, when he agreed to serve as the chair of the organization's advisory committee.
Brinson has been lauded as a new voice for politically active Christians -- he had critical words about "Dobson and those guys" in the Post piece -- a conservative who seems to hew to the Huckabee line that he "isn't mad about it." Brinson is one of the evangelical co-authors of Third Way's "Come Let Us Reason Together" position paper, aimed at forging consensus between evangelicals and progressives on issues like gay marriage and abortion. But that doesn't make Brinson -- or Huckabee -- a raging liberal by any stretch of the imagination.
As Jeff Sharlet has pointed out, the fact that the Democratic Party has also enlisted Brinson's help proves that they are moving to the right to attract the "faith" vote -- not that Brinson has moved left. Sharlet wrote that "the 'new evangelicals' [Brinson] told me, are as anti-queer as ever, but they'll agree not to talk about it so long as 'the gay stuff's not in your face.' Don't-ask, don't-tell is the new moderation."
Brinson is partnering with Vision America's Rick Scarborough to barnstorm across Iowa for ten days, staring tomorrow. Scarborough (who has personally endorsed Huckabee) has made a career out of serving up some of the most divisive rhetoric from the Christian right (see, e.g., his book entitled Liberalism Kills Kids, his convening of a War on Christians conference with all the usual bugaboos like the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and those terrible prosecutors persecuting the godly Tom DeLay). They'll be teaming up with the Iowa Family Policy Institute and the Iowa Christian Alliance, "registering thousands of voters and mobilizing tens of thousands to vote their values during the Iowa caucuses in January." It's hard to see how that will help any candidate but Huckabee, unless, of course, it just helps Giuliani.
Also this week, Huckabee spoke at the secretiveIowa Renewal Project, along with heavy hitters Newt Gingrich, American Family Association president Don Wildmon (who has endorsed Huckabee), and "Christian nation" proponent David Barton. The event bore the same name as Gingrich's most recent book, Rediscovering God in America. Huckabee has maintained the secrecy of his appearances at Renewal Project events, which appear to be similar to the Texas Restoration Project, launched by Scarborough associate Laurence Wright (also a speaker at the Iowa event), which helped build evangelical support for Rick Perry in his gubernatorial race in 2006.
2. Romney to Give Speech on Faith
Although his supporters deny that the Huckabee "surge" triggered his decision, Romney has announced he is going to give a speech on the history of faith in America -- particularly our tolerance of different faiths -- and how his own Mormon faith would inform his presidency. It's being billed as Romney's "JFK speech," but, ah, well, you know what the punchline is.
Perhaps Romney's deer-in-the-headlights answer to last week's CNN/YouTube debate question about biblical literalism was a greater impetus than Huckabee's rise in the polls. Romney looked like he was about to be waterboarded --– his eyes widened, and he stammered through what he hoped would be the answer sought by his interrogators. He didn't have to compete for the votes of biblical literalists with Giuliani, who termed parts of the bible "allegorical;" it was the Baptist minister he was measuring himself against. But even Huckabee didn't really answer the question. The questioner, quite explicitly, held up the binding of his bible to display that he was asking about the literacy of the King James Version -- the authority for the most conservative of biblical literalists.
3. Christian Right Scares Up Opposition to Fairness Doctrine
To hear the Christian right noise machine tell it, the Fairness Doctrine is on the verge of being reinstated. It is, said American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)'s Jay Sekulow last week, "the greatest threat to Christian broadcasting and conservative talk radio that we have ever seen."
In reality, recent legislative efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, a requirement abolished during the Reagan administration that required broadcasters to give equal time to competing viewpoints, have repeatedly failed. But Christian right activists are up in arms nonetheless.
Republican Mike Pence of Indiana has introduced "Broadcaster Freedom Act," which would prevent reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine by the Federal Communications Commission as part of any new rules on media consolidation. The House Republicans, however, would need some help from Democrats to get the 218 votes necessary for their discharge petition to get the bill out of committee and onto the House floor. The absence of such Democratic support, the Christian right insinuates, shows that Democrats hate Christians. Hey, is it election season?
National Religious Broadcasters general counsel Craig Parshall called the Fairness Doctrine a "direct assault on Gospel programming around the world" on Sekulow's radio show, and Sekulow fretted about Islamists and Holocaust deniers being entitled to equal time with Christians should the doctrine be reinstated. The left "can't stand it," added Sekulow's son, Jordan, who also works for ACLJ, "that no one is listening to Air America." Sekulow chimed in, "they really do oppose the values and issues we stand for."
To encourage support for Pence's bill, televangelist Rod Parsley tried to motivate his followers with this scary scenario: "It would shock you to tune in to our TV broadcast and instead find Senator Ted Kennedy promoting abortion rights. Yet this sort of programming could be required by law if the Federal Communications Commission should reinstate the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine.'"
4. Coalition of Conservative Groups Engage in Gender-Bender Scare Tactics
In California, a new law aimed at harmonizing the state's hodge-podge of laws outlawing discrimination in public schools has come under attack by a number of conservative groups. The legislation, SB 777, is designed to prevent discrimination, harassment and bullying of LGBT students in public schools, and to protect kids on the basis gender identity as well as perceived gender identity and orientation.
But conservatives have pulled out the old scare tactics, asking whether unsuspecting kids will have to endure gender-bending bathrooms with transgendered kids. Capitol Resource Institute, a conservative lobbying group, has launched "Save Our Kids," a referendum drive to stop the implementation of SB 777, and the Alliance Defense Fund and Advocates for Faith and Freedom have filed a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality on the grounds that the terms "gender" and "discriminatory bias" are vague. According to the ADF's press release, "State officials are jeopardizing women's privacy and the safety of women and children. Without any standards for determining someone's 'gender,' school officials have no way to prevent a man from using the girl's restroom or locker room, for example, and this should alarm students and parents." Equality California, a gay rights group that lobbied for the bill, said in response to the lawsuit: “It is ironic that organizations that claim to support families are working to overturn a law that will protect students and help keep them in school. Equality California will work to preserve this law and ensure that all California students are safe in school.”
5. Scandal Update
Recently resigned Oral Roberts University president Richard Roberts told students that he didn't want to step down amid charges he misused university resources for his family's lavish lifestyle, but God insisted he do so.
Joyce Meyer, one of the televangelists targeted in Sen. Charles Grassley's probe into use of tax-exempt resources to underwrite personal luxuries, has responded publicly in advance of the Dec. 6 deadline set by the Republican's investigation. But did she answer Grassley's questions? Meyer maintains that her ministry is in compliance with its tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code and that all its financial undertakings are transparent to donors and the public. And about the hottest item Grassley was looking into, a $23,000 commode? Meyer insists that it was not a toilet but a "tall, elegant chest of drawers," and that she didn't actually spend that much on it. How much she did spend, however, she would not say; only that she spent over $260,000 on 68 pieces of furniture when she renovated her 150,000 square foot ministry headquarters. So that averages out to about $4,000 per piece of furniture – it isn’t any $23,000 toilet, but it’s hardly thrifty, either.
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