Ralph Reed, Time Magazine’s 1995 “Right Hand of God” is at it again, downplaying the threat the pro-theocracy movement poses to American democracy. He wants us to believe the Evangelical vote is a myth – the very same vote he helped to create. Right. And there is no such thing as dominionism. Reed famously called dominionism a “conspiracy theory” even while slightly less extremist Christian Reconstructionists (if you can believe that) were warning against it. We got it, Ralph. You’re not good with the truth.
Reed, of course, was himself an instrumental figure in the so-called Religious Right’s takeover of the Republican Party and provided much of its early political clout. At the time, he credited the Christian Coalition with giving the Republicans their victories. In 2004, he even worked on the Bush-Cheney campaign, asked pastors to get votes for his candidate, and voilà, Bush received 78 percent of the Evangelical vote. Now this discredited figure is trying to tell us (and mainstream media giant CNN is giving him a pulpit) that the very vote he bragged about is just a myth, that they’re just like the rest of us – just folks. Really?
In a post to CNN’s Belief Blog, he correctly points out that “One of the most important sub-plots in the Iowa caucuses was which candidate would win the support of Iowa’s evangelical voters.” He goes on to point out that,
In the media’s instant analysis, a “splintering” of Iowa’s evangelical vote among numerous candidates made it difficult for them to influence the selection of the Republican presidential nominee.
He takes issue with this analysis, claiming that “this narrative is based on a caricature of evangelicals and other voters of faith.”
Consider this: 61% of self-identified evangelicals who attended a caucus Tuesday night in Iowa voted for a candidate who is either Roman Catholic (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum) or Mormon (Mitt Romney, who won the caucuses, besting Santorum by eight votes ).
Reed wants us to believe that, “This suggests a more nuanced and complex portrait of voters of faith. They are often crudely portrayed as voting based solely on identity politics, born suckers for quotes from Scripture or “code words” laced in the speeches of candidates appealing to their spiritual beliefs.” According to Reed, then, a conservative Christian voting for a conservative Christian shows nuance? Really? Apparently, according to Reed, conservative Catholics don’t count, which says more about Reed’s prejudices than that of voters (we’ll look at exit poll numbers in a moment).
As for Evangelicals being born suckers for Scripture and code words? Look at what they’ve done to us so far in the name of their own religious freedom to persecute and dictate, stirred by a steady diet of hate and rejection (and look at some of what is in store for us in 2012). Ultimately, Reed proved the case against himself because by voting for the despised categories of Catholics and Mormons, the Evangelical vote did prove itself suckers for Scripture and code words. He makes much of the fact that entrance polls showed only 13 percent made abortion the number one issue, but according to exit polls, 58 percent of those voting for Santorum said it was the number one issue.
What he wants us to believe is that these fundamentalist voters are a “sophisticated bunch.” This is Reed beating an old drum; he once claimed “People of Faith” were the new “Amos and Andy.” And it is a hard sell based on the Bronze Age rhetoric flying out of Iowa in the weeks and days leading up to the caucus. Sure, the candidates talked about the economy and the budget deficit. So what? Look at the man who came in second, Rick Santorum. This is the same Santorum who was mired at the bottom of the polls and could not reach into the double-digits leading up to the caucus. At the end he trailed just 8 points behind Mitt Romney. Santorum made his conservative Christianity the central focus of his platform. He literally could not open his mouth without mentioning what God wanted or didn’t want. And conservative Evangelicals answered the call and put the otherwise hopeless Santorum into second place.
That doesn’t sound terribly sophisticated to me. Take a look at Santorum’s Top 10 Most Outrageous Campaign Statements according to Think Progress, if you doubt my analysis. You won’t see any signs of sophistication there (extreme ideologies don’t employ a scalpel when a hammer will do).
Sure, Romney won. He’s a big name with a well-funded campaign and an excellent organization behind him. And though he’s a Mormon, he’s far from being a progressive Christian. His moralistic stance with regard to the so-called Culture War is identical to that of the Republican base. Whatever he may have said in the past, he has come down on the “right side” of the debate on abortion (he opposes it) and same-sex marriage (he opposes it). As Jon Stewart joked on Wednesday, Santorum is the guy Romney is pretending to be.
Exit poll numbers tell the story. Look at how the Iowa Caucus fell out according to the religion and ideology of the voters (the number before the slash being by religion and after by ideology):
|Candidate||% of Evangelical Vote/% of conservative vote||% of Non-Evangelical Vote/% of moderate or liberal vote|
As you can see, the Evangelical vote is not a myth; it voted overwhelmingly for Rick Santorum, the most extreme candidate save Bachmann. It was the non-Evangelicals, the more moderate Republicans who put Romney at the top. Santorum unsurprisingly also garnered 30 percent of the Tea Party vote; Ron Paul managed only 19 percent. Those who oppose the Tea Party overwhelmingly voted for establishment man Mitt Romney. Entrance polls show that the Evangelical vote was 57 percent, just 3 percent down from 2008.
Santorum, of course, knew what got him there. As he said in his victory speech, “I’ve required a strength from another particular friendship – one that is sacred. I’ve survived the challenges so far by the daily grace that comes from God.”
Yet Reed’s astonishing conclusion is this:
So when commentators prognosticate about the “evangelical vote,” we might want to ask them, “which one?” For there are there are many evangelical votes, many candidates who win their support, and a multitude of motivations for their engagement in the rough-and-tumble of American politics.
This is all to the good. It demonstrates that their civic involvement is a cause for celebration, not alarm, a sign of the health of our political system, not that it suffers from an anti-democratic or sectarian impulse.
Reed doesn’t want to mention how close a call America had with theocracy during the fundamentalist-supported Bush administration, or the erosion of our First Amendment rights and the endless attacks on the Wall of Separation promoted by the movement he supports. Far from being a sign of health, the fundamentalist intervention in American politics is a sign of rot. Religious Freedom for Reed and for all the Republican candidates is Christian religious freedom, not the religious freedom of the rest of us.
There is no way to marginalize the risk posted to America’s political health by the Republican Party’s political theology, which hates women, hates gays, hates Islam, hates atheists, hates pagans and hates the environment, all on religious grounds. We’ve come a long way from the open-minded days of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, two of our most important thinkers among the Founding Fathers, men who cared about real religious freedom, as evidence by the legislation they authored and promoted.
Rick Santorum, like all Republican candidates, is not really opposed to big government or federal intrusion. They are opposed to the government intruding on the right of the rich to get richer and the rights of corporations to avoid taxes and regulation, but when it comes to the GOP’s morality-laced platform, they are all for it, from Gingrich’s proposal for a Presidential Commission on Religious Freedom in the United States to Santorum’s promise of a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and annulling all existing same-sex unions.
As Time Magazine’s political obituary of Reed said in 2006, “He thought he could convince his base that they shouldn’t believe their eyes and ears, that they should trust him instead. In the end, not enough did.” He wants to do that again, to convince the American people that they shouldn’t believe their eyes and ears. With any luck, America has learned all it needs to know about Ralph Reed.
Reed wants us to believe these wolves are lambs, but they are not and have never been. No political platform based on Old Testament repression can ever be gentle or forgiving or tolerant. The only thing that Ralph Reed has managed to prove is that he is still the snake-oil salesman he has always been, a lot of gloss covering a dark and unsavory core, just like the movement he represents.