Archive for the ‘Politics and Religion’ Category

Evoking ghosts from the past: Buchanan 1992 v. Gingrich 2010

May 21, 2010

It seems as if Newt Gingrich is borrowing a page from Pat Buchanan’s speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

In his upcoming book, To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine, Gingrich writes;

The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.

In his 1992 convention speech, Buchanan stated the following:

There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.

Gingrich recently explained his views in an e-mail to Politico:

I have asserted that the secular socialist machine is a mortal threat to the future of America as we have known it just as totalitarian regimes were mortal threats to the survival of America in the past. … In our generation the two mortal threats are radical Islam and secular socialism.

Whereas Buchanan spoke of a “struggle for the soul of America” in which “Clinton & Clinton” were the evil doers, Gingrich’s foes are,  unoriginally, Obama, Reid and Pelosi.

Furthermore, whereas Buchanan’s key frame  was “cultural war”, Gingrich’s newest catch-phrase is “secular-socialism.”

The common denominator is the effort to use religion as a wedge issue.  Gingrich thus strives to create a political climate in which Democrats are framed as secular-minded socialists, while Republicans  are cast as valiantly defending America’s traditional family values. In other words, Gingrich isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here.

Nonetheless, Gingrich clearly masters scare tactics 101: Evoke ghosts from the past by painting a scary picture of the future. Essentially, a volatile cocktail of Reductio ad Hitlerum and Reductio ad Stalinum.

In the long haul, Gingrich’s paranoid style is not bringing any new solutions to Washington. Instead, he is stoking fear by borrowing a page from Buchanan. Obviously, Buchanan was by no means an originator, and both  his and Gingrich’s tactics are part of the paranoid style in American politics so eloquently described by Richard Hofstadter.

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Campaign Poetry: Begging to be lied to

May 14, 2010

Following a tough primary campaign against the pro-life Reverend Butler, The West Wing‘s fictional Republican presidential nominee Arnold Vinick (played by actor Alan Alda) was posed the following question during a news conference [1]: “Senator, are you going to reconsider Reverend Butler’s invitation to his church this weekend?”

Vinick responded:

I fully respect Reverend Butler’s position. I mean – I appreciate his invitation. And, ah… Look, … I respect the Reverend Butler, and I respect his Church too much to use it for my own political purposes, and that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I went down there this Sunday – cause the truth is it would just be an act of political phoniness. I may be wrong, but I – I suspect our churches already have enough political phonies.

I don’t see how we can have the separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religious test, to get in this government. And I wanna warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there: if you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They won’t all lie to you, but a lot of them will. And it will be the easiest lie they ever have to tell to get your votes. So every day until the end of this campaign, I’ll answer any question anyone has on government, but if you, if you have a question on religion – please, go to church.


[1] The West Wing, Season 6, Episode 20: “In God We Trust” [41:27-42:45] (transcribed by yours truly, January 26, 2010).

Campaign Poetry: “Shining city on a hill”

May 7, 2010

“Nine days after the hostage crisis began, he [Reagan] announced his candidacy for the presidency. In a nationally broadcast event that was the most expensive presidential campaign announcement in history, Reagan declared:

… We who are privileged to be Americans have had a rendezvous with destiny since the moment in 1630 when John Winthrop, standing on the deck of the tiny Arbella off the coast of Massachusetts, told the little band of Pilgrims, ‘We shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.’

A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and – above all – responsible liberty for every individual [so] that we will become that shining city on a hill.

I believe that you and I together can keep this rendezvous with destiny.

Straight from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Winthrop’s city-on-a-hill metaphor has wide resonance in the United States. To make sure of it, Reagan burnished the phrase with a special touch: as he told the Washington Post, Winthrop ”didn’t say ‘shining.’ I added that.'”

David Domke & Kevin Coe – The God Strategy. How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America (p. 50-51).

Campaign Poetry: “I need four hours”

May 6, 2010

“When Dr. Jack Willke was elected president of National Right to Life in June 1980, his organization was small but influential. … When Reagan chose the pro-abortion George H. W. Bush as his running-mate, concern mounted in the pro-life ranks. Willke decided to do something about it. He went to the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit, where the Republican convention was being held, and knocked on the door of Bush’s hotel room. … Willke told the vice-presidential nominee, ‘We would like you to clarify your position on abortion.’ Bush chuckled and started to answer, but Willke held up his hand and interrupted: ‘I don’t want to hear your position now.’ He asked if he could set up a time to brief him on the issue. Bush agreed to a thirty-minute meeting to be arranged when he returned to Washington.

‘I need four hours,’ Willke responded.

‘What?’ Bush said with surprise.

Willke explained, ‘Please understand that we are not going to be able to support this ticket if you are directly opposed to Reagan.’

Bush sat quietly for a moment, thinking. ‘Okay,’ he said, and invited Willke to meet him a few weeks later at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport.

In September 1980, Willke arrived in Kennebunkport with his PAC director Sandy Faucher, and set up his slide projector adjacent to a room where Barbara Bush was knitting. He went through his slides for three hours, showing Bush the stages of fetal development and the medical details of the abortion procedure. Willke responded to questions from Bush and one question from his wife (‘What if she’s raped?’).

They took a break for lunch with Bush and his staff, where they discussed other political matters. When lunch was over, Willke reminded Bush about the question in Detroit that he wouldn’t let him answer. ‘Now is the time for you to answer that question. Where are you on abortion and, particularly, on the Human Life Amendment?’

Willke remembers that Bush sat back in his chair and replied, ‘Well, I was not there before, but I am now. I will support an amendment to the Constitution to overturn Roe v. Wade. But it will have to be a state’s rights amendment. I can’t support a federal amendment.’ Willke reported the news of Bush’s change of position in his NRTL newsletter and the Reagan-Bush ticket got the full support of the pro-life movement.”

Deal W. Hudson – Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (p. 243-244).

Campaign Poetry: Bush’s “Christ moment”

May 5, 2010

“For most of the mid-December evening in 1999, the Republican Party primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, followed a predictable pattern. … As the debate neared its conclusion, one of the moderators, local newsman John Bachman, posed a question sent in from an Iowan watching the debate: ‘I’d like to run the table quickly with one individual question. What political philosopher or thinker, Mr. Forbes, do you most identify with and why?’ Forbes said John Locke, because ‘[e]ven though there are some flaws, I think he set the stage for what became a revolution.’ Keyes followed, and he opted for the nation’s founders, because they created ‘instruments of government that have preserved our liberty now for over 200 years.’ Bush was to answer next. He was known as a savvy politician – in Texas he had knocked off popular Democrat Ann Richards to become governor in 1994 and then coasted to reelection in 1998 – and he seized the moment.

With all eyes on him, Bush answered, ‘Christ, because he changed my heart.’ There was a pause; a beat or two passed in the room as the answer settled. Bush gave a quick, confident nod, indicating he was content to leave it at that. But Bachman followed up: ‘I think the viewer would like to know more on how he’s changed your heart.’ Bush smiled momentarily, then turned serious as he said, ‘Well, if they don’t know, it’s going to to be hard to explain. When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ’ – and here Bush had the perfect words to connect with religious conservatives – ‘when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that’s what happened to me.’ Bush’s response drew loud applause from the audience.”

David Domke & Kevin Coe – The God Strategy. How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America (p. 29-30).


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