Openly appealing to bigotry
As John notes just below, the Jeffress incident, the pastor’s subsequent pratfalls, and the Perry campaign’s ham-handed handling of the matter have produced an avalanche of commentary. We won’t even try to mention it all.
We do want to focus on some statements that caught our eye over the weekend, however. They fall into the category of shocking, but not surprising.
It turns out that some influential Rick Perry supporters – Evangelicals – are quite open about not only their desire to use Romney’s Mormonism as a means of driving Evangelical primary votes to Perry, but also the need to do do indirectly, by speaking in code.
Lest you think we are overreacting or misinterpreting the Perry supporters’ statements, here’s what the Washington Times (not exactly a liberal MSM outlet) reported. In short, Perry’s backers “lament what they see as “errors” in his campaign:
“Perry hasn’t reached out to surrogates sufficiently to get them to help him with his errors,” said Randy Brinson, a leader of the Christian Coalition in Alabama….
“He hasn’t made the case that he is committed to tying evangelical beliefs to public policy,” Mr. Brinson said. “George W. Bush did that in 2000, and he didn’t have to go on the defensive with evangelicals as Perry has had to do….
Evangelical Perry supporters said one thing that could be done to unseat Mr. Romney from his front-runner spot is to have surrogates plant doubt among Republican primary voters about the former Massachusetts governor’s Mormonism, something that is widely thought to have contributed to his poor showing in the 2008 Republican primaries and caucuses.
“This is not a difficult task, but one that must be done,” Mr. Brinson said. “You can’t have people raising the Mormon issue front and center, but you can raise the question as surrogates about the language of faith that we used successfully against Romney in 2008 when we worked for Mike Huckabee. It is all about semantics.“
(Emphasis added.) It turns out that R. Randolph “Randy” Brinson, MD, is Chairman of an organization called Redeem the Vote, which works to register Evangelical voters and get them to the polls.
I’ve been thinking about Brinson’s statement all weekend and am not sure where to begin in responding. Mainly, I’m struck by how brazen he is in describing the “dog whistle” tactics that he wants Perry to use in 2011-12, and how freely he admits that pro-Huckabee forces used those same tactics in 2008. (Remember Mike “Who, me? Use slimy religion-based tactics?” Huckabee, now of Fox News fame?)
I suppose all’s fair in love and politics, but there’s a repulsiveness to Brinson’s strategy that I think most decent people will feel. It seems to me that we can do better than that in the United States of America. We ought to try, at least.
What’s mostly fascinating to me is whether we are close to a tipping point at which such tactics will backfire. I hope so, but fear my hope is really just wishful thinking.
Late update: The Daily Beast (to which John links below) gives us more on the brazen nature of the pro-Perry whisper campaign.
The Daily Beast has obtained a series of emails that show an influential evangelical activist with close ties to the Perry campaign stressing the political importance of “juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false God of Mormonism,” and calling for a “clarion call to Evangelical pastors and pews” that will be “the key to the primary” for Perry.
Read the whole thing. The apparent connections between the Perry campaign and this effort are illuminating.
Like James Faulconer, who taught me classical philosophy when I was an undergraduate, I am tired of this. But if we really care about allowing religious people a voice in the public square, we don’t have that luxury.
Meanwhile, back at the Perry campaign….
Jennifer Rubin seems interested in the Perry campaign’s attempt to become the victim:
I went back to the Perry camp to ask what attacks were launched because of the governor’s faith. Spokesman Mark Miner responded by e-mail: “Mrs. Perry was expressing her feeling and opinions and did not refer to a particular attack.” In other words, no one has actually attacked Perry for his faith. I also asked why he wouldn’t join prominent conservative leaders like Gary Bauer and Bill Bennett in denouncing the remarks. Miner would only say, “The governor has said he disagreed with the pastor’s remarks.” But if Jeffress had said Jews shouldn’t be president, I would assume Perry would have denounced that; so why are Jeffress’s anti-Mormon comments any different? Miner seemed stumped and never answered whether he would denounce and not merely disagree with such sentiments.
Some campaigns just can’t get out of their own way, it seems.
Joe Lieberman, in a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Romney and America’s promise of religious freedom,” also thinks we need to do better with this whole religious bigotry problem:
I have been watching the recent controversy over Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith through two prisms. One is the vision of the appropriate relationship between government and religion, as set out by America’s Founders; the other is my own experience in 2000 as the first Jewish American to be nominated for national office.
Read the whole piece; excerpts do it no justice.
On a similar note, our friend David French of Evangelicals for Mitts writes in the Washington Post “On Faith” blog about “The evangelical case for Mitt Romney —and against Robert Jeffress.” It’s a hard-hitting piece.
Okay, John’s Turn
Well, Perry/Jeffress have opened a can of worms a bit bigger than I thought. And the article Lowell has linked to gives us a hint as to why the damage to a Romney candidacy from Jeffress’ comments and the coverage is more than suspected at first glance. Stories about a “whispering campaign” continue to circulate. Let’s review the coverage/discussion, with the understanding that as much as I link to here, there is ten times as much I do not. I have tried to limit myself to important sources and limit repetition of argument/discussion as much as possible.
We have learned that at least according to some polling, most people don’t have a problem with Mormonism in a candidate. It does seem apparent the left has a bigger problem than the right. It seems like old friend Richard Land wants to pull Romney and Jefffress out of the fire. (Sorry Dr. Land, but I think Jeffress has made that a bit difficult for you.) We know the NYTimes is taking advantage of the furor to discredit candidates of other faiths.
Political, not religious, pundits do not think this is a very big deal. Unsurprisingly, one minority religion stands up for another. There is more claim of divine guidance amongst the candidates – and it’s still not from the Mormons. This is kinda funny, and we learn that Iowa is a different electoral duck. (No shock there!)
But the seriously serious stuff comes when we see the Iowa religion pie getting split up. That’s what happens when you focus on “I want a candidate who is like me” instead of on “I want a candidate who will make the best president.” We learn that the Perry campaign is getting the “weird” label. That’s brilliant, by the way. And then there is this from the Atlantic:
What do all these dubious champions have in common? Their red meat rhetoric and ability to antagonize liberals. What many tea partiers share is a belief that the best way to get where the country should be going is by being more ruthless than the Democrats; by fighting them zealously in the media, zinging them from the stump, and never, ever compromising with them in Congress or at the White House negotiating table. This is partly a reaction to George W. Bush’s tenure, when tea partiers believe they were sold out by a big-spending, big-government RINO who kept compromising with Ted Kennedy. It is partly a reaction to the perception that they tried nominating media darling and “maverick” John McCain in 2008, and he lost. It is partly a reaction to the belief, stoked by talk radio, that every compromise with liberals is just one more ratchet in the direction of socialism, and that a confident, uncompromising conservative, in what they imagine to be the model of Ronald Reagan, is the solution to their woes.
Their approach has several flaws.
1) Bombast isn’t a predictor of fealty to principle. It’s just strategically uttered rhetoric, like everything else said by politicians, a profession where what is promised on the campaign trail always deviates from what is done in office. How odd that the most cynical voters are most taken by extravagant promises of loyalty.
2) When primary candidates compete to be the most bombastic and uncompromising in their rhetoric, the most successful quickly start to look unelectable, and the average Republican primary voter wants most of all to beat President Obama in 2012. Thus the winner of the “conservative primary” loses the Republican primary, in much the same way that Howard Dean lost to John Kerry during the 2004 cycle.
3) Some candidates who lack bombast, like Jon Huntsman or Daniels, would be more effective than any tea-party champion at advancing the movement’s agenda, but they’re overlooked because they fail to excite. It’s absurd. Their records as successful governors are concrete demonstrations that they govern in a reliably conservative manner and can win converts. It is irrational to mistrust the rhetoric of politicians even while preferring someone like Cain, whose lack of experience forces supporters into the position of trusting his rhetoric without any basis for doing so save their gut feelings (which have done nothing but caused them to feel betrayed by pols in the past).
So, what do we take from that really? That the left wants us to suffer the actual disarray in which they are trying to portray us. Unfortunately, if we continue with this kind of nonsense, we are going to give them precisely what they want. Which takes me back to the problem with Perry/Jeffress and the surrogates and whisper campaigns. First of all, there was nothing ham-fisted about the Jeffress tack – it provides cover for the whisper campaign – it ignites the talk.
But the biggest problem with such whisper campaigns is that they are deeply divisive. They sow such discontent inside the party that if the person the whispers support does not prevail, it leaves the party weakened. And apparently Jeffress and his supporters don’t care. This from Jeffress reported just this morning:
Robert Jeffress, the Mormonism-disparaging, Rick Perry-boosting Texas megachurch pastor, says he doesn’t care much about politics, or even about who will be president in 2013.
“I don’t lose any sleep over this election,” Jeffress told The Daily Caller.
“I mean, I do hope a conservative candidate wins. I would like it to be a committed Christian … But you know what? If Barack Obama wins again, I mean, I don’t believe Barack Obama is the anti-Christ.”
It seems apparent that this group puts stopping the Mormon ahead of the well-being of the nation. I do not know what other conclusion can be drawn. They are willing, as we have just demonstrated, to weaken the party for this sake of their agenda. What is truly maddening is that there seems to be not a speck of serious political thinking involved. This group is clearly so divorced from reality that they are in a religious swoon.
They are the left’s religious nightmare. What they fail to see is that playing the game this way they are playing into the hands of those that would ultimately destroy religion in the nation – all religion.
Sadly, they seem to be pretty well organized. Fortunately I do not think there are enough of them to turn the primary around, particularly when their tactics and games are this openly exposed. Which should tell you something about how badly the press was in the bag from Obama last time – this is not new, just reported for the first time.
This is an important warning for the Romney campaign. Perry has self-destructed, but has the means to resurrect himself. The campaign’s Iowa strategy will not allow this groups efforts to be as successful as they were last cycle. (Not to mention Perry lacks Huckabee’s innate political winsomeness.) The state of things should limit the effectiveness of a whispering campaign as people who may harbor suspicion about Mormonism, but not opposition, will focus more on the economy than things like religious affiliation. However, the motives and vehemence of the Jeffress clan are now crystal clear, and they do not strike me as the kind to go down easy. This is clearly a matter of religious truth for them, and such people have been known to start civil wars.
Worse, those of us that are politically active Christians of all stripes that are not such nutcases have a great deal of work ahead of us to maintain our political viability. Jeffress/Perry et. al. are the precise religious caricature that the left so fears. Those of us that operate out of God-given reason rather than unthinking, dogmatic knee-jerkism have more at stake than we can possibly know. These tactics must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, by everyone with a stake in the game.
John Mark here:
A weakness of democratic forms of government is that they can be abused by demagogues. Part of being fit for the republic given us by our Founders is for leaders, or aspiring leaders, to avoid manipulating the people using dishonest or evil means.
I am not naive enough to think all politicians at all places at all times have been good enough to do this. Some bought votes with corn liquor, some with racism, some with lies, but it was never right. Most decent politicians took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to such vile behavior and if it stayed localized it did the Republic little harm. New media, however, gives the evil a bigger chance to rot our national discourse. What once was whispered in a Southern precinct or in a New York ward is now the work of Internet trolls. One foul comment can be spread and the lies poison our discourse.
Candidates must disclaim these lies once they get wide spread in an Internet age. One cannot tolerate whispers about the mother of Palin’s baby, lies about 9/11, or the race of the McCain child, because those lies now can poison our entire national discourse. Good men and women cannot abide them.
To openly say that one will engage in a whispering campaign based on bigotry masters the difficult feat of being vile in two ways: it is cowardly and hateful. Not for everyone is the attempt at being the sort of bad man that make other bad men wince. Slinking about the corners whispering what one lacks the courage to say openly gives bigotry an even worse name. Some bigots will at least have the dignity to argue their positions in the public square, but these bigots cover themselves with the hood and sheet of Internet anonymity to break the commandments.