Thursday, January 27, 2011

Update to posting

Ok so I've figured out a new schedule I'm going to be sticking to (as closely as possible). I will be posting Mapping the Religious Right as a regular series weekly every Monday. I will periodically post other pieces on Wednesday or Thursday nights.

I will do the best I can to stick to this. If I miss a week I apologize in advance.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mapping the Religious Right: Gary Bauer

The Religious Right is a powerful force in American politics and society, tipping elections and making themselves one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. Their objectives are worn on their sleeves; their zeal unquestionable. Yet for everything that is known far more remains just out of common knowledge. In this series we will delve into this unknown tracking down more on their most powerful players, money, influence, and how they achieve their goals.

In the political circles of the Religious Right few have better connections and influence than long-time Christian conservative Gary Bauer. Yet in spite of his considerable influence he has largely stayed out of the spotlight. Unlike the more famous megapastors like the late Jerry Falwell or John Hagee Bauer does not need the notoriety and attention to advance his cause. This has enhanced his effectiveness in the movement as a very capable behind the scenes organizer founding and leading several highly influential and well-funded socially conservative PACs.

Bauer has been with the Religious Right since it first became a major force in American politics. His political career began in 1982when he was appointed to the position of Deputy Undersecretary for the Department of Education by President Reagan. He was later promoted to Undersecretary at the same department and served in this role until 1987 when he was named domestic policy adviser to the President. While in office he headed Reagan's Special Working Group on the Family which presented their study on family issues in “The Family: Preserving America's Future” in 1986. It declares, “This fabric of family life has been frayed by the abrasive experiments of two liberal decades.” Very true to Christian Fundamentlist thinking Bauer casts followers of traditional family values as a persecuted element of society in dire need of government protection. In particular he singles out abortion, teen sex, children born out of wedlock, and the divorce rates blaming these all on a decline of solid Christian values.

In 1989 following the election of George H.W. Bush Bauer left the White House and was recruited by the Family Research Council, a rising star of the Religious Right. As President of the organization Bauer expanded the small group from a budget of one million with a staff of three to a $14 million operation and a headquarters in Washington DC. To improve their muscle he founded FRC Action, a political action committee, in 1992. He followed up in 1996 with the founding of the Campaign for Working Families who would make their mark in the 1998 midterm elections by raising $7 million for Christian conservative political candidates. Under Bauer's tenure the FRC and its allies established themselves as a formidable force in the Republican Party and the pro-life movement. Along with cementing their lobbying and fundraising prowess the FRC bulked up their information campaigns to shape the political discourse. From humble beginnings Bauer's leadership turned the FRC into the political powerhouse it is today and made a name for himself as a staunch Culture Warrior.

With his position assured in 1999 Bauer resigned as President of the FRC to campaign for the Republican nomination for President. Central to his campaign was the emphasis on moral values decrying the “culture of death” in America. Bauer's run for the Presidency, thanks to a crowded field, would end in February of 2000 when he dropped out of the race. Following his defeat Bauer would found another PAC, American Values, and was tapped as president of Christians United for Israel. Like his other PACs American Values would quickly establish itself as a strong member of the Religious Right's growing army of lobbying groups. In the mid 2000s Bauer's group would sign up with the secretive Arlington Group with his presence touted as a badge of honor for the organization.

In spite of his relatively low profile Bauer has remained an active figure in the Culture War. During the Bush Supreme Court nomination debates Bauer weighed in against Harriet Miers taking part in the campaign to derail her nomination on the grounds that she was a “stealth candidate” who appeared to be a conservative but would advance liberal ideas once on the high court. Following the nomination of Samuel Alito Bauer, along with other prominent Christian conservatives, came out in support of Bush's new pick for the Supreme Court rallying a campaign to ensure Alito's nomination. Bauer has remained highly active since with regular articles at Human Events and his reputation as a successful and influential organizer. Since 2008 Bauer in particular has been vocal in his support of Governor Sarah Palin for her strong socially conservative credentials. In spite of losses and setbacks he has continued to press the Religious Right's case to make their vision for America reality.

Bauer's history and track record makes him one of the more effective and dangerous operatives in the Christian fundamentalist movement. He rarely takes center stage, leaving the spotlight to more bombastic and flamboyant figures working to build up the Religious Right's political and organizational muscle. So far he has seen considerable success on this front with his most successful PACs exercising considerable influence and power in Washington to this day. Working behind the scenes and day to day in Washington Bauer continues to be a major force in the movement. With his string of successes and connections Gary Bauer's involvement in any major campaign or candidate is a clear sign that the social conservative establishment has a major stake in the outcome.


Also published at Pagans+Politics

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rights Without Responsibility

On Saturday the United States saw unfold a terrible tragedy that has left many dead, including a Federal judge and a nine year old girl, and more wounded. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona only just escaped death by luck and remains in critical condition. Yet this act did not take place in a vacuum. It happened hot on the heels of one of the most vitriolic and downright vicious elections in recent memory. Now this charge may sound hyperbolic until you look at snippets from the 2010 campaign trail with examples like an appeal to "Second Amendment remedies", resorting to the "bullet box" if the ballot box fails, declarations that Obama's election was an assault on America's soul, the urging of "don't retreat, just reload", declarations that the Vietnamese are after "my" seat, and the infamous target map. It cannot be said with any certainty that any one of these acts was what led to the bloodbath this past Saturday. It is highly unlikely that the increasingly hostile political climate, with the flames recklessly and cynically fanned by political personalities, candidates, and elected officials, had nothing to do with the tragedy in Tuscon. If this were an isolated incident, a one-time act by an unhinged individual, then such claims would be over the top, laughable, and easily dismissed.

If only that were the case.

Far from being a single act by a lone gunman Saturday's explosion of violence has much in the way of recent and infamous company. In early 2009 a Pennsylvania man ambushed and killed several police officers out of fear that the new Obama administration was going to take his guns away. A little more than a month later abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, a man repeatedly called a "baby killer" by political pundit Bill O'Reilly, was gunned down in his church. In February of this past year a small plane deliberately rammed the IRS building in Austin, Texas. In August a lone man exchanged fire with California Highway Patrol officers while on the way to attempt to attack the Tides Foundation, a frequent target of the rants of Glenn Beck. October 25th saw the brutal beating administered by a Rand Paul supporter to a MoveOn activist in Kentucky. Most recently, only just on the heels of the Tuscon attack, was today's discovery of the dead body of the Congressional affairs director for Progress Energy in a burning car.

These attacks show a disturbing pattern of violent action rising to meet the siren song of violent rhetoric. Far more troubling is the increasingly cavalier attitude public personalities are taking to the handling of freedom of speech. In none of these incidents, so far, has an apology for previous violent speech been offered. There has been no attempt by the loudest voices to dial back the heat but to stoke the flames to a roaring inferno. All the while the oh-so-objective media has supplied the fuel to these modern day demagogues by giving them coverage without consideration for content and creating sensation for the sake of puffing up ratings. Instead of shunning such radicals, as a civil society should, they have been consistently given the loudest megaphone the broadcast world can find. They rage freely with no concern for the potential consequences of abusing a position of public trust ducking responsibility every time they are cornered.

There is something terribly wrong with this picture. Far from what the old child's rhyme says words have the greatest power of all. In virtually every cosmology the world over speech and writing are of divine origin. Skalds, bards, messengers, and scribes were under divine protection and their speech given great weight. Our ancestors understood that words have the power to undo kings and lay low empires. Our own history validates this. It was not the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord that pushed the colonies to secede from Britain but the bold words of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson that ignited the hearts of the first American patriots. While bloody battles and the hail of lead would begin and end the Civil War it was the clarion call of the Emancipation Proclamation that truly turned the tide of the conflict and our nation's history. It was the words of Upton Sinclair that led to the creation of the FDA and the soaring dream of Dr. Martin Luther King that lit the night during the battle for Civil Rights in the 1960s. Now we have loud, shrill voices screaming for attention with no regard for the effect their speech may have on society.

This dangerous, reckless attitude has already borne much in the way of poisonous fruit. Our ancestors understood that as much as freedom isn't free rights come with responsibilities. Part of why we keep those rights is because we have a civil society which will defend both our rights and protect those who exercise them from retribution. It is this lack of violence in the political sphere, just as much as the blood and honor of America's finest on battlefields the world over, that secures the blessings of liberty for both us and our posterity. The attack in Arizona is a rare moment where, on the brink of madness, we can stop and pull ourselves back from the abyss.

If we do not pull back from the brinksmanship that dominates our discourse then we will fall into something much worse. Hopefully it will not take another shooting, another bombing, or a Congressman beating a Senator senseless to drive home how serious our situation truly is.


Also published at Pagans+Politics