By Annie Laurie Gaylor
The conference met prior to Colin Powell's announced exploration bid, but "boos" greeted his name. Presidential candidates outdid each other making religious statements and pledges at the Christian Coalition "Road to Victory" conference:
The very daffy Sen. Bob Dornan (R-CA), a Christian loose cannon, talked about how Jesus Christ "redeemed everyone in his precious blood." He made a fool out of himself trying to imitating the accent of Richard Burton from the movie The Robe, when the not-yet-converted Burton warned, "There are insurrectionists and they mean to pull down the state, and they call themselves Christians." It's no secret that Dornan and Co. mean to pull down the state, I gather.
Dornan said his campaign was based on "Faith, Family, Freedom," and derided his opponents for being talkers, while "I'm in the arena passing legislation for you."
Heavily-accented Sen. Gramm (R-TX) told the crowd it was just "grite" to be there, pledging to make the Contract with (on) the American Family "my agenda" as president, vowing to finish the "Reagan Revolution."
"This isn't a debate on how much money to spend on children," he said. "It's who will spend it. Bill Clinton wants the government to do the spending. I want the family to do the spending," in another veiled allusion to vouchers for religious education.
At this conference, the flat tax got as many claps for Gramm as his antiabortion remarks. So did cutting capital gains tax.
He intoned, with no originality: "Like a lot of older people, my mama has bars on her windows. I want the people she's afraid of to have bars on their windows. . . When some violent criminal predator kills our neighbor, I want him put to death" (huge applause).
"I wanna apply the death penalty fairly and regularly," Gramm said to massive cheers.
Piously, Gramm said, "I'm not going to try to impose my moral values on America. There's only one person whose values are good enough to govern America . . . and until He does come back, we're going to entrust America's values to our families."
Gramm went after his chief opponent, Dole, by baiting the audience with "an assignment," to ask Dole why he hasn't signed "the pledge" to keep the "pro-life" plank in the GOP platform.
While listening to Dole, I had the impression I was listening to the underdog begging his audience for support. Only after rereading my notes did I realize how extreme his speech was, and how many concessions he made to his audience. He has the right-wing meanness and credentials but lacks the fundamentalist fervor.
Dole was heckled at the outset, thanks to Gramm's setup. Many stood up holding handmade signs shouting "Sign the Pledge!" The outburst died down after about a half minute, and was by no means universal. The woman next to me said, "I don't know what's the matter with these people--they're so rude."
Dole promised to support the Religious Equality Amendment. Since right-wing Christians love to feel victimized and persecuted, Dole played up to this weakness. "When these attacks come, I will be proud to stand with you as I have in the past. . . You are the glue that holds America together."
His most religious statement: "We are a nation conceived, born and nurtured by faith . . . Our faith is declared in our Constitution, on our currency and in our lives."
He scored cheap brownie points by promising to close down the Department of Education, to promote adoption, taking potshots at the U.N. Conference on Women and Bella Abzug, and promoting placing nativity scenes on courthouse grounds. Big cheers greeted his requisite antiabortion remarks. Then he beseeched the Christians:
"Look at the record, not rhetoric. You're going to have a big, big say in 1996. Decide who you want as President of the United States. God bless America."
Sen. Richard Lugar
"Accept the fact that there are bad people and that sin exists," advised this lay Methodist minister. I suppose he was brave to announce that he opposes abortion "except in instances of rape and incest and when the mother's [sic] life is in danger." Lugar (R-IN) called for abolishing the IRS and all federal income taxes, substituting a national sales tax on retail goods and services.
His niche at the convention was to go after gambling. He seemed largely irrelevant, but I notice that William Safire and Scripps-Howard News have recently had syndicated columns promoting his remarks at the convention.
This has-been former governor of Tennessee and former U.S. Secretary of Education went after the public school system, opposing "outcome-based education" and supporting vouchers.
Host of "America's Wake-Up Call" radio show, Keyes devoted much of his talk to an attack on abortion, therefore was wildly popular. He screamed to applause: "We will rebuild our families or we will perish!"
Keyes' pledge: "women's work in the context of marriage-based families," and to instill two goals he called the moral equivalent of potty training: "getting your younger children to avoid fornication and getting older children to marry when they want to have children." (When's the last time abolishing fornication was on a presidential platform?)
"Take back the helping program, take back the charity programs," he bellowed to huge cheers. "Put them back in the hands of the faith-based institutions where they belong." (Translate: tax money should go to churches and social services should be abolished.)
"Education shouldn't be a government-led endeavor. OUR CHILDREN BELONG TO GOD, and we are responsible to Him for them!"
In attacking legal abortion, Keyes said "Our rights come from God! Politics is where we belong because in America politics is founded on the solid foundation of God Almighty!"
Buchanan pledged a "pro-life" party, vice-presidency and presidency to huge cheers. He quoted from the bible, unlike most politicians there. God and the bible are the sources of morality, he said. He repeated his 1992 gaffe, saying there is a "cultural war going on for the soul of this country." Religion, he said, "has been expelled from public schools and Playboy magazine has been brought in." (I am not kidding.)
This kind of grotesque exaggeration was typical at the conference. He said we don't need "some miserable secular humanist in sandals and thieves at the Dept. of Education telling us how to educate America's children!" (What is this reactionary grievance against sandals? They love them on Jesus!)
"We need to make this beloved country of ours God's country again."
Sandwiched between the pious pledges was a vow to build a security fence along our Southern border, and to begin term limits on every judge in America.
Want to know Buchanan's secret campaign theme, the item he became most impassioned about? To oust "President's Day" and bring back Washington's birthday! (As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.) He concluded to more wild cheers: "it is time to gird ourselves and take that long march up to Armageddon to do battle for the Lord."
Most speakers were allotted 20 minutes and very few exceeded their allotment, which is impressive considering that about half of them are current or former politicians. Some of the smiled-upon speakers, such as Newt Gingrich, were allotted an extra 10 minutes.
The Speaker of the House ingratiated: "Reporters and editorial writers routinely practice Christian phobia." Joining the hate list of despised journals, such as The Washington Post, is the New York Times. According to Gingrich, this newspaper passionately urges every American to become involved "unless you believe in prayer, unless you believe in family." (Big hand)
Newt pushed executions of commercial drug dealers, attacked Lyndon Johnson, and pronounced that "Power in America goes from God (yes, I'm going to use that word) to you."
"Liberalism bought a pact with the devil" was a typical remark receiving an ovation.
I wonder if a new Newt scandal is on the horizon, for he said, in a non sequitur: "All of us are sinful and that's why we need to seek salvation through faith because we're never gonna earn it." (Speak for yourself.) Perhaps he is on the verge of another divorce, perhaps only responding to the impact of Gail Sheehy's expose in Vanity Fair, for he then admitted a "fair amount of stress" in his second marriage.
Tom DeLay (R-TX)
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay was praised for winning 299 of the 302 votes on "Contract on America." He congratulated his audience for their "true belief not only in God but in the country.
"Ladies and gintlemin," he twanged, "you got me all fired up jest lookin' at ye."
The House Majority Whip, in case anyone is interested, is a fanatic. He promptly added, "To God goes the glory." He continued, "In the beginning, God created the family." The Constitution "was divinely inspired."
Balancing the budget is a religious crusade with DeLay. "Don't let people tell you you can't legislate morality. I'm a small businessman. I kill bugs for a living so I know a lot about pest control," he sneered. "We're finding a lot of varmints up here, and we're rooting them out . . .
"We can take the White House in 1996," he vowed, but warned that "while we are a majority, we are not yet a pro-family majority" in Congress. "We need you to send us more laborers!"
Rep. Dick Armey
The House Majority Leader, one of many speakers with a 100% perfect Christian Coalition rating and one of many to receive a "Friend of the Family" plaque, opined that the "lion's share" of serious problems in the U.S. "can be laid at feet of big government." He called for the elimination of the Surgeon General's office (whoops of delight), the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Legal Services Corporation (more whoops).
Flat tax is as much a priority as school prayer, said Armey, asking for "your prayers for strength of conviction."
This unpolished, pudgy-faced Baptist minister and Arkansas Lt. Governor, introduced as "another man from Hope, Arkansas," sermonized:
"I grew up with 'Leave It To Beaver.' They're growing up with 'Beavis & Butthead.' "
There used to be prayers in schools, he continued. Now there are police in schools. They used to have Crackerjacks, now it's crack cocaine. He went to drive-in movies, now there are drive-by shootings.
"Once Gideons would give bibles to 5th graders. Now school nurses are handing out condoms to 7th graders."
Well, you get the idea.
In Deuteronomy, Huckabee said, God told Moses how to take the promised land. "It won't happen all at once. We'll let the devils' children till the land in the meantime so it will be ready for us when we move in." Yes, he believes in the devil. This is one politician who will never go on record against witch-burnings.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, one of the token right-wing Democrats invited, made "easier adoption" the centerpiece of his speech. After proclaiming that "foster care doesn't work" and should be replaced with adoption, in the next breath Casey said, "Families ought to stay together"! Go figure.
The pugilistic Rep. John Kasich (R-OH): "It's a sin not to help people in need but it's a sin to help people who should help themselves." In railing against flag-burning, Kasich made one of the meeting's weirder remarks: "It's just common sense. Red is for the blood--we don't burn it." I also found it amusing that, in lobbying for the "re-establishment of Judeo-Christian ethics," this member of the same House that wants to discard uniform speed limits compared right and wrong to speed limits: "Ya gotta have speed limits." Tell that to Congress. Kasich called for an "end of tyranny of the minority," such as what happens when there are 99 kids in a class and only one doesn't want to pray. (I've heard of conservatives endorsing big classroom sizes, but this is ridiculous!) Religious coercion, here we come!
Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) is introducing legislation, Project for American Renewal, to shift resources from government to "religious-based organizations." Oh, goody.
The Christian Coalition's work "is not just the way of the battle but the way of the cross," Coats said.
Least Awaited Announcement
"I am going to run for president someday."--William Bennett.
Most Shocking Remarks
When I returned home, a laid-back Episcopalian neighbor asked me what was the most "shocking" remark I had heard. After more than 28 hours of listening to Right Wing demagogues, I must have become desensitized, because I couldn't isolate one particular moment. Upon reflection, I found the remarks of one "Star Parker," one of the few women speakers on the program, and one of the most popular judging by the hoots and hollers, to be most offensive. From my seat, she looked like Whitney Houston, young, beautiful and dressed to the eye-teeth. But her message was pure, avenging Righteousness.
In the tradition of the pentecostal preacher, she shouted the whole time, although the volume was already turned way up. The crowd ate up her confessional message of being a former welfare mother who is now "saved." She regaled her listeners with tales of living on welfare with a fireplace, a jacuzzi, cashing in food stamps for drugs and spending her days at the beach after parking her child at the state daycare, a mythical creation, I'm sure. "Everyone on welfare lived just like that," she assured her credulous crowd, who responded with happy gasps.
"Where the godfearing divorce, the godless don't even bother to get married" was a typical remark.
It soon became obvious what her role in the convention was. She was there to stir up hatred of "welfare moms" ("Welfare is going to kill our nation"), and to promote public vouchers to fund religious education. After her thoroughly cold and calculating portrayal of the poor as welfare cheats, she suddenly waxed eloquent over the rights of the poor to special favors, courtesy of the American taxpayers:
"Vouchers are not for suburban, white, rich people. Vouchers are for the poor!"
The public schools have barbed-wire fences, and "bra-less, drunk teachers," she insisted, while private religious schools "turn around kids." Her agenda for the public schools: "No more bilingual, no more Goals 2,000, no more multicultural, no more busing, no more nothing." Wild applause.
"How dare some lewd leftist--Isaiah said they're vile--tell us we have to separate our faith from how we invest our own money!" Lavish applause.
"Where is the electric chair?" she screamed to even more energetic applause. "The bible says: 'Cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood.' How serious are we?" (Altogether too serious for my taste.)
Star is being used, just as Wis. Rep. Polly Williams is being used, by the religious voucher proponents, who pretend this campaign is just for the benefit of poor black kids in the slums.
What I found most shocking was the reception for this star turncoat. A stampede of standing ovations, "amens" and cries of delight greeted her caricatures and outlandish claims.
Christian Coalition Hate List
The Washington Post. A columnist once referred to the CC's followers as "poor, uneducated and easy to command." The Post is not forgotten or forgiven, judging by the countless references to it by thin-skinned fundy politicians.
Dan Rather and CBS, which aired a not particularly hard-hitting special on the Religious Right on the eve of the CC convention.
The Anti-Defamation League, for accusing Pat Robertson of anti-semitism for referring to a "worldwide conspiracy of European bankers" in a book, after which he has loudly backpedaled in wounded tones that he had no way of knowing that was the Nazi code phrase for scapegoating Jews.
Jewish Uncle Tomism
I don't even think a phrase exists to describe the weird phenomenon of Orthodox-Jews-for-the-Christian-Coalition. Jewish Uncle Toms? Sell-outs? Traitors? Perhaps it is just the natural affinity between fundamentalists. Whatever the phenomenon, it was revolting!
British-accented Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a creationist wearing a yarmulke, was the first Jewish sycophant:
"I wish for the last 2,000 years that Jews would have been inflicted with nothing but the antiSemitism of people like you," he said to wild applause. (It seems to me his masochistic wishes were fulfilled and then some.)
It was strictly party line: "At a time when every grotesque political depravity has a chair at the table so should we." He called secular humanism a "cataract of calamities."
A panel, "Our Judeo-Christian Heritage," continued the Jewish blarney. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, described as a "fourth generation Orthodox rabbi," at least had the guts to preface his remarks by referring to the "tragic relationship of Christians and Jews . . . marked by enmity and strife, persecution and pain." He quickly ingratiated, "My challenge to you of the Christian Coalition is that you truly be Christlike. Far from being a threat to Jews, true Christians are Jews' best friends."
Attorney Marshall Wittman of the Heritage Foundation asked: "What's a nice Jewish boy doing in a place like this? I'm here because you are my family. Jews and Christians," he added ominously, "must cleanse the culture."
The Holocaust, said he, ignoring Hitler's Christian roots and pronouncements, is "what can happen in a culture when faith is forgotten and paganism prevails."
"Pat Robertson is a friend of the Jews and a friend of the family."
One Jew after another was trotted out to give glowing testimonials for Pat Robertson, attesting to "the tears in his eyes" at the Holocaust Museum.
Robertson's best cheerleader Ralph Reed stated: "We are the best friends that the Jews and the State of Israel have ever had."
Most Repulsive Speakers
Chuck Colson and Judge Robert Bork, with his straggly, unkempt-looking beard, tied for the most repulsive persons there (or possibly anywhere in North America). Lots of roving spotlights, by the way, introduced Bork, with thunderous music and applause.
Bork said "we are erroneously taught that the First Amendment itself establishes a religion: secular humanism." He dismissed Jefferson's views as "idiosyncratic at the time."
He made a bizarre non sequitur, quoting George Will criticizing the fact that "the celebration of vaginas is mere words." For once, an outrageous remark was greeted with dead silence. (Maybe he won't get invited back next year.)
Bork made one of the convention's most partisan remarks, saying that the country "must elect a Republican House and Senate and president."
Repulsive Speaker No. 2, Colson, would not go over big in Minnesota. Not a master of tact, he repeated a joke that India is the most religious country, Swedish the least, and the U.S. "is a country of Indians governed by Swedes. The Swedes don't like us!"
"The problem with secular ideology, which is a man-constructed design for Utopia, is that it is an attempt to overcome the consequences of the Fall without the cross," Colson said.
This deep thinker's "answer to crime is to put more kids in Sunday School." His idea of helping prisoners is to tell them about "the blood of a loving God." Bet he's Mr. Popular at the pen.
Most Deluded Speaker
Rev. Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian, said "America is God's project. He willed it into existence. It's a divine experiment in self-governance."
Marshall claimed that the "great rallying cry of the Revolution" was "No King but King Jesus." The goal: "to found a just society based on the bible" (that's ambitious). John Winthrop he called the "first dynamite Puritan Governor." The Declaration of Independence says "Creator God created human beings to worship him." "No other nation has ever been founded on a creed," and this is "the only nation deliberately founded on the bible."
This is the only Schlafly speech I have ever witnessed where she did not grin nonstop as she talked (try it sometime, it's pretty hard). Apparently she did not feel the need to bare her teeth at this audience. She was introduced as the embodiment of that improbable "Virtuous woman" of Proverbs 31.
Now Ms. Anti-ERA is a leader of the "sign the pledge" campaign to reaffirm the GOP's antiabortion plank. Buchanan, Dornan, Gramm, Keyes and Lugar have all signed. "We want commitments for the future," she snapped.
"I hope you will pray as if it is all up to God, but I hope you will work as if it is all up to you," Schlafly clich�d. "Because it is not God's job to stuff the ballot box." That illegal mission, I take it, has been left to Phyllis.
Best Misspelled Word
In the original program sent to me, this workshop was advertised:
"Elementary School Cirriculum: Are We Dumbing Down America?"