Re-Using the Religious Right Wing for 2012

Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at the People for the American Way Foundation, is closely following the current courting of the religious right-wing by the Koch-funded astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity. The Koch brothers see to it through this grassroots Tea Party front group that their anti-workers agenda moves forward by provoking its very victims to cover for them.

Meanwhile, fresh from the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal, Ralph Reed is back to promote his Faith and Freedom Coalition, a partnership of the religious right-wing and the ostensibly secular Tea Party for a get-out-the-vote operation aimed at the 2012 elections. Reed is again promising to turn out the religious right-wing vote for the GOP.

In March, Reed’s organization hosted the over-hyped Iowa gathering of GOP presidential contenders. And Tim Phillips, the president of Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, was a panelist for the religious right’s “Awakening Conference” in April at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

We can expect the media to trot out the idea that “values voters” are the key to the next election. It’s a trope promoted by the right-wing itself that was endlessly repeated by corporate media’s analysis of the 2000 and 2004 elections in the same way they now continually over-inflate the threat of tea-partiers.

Using the religious right-wing by economic conservatives to do their bidding in creating oligarchy is nothing new. And it’s very easy to do, given the insecurities, fears, and victimhood promoted by right-wing religious leaders and teachings.

As we watched it come to a head during the Bush era, members of the religious right-wing are eminently useable targets for those who can convince them they have their religious vision at heart. It’s a scam, certainly, as Thomas Frank pointed out in 2004 in What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

We’re not talking about stupid or powerless people when we analyze the religious right-wing. It’s just, frankly, that they’re easy marks who desperately needed this well-honed scam to be true back then as they need it to be now.

“Right-wing Christians were ripe for the picking by economic conservatives who may or may not have agreed with right-wing Christian doctrines but embraced this new political strategy that could further the high of righteousness upon which right-wing believers were dependent.” (When Religion Is an Addiction, 2007)

Back then the Neo-Conservative gang that included Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John McCain had few religious beliefs in common with them, and none that would be central to conservative evangelical altar calls. But their message discipline told them what to say, what not to say, and how to manipulate familiar right-wing religious symbols.

They fed “W” just enough religious language, and used the right images, to allure the religious right-wing into thinking Bush was of their ilk. And no matter how Bush let them down, they so needed to see him as a good Christian, that they could not be fact-based.

Topeka’s notorious hate-preacher Fred Phelps is just the extreme case of this broader religious right-wing need. To get attention and justification for his otherwise forgettable, insignificant little crew of family members, which he can no longer get from the local media, he must conceive of ever more obnoxious, more attention-getting protests.

And Phelps gets his attention needs filled when he does. Ask the nobody Florida preacher who last September threatened to burn a Q’uran — and then in March after the month of media attention died down, did so — how he gets his attention needs met.

FOX continues to know how to take advantage of the religious right-wing’s need for attention and affirmation. Giving them undo publicity and heft, its thoroughly secular, or at best loosely Christian, pundits like Bill O’Reilly find cover for FOX personalities’ transgressions, sexual exploits, and off-color language.

There’s nothing like a come-to-Jesus, story for them. And Newt is doing his best to exploit their need for a savior alongside his third wife, arguing in books strategically named Rediscovering God in America that he’s an expert at real evangelicalism — or is it Catholicism (whatever works)?

There’s more neediness than ever among the religious right-wing after the election of the personification of its enemy in 2008. The fact that a March 2011 Harris poll found 14% of Americans (24% of Republicans) agreeing that Obama might be the anti-Christ, fits with estimates of the percentage of Americans who are authoritative personalities and use religion addictively.

Anti-Christ or Alien symbolism reinforces the radical religious right-wing’s crusade to defeat Obama at all costs and why the secular economic conservatives will be able to use the religious right-wing again.

David Koch and his brother aren’t known for their religiosity. Neither is Grover Norquist, the radical economic conservative who wants the federal government small enough to drown in a bathtub, who joined the board of the right-wing gay Republicans called GOProud, and whose group received $60,000 from a Charles Koch-headed foundation.

But Norquist was also was on an Awakening Conference panel to promote conservatives doing the legwork for “limited government.”

So, no matter what we’d rather think about these sincere religious people, to make a difference we’re going to have to remember that we are dealing with a pathology that feeds their use of religion. We’re not just talking to people with an intellectual misunderstanding.

This means we have to accept that we are talking about, and to, people who are getting psychological needs met through political affirmation of their religious beliefs. We have to understand that this comes from a deep down unbelief, a fear that their god (and so they) might lose.

It explains why both the political and religious right will lie, cheat and, yes, steal to save the world from the Anti-Christ, whether they see that as Obama or not. And it means our task is to continue to model what it is like to believe in progressive values such as equality, compassion, and community, but not enable their psychosis.