Year after year we keep hearing about the supposed decline of the Religious Right and the GOP’s shift away from the fringes. Despite all of that talk and speculation, this weekend will see this year’s second Religious Right gathering for potential presidential candidates, almost three years before the Iowa caucus. For anyone who anticipates that Republican presidential candidates will move towards the center in 2016, this weekend’s festivities are a very loud wakeup call.
The upcoming Family Leadership Summit comes on the heels of last month’s Iowa Pastors and Pews meeting, which hosted Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
This weekend’s conference, hosted by the Religious Right group The Family Leader, will feature Cruz, former Sen. Rick Santorum and perennial presidential candidate-vacillator Donald Trump.
Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who spearheaded the 2010 campaign to boot pro-marriage equality justices off the Iowa Supreme Court, is hosting the event. The Family Leader continues its push to become a conservative power player: Last year, the organization hosted a debate attended by every Republican presidential candidate save Mitt Romney and tried to get candidates to pledge to fight legal pornography and to agree that African-American families were better off under slavery. In 2016, the group might take over the reins of the Iowa Straw Poll.
Along with Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad and Sen. Chuck Grassley, several far-right figures are slated to speak at the summit:
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who recently claimed that most young undocumented immigrants are drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes.”
Actor/Reality Show contestant Stephen Baldwin, who called President Obama a “cultural terrorist.”
Dr. Del Tackett of Truth In Action Ministries, who blamed homosexuality on lazy parenting.
Doug Napier of Alliance Defending Freedom, who pledged to represent county officials in Iowa who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Dr. David Noebel of Summit Ministries, who has warned that “Obama and his radical homosexual mafia plan to sodomize the world and make such perversion seem as wholesome as apple pie and vanilla ice cream.”
Donald Trump is totally serious this time about maybe running for president, and to prove it he is appearing at The Family Leader’s upcoming conference in Iowa alongside Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Steve King and Brian Brown. He chatted with conservative talk show host Steve Deace on Tuesday about why Religious Right voters should love the thrice-married casino magnate.
Trump said he is a “pro-life,” “very, very, pro-family” Christian. “I’m a Presbyterian and a good one,” Trump elaborated. “A lot of people ask me about my children, how did you get them so they’re not drinkers and they’re not on drugs and you know lots of good things.”
Plus, he has a “great relationship with the church” and people love him: “Tickets are going at a rate like they’ve never gone before, maybe it’s one of the other candidates but you know what, I doubt it.” “I know some of the people that are candidates and the Republicans are not going to be winning with these people,” Trump continued.
Trump showed off his conservative credentials by making the absurd claim that “people don’t work, they don’t have to work, they get better benefits if they take it easy, which is unfair because the people that are working are paying for that.”
Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Iowa-based Religious Right group The Family Leader, spoke with conservative Des Moines radio host Jan Mickelson last week to defend his invitation of twice-divorced casino magnate Donald Trump to speak at the group’s upcoming Family Leadership Summit. (The event is also sponsored by the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm and the National Organization for Marriage.) After all, Vander Plaats is the same man who tried to get Republican presidential candidates to sign a pledge swearing personal fidelity to their spouses and vowing to make it tougher to get a divorce.
But Vander Plaats insisted that “we’re not lowering our standards by bringing in Donald Trump. Donald Trump is coming up to our standards.” Vander Plaats went on to praise Trump for “being bold and saying some stuff that others just don’t want to say” including his insistence that President Obama “prove to us that you were born here.”
Vander Plaats was previously caught on video during the Republican presidential primary praising Trump’s birther efforts.
Vander Plaats: Trump has made no, I mean, he’s basically said he’s very interested in running for president. Part of our job is to vet. And we’re not lowering our standards by bringing in Donald Trump. Donald Trump is coming up to our standards. And so what we’re saying is, hey, if he wants to have a microphone and to speak to our audience, let’s see what he’s got to say. And I guarantee you….
Mickelson: You are going to have a dump button, aren’t you?
Vander Plaats: I will definitely. If Donald Trump says things that we just definitely don’t agree with, I will speak after him, and I will basically…
Mickelson: You will fire him.
Vander Plaats: You are fired! But he’s an intriguing fellow, and he’s been on the money with regards to international trade and our relationship with China, how that impacts the family. You remember just over the year ago, people were basically applauding Trump because at least he was being bold and saying some stuff that others just didn’t want to say. And even the deal of Obama’s birth certificate, whether people think that was ridiculous or not, at least he said, ‘Prove to us that you were born here.’
Here’s a question for Ralph Reed and the ‘Teavangelical’ wing of the conservative movement: how can you portray yourselves as serious about governing when the keynote speakers at last week’s “Road to Majority” conference were Donald Trump and Sarah Palin?
Palin’s conference-closing remarks on Saturday featured a breathtakingly offensive joke about the Syrian civil war, which has taken an estimated 100,000 lives. She said we should just “let Allah sort it out.” Palin also had choice words for the bipartisan immigration reform bill moving through the Senate, which she dismissed as “a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.” She was one of many conference speakers rhetorically crapping on Marco Rubio and the bipartisan “Gang of 8” reform bill and burning the bridges that conservative Latinos are trying to build.
At Friday night’s “gala” Reed bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Pat Robertson, who is increasingly difficult to take seriously, and who devoted his remarks to trashing President Obama. Trump, who also addressed the gala, spoke mostly about his own Trumpian greatness and how Mitt Romney might have been president if he had the guts to run Trump’s anti-Obama “you’re fired” ad. Trump shared plenty of pablum and piercing political insights, such as the Republicans needing to be “really smart” in choosing a “great candidate” in 2016. Trump also criticized the immigration reform bill as a “death wish” for the Republican Party, saying “every one of those people, and the tens of millions of people they will bring in with them, will be absolutely voting Democratic.”
There’s no question Ralph Reed still has pull. His conference opened with a luncheon featuring four Tea Party senators and he got a handful of Republican House members to speak along with former and future presidential hopefuls like Mike Huckabee, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz. Rick Perry, who was introduced as a “Renaissance man,” bragged about the law he recently signed to protect the ostensibly threatened right of public school students to wish each other “Merry Christmas” Perry said, ““I hope my state is a glowing example of men and women who believe that those traditional values are how you make a stronger society.” Stronger society? Not so much.
In addition to the divide on immigration, relentless attacks on President Obama (Dick Morris said of the president, “he doesn’t care about national security”), and the unsurprising rhetoric on abortion, marriage, and supposed threats to religious liberty, there were some other major themes:
The conference was infused with the Tea Party’s anti-federal-government themes. Jonah Goldberg of the National Review reminded people of a video shown at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which he recalled saying the government is the one thing we all belong to. “Now, as sort of a Tea Party-ish kind of guy, that makes me want to flip the safety on my rifle.”
Speakers urged activists to take advantage of the recent scandals surrounding the IRS, the Justice Department, and the National Security Agency. Santorum urged activists to “think big” and “seize the moment” provided by the IRS scandal. Sen. Ron Johnson said he would like Americans to apply their disgust about the scandals to the federal government in general. Rather than trying to restore faith in government, Johnson said, activists should be fostering distrust of the government.
Grover Norquist is known for his quip that he wants to shrink the government until it is small enough to drown in the bathtub. At Road to Majority he spelled out his plan to complete the strategy he embarked on with the Bush tax cuts and the no-tax-increase pledge he demands Republican candidates sign. He noted that “thanks to the marvels of modern redistricting,” Republicans are likely to have a Republican House until 2022, which means they have several chances to get a Senate majority and a Republican in the White House before then. Whenever that happens, he says, Republicans can put the Ryan budget into law and dramatically curtail government spending. He calls it “completely doable.”
Meanwhile, he said, in the 25 states where Republicans control the legislative and executive branches, activists should push for the passage of more anti-union legislation, and for laws that encourage people to obtain concealed carry permits, home school their children, and participate in stock ownership, three things that he said make people more Republican. He called this changing the demographics by changing the rules.
Obamacare: Will it Destroy America or Obama?
House Republicans have made repealing the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – an obsession. Rick Santorum said opposition to the law should have been the centerpiece of the 2012 campaign. And many speakers repeated the demand that the health care reform law be repealed in its entirety. Stephen Moore, founder of the Club for Growth and a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, said repealing Obamacare is the single most important thing that has to happen in Washington over the next two years. But a number of speakers had a slightly different take, suggesting that the implementation of the complex law would be its undoing, and that public outrage at rising insurance rates would bring down the Obama administration. Dick Morris predicted Obama would be “destroyed” by the law’s implementation.
GOP: Friend or Foe?
One running theme of the conference was conservative activists’ distrust for national Republican leaders, particularly around opposition to abortion and LGBT equality. Several speakers made reference to the notorious RNC “autopsy” on the 2012 election and the perception that some party leaders want social conservatives to tone it down. Reed himself complained that while self-identified evangelicals represented 45 percent of the Republican ticket’s vote, some party leaders were saying they are the problem and should “ride in the back of the bus.” He vowed that on issue of abortion and man-woman marriage, social conservatives would not be silent, “not now, not ever.”
It’s not just Ted Cruz who mocks his fellow Republicans. Gary Bauer complained that the last two Republican nominees had a hard time talking about sanctity of life issues, and he said party officials in Washington spend too much time taking the advice of “cowardly pollsters and political consultants.” Mike Huckabee complained that “Republicans have been, if not equal, sometimes more guilty than Democrats in thinking the brilliant thing to do would be to centralize more power in the hands of the central government.” He said he’s “sick of hearing” that people think the GOP needs to move away from a conservative message.
There was enough grumbling that when it was RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s turn to speak on Saturday, the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom official who introduced him felt a need to vouch for Priebus’s faith and commitment to conservative causes. He said angrily that it is “an absolute lie” that Priebus is not a social conservative and insisted that there is no division in the party.
Priebus started his remarks by establishing his religious credentials: “I’m a Christian. I’m a believer. God lives in my heart, and I’m for changing minds, not changing values.” He added, “I’m so grateful that we’ve got a party that prays, that we’ve got a party that puts God first, and I’m proud to be part of that.” He said he “gets it” that conservative Christians are a “blessing” to the party. He said the GOP needs to have a permanent ground game in place all across the country.
Priebus defended his plan to shorten the presidential primary season and move the party convention from August to June from critics who call it an insider move against grassroots conservatives. It isn’t an establishment takeover, he insisted, but a way to prevent a replay of the 2012, when Romney went into the summer months broke after a long primary season but not yet able to tap general election funding.
Still, not all the conservative are convinced that national Republicans are with them. Palin portrayed Republicans in Washington as being overly fond of government spending: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat sitting atop a bloated boot on your neck, out of control government, everyone gets infected, no party is immune. That’s why, I tell ya, I’m listening to those independents, to those libertarians who are saying, you know, it is both sides of the aisle, the leadership, the good old boys….”
Phyllis Schlafly talked about having waged internal battles to make the GOP a solidly anti-abortion Party and encouraged activists not to be seduced by talk of a conservative third party but to work within the Republican Party to make sure the right people on the ballot. Norquist insisted that activists had helped brand the GOP as the party that will not raise your taxes, and he said Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases damage the brand for everyone else. They are, he said, “rat heads in coca-cola.”
It might surprise many progressives, who have spent years bemoaning the effectiveness of Republicans’ emotion-laden rhetoric, that speaker after speaker complained that Democrats are so much better than Republicans at messaging. Of course complaining about messaging is easier than admitting that there may be something about your policies that voters don’t like.
At a panel on messaging strategies, author Diane Medved said that when defending traditional marriage, she would love to say “what is it about ‘abomination’ that you don’t understand?” But she knows that won’t reach people who don’t already agree with her. She argued that conservatives should marshal the “science” that supports their positions. She also tried out a new messaging strategy, saying that opposition to marriage equality is a feminist issue because it is empowering to women to affirm that they are different than men. “Women deserve to have credit for being who they are as a separate gender and they are not interchangeable with men.”
Ryan Anderson, co-author of a book on marriage with Robert George, the intellectual godfather of the anti-marriage-equality movement, took issue with the name of the panel, which was “Don’t Preach to the Choir.” Anderson said the choir needs to be preached to, because too many Christians are giving up on marriage. There is no such thing as parenting, he insisted, there is mothering and fathering. Anderson said that anti-marriage equality forces have only been fighting for five years, while proponents have been fighting for 20 to 30 years. “It’s not that our argument for marriage has been heard and been rejected,” he said. “It’s that it hasn’t been heard at all.” Anderson promoted the widely discredited Regnerus study on family structures as evidence that science is on his side.
Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, encouraged activists to be careful with their rhetoric. “I don’t believe that there are very many, if any, people in this movement, certainly not in public life, who have any ill will toward the same-sex community, at all. But sometimes we say things that make it sound like we do.” If Teetsel really believes that, he needs to spend some more time actually listening to conservative religious leaders, pundits and politicians who regularly charge that gay-rights advocates are Satan-inspired sexual predators who are out to destroy faith and freedom if not western civilization itself.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy or Arguing as a Lover with Stupid Liberals
Anyone who pays attention to religious right groups has been seeing the word “winsome” a lot. Conservative evangelical leaders are well aware of polling data that shows young Christians are turned off by the anti-gay bigotry they see in the church. So there’s a push on for everyone to make conservative arguments in a “winsome” way, to be “happy warriors” like Ronald Reagan, to be cheerful when arguing with liberals. Being cheerful was a big theme at Road to Majority. Said Rick Perry, “when we fight for our county, we need to do it with joy.”
The Manhattan Declaration's Teetsel took this theme to new heights in the messaging panel in which he called for “arguing as a lover” when “trying to woo people over to our side”: be respectful, self-effacing, funny, give people an opportunity to save face. But he doesn’t seem to think much of his audience, saying America is no longer a society of ideas, and that in our celebrity-crazed culture it doesn’t make sense to appeal to 18th Century sources of authority like the Federalist Papers, which “are not considered authorities in my generation. People do not care what these men in wigs thought 300 years ago.”
“We serve a God who condescended to become a man in order to share his gospel. And I think that’s an example that we can learn from. Romans 12:16 advises us, do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. So we have to bite the bullet. We have to recognize some of these facts and condescend to watching Glee from time to time so that we can talk to people about it.”
The immigration divide evident from the opening hours of the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference became even more stark as the conference went on. During a Friday afternoon breakout session on outreach to minorities, called “The True Rainbow Coalition: Building an Organization in Minority Faith Communities,” Hispanic conservatives went after Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum, and other speakers who had trashed the immigration reform bill during the morning session.
Panelist Adryana Boyne, director of VOCES Action who is also promoting Voto Honesto, a Hispanic-focused initiative of voter ID-advocating True the Vote, warned that without the Hispanic vote, conservatives will never win another election. Boyne said that conservative Latinos are angered by the kind of rhetoric she was hearing at the conference. “We understand how to reach minorities,” she said. “When we hear people saying that we do not need the minority vote, we just need the white vote, we get outraged….”
Boyne said she understands people’s frustration with the RNC, though she gave party leaders some credit for trying to engage Latinos. But she said those efforts are stymied by other conservatives. “People like us that are building bridges – that’s what I do every day – get really very upset when somebody else burns the bridge that I just built, like just happened today, here.”
She also noted the racist online responses to the 11-year old Mexican-American who sang the national anthem to open game 3 of the NBA finals. When a questioner suggested that maybe those posts were planted by liberals to try to make conservatives look bad, Boyne rejected the effort to deflect blame for conservatives’ problems with Latinos onto liberals. “Let me just be clear with you,” she said, “We are talking about Republicans. We are talking about the speakers who came here today, Faith & Freedom, to speak, and who we disagree with.”
Another panelist, businessman Alfredo Ortiz, Director of Hispanic Initiatives for the Job Creators Network, agreed with Boyne that there is a problem with Republicans, including party leaders, senators, and representatives, who go on Fox and use anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s about winning the war, not the battles, he said. And unless conservatives abandon anti-immigrant rhetoric, they will lose the war. He described the turnout for the minority outreach session as “a pretty pathetic showing.”
As if to confirm the problem Boyne and Ortiz identified, Donald Trump, the keynoter at Friday night’s gala dinner, talked about undocumented immigrants as “those people” and said Republicans supporting the reform bill had a “death wish” because “every one of those people, and the tens of millions of people that they will bring in with them, through family, through relationship, through birth, they will be absolutely voting Democratic.”
The back-and-forth continued on Saturday. Two Hispanic speakers, John Mendez of the LIBRE initiative and Rachel Campos Duffy, argued that Hispanics share conservatives’ values and could help build a majority if conservatives invested in community organizing and outreach. On an all-white-guys panel on conservatism and changing demographics, right-wing journalist John Fund echoed the call for conservatives to build bridges in minority communities by organizing businesses and churches to provide needed services.
But the final word went to closing speaker Sarah Palin, who spoke of the bipartisan immigration reform bill moving through the Senate in the most dismissive terms: “And let’s not kid ourselves into believing that we can rebuild our majority, by the way, by passing a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.”
Birther queen Orly Taitz remains isolated in her quest to prove that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is ineligible to be president. In an interview with Vic Eliason on VCY America, Taitz alleges that Barack Obama’s Social Security number is invalid, insists that “we are getting very close to a dictatorship” in the United States today, and expresses disappointment that she has not received support from fellow birthers Donald Trump and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona.
Taitz claimed that Obama’s Social Security number is a “Connecticut number which was issued to another individual,” and states that the number he is using is “not a valid number.” She was stunned that her “persuasive” evidence was rejected by courts in Georgia. Taitz concludes that judges continue to shoot down her allegations against the president not because they are wrong, but because the conspiracy goes all the way to the top. Eliason affirms this belief, asserting that judges are merely “intimidated” by “dealing with a case that is so volatile, [that involves] the highest executive in our country.”
Eliason: I cannot understand at a time when the vetting of a presidential candidate, checking if they are qualified, how all of this can be just brushed aside like a fly on the table and ignored completely when there’s been an awful lot of evidence brought forth.
Taitz: You should ask the judges, people are allowed to write to a judge and ask those questions, I’m the person who brings all this evidence. You know I had a case in Georgia and there I spent a lot of money, I spent $14,000, I brought witnesses, I brought a senior deportation officer from the Department of Homeland Security testifying that Barack Obama’s social security number is invalid, that it’s a Connecticut number which was issued to another individual, we brought E-Verify showing that this number that he’s using that he posted on his tax returns that he put online that it’s not a valid number. We had all the evidence and at the end the judge there ruled that it’s not persuasive enough and to me it’s just hard to believe, how could that not be persuasive enough, when you have a senior deportation officer providing this evidence?
Eliason: Could it be Dr. Taitz that there are judges who are so intimidated dealing with a case that is so volatile, dealing with the highest executive in our country, and then to find — I think maybe there are those that say they are afraid of the truth because if this comes to light and it is verified there is going to be egg all over the face of who knows how many.
Taitz: Yeah, yeah.
Taitz said that her inability to remove Obama from the ballot is further proof that “we are getting very close to a dictatorship” akin to the Soviet Union.
Eliason: Folks the thing that has me bewildered, Dr. Taitz, is if someone is an imposter, someone who is portraying something that they are not, if they were caught flying an airplane and they weren’t a pilot or somebody in a bank that was functioning in a way that they were not qualified, you wouldn’t wait for six months or a year to deal with it, you deal with it immediately, why is it that elections suddenly bring immunity?
Taitz: You know I lived in the Soviet Union which was a dictatorship and now we’re seeing such enormous corruption in the government that we are getting very close to a dictatorship.
Yet even the greatest supporters of the birther movement have failed to back Taitz. Taitz was “disheartened” that Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a leader of the “Cold Case Posse,” did not show up at her trial to testify. Donald Trump has also been unresponsive to Taitz.
Taitz: I have to say that I attempted to subpoena Sheriff Joseph Arpaio and I’m really disheartened by the fact that he did not show up, we tried to subpoena him in Georgia, Mississippi and Indiana and I’m really concerned about the fact that Sheriff Arpaio went around the country, raised several millions of dollars on this issue, did press conferences, but when he is asked when appear in court, either he or Mr. [Mike] Zullo, and I was willing to pay for them to fly here, they are not appearing in court. That’s something hopefully your listeners will address with Mr. Arpaio because if he would’ve been here today there is a very high likelihood that the judge would’ve granted a preliminary injunction.
Taitz: For example, Donald Trump, you know he talks about this quite a lot but I don’t see him, I’ve never heard back, he never donated one cent, just to give you an idea, it is extremely hard for me to put up evidence.
As we have noted over the last few days, there has been a bit of confusion over the remarks that Donald Trump recently delivered at Liberty University when he told the students at this Christian university: "Don't let people take advantage; get even!"
Trump, of course, is standing by his remarks and so is Liberty University, as chancellor and president Jerry Falwell Jr. told Newsmax that Trump's Convocation speech was "probably the best one in the history of the school" and that his message of "get even" was not "contrary to what Jesus taught at all":
The excitement was palpable in the room and the students were just so enthusiastic and excited about Mr. Trump's visit. And it was probably the best Convocation - we have three Convocation's a week here; have for years - probably the best one in the history of the school and I've heard that from literally hundreds of students that feel the same way and it was really a great day for Liberty University and we've made a great new friend in Donald Trump.
You know, Jesus ... the Associated Press article quoted where Jesus said turn the other cheek, but Jesus also ran the money-changers out of the temple in anger with a whip. And so there is a time to be tough, there's a time to, I wouldn't necessarily say get even, but there's a time to look out for yourself and for your family and for your country and to defend yourself and I don't think that's contrary to what Jesus taught at all.
Yesterday we noted that Donald Trump recently spoke at Liberty University where he delivered a rather unique message to a gathering of thousands of Christian students: "Get even!"
Sensing that perhaps 'seek revenge' was not exactly central to the message that Jesus preached, ABC News reached out to the Trump camp seeking comment and were told that Trump's message was perfectly Christian because Jesus himself "would and did" get even ... and even Liberty U agrees:
In a statement, Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen, said he checked with a university official on the appropriateness of Trump’s comment.
The verdict? “Jesus would ‘get even.’”
“The biased liberal media continues to distort the success of Mr. Trump’s speech at Liberty University to more than 10,000 students. Most recently they question his advice to the student body ‘to get even’ and call the statement anti-Christian. Wrong!” Michael Cohen said in a statement to ABC News. ” I conferred with Johnnie Moore at Liberty University and questioned whether Jesus would ‘get even.’ The answer is ‘he would & he did.’ Johnny explained that the bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead. God is portrayed as giving grace, but he is also portrayed as one tough character — just as Trump stated.”
For some truly inexplicable reason, Donald Trump was invited to be the Convocation speaker at Liberty University yesterday where he delivered a typically self-aggrandizing and buffoonish message that superficially about the importance of God and his Christian but was really about self-promotion and the importance of always getting even with your enemies.
At one point, Trump weighed in on the subject of the Middle East as he declared that any president "with some brain power" would have agreed to help the rebels in Libya only after getting them to agree to give the United States fifty percent of the nation's oil. In fact that same policy should has applied toward Iraq as well, Trump said, since the US was also entitled to that nation's oil because "to the victor belong the spoils." Yet despite the fact that we go in and "decimate a country," Trump said, we leave with nothing, prompting him to declare that "the way this country is being run is horrible":
Then after another twenty minutes or so of incoherent self-absorbed rambling, Trump finally got around to delivering his uniquely Christian message to the students at Liberty University: "Don't let people take advantage; get even!"
Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which "joked" that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign. Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It's about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president -- and even his family -- are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president's late mother? Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,
The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. Is sent it out because it's anti-Obama.
Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old "I'm not racist, but..." line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on "I'm not racist, but..." logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president -- they're attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country. Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama's priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter -- in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected. The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff. But the birther movement, the "secret Muslim" meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president's otherness, most notably criticizing his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn't resist flirting with birtherism. But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president's readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama -- falsely -- for going around the world "apologizing for America." Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.