Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in Washington, D.C. this past weekend was essentially a relentless repetition of the GOP’s 2012 attack themes on the Obama administration, mixed with Religious Right leaders’ demands that the Tea Party not abandon social conservatives’ priorities and conservative politicos’ appeals for unity behind whichever candidate emerges from the presidential crowd. Just about everyone running, or thinking about running, for the presidency on the Republican side was in attendance with the exception of Newt Gingrich.
One of the easiest, and most frequently used, ways to get applause at F&F was to pledge that Obama will be a one-term president. Among the other major themes:
Former Senator Rick Santorum, who officially announced his presidential bid this morning, said his campaign theme will be American exceptionalism. Unfortunately, for Santorum, it seems that every Republican candidate is talking about American exceptionalism – and the claim that President Obama, Democrats, and “liberal elites” don’t believe that the U.S. is the God-ordained greatest nation in the history of the world – so it’s going to be hard to break away from the pack on that score. Gary Bauer claimed that American elites don’t believe the words of the Declaration of Independence.
‘Obamacare’ = Socialism = The End of Freedom
Many speakers cited health care reform as the ultimate example of the Democrats’ commitment to freedom-destroying socialism. Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network said it was one example of progressives’ tendency to say “to hell with the Constitution” when it got in the way of their policy goals. Rep. Allen West even attacked the notion of “shared sacrifice,” which he said was code for “redistribution of wealth,” which is how the right-wing looks at progressive taxation. Rep. Tom Price, who clearly needs to spend some time studying American history, called the health care reform bill “the furthest reach of oppression that this society has ever seen.” Others similarly insisted that the implementation of the law would mean the end of liberty in America. Michele Bachman shouted, “I will not rest until we repeal Obamacare. America will not rest until we repeal Obamacare.” Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said the fight against Obamacare is just one sign that federalism is reemerging. He argued that Americans need to understand that there is a “liberty pie” that does not grow – and it has only two slices, government power and individual liberty – and one necessarily grows at the expense of the other.
America Needs More Religion (as long as it’s not Islam)
The FFC was long on Religious Right rhetoric on religion and politics. The pastor who gave the opening prayer for the conference gave thanks for “a nation founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins exulted that it was good to be among folks who are “not ashamed to defend the Christian principles on which this nation was founded.” The Republican National Committee’s Reince Priebus said America’s greatness is “rooted in our faith” and that “faith in our God, and faith in our savior” is “not a convenience, it is the foundation of a good life.” But Islam was clearly deemed a threat, with one participant telling a contentiouspanel on Sharia law that in Minnesota “we practically have a Muslim state.”
Reproductive Rights and Gay Rights = Big Government
In the “Social Issues: Why They Still Matter” panel, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal discussed “the psychology of those who are trying to undermine the moral fiber of this country,” arguing that liberals are compelled by a lust for power and therefore need to “control people” and “lower standards of society as a whole.” Fund explained that “if you can lower standards” by permitting legal abortion and gay equality, then liberals can gain control over society, and insisted that “we have to bring back shaming” of women who had abortions because “we need to be judgmental about this issue, we need to call out people for the choices that they made, ‘shaming’ is not a bad word in this society.” On a separate panel, National Organization for Marriage founder Maggie Gallagher said, “When you redefine marriage, you also redefine the relationship between Genesis and the American tradition,” which would jeopardize freedom because “in some cases, the power of government is already being used to marginalize and stigmatize people who disagree with the foundational ideas of same-sex marriage.”
Obama as Enemy of Israel
Michele Bachman was one of several speakers who misportrayed recent Obama administration comments about Israel, calling them a “shocking display of betraying our greatest friend and ally.” One participant commented that “life, liberty, and Israel” were the elements that make up “the pursuit of happiness.” Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said Obama may soon be referring to Israel as “the Zionist regime” and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission implied that Obama may bringing upon the country the curse of God for his policy towards Israel. Peter Roff of U.S. News and World Report lamented that “the American Jewish community is for some reason enamored of Democratic politicians in general and Barack Obama specifically.”
Unified Conservative Movement
FRC’s Perkins was among many Religious Right speakers who argued for keeping social conservatives’ priorities at the forefront of the movement in the name of conservative movement unity. Perkins used a strange mixed metaphor, saying it is the “bottom of the ninth for our beloved country” and no time to lapse into an undisciplined orchestra, calling for a “rousing symphony” – drums of national defense, the horns of economic abundance, and the strings that bind a strong family. Among others who sounded the same theme were Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence, who said, “we have to recognize that our present crisis is not just economic or political but moral in nature” and touted the importance of the sanctity of life, “traditional marriage,” and the importance of organized religion in our daily life.
Haley Barbour, one of the potential presidential candidates who decided not to run, devoted his remarks to lecturing attendees about the need to rally behind whichever candidate was nominated even though the nominee won’t be perfect. “In politics,” he said, “purity is the enemy of victory.” Tony Blankley warned that the media and Democrats would love to “divide and conquer” the movement.
Advocating for social issues at the FFC was clearly preaching to the choir. But some Tea Party activists were clearly annoyed by the “you’re nothing without us” attitude of Religious Right activists Jordan Sekulow and Matt Barber at a panel on the “Teavangelicals” that was moderated by the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody.