Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition kicked off its 2012 conference with a splashy show of the Reed’s political muscle in the form of three U.S. Senators. Rob Portman of Ohio, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio of Florida all delivered speeches that reflect Reed’s goal for 2012 and beyond: merging the messages and organizing energies of the overlapping Tea Party and Religious Right movements to elect conservative Republicans.
“American exceptionalism” was a major theme of the day – defined generally as America being uniquely blessed by God for its commitment to limited government and free-market economics grounded in a belief that individual rights come from God. And – no surprise -- President Obama was portrayed as an enemy of faith and freedom.
Portman declared that the Obama administration had treated freedom of religion as a “second-class right.” He argued that life should be held sacred “from conception til death.”
DeMint charged the President with wanting a country and economy run from the top down, and called for a stop to government “purging faith” from the American way of life. “We need to realize we’re blessed,” said DeMint. “We need to know that we’re in trouble. And we need to know that 2012 may be our last chance to turn this thing around.”
Reed introduced Rubio as one of the greatest talents and most transformational figures that any of us have ever seen. Rubio, who is hawking a new book, argued that social and fiscal conservatism are indistinguishable, and that the notion of God as the source of freedom is essential to freedom itself. “You cannot have your freedom without your faith, because the source of your freedom is your faith.” He argued that calling for the wealthy to pay more taxes is “divisive” and pits Americans against each other for the purposes of winning an election, claiming, “that is never who we have been.” (Surely even Rubio does not actually believe that the Republican Party and Tea Party have never run divisive campaigns in order to win elections.)
Listening to Rubio, you can understand why GOP strategists have such high hopes for him. He calls on people to help their neighbors. He says the conservative movement is not about imposing its values on others or leaving people behind. He says conservatives want drinking water to be clean and the air to be breathable. (In reality, of course, policies backed by today’s far-right GOP would indeed impose their values on others, leave millions of Americans behind, and eviscerate regulations that protect our families’ food, air, and water.)
Before the conference started, an FFC press release claimed that its activists will be “phoning, mailing, and knocking on the doors of 27 million conservative and pro-family voters, distributing 35 million voter guides, and making a total of 120 million voter contacts” in 2012. At today’s luncheon, Reed encouraged members of the audience to imagine what could happen with another 10 or 20 senators like Rubio. Yes, just imagine.