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Revving Up the Christian Movement for Bush
George W. Bush is out on the campaign trail hotfooting his way to the political center. Almost every day hes either hawking a new education proposal or health care plan, reassuring Catholics that his Bob Jones University speech was all just a big misunderstanding, and opening up the big tent for a meeting with a selected group of gay Republicans. All of this is being done to recapture last Falls halcyon days when he was the king of compassionate conservatism. Meanwhile, three of the most prominent figures associated with the Christian Right have other plans for the Governor.
Last fall, Rev. Pat Robertsons Christian Coalition launched its Countdown to Victory campaign. In mid-March, former Moral Majority head Rev. Jerry Falwell announced his People of Faith 2000 crusade. Recently, Rev. Lou Sheldon has jumped on board with his Election 2000 Battle Plan.
The finest campaign strategies that money can buy often go astray. Bushs brain trust originally intended to distance him as far as possible from Christian Right leaders like Robertson, Falwell, and Sheldon. But last Falls calm campaign calculations turned into panic-time in February after Sen. John McCain emerged victorious in the New Hampshire primary. It became imperative that Bush win South Carolina. A campaign consisting of raking in bushels of cash, while dispensing a squishy compassionate conservatism was forced to look to the Christian Right for a bail-out. The Right delivered and this changed everything for Bush.
When a Republican needs to win a primary in a conservative state, its the political connections stupid. To activate those connections, Bush called on Ralph Reed, the former executive director of Robertsons Christian Coalition who now heads Century Strategies, his own political consulting outfit. Reed is favorably viewed by the media as the kinder, gentler version of the late great Republican Party legendary hatchet person and campaign guru Lee Atwater.
Reed easily secured the support of Christian Right grassroots activists and Bushs victory turned into a grand old coming out party for the Christian Right. Now that Bush has sewed up the nomination he knows that he has to deal head-on with the Christian Right. Bushs advisors understand that he must hightail it to the political center. However, with the three Reverends planning ambitious Election 2000 campaigns on Bushs behalf, it certainly will make the trail toward the center a pretty rocky road.
Robertsons Christian Coalition on the Campaign Trail
Nineteen ninety-nine was not a great year for the Christian Coalition as both Robertson and the Coalition experienced some pretty rough times. Early on, Robertson incurred the wrath of many of the Christian Rights most important leaders by declaring that the impeachment of President Clinton was a lost cause and that it was time to move on.
Internally, the organization was in disarray. The two officials who took over running the operation after the resignation of Ralph Reed were summarily dismissed by Robertson. Both Donald Hodel, who was president, and Randy Tate, the Coalitions executive director, were terminated, and Robertson took over the groups leadership.
After years of haggling with the Internal Revenue Service, the Coalition finally gave up its fight for tax exempt status.
According to reporter John C. Henry of the Houston Chronicle, the Coalition then split into two separate groups and anointed its Texas operation as the principal vehicle for its national operations.
There were a series of financial setbacks: a shortfall caused the Coalition to cease publication of its glossy bi-monthly Christian American magazineits primary vehicle for communicating with their constituencyand replace it with a weekly e-mail newsletter.
Although Robertson is a fabulously wealthy man, Church & State magazine reported in January that the Coalition was being sued for nearly $400,000 by a direct-mail marketing firm that says it hasnt been paid since last spring. Stephen Winchell, of Winchell and Associates, said that the Coalition may owe as much as $2 million to various vendors.
Of major political import was the ruling by U.S. District Judge Joyce Green which, reported the Washington Times, threw out much of a 1996 government lawsuit charging that the Coalitions voter guides, phone banks and other operations were partisan activities designed to aid Republican candidates and should be treated as contributions under federal law. The organizations website calls the voter guides the most visible and highest profile project by our organization. Once Green made her decision the door was opened for the Coalitions strategic involvement in the 2000 elections.
The Coalitions fundraising appeals center around winning back the White House for the Republican Party. In November, Robertson in fundraising overdrive warned his constituents that were at war with the powers of darkness and I believe God is telling us, first, to pray ferventlypray to get energized and directed. Then we must act in faith!
Acting in faith included completing Christian Roll Call 2000, a questionnaire laying out 7 Reasons for getting involved in Election 2000 including: the rise of anti-Christian bigotry; media bias against Christian groups; and the need to reverse Roe v. Wade.
Robertsons December letter lays out the nuts and bolts of its Countdown to Victory campaign. The plan: Before Election Day 2000, we will distribute more than 70 million voter guides showing where candidates stand on key issues. The voter guides, says Robertson are a crucial strategic weapon in our Countdown to Victory Plan.
Here is what the Coalition is aiming to accomplish:
- work to ensure at least 85 percent Christian voter turnout in the key early primary and caucus states in January and February
- register millions of new Christian voters
- collect hundreds of thousands of petitions urging leaders of both major parties...not to ignore the concerns of Christian voters
- recruit at least one servant leader in 175,000 precincts in America that are organizing Christian Americans locally for political action
Although many liberal pundits take delight in frequently writing off the religious right and the Christian Coalition, this is clearly a premature obituary. Bushs primary victories were in large part due to the heavy turnout by Robertsons troops.
Rev. Jerry Falwells People of Faith 2000 Campaign
Despite the fact that he has been a man without a political organizationhis Moral Majority folded in 1989Jerry Falwell continues to be in the public spotlight. Throughout the Clinton impeachment hearings Falwell was a favorite television guest of Larry King and Geraldo Riveraoften paired with his old nemesis and current buddy, Larry Flynt. A little over a year ago he angered Jews by preaching at a pastors conference that the Antichrist, the arch- nemesis of God, may be a Jew who is alive today. Who can forget when Falwells National Liberty Journal outed Tinky-Winky, a character on Tele- tubbies, the television show for toddlers. Last October, in an attempt to soften his image, he hosted gay minister Mel White and 200 gay Christians at his Lynchburg, Virginia headquarters and pledged to tone down his anti-gay rhetoric.
In the past few weeks Falwell has joined forces with Christian Right stalwarts Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, Rev. D. James Kennedy of the Center for Reclaiming America, and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, in condemning gay rights activists and the leaders of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) for their campaign of demonization against Dr. Laura Schlessinger, talk-radios queen of mean.
In March, Falwell announced a seven-month campaign to reclaim America as one nation under God. In his press release, Fal- well used a time-honored Christian Right rhetorical tool claiming, the demonization of conservative people of faith is being accelerated in the Congress as well as in the media. Falwell, founder and chancellor of the 10,000-student Liberty University, says that he has seen these orchestrated plans of liberals and civil libertarians to demonize and marginalize people of faith before.
Falwells Moral Majority played a key role electing Ronald Reagan president and building a conservative majority in Congress. To accomplish this, Falwell says, they registered over 8.5 million new voters through the churches and religious organizations and re-activated millions more back into the political arena.
Now, he intends to top that figure: I am...announcing a seven- month campaign, ending on November 7Election Daywhich I am calling People of Faith 2000... [during which I will] attempt to energize, inform and mobilize the 70 million religious conservatives in America. Falwells People of Faith 2000 will:
- (1) mobilize 200,000 ministers, and their congregations, to return America to its spiritual roots
- (2) register and bring to the polls at least ten million new voters
- (3) urge all registered, but apathetic voters to fulfill their Christian duty by voting this year
According to Beliefnet, an online publication focusing on religious affairs, Falwells people plan to send out pledge cards for newly registered voters to sign, promising theyll vote in the Presidential election. Then, a few weeks before the election People of Faith 2000 will mount a massive phone-calling campaign to remind the new troops to vote.
On March 23, Falwell wrote that I am witnessing a rapidly-growing surge of energy among religious conservatives in this nation. Following years of mistreatment and ridicule from the media and the political left, I believe conservative people of faith are once again gearing up to make their voices heard in the critical political elections of 2000.
Falwell says his goal is to get Bush elected, and to see the Clinton/Gore administration out of Washington and back to Timbuktu. You can bet that Falwell will be trumpeting his new action campaign on his two-minute Listen America radio broadcast, which goes out to more than 200 radio stations nationwide. He is beginning to build a new infrastructure and is calling on his old Moral Majority colleagues to join him.
Rev. Sheldons Battle Plan
To most Americans, Rev. Sheldon is not a household name. However, it is clear from the record that he is one of the hardest working people on the Christian Right. His Anaheim, California-based Traditional Values Coalition (TVC)with offices in Washington, DChas been in the forefront of anti-gay campaigns and lobbying for more than two decades. Although he doesnt possess the mediagenic qualities of someone like Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, whos often seen picketing funerals of prominent gay figures, Sheldon has earned his fair share of mainstream media coverage.
In the 1970s, according to a 1994 New York Times profile, Sheldon campaigned unsuccessfully against repeal of Californias anti-sodomy laws and [in 1978] worked with State Senator John V. Briggs on an initiative [which failed] that would have required the dismissal of teachers who were openly homosexual.
Over the years Sheldon, founder and chair of TVC, has become an expert at conducting wedge-based political campaigns. In 1993, TVC was one of the major distributors of the especially vicious video Gay Rights, Special Rights, which was aimed at attracting support from African Americans by stirring up anti-gay resentment. At that time Sheldon, who had no record of supporting civil rights initiatives, appealed to African Americans by saying that the freedom train to Selma has been hijacked by gays.
In 1994, when the Gingrich revolution brought the House under Republican control for the first time in years, the Times noted that Sheldon could now call on some of his friends in high government positionsincluding Trent Lott, who was featured in Gay Rights, Special Rights. The Times called Sheldon a tireless crusader...[against] rules and regulations that confer equality on homosexuals.
In 1995, Sheldon, who had boasted in a fund-raising letter that he had secured a commitment from Gingrich to hold congressional hearings on how federal funds were used to teach sex education and HIV/AIDS awareness in public schools, got his day in Congress.
TVC became actively involved in the campaign to undermine the nomination of the openly-gay Jim Hormel as U.S. envoy to Luxembourg in 1998. In a recent campaign aimed at convincing Latino elected officials in the Central Valley in California to vote against AB222, which would have added sexual orientation to a bill providing for a safer environment for school children, Sheldon once again played wedge-issue politics. A mailer depicting a black man kissing a Latino man and warning Protect the children against homosexual assault appeared to be an open invitation to anti-gay violence. This winter, TVC worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of Proposition 22, Californias anti same-sex marriage initiative.
Now, Rev. Sheldon has unveiled his ambitious Election 2000 Battle Plana proposal to fill Americas highest elected offices in 2000 with leaders who are committed to the traditional moral and Biblical values that made America great. In order to achieve nothing less than 100 percent Christian voter participation in the 2000 Elections, Sheldons three- pronged campaign aims to raise an estimated $12 million in order to:
- (1) ensure an Informed Christian Vote: 50 million voter guides ($750,000); TV, radio and newspaper advertisements ($930,000); the Internet ($450,000)
- (2) identify 15,000,000 brand new Christian voters: Christian Voter I.D. Project ($2.5 million); TV, radio and newspaper ads ($450,000); Mobilize TVCs network of 43,000 churches ($660,000)
- (3) generate a record-breaking Christian voter turnout: voter contact, mail & phone ($3.3 million); building a transportation infrastructure ($1.2 million); vote at home program ($1.3 million); holding Christian Action and Candidate Training schools across America ($680,000)
Robertson, Falwell, and Sheldon are loading up the wagons and working the grassroots for money and support for their election-year activities. These enterprising efforts are focused on cleansing Washington of the Clinton-Gore years, and electing moral leaders who believe in Biblical principles. They have decided that Bush is their kind of moral leader. Meanwhile, the Bush campaign will continue to distance itself from these fellows and glide toward the middle of the political spectrum. Z
Bill Berkowitz is the editor of Culture- Watch, a monthly publication tracking conservative movements.