"It is unconscionable in our view to tie political courage to partisan activities... Democrats are not the only ones who demonstrate political courage," wrote a furious Joe and Valerie Wilson on Friday, returning their "Political Courage" awards to the influential Pacific Palisades Democratic Club of California. In 2003 the two were victims of Republican partisan revenge. Now, in an apparent act of Democratic partisan revenge that actor and celebrity Ed Asner has called a "circular firing squad," the club has just withdrawn its "Political Courage" award offer from Military Religious Freedom Foundation head Mikey Weinstein, who has led the fight against efforts by radical evangelical Christian groups to take over the United States military.
On May 21st Hollywood's Fair Game, starring Noami Watts and Sean Penn, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie is based on the lives of Joe Wilson and Valerie Wilson, whose secret identity as a CIA agent working undercover against nuclear proliferation under the name "Valerie Plame" was in 2003 exposed by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
That stunning outing of Plame's identity was widely perceived as ultimately partisan, anti-patriotic payback by Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the Administration of George W. Bush, for Former US Ambassador Joe Wilson's opposition to the United States invasion of Iraq. Joseph Wilson is author of the new book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir
In their Friday, May 28th letter to the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club Joseph and Valerie Wilson wrote that Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder and head Mikey Weinstein has placed his life on the line in an ongoing campaign that has "almost single handedly" helped to blunt illegal and unconstitutional coercive evangelizing in the US military. Presumably that's why the influential and affluent Pacific Palisades Democratic Club of Santa Monica, California had offered Weinstein the club's Anne Froehlich Political Courage Award, which in the past has gone to heavy hitters such as Ron Kovic, Phil Donahue, Daniel Ellsberg, and Joseph and Valerie Wilson.
But the club has just withdrawn its offer. The stated reason ? - Mikey Weinstein served in the first Reagan Administration. In response, in a gesture Hollywood can well understand, Valerie "Plame" Wilson and Joe Wilson are returning their Anne Froehlich Political Courage to the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club - in an act of solidarity with their friend Mikey Weinstein.
Former US Ambassador Joe Wilson, who served in both the Clinton and George Bush Sr. Presidential Administrations, has recently joined Weinstein's MRFF Board of Directors.
Can Republicans exhibit "political courage"? According to Weinstein the club's decision to pull the award is ludicrous and offensive, and a "slap in the face" that appears to question the courage of fighting men and women in the US military, many of whom are Republicans, whose freedom of religion interests Weinstein's MRFF represents. The nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation has worked with over 18,000 clients in the US military, states Weinstein, 96% of whom are Christian.
Describing MRFF's ongoing efforts to protect the right of active duty United States military personnel to hold whatever religious or philosophical beliefs they choose and be free from unwanted religious coercion, Mikey Weinstein explains, "It's not a political spectrum right or left issue -- it's a Constitutional right or wrong issue."
Twice nominated for a Nobel Peace prize for his MRFF work that was featured in a May 25, 2010 Foreign Policy magazine story, Mikey says the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club's courage award might as well now be called the "political cowardice award." He's not alone in his outrage.
In an exceptionally hard-hitting letter to Mike Stryer, President of the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club, Joseph and Valerie Wilson wrote,
"We find it outrageous that you would offer the same award to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and then rescind the offer because he "served in the Reagan White House". Mikey has single handedly thwarted the efforts of the Fundamentalist Christian right to convert our armed forces from one that serves the constitution of the United States and the defense of our homeland, and includes citizens of all faiths, into one that fights wars in the name of a specific brand of extremely conservative Christianity, and deeply discriminates against those who observe other faiths...
You might want to rethink the Political Courage Award program altogether. You make a mockery of the term when your organization itself demonstrates such an absence of political courage by your actions. Mikey, quite literally, has put his life on the line for separation of church and state, a principle articulated in our nation's constitution, not in some party platform. Presumably that was the reason you honored him in the first place. He certainly remains worthy of that honor whatever his past or present politics might be."
According to Mikey Weinstein he had already arranged for Hollywood celebrity and Democratic Party backer Ed Asner to speak at the award ceremony. Asner called the decision a "circular firing squad," and the decision to withdraw Weinstein's award was so controversial within the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club itself that, according to Mikey Weinstein, Gary Bettman, who had headed a subcommittee presiding over the original decision to give Weinstein the award, resigned in protest.
Although Weinstein is a longtime registered Republican, he says he has voted in past elections for presidential candidates Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama, explaining that "the [Republican] party left me, I didn't leave it."
There's plenty of evidence to back up Mikey Weinstein's suggestion of an ideological sea change within the GOP over the past several decades. A 2000 survey by academics Kimberly H. Conger and John C. Green, commissioned by Campaign & Elections Inc. and published in 2002, determined that by the year 2000 the religious right had achieved "a strong position in 18 state Republican parties," and a moderate level of influence within GOP party structures in 26 US states, twice as many as when the same Campaign & Elections Inc.-sponsored survey was done in 1994.
In a 1994 interview with the Washington Post, 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, once accorded the stature of an arch-conservative, had harsh words for the rising religious right faction within the GOP:
"When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."
Does anything transcend the current Republican/Democratic ideological divide in American politics ? As Joe and Valerie Wilson's letter admonished the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club,
"It is unconscionable in our view to tie political courage to partisan activities, particularly those that took place over twenty-five years ago. Democrats are not the only ones who demonstrate political courage. By applying your partisan criteria to the selection of recipients of the award, I clearly received mine in error as I was appointed Ambassador by President George H. W. Bush. And I am a registered independent. Please also cease and desist using our names to promote anything related to the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club or the Political Courage Award program."
Follow Bruce Wilson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/brucewilson