President Bush was on my old stomping grounds this week. Back in the early 1980s I was also the keynote speaker at the NRB (National Religious Broadcaster's) convention.
According to the New York Times, (March 12, 2008):
President Bush delivered a rousing defense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Tuesday, mixing faith and foreign policy as he told a group of Christian broadcasters that his policies in the region were predicated on the beliefs that, freedom was a God-given right and 'every human being bears the image of our maker...' Calling freedom a 'precious gift,' Mr. Bush said: 'The liberty we value is not ours alone. Freedom is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to all humanity.' His words were punctuated by shouts of 'Amen.'
When I spoke to the NRB I was introduced by Pat Robertson. I delivered a rousing take-back-America-from-the-godless-humanists speech. I was cheered too. I spoke shortly before I quit working as a "Professional Christian." I didn't quit as soon as I should have, because you can lose your faith and still pretend, because there are bills to be paid, because you are booked up for a year, because this is what you do.
I finally got out of the evangelical movement in 1985 when I belatedly outgrew my fundamentalist background. I wanted to be a writer, not of religious propaganda but of actual books. I also quit because I had slowly woken up to the fact that the religious right I was in bed with -- because my late father Francis Schaeffer was one of their leaders, and in the nepotistic evangelical tradition I followed in his footsteps -- were not conservatives. They were anti-American agitators for a thinly disguised theocracy.
On the same day as the NRB/Bush story quoted above was published the Times also happened to report that William J. Fallon, the commander of American forces in the Middle East whose outspoken public statements on Iran and other issues put him at odds with the Bush administration, is retiring early. Admiral Fallon upset the Bush administration with comments that according to the Times; "emphasized diplomacy over conflict in dealing with Iran, that endorsed further troop withdrawals from Iraq beyond those already under way and that suggested the United States had taken its eye off the military mission in Afghanistan." A senior administration official said that Fallon's comments, "left the perception he had a different foreign policy than the president."
As he has for the last eight years Bush disregards the advice of his military leaders when they don't agree with him. (Disclosure: My son volunteered for the Marines in 1999 and served in Bush's wars so this is personal.) As if answering admiral Fallon In his NRB speech Bush said; "The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision... It is the right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision."
These days most Americans would have booed Bush's statement, but not the right wing evangelicals at the religious broadcasters convention.
Don't get me wrong, not all evangelicals support Bush. For instance I have plenty of emails from evangelicals glad I'm rooting for Senator Obama. And I could write pages about all the good things evangelicals are doing around the world, often in places no one else will go. But there are still lots of evangelicals willing to believe Bush's lies. The broadcasters greeted him so enthusiastically that he laughed and called them, "kind of a rambunctious crowd."
The rest of us, including many moderate Christians, aren't laughing. We know that we've had eight years of failed Republican/Bush misrule-by-fear that's produced a war in Iraq without end, and that risks losing the war in Afghanistan, and that has given us an American president instigating -- and even defending -- torture.
After he was cheered Bush returned the favor. He praised the broadcasters and promised to veto any legislation that would reinstitute the so-called "fairness doctrine," which once required broadcasters to give air time to opposing views. Bush has also done what he can to slow a congressional investigations into the larceny that typifies the many "successful" religious broadcasters with their "nonprofit" twenty-thousand square foot homes, jets and fleets of luxury cars.
After Bush what next for the Republicans? McCain is also beholden to the right wing evangelicals. In fact he's courting them. He has to in order to win. A big man is becoming as small as his party's base.
Bill Buckley -- who opposed the war in Iraq and called it foolish -- is dead and so is the thoughtful conservative movement he recreated out of the bitter ruins of a bigoted dying 1950s-60s conservatism. Buckley pushed back against the right wing ideologues of his day, such as the John Birch society. By comparison those old Bircher anti-Communists were paragons of reason when juxtaposed to the broadcasters wildly cheering the failed president.
The irony is that the people McCain is appeasing these days in order to "unite" his party, are the same people who in 2000, spread (and believed) the racist nonsense about his black adopted child being illegitimate etc. The people he must suck up to now undid his candidacy then.
The sad truth is that the 2000 election was McCain's moment. The right wing evangelicals (and the Republican establishment) handed the presidency to Bush and the rest is history. Now McCain's moment has past, swept away by a river of needlessly shed blood and by the politics of fear.
Any group that--post-Iraq five years on, and post-our failure to secure Afghanistan six years on -- is still being willingly influenced by the likes of the religious broadcasters such as James Dobson etc., along with their secular fellow travelers such as Rush Limbaugh, William Kristol, Ann Coulter and the rest of the proponents of global war without end, should be beyond the pale. Any candidate that must cater to the fundamentalists (some of whom belong to the National Religious Broadcasters) who are saying that Barack Obama is a Muslim and/or that he might even be the Antichrist! -- should be repudiated. This is the company that McCain now must keep.
Independent voters, moderate evangelicals, other religious believers and nonbelievers, Democratic Party members and authentically conservative Republicans must work to make sure that either McCain stands up to the evangelical right or that he loses. It's long past time that McCain's old enemies and now his new "friends" -- inherited from Bush, and otherwise known as the "Republican base"--are sent packing.
The rest of us have a job to do: undoing the damage done to our country by the born-again president whose miserable presidency was brought into existence by and aided and abetted by the religious right. Barring some unlikely radical reform of the Republican Party before November, the best thing that could happen to the Republican Party is to lose. Then they might have a chance to repent and change.
The lesson is this: 4000 American war dead, 40,000 wounded, countless killed Iraqis and our country in hock to the Chinese (and other lenders) tells us that next time the religious right likes a presidential candidate vote for the other guy. And if you hear those religious broadcasters cheering be afraid, be very afraid.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of "CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It