I wonder about the people now leading the Republican Party, especially the Christian Right and the politicians that fall all over themselves to ingratiate themselves to get their vote. I wonder if they have any clue as to the long term damage that they are doing to that party, their faith or to the country.
I should know something about this, because for most of my adult life I was a Republican, and at times subscribed to some of the same beliefs as the current leaders of the Religious Right that dominate my former party. To watch the events of this weekend, like so many others of the past couple of decades before, was mind-numbing.
Mike Huckabee. the Trinity of Evil Incarnate: Preacher, Pundit and Politician
The establishment GOP wants the votes of the Christian Right and the Tea Party, however, despite that they really don’t want them running the party. The establishment wants to have it both ways. They want to look like the boring conservatives of the pre-Reagan and Gingrich eras but they need to capture the votes of a base that is anything but that. That is why I find the potential candidacies of Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney so amusing. Neither man can meet the ideological and religious litmus tests of the people who helped the GOP capture both the House and Senate and neither stands a bat’s chance in hell at winning the nomination, or if they do to secure the support of the base. In order to do that they would have to deny who they are, the true descendants of the less than ideological Republican Party of men like Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller and Gerald Ford. Men whose relatively moderate beliefs were swept away by the so called Reagan Revolution and Gingrich takeover of 1994.
But Barry Goldwater warned us about them. Goldwater said back in 1981:
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
The situation reminds me of the movie Inherit the Wind, the fictional portrayal of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the movie one of the most stalwart critics of evolution, the former Presidential Candidate and Preacher Matthew Brady played by Frederic March, who has helped lead the city where the trial is being held into an anti-secular fervor. At the beginning of the trial he encourages the townspeople to attend a “prayer meeting.” The meeting becomes quite heated as the town’s preacher, Reverend Brown, played by Claude Akins, who has launched into a full assault on all that oppose Brady, and therefore God.
Reverend Brown works himself into a frenzy, condemn the accused and all that would defend him, including his very own daughter:
“Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”
His daughter, who is engaged to the accused cries out: “No! No, Pa! Don’t pray to destroy Bert!”
Then the reverend utters words which remind me so much of what I heard in Iowa this weekend:
“Lord, we call down the same curse on those who ask grace for this sinner—though they be blood of my blood, and flesh of my flesh!”
Brady, not seeing just how he has brought this about stops the good Reverend Brown and tells him:
“it is possible to be overzealous, to destroy that which you hope to save — so that nothing is left but emptiness.” He then quotes from the book of Proverbs: “Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the book of Proverbs. “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”
To me this seems to be analogous to the current dilemma faced by the Republican Party. It has helped create, sustain and institutionalize a monster, and now seeing the danger doesn’t know what to do about it, and cannot admit its culpability in for it. Goldwater realized this in the earliest days of the movement which has consumed the Republican Party. The preachers have taken control and they will damn all who do not agree with them to destruction, even those of their own party.
The have been overzealous, and will continue to be so because like Matthew Brady they cannot acknowledge that their zeal may be misdirected and malevolent.
Like Reverend Brown, they are consumed by their hatred for a a non-believer, and they are willing to destroy the people closest to them to do so. I know this is true, because when I expressed doubt and did not tow the party line of my former church I was thrown out. Sadly, most of the men that I had previously counted as my closest friends abandoned or even condemned me.
My situation reminds me of a another exchange in the film between Brady and his opponent, Henry Drummond played by Spencer Tracy. Brady said: “Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?”
To which Drummond replied: “All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.”
In standing still and condemning all who differ from their beliefs on any point, the preachers who now, in conduction with their business benefactors will indeed inherit the wind.
Ten years ago I could not have imagined this, but when I read the transcripts of many of the speakers fighting for the GOP leadership in Iowa this weekend it was yet another epiphany, in a series of epiphanies since I served in Iraq. The Iowa conference was a gathering of true believers, appealing to true believers. It was the proverbial self-licking ice cream cone with Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Steve King, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Rick Perry and the ever imbecilic Donald Trump leading the way. The Iowa meeting was more like the prayer meeting in Inherit the Wind than anything remotely connected with a normal American political meeting regardless of the party. Self congratulatory in denial the meeting was profound for its vapid rancor.
As far as me, watching this and all the other shenanigans of the Christian Right, I am sorry that I didn’t see it coming sooner. It took me until 2008 to realize that I really had not moved, but that the GOP moved, and continues to move away from me.
That is the scary part. Barry Goldwater was all too right in his analysis of those who have taken over the GOP. It is hard to believe that the only Republican bold enough to speak out against this takeover before it happened was the original “true conservative” of the GOP, a man whose 1964 campaign for President opened the door for their takeover of the party. Unlike those who attempted to claim his mantle including Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater really understood the danger of the genie that he let out of the bottle.
The irony is truly profound.