Ryan Lizza's excellent profile of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), which I mentioned earlier, frames the GOP presidential candidate as the product of a very particular brand of Christian conservative thought—one that extends far beyond the basic abortion–gay marriage axis. To wit: Lizza catches Bachmann touting the work of an historian who argued that the Confederacy was actually an Evangelical state that was raising blacks up from the depths of heathenism to a more even moral foundation. But the most interesting character in the profile is Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a theologian whose film, How Should We Then Live, Bachmann cites as life-changing.
As it happens, I've watched Schaeffer's movie (or at least much of it), and it's easy to see how various aspects of it rubbed off on Bachmann, then a student at Minnesota's Winona State University. The timing was fortuitous—America's heartland was emptying out and its urban cores seemed to be falling into disrepair. Schaeffer stepped in to make sense of the situation and prescribe a miracle cure: We could turn things around by learning from the mistakes of the past and getting back to our Christian roots. Take a look at the introductory segment, for instance:
That opening scene is scary, right? Those police sirens you hear are the sound of secular humanism in action. Schaeffer's arguing, essentially, that a relativistic society, built on a lesser belief system like that of the Roman gods, can do quite well when times are good and everyone's happy. But when things begin to head south, such societies lack the necessary fortitude to fight vice, and give in to their basest impulses—sex (Schaeffer goes on to discuss the "cult of the phallis" in Pompeii) and dependency (relying on government handouts).
As Lizza notes, things get downright conspiratorial: "In the sixth episode, a mysterious man in a fake mustache drives around in a white van and furtively pours chemicals into a city's water supply, while Schaeffer speculates about the possibility that the U.S. government is controlling its citizens by means of psychotropic drugs." That reflects an extreme level of distruct of government—but then, so does suggesting that we are locked in a United Nations plot to end resource extraction entirely, and warning that a moderate Democratic president will launch "re-education camps" for our children.
The first rule of Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign: Don't talk about Michele Bachmann. Matthew Spolar of New Hampshire's Concord Monitorscored a sit-down with the Minnesota congresswoman and GOP presidential contender and reports that it ended abruptly when he asked her about the issue that definied her career as a Minnesota state senator:
Bachmann cut off an interview last week as she was being asked a question about gay marriage and emphasized that she is focused on rebuilding the economy and repealing federal health care reform.
"I'm not involved in light, frivolous matters," she said. "I'm not involved in fringe or side issues. I'm involved in serious issues."
This is a trend. Here's the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, similarly recounting how his one-on-one with the candidate came to end: He asked one too many questions about Bachmann's ideological mentor, the theologian Francis Schaeffer:
As I started getting deeper into a conversation with her about Schaeffer, she abruptly ended the interview. She said she had to leave for an appearance on "Hannity" but would try to set up another time to talk. I didn’t hear from her again. Her press secretary later told me that Bachmann "wasn't comfortable with the line of questions, and that's why there wasn't a follow-up conversation."
Here's Davenport, Iowa's WQAD, detailing how it and other local stations were blacklisted by the campaign after they asked Bachmann about her Christian counseling clinic's practice of "reparative therapy," which seeks to cure gay people of their homosexuality:
The reporter asked a question about Bachmann's clinic and her husband. At that point, McClurg says the staffer took the microphone off of Bachmann, tossed it to the reporter and said their interview was over.
Here she is last month at the National Press Club, in response to a question about whether she still believes homosexuality can be cured:
My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children, and I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for the presidency of the United States.
And here she is in June, dodging the same question from Bob Schieffer:
"You know, I firmly believe that people need to make their own decisions about that," she said. "But I am running for the presidency of the United States. I am not running to be anyone's judge. And that's where I'm coming from in this race."
The Times' handling of some of the AFA's most incendiary rhetoric is puzzling. Here's an organization whose most visible representative, radio host Bryan Fischer, spouts blatantly racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay rhetoric. But, hey, while some people call that hate speech, there's always two sides of a story, right? Like "Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by 'homosexual thugs.'" That, in the Times piece, is a "disputed theory," rather than a conspiracy theory made up by anti-gay zealots.
For real. The Times quote in full reads: "Mr. Fischer trumpets the disputed theory that Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by 'homosexual thugs'— evidence, he says, of the inherent pathologies of homosexuality." Fischer has since gone even further, stating that today's gay rights activists are "literally" Nazis, who are waging a SS-style campain to crack down on dissenters. That's no surprise because both of those theories stem from the same book, The Pink Swastika, which posits that gay rights organizations in the United States are the intellectual heirs to the Third Reich and are attempting to use Hitler's repressive tactics to advance their radical agenda.
The problem is that the facts do not support Fischer's theory, and so inasmuch as we care at all about facts, his theory has not been "disputed," it has been "rejected" or "debunked." Ron Rosenbaum has published a pretty thorough takedown of the "gay Hitler" thesis—but his takedown is targeted at a reputable, relatively disinterested historian—which the The Pink Swastika's authors are not.
In reality, gays were targeted for extermination by Hitler, not recruitment. Bob Moser, who notes that somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 gays were arrested during the Third Reich, finds this quote from Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's security chief: "That wasn't a punishment, but simply the extinguishing of abnormal life. It had to be got rid of, just as we pull out weeds, throw them on a heap, and burn them." That is literally what the Nazis did to about 10,000 gay men.
The much larger problem here is that the question of whether or not gays are Nazis—and whether or not that argument is worth condemning—has somehow become a partisan issue. When the Southern Poverty Law Center classified the American Family Association and a handful of other social conservative organizations as "hate groups" earlier this year (on account of their frequent promotion of such debunked charges) the reaction from high-profile Republicans was swift. Dozens of congressmen, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) signed on to a letter of support for the organizations:
This is intolerance, pure and simple. Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures, and the courts. Tell the radical Left it is time to stop spreading hateful rhetoric attacking individuals and organizations merely for expressing ideas with which they disagree. Our debates can and must remain civil - but they must never be suppressed through personal assaults that aim only to malign an opponent's character.
On the one hand, conservatives accuse gay rights activists of reprising the worst tactics of the Third Reich. On the other hand, liberal groups call them out on it. See, both sides do it!
On Saturday morning, Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined Christian religious leaders at Reliant Stadium in Houston for a day of prayer and fasting for America. "With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help," Perry explained in a YouTube spot promoting the event. "That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast, like Jesus did, and as God called the Israelites to do in the book of Joel."
Joel 2, the specific Old Testament chapter Perry is referring to, has a special meaning for many evangelical Christians—and more specifically among a small but growing movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. Its adherents believe the nation has become unmoored from its moral foundations, and that our present misfortunes are a direct consequence. They believe it will take a new push by modern-day apostles—messengers who've received their instructions directly from God—to put things back on course. And the apostles, as the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder has detailed, believe Perry is one of them.
But things didn't go as planned. What was once seen as a dramatic coming-out party for a latter-day Moses, in which Perry would emerge as a bona fide leader of the Christian right against the big-government "Pharaoh" (to use Perry's Exodus metaphor), is looking more and more like a flop. Just 8,000 tickets were sold by Friday—not enough to fill a high school football stadium in Texas, let alone a 75,000-seat professional one. Of the 49 other governors Perry invited to attend, just one, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, said he'd show up (a few others, like GOPers Paul LePage of Maine and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, issued proclamations). Texas Monthly's Paul Burka, the dean of Texas political analysts, is calling the event an "utter failure."
The last time a social conservative organization unveiled a marriage pledge for GOP presidential candidates, it was kind of a disaster. (And by kind of, we mean "totally.") Frontrunner Mitt Romney denounced the pledge as "undignified"; Tim Pawlenty took a pass as well. That's what happens when you include language asserting that black families were more stable during slavery.
But on Thursday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM!) released its own marriage pledge, and this one is off to a noticeably smoother start. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and—notably—Romney are all on board. Here are the key points of the pledge, per the release:
Support and send to the states a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman,
Defend DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] in court,
Appoint judges and an attorney general who will respect the original meaning of the Constitution,
Appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters,
Support legislation that would return to the people of D.C. their right to vote for marriage.
That presidential commission on the harrassment of traditional marriage supporters should be a blast. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty hasn't weighed in yet, but he'll be joining NOM next week for the Values Voters Bus Tour through Iowa, so it'd be a little awkward if he just left them at the altar on this one. Also tagging along on the tour? Santorum, Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and—schedule permitting—Bachmann herself.