Courting Intolerance: Dean and McCain Pander To Christian Right
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon May 15, 2006 at 12:17:49 PM EST
political teletubbies cavort
"Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or [Rev.] Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right." - US Senator John McCain, during the 2000 GOP primary race

    "We deserve each other's respect, whether we think each other right or wrong in our views, as long as our character and our sincerity merit respect" - US Senator John McCain, speaking at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Saturday May 13, 2006

    "...the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this [ the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks ] happen." - Jerry Falwell

    "I concur" - Pat Robertson  

    [ Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson,  Sept 13, 2001, on "The 700 Club" ]

This spring, within a four day period, Howard Dean appeared on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" and John McCain delivered a commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Both Dean and McCain have worked to establish reputations as politicians of conviction who steer courses independent from party line dogma. Now, with these recent shows of obeisance to Christian right leaders, Dean and McCain have risked their hard won credibility for political gain by assuming stances that contradict previously stated positions.

"The Democratic Party platform from 2004 says that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's what it says. I think where we may take exception with some religious leaders is that we believe in inclusion, that everybody deserves to live with dignity and respect, and that equal rights under the law are important" - Democratic party Chairman Howard Dean, on "The 700 Club", Wednesday May 10, 2006

During the 2004 presidential GOP primaries McCain called Jerry Falwell "an agent of intolerance" while Howard Dean asked an Evangelical couple, on On February 14  2005 (as quoted in Christianity Today): "How can you support me, one who has a strong conviction on gay marriage and a woman's right to choose....?"

In a July 21, 2002 interview on Tim Russert's "Meet The Press", then Democratic Primary contender Howard Dean told Russert, about Dean's decision to sign into law the Vermont bill granting civil union to same sex couples in the state:

"I never got to have a discussion with myself about whether this made any political sense or not because I knew that whether I was going to win the next election or lose it, that every day I was going to have to look at myself in the mirror and decide what kind of a human being I was. And if I denied a whole bunch of human beings equal rights under the law simply because it was politically inconvenient and bad for my career, then there was really no difference between me and three-quarters of the rest of the politicians in this world. But I didn't do that. I signed the bill. It took guts"

In the recent past, Howard Dean had taken to quoting Democratic Party advisor Jim Wallis' rejoinder to the Christian right's obsession with the issue of gay marriage, that "the Bible mentions caring for the poor 3,000 times; it doesn't mention gay marriage at all". But, last week, Dean charted an abrupt course shift  and appeared on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" to loudly proclaim that the Democratic Party platform was opposed to same sex marriage:  

"[On] gay marriage: the platform said marriage is between a man and a woman. That's what it says....I'm not saying we'll agree with everything between the more conservative evangelicals and Democrats but I think there's more common ground and we're willing to work with the evangelical community."

Why the Democratic Party Chairman chose to misstate the party position is unclear, and his statement was quickly and scathingly corrected by commentators from all quarters. But one aspect of Dean's misfired bombshell received little note: the venue Dean chose could hardly have been symbolically more offensive due to the history of statements emitted by Pat Robertson on "700 Club". The choice was profoundly toxic.

Now, Pat Robertson has weighed in on numerous issues :

"If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer." [ CNN, October 10, 2003 ]  Robertson. advocating - apparently - destroying the US State department with a nuclear device

    "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." Pat Robertson, fundraising letter, 1992

    "[Planned Parenthood] is teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism -- everything that the Bible condemns." Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, 4/9/91

    "It is interesting, that termites don't build things, and the great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians.... The people who have come into [our] institutions [today] are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians.... The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation."  Pat Robertson, New York Magazine, August 18, 1986, p.24

Robertson, the founder of the "Christian Coalition" and one of the principal architects of the Christian right's political ascendance, seems to hold a singular animosity towards gays and lesbians:

"I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you. ... [A] condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor." - Pat Robertson, as reported by Media Matters For America, warning Orlando, Florida city officials on the alleged consequences of hanging rainbow flags, from city lamposts, during the annual Gay Days event at Disney World.  

    "...What kind of craziness is it in our society which will put a cloak of secrecy around a group of people whose lifestyle is at best abominable. Homosexuality is an abomination. The practices of those people is appalling. It is a pathology. It is a sickness, and instead of thinking of giving these people a preferred status and privacy, we should treat AIDS exactly the same way as any other communicable disease..." - 700 Club, 6-6-88 (source: People for the American Way Foundation)

    "When lawlessness is abroad in the land, the same thing will happen here that happened in Nazi Germany. Many of those people involved in Adolph Hitler were Satanists. Many of them were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together." - Pat Robertson, 700 Club, 1-21-93 (source: People for the American Way Foundation)

    "[Gays seek] to destroy all Christians." -  Pat Robertson, as quoted by People for the American Way, in "Hostile Climate," 1994, p.9

Did Howard Dean know that his appearance at such a forum on which these sorts of statements have been broadcast - let alone concurring with that forum's host in opposing same sex marriage - might have been be viewed, to put it rather mildly, in a negative light ? Could Howard Dean possibly been unaware of Pat Robertson's rhetorical legacy ?  

Like Dean, John McCain has in the past sought to build a reputation as a politician with positions independent from party ideology. But, McCain's presidential ambitions may have cast a shadow on his claims as a "straight talking" politician.

McCain's public overtures towards Jerry Falwell are not new. In April, 2006 on NBC's "Meet The Press", McCain answered to Tim Russert's question "Do you believe that Jerry Falwell is still an agent of intolerance?" with the reply : "No, I don't. I think that Jerry Falwell can explain to you his views on this program when you have him on." [ for further analysis of Republican commentator efforts to portray McCain's pandering as political "maturation", Media Matters ]

Mainstream news reporting on McCain's Liberty University appearance has tended to lack context: like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell has made many contentious public statements:

"We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism ... we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today ... our battle is with Satan himself."- Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority Report, September 1984

    "I think Mohammed was a terrorist." -Jerry Falwell, 60 Minutes, October 6, 2002

    "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" -  Rev. Jerry Falwell, America Can Be Saved, 1979 pp. 52-53, from Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr, "The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom"

    "The Bible is the inerrant ... word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible,without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc." - Jerry Falwell, "Finding Inner Peace and Strength"

    "The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country." -Jerry Falwell, Sermon, July 4, 1976

    "This poisonous rot about creatures not of God's making, societies of 'aliens' without a good Christian among them, and raw sex between unhuman beings with three heads and God alone knows what sort of reproductive apparatus keeps our young people from realizing the true will of God." -Jerry Falwell, "Can Our Young People Find God in the Pages of Trashy Magazines? No, Of Course Not!" Reader's Digest, Aug. 1985: p142-157

In particular, Falwell's vilification of homosexuals casts a harsh light on John McCain's commencement address exhortation to tolerance, that
"Americans deserve more than tolerance from one another." :

"Look at the Metropolitan Community Church today, the gay church, almost accepted into the World Council of Churches.....thank God this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven." - Rev. Jerry Falwell, "Old Time Gospel Hour" broadcast, March 11, 1984, quoted by Rev. Jerry Sloan, "Is Jerry Falwell a liar?" Freedom Writer, September, 1994

    "Someone must not be afraid to say, 'moral perversion is wrong.' If we do not act now, homosexuals will 'own' America!...If you and I do not speak up now, this homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women, and children who get in its way...and our nation will pay a terrible price!" - Jerry Falwell, as quoted by People for the American Way in "Hostile Climate," 1997, p.15

Howard Dean and John McCain may be under the sway of highly paid campaign consultants, in consultation with myriad focus groups, who counsel such pandering in hopes of attracting American evangelical "values voters". But, evangelical or not, voters can have an uncanny nose for hypocrisy, and beyond simple resonance in stated values, voters also want politicians who demonstrate they hold values of a deeper sort....

....such as integrity .

They're so cute until they grow up and start to talk. Then, all sorts of awful things come out of their mouths.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon May 15, 2006 at 01:28:42 PM EST
And here he called down that cheerful little purple Teletubby -- Tinky Winky -- for sporting purple, having a triangular aerial on his head, and carrying a magic bag.

Wait, thought the biscuit-faced preacher, purple is on the color chart next to lavander -- the gay pride color! And the purple triangular aerial is reminiscent of the pink triangle -- the gay pride symbol! And the magic bag reminded him of -- his Aunt Fanny's handbag. And everyone knows what a closet case she was.

In the immortal words of Tinky Winky, "Uh-oh."

The Rev. Falwell's gaydar went off. The BBC reported:

Steve Rice, a spokesman for Itsy Bitsy Entertainment, which licenses the Teletubbies in the US, said: "The fact that he carries a magic bag doesn't make him gay.

"It's a children's show, folks. To think we would be putting sexual innuendo in a children's show is kind of outlandish.

"To out a Teletubby in a pre-school show is kind of sad on his part. I really find it absurd and kind of offensive."

Absurd and offensive, Rev. Falwell? If the purple suit fits -- try it on!  

by jhutson on Sat May 20, 2006 at 07:35:41 AM EST

I dropped thse little heads onto the teletubby bodies pretty much at random.

But they each seemed to fit so perfectly !

Especially in the cases of Falwell and Robertson : they both seemed so exuberant and alive, so naturally at ease, as "theotubbies".

It was like they were born for it.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 09:03:12 AM EST

I have in the past respected Senator McCain for his patriotism, for his independence (especially his clear break from his own party over the issues of torture and campaign finance reform), and for his willingness to respect those with whom he disagrees, even though I also disagree vigorously with him on many issues -- in essence, all those issues on which he takes the Republican Party line.  So maybe I am being too charitable towards him on this matter, but I have a different take on his speech at Liberty University.

"Pandering to the Religious Right for political advantage" is the most obvious explanation for McCain's speech at Liberty, and I can understand those who feel that Jerry Falwell is so loathsome that any action which might be seen as lending him some kind of mainstream credibility is mistaken at best and evil at worst.  That may be an accurate perception, but I don't think it's the only legitimate characterization.

I didn't see McCain's entire speech, but I did watch a great deal of it on C-Span, and what I saw repeatedly emphasized the point that good, moral people can have different views on the issues of the day, that they can and should hold to their convictions as their intellects and consciences dictate, but that they also can and should nevertheless repect opposing views and the people who hold them, not demonizing their opponents and sometimes even viewing those opponents as their friends.

So isn't it possible that McCain spoke at Liberty to try to plant some small seeds of tolerance and open-mindedness into the minds of his audience?  Sure, he could have been more direct, condemning the bigotry of the Religious Right in no uncertain terms.  But that approach, even if it didn't get him booed off the stage, would most likely have resulted in his entire message being rejected out of hand by those present at the commencement to hear it.  By taking a more subtle, conciliatory approach, he may actually have said something that will make a difference in some of his listeners.

On the other hand, if the report of Governor Dean's appearance on The 700 Club are accurate, I am confounded.  I don't fault him for the appearance itself.  He could well have thought that it would be a good thing for those who get their news EXCLUSIVELY from the right-wing media to observe him in person and see that he doesn't actually have horns and cloven hooves, contrary to what they may have been led to believe.  But that doesn't explain his espousal of a SUBSTANTIVE position that is both inaccurate and contrary to the views of many of his supporters.  What's up with that?

by Theovanna on Mon May 15, 2006 at 06:38:13 PM EST

Torture and campaign finance reform. I have considerable respect for Howard Dean's positions as well.

Indeed, I have too much respect for the two to avoid criticizing them for their dalliance with Falwell and Robertson.

You may be right on McCain - I can't gainsay you there. Yes, his Liberty University appearance might be an attempt to bring a new, tolerant perspective to "700 Club" viewers. Surely there's some other way ? - Maybe not.

As for Dean, well - I have to assume that Jim Wallis was out of town that week, but someone should have warned Dean that he'd neither impress the Christian right - by donning watered down antigay attitudes - or ingratiate himself with the American left by furiously backpedalling from his earlier ( apparent ) professed support for gay marriage and by mischaracterizing his party's position.  That was unfortunate.

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