John McCain's Personal Christian Nationalist
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Feb 15, 2007 at 05:07:10 PM EST
While John Edwards' bloggers have resigned in the wake of the firestorm ignited by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights', allegations of anti-Catholicism, bloggers working for Republicans have received a pass in the media.

Progressive bloggers have stepped into the breech and learned, among other things, that John McCain's personal blogger is a Christian nationalist who plays dirty politics with religion. Although the selective outrage over bad blogger behavior is a fair issue, as is the rank hypocrisy of the bigotted Bill Donohue, I think it is worth considering the role that Christian nationalist politics may very well play in the 2008 elections.

Glenn Greenwald wrote about GOP presidential primary contender, John McCain's personal blogger, Patrick Hynes:

Hynes' public writing is devoted to pure religious divisiveness -- he focuses almost exclusively on the claim that Christianity is superior and that those who attend church live better lives, and specifically to the belief that the Republican Party is the true party of those who believe in God and that Democrats are "anti-Christian." He wrote a book entitled In Defense of the Religious Right, and in an interview about that book in July, 2006, this is what he said:

Miner: Is it fair to call America a "Christian nation"?

Hynes: Yes. America is a Christian nation. As I write in my book, "Is America a Christian nation? Of course it is. Don't be ridiculous. What a stupid question.

Consistent with the religious supremacism inherent in the Christian nationalist view, Greenwald also details the ways that Hynes, the blog consultant for Sen. John McCain's Straight Talk America PAC, disparages Mormonism for the apparent sole purpose of inflaming evangelical Christian prejuduce against Mormons. Greenwald and other bloggers highlight the selective reporting by the media, and the selective outrage by blogger bashers and various political partisans.  

Meanwhile, Media Matters for America, has found a related blog post, noting that Hynes has called the Democratic Party as "anti-Christian." Hynes titled a July 6, 2006, blog post: "Exclusive Poll Info: Democrats Devolve Deeper into an Anti-Christian Party."

Such specious charges are what we have come to expect to hear from the leaders of the religious right, whose us- against-the-whole-world-of-secular humanism-frame has animated the religious right for many years, and we can reasonably expect to hear more of this false framing in the run up to the 2008 elections. (With any luck, progressive and Democratic leaders who have internalized the frame, will have rethought what they have been saying.)

There is also more in the Hynes inteview Greenwald quoted from, that is of interest for other reasons.  Chip Berlet, writing at here Talk to Action, has recently debunked the debunkers of the notion that there is a theocratic political movement in the United States. This will be part of the ongoing discussion of the appropriate bounds of church and state and the nature of religious liberty: but the religious right and their allies are on the defensive and are furiously blowing smoke because they know that the charge is true, even if not always well articulated by some of us.

Miner: During your research, did you come across genuine American theocrats equivalent to the Iranian mullahs?

Hynes: No. The claim that conservative Christians in America are akin to the Iranian mullahs is an update to a similar smear that surfaced after September 11th - back then, the Religious Right was likened almost daily to the Taliban. This much is true: no matter the point in history, liberal pundits and extremist politicians will compare conservative Christians in America to whichever Islamo-fascist regime threatens to kill innocent Americans.

This brings us to a turn in this post where you may need to take a deep breath and consider that if you are with me this far, you should keep an open mind about the rest. What follows is not directed to anyone personally, but is intended to point out that in order for us to really advance the cause, some of us are going to need to change the way we approach these things.

On the substance, I would largely agree with Hynes'quote. (His hyperbole is of course the familiar framing of lots of political consultants, which is why you probably feel like you need a shower. But I digress.) Hynes' statement is an excellent example of why those who resort to making shallow and unsubstantiated name calling a substitute for knowledgeable analysis and actually making a powerful argument, do all of us a disservice.

If we are going to make our arguments stick, we have to use terms and lines of reasoning that do not backfire, or otherwise distract from what we are really trying to say.  If we are serious about explaining how and why the religious right has a theocratic (or any other kind of) agenda, it is important that we also explain to our friends and colleagues, that false analogies to the Taliban; Osama bin Laden, the Nazis, communists, or any other modern or ancient demonized or rightly or wrongly hated groups, is intellectually lazy and usually politically counter productive. As we can see, such useages provide openings for people like Hynes to tell people that the Left are saying they are just like fill in the blank.  Now, Hynes' audience is shocked. They know that they are not like fill in the blank, and think poorly of anyone who would say such a thing.

Otherwise thoughtful people who use terms like American Taliban, to pick one popular term, are, sadly, unwittingly aiding the religious right and their consultants to secure their base by showing the Left Behaving Badly.   That said, it is sometimes true that the views or policies of the religious right are similar to, or arguably worse than those promulgated by the Nazis or the Taliban. That is fair game. But whenever drawing such comparisons, it is important to draw them narrowly, accurately and fairly -- because the American religious right is nothing like the Taliban, the Nazis, Stalinist Russia, or any other notorious group in history. They are notorious enough in their own right, and we need to get better at explaining how that is so: clearly, accurately and persuasively.  

in a very short period of time in American history.  It has come as far as it has, in considerable part because their opponent have made so many significant errors. Let's stop making those errors.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Feb 15, 2007 at 05:56:11 PM EST

Ah -  Mr Clarkson, you have clarififed this point well, and it is a very hard sell, indeed.  Somewhere along the line I picked up the conviction that when a voice rises, validity has just gone out the window.  There is an admonition in the AA and/or Alanon literature (can't recall which) that says" "Whenever I am upset - no matter what the cause - the problem is within me".  
I agree that if we stick to the facts of what the premises and actions of christian nationalists (for instance) are, and the consequences they could lead to, a whole new 'ism' will develop.  It is lazy and disrespectful to throw out a disdainful, generalized comparison -- thereby dismissing thousands who don't agree with the individuals who are making the most noise -- when what is needed are the specifics of who is propounding what; where, how, to whom, for whom, and on what grounds.  Theocracy is a serious, insidious threat to democracy, and it should not be trivialized by super-heated, scornful 'debate' and finger pointing.  Clear, cold thinking, and wise courtesy, are what's needed.  

by DvCM on Thu Feb 15, 2007 at 10:25:52 PM EST

Seconded, Fred. Or thirded, as the case may be. Calling Christian conservative Nazis is inaccurate, and it doesn't work, besides. Comparing American Christian conservatives to "the mullahs," or the ayotollahs, has the double drawback of not working and being bigoted, besides. An ayotollah is no more a fundamentalist by definition than a minister is. Anyone who's read Roy Mottahedeh's amazing story of the education of an aytotollah, "The Mantle of the Prophet," will end up only wishing that Christian conservatism had such thoughtful leaders. This is not to say that there aren't a lot of thugs who are also ayotollahs -- only that the comparison smacks of the gross anti-Islamic bigotry that has tempted too many liberals who'd shove everyone they disagree with in a trashbin labeled "theocracy."
Author of THE FAMILY: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper, May 20)
by Jeff Sharlet on Thu Feb 15, 2007 at 10:41:25 PM EST
Some days I think we are making some progress on these things.  

Navigating this whole area is tricky for most of us. We want to be able to state critcisms and concerns strongly, without falling into shrill overgeneralizations. And we also want to avoid the milquetoast trap in which nothing can be said for fear of offense, and no debate can ever be engaged because, well, it would be unseemly.  

Constitutional democracy ain't easy. Particularly the part about religious equality as a bedrock value. Getting a whole lot better at it is one of the central tasks of our time. And I am delighted that we can see and hear people on this site -- getting better at it all the time.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Feb 16, 2007 at 12:20:21 AM EST

I respectfully disagree with you on this.

It's time to stop giving the religious right a pass on this.  They regularly use terms like "baby-killers," and "sodomites," then whine whenever anyone calls them on it, claiming that they're being picked on.  Wah.

If they're going to participate in 21st century American political discourse, they're going to have to deal with the fact that people are going to say harsh things about them.  Or take their marbles and go home.

Granted, many comparisons of the RR to the Nazis, the Taliban, etc, are overblown and gratuitous.  That's the nature of the beast.

by Bucky on Fri Feb 16, 2007 at 03:04:09 PM EST

I am saying that using inflammatory, factually unsupportable name calling discredits the speaker more than the the subject. I make strongly stated criticisms of the religious right all the time, as do others on this site. That is an important part of what it is for. I am saying that cheap name calling is ineffective and politically backfires.  

The strongest argument we can make is based on what something is, not what it is like (if in fact, it is even like it at all.)

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Feb 16, 2007 at 03:26:04 PM EST

I agree that American liberals (and some radicals) are prone to using terms  and org names with historical meaning&nb sp;loosely.  So is the right wing,& nbsp;to wit accusations against liberals of McCarthyism and of racism.&n bsp; Let's face it, America does not have the historical&nbs p;political tradition or political sophistica tion common to, say, European countires, which lends to loose talk.  By the same token, I think what's lacking in the discussion is that Christian Nationalism is historically the ideology of American fascism, and&nb sp;some fair chunk of the current religious right inclinations or aspirations in that direction.  Pat Robertson is proably the most well-known example, but there are quite a few preachers out there, including some of the more well-known ones with mega churches, that fit right in.  The thing is, though, that the American political system is so broad in its normal workings that the far right gains little traction most of the time, thus making it more attractive for the the religious right to stay in the fold. One upshot of this process is that the center of gravity of American p olitical and social life tends to the right most of the time.

by romat on Sat Feb 17, 2007 at 10:51:43 PM EST

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