Vanderslice and the Undermining of Liberal Democracy.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 10:16:14 AM EST
From early on in his 2006 campaign for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. was well on his way to trouncing Religious Right darling, incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. But one of his campaign consultants, Mara Vanderslice of Common Good Strategies advised Casey to take an unusual step. She thought it would be smart, to speak to the Pennsylvania Pastors Network--a prominent religious right coalition, comprising even such extreme elements as Fr. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life. Apparently the idea was to attract more conservative, and antiabortion Catholic voters and show that he was friendly to "people of faith." Casey sent a pre-recorded statement that was played to the September 24th, 2006 conference attendees.
If then-candidate Casey had visited the Pennsylvania Pastor's Network's (PPN) web site, he would have learned that the group is not merely "pro-life," but are proponents of laissez-faire economics. PPN is a project of Let Freedom Ring, Inc., a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, reveals that it's mission is to promote "Economic Freedom," a thinly disguised code for pre-New Deal "Liberty of Contract" economics. PPN's religiosity is the sheep's clothing for the wolf that is LFR true economic agenda. LFR's web site links to such ideologically compatible institutions as The American Conservative Union as well as The Hudson Institute.

Had he attended the conference in person, Casey would have heard Pavone compare the events of September 11, 2001 with an abortion procedure.

"Is there any difference that anyone can identify, morally speaking, between disregarding someone else's right to life if you use an airplane or if you use surgical forceps? What's the difference? What's the difference, morally speaking, if the victim is five feet tall or five inches tall? Those variables do not introduce any moral difference to the evil that we're talking about."

Casey should have ignored Vanderslice's reckless counsel for a variety of reasons, including that there was no reason to seek additional support from those who would never provide it. Contrary to Vanderslice's notions, engaging the leadership of the hard Religious Right does not demonstrate respect for "people of faith." Instead it sends a clear message of capitulation to the long discredited Aristotelian notion of inherent inequality. Any continued acceptance of this unnecessary strategy of pandering will have its ultimate end in the furthering weakening of liberal democracy.

But there is a greater issue here: competency. Why would Vanderslice and Common Good Strategies advise Casey to pay respects to a group of not-so-closeted economic royalists -- let alone Frank Pavone? Did she not consider Pavone's involvement with folks such as Tom Monaghan and US Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS)? These are men whose economic agenda is clearly at odds with Casey's adherence to justice. Monaghan, for example, has hostility challenged efforts by Ave Maria employees to organize. More importantly, with all their neo- Carlist tendencies and wanting to impose on the rest of us their particular recipe for eternal salvation -- they are the true enemies of religious freedom.

Pavone is perhaps best known for his role in the Terri Schiavo affair as the "spiritual advisor" to the Schindler family. But his standing on the Religious Right will be underscored on March 2-3, 2007 when he will be a featured speaker at televangelist D. James Kennedy's Reclaiming America for Christ conference in Ft. Lauderdale. Florida one of the premier Religious Right political conferences in the U.S. Other featured speakers include Ann Coulter, Tony Perkins and Phyllis Schlafly. It is well known that all of these folks are hostile to liberal democracy-- especially when it comes to keeping church and state separate. But much less well known is their cynical use of religion as a means of undo the legacy of New Deal economics--a plan that had much of its basis in the Protestant Social Gospel and Catholic Distributive Justice movements. One has to wonder if Ms. Vanderslice thought about this aspect of her advice to pay homage, directly and indirectly to this cast of characters.

Ms. Vanderslice's pandering to the Religious Right is dangerous for a variety of reasons. First as Frederick Clarkson pointed out recently, she and Common Good Strategies recommended that the Democratic Party shy away from using the term "separation of church and state." That--just like her advice to kow-tow to the likes of PPN--is sign of spinelessness. Her argument that the term raises "red flags with people of faith," feeds the Religious Right's myth that the separation of church and state is synonymous with hostility towards religiosity. Beyond that, it sends out a message of fear, the scent of which the true enemies of religious freedom can detect from miles away. Indicative of her failure to appreciate the harm she has caused, is her bragging about her advice to candidates to The New York Times. Recommending that her client address to that group was, in my view, a betrayal of the progressive Christian values that she purports to represent.

Instead of trying to make nice to those who openly sneer at their values, Vanderslice and the folks at Common Good Strategies would be wise to take a page from the ACLU. Like the ACLU, they should tell their candidate clients to confront the likes of Pavone, Dr. Kennedy and Phyllis Shlafly, and embrace the concept of church-state separation by framing its meaning within the context of religious freedom. And when they do, they might consider the example of a Catholic schoolboy who understood the meaning and importance of separation of church and state as integral to the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Thomas Whall was a Catholic student at the Elliot School in 1859 Boston. The school, although public, used Protestant prayers and followed Protestant theology. When young Whall was required to recite the King James version on the Ten Commandments, he refused on the grounds that Catholics abide by a different interpretation of the Second Commandment.

The King James translation of Second Commandment reads "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth[.]" This refers to "graven images instead of the Catholic version that states, "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name." For Whall and other Catholics, this was a rebuke of the Catholic use of shrines and statues. Whall's reward for making his stand for religious freedom was a sound whipping by his teachers.

The Vanderslices of the world must understand that pandering to the Religious Right may very well bring us back to a place we should never return. As the Whall affair teaches us, once certain Christian sects have the power to suppress non-Christians, they can well attempt to turn their suppression upon each other. It is not slippery-slope conjecture, but a hard-learned lesson of American history. And that, not religious hostility, is one of the primary reasons why Liberalism values the separation of church and state.

But perhaps the politcal take-away lesson for Vanderslice and associates should be that rather than pandering, it is better to make clear distinctions between Democrats and the Religious Right, and standing our ground rather than conceding it. Ever since the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy there has been a severe shortage of Liberals who have the courage to stand on principle-even when it is unpopular to do so. How many times have we heard former Reagan voters say that while they disagreed with his politics, they voted for him simply because he had the courage of his convictions? Clearly, there is a lesson to be learned about consistency, clarity and courage of our convictions.




Display:
I wrote this piece as a Democrat who wants my party to show character and stregnth; as a Liberal who believes in political equality; and as a Catholic who wants to practice his faith freely.

In this spirit, there must be no unnecessary compromises!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 10:20:30 AM EST

One vanderslice at a time ?

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 03:51:41 PM EST
Parent
Yup.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 04:57:11 PM EST
Parent



Seems all the information on Vanderslice and others (in shorter, edited form) needs to reach Howard Dean, the DNC, candidates, and congressional leaders. They need to hear the downside of these PR efforts if they're as oblivious as they seem. Unless significant numbers of politicians read this site, we're preaching to the choir.

by Psyche on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 04:49:03 PM EST
It's not the politicians who need to understand this, for most of them are far behind the wishes of the public. There is an urgent need that issues such as these being clearly and succinctly explained.  Simplicity is key and then we MUST utilize the internet and let it fly as mainstream media is not on our side.


by Darwin on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 09:58:20 PM EST
Parent
People who run this forum tend to be using the internet almost much as they are able ( we can all do better, of course ) .

But, they need help - maybe that's why you're here.

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 11:10:10 PM EST
Parent




send them to people like John Aravois at Americablog. Bob Casey was one of those for whom our little community at Americablog raised money.

by ecoflame on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 06:01:11 PM EST
Some of us are already yelling as loud as we can. More voices would help project the message.

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 11:12:57 PM EST
Parent


I'd say, to everyone -- if there is something you read here that you think certain people, or certain, pols or bloggers, should know about -- please email it to them.

We are an all volunteer operation here, and the success of the project depends on the participation of everyone.

Our purposes here are not merely to talk to ourselves, although that is certainly valuable, but to reach more people than we do, we need help.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 11:05:33 PM EST


When reading the diary, I couldn't help thinking of something Chris Hedges mentioned in American Fascism, that no amount of attempts to reach out and court the Christian Right dominionists will work to appease them. They want it all, political and religious power, and nothing else will satisfy them.

by khughes1963 on Mon Feb 05, 2007 at 07:10:18 AM EST
They certainly want it all. But hey, why should hypocrisy get in the way?

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Feb 05, 2007 at 02:40:04 PM EST
Parent



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