The Unraveling of the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 12:38:49 PM EST
Here's a question for you: Is it possible to be one of the biggest losers and one of the biggest winners at the same time? If folks like Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers, and, fill in the name of your favorite Tea Party booster, lost big on Election Day, no one lost any bigger than the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. As one of the Republican Party's go-to guys in the Hispanic community, Rodriguez did a one-heck-of-a-Brownie-like job bringing home the Hispanic vote.

Nevertheless, Rodriguez's lack of immediate success may have insured that he will be an indispensible player for the Party for years to come, as many of his conservative comrades appear ready to moonwalk on immigration.  

While he never officially endorsed Mitt Romney, Rodriguez, the President of the Sacramento, California-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council (NHCLC) - an organization that claims to represent  more than 34,000 churches and 16 million born-again Hispanics -- had his fingerprints all over Election 2012.

Back in July, in what could be characterized as a drinking-the-Kool-Aid moment, Rodriguez declared that Romney had made a "180-degree turn" in his relationship with Hispanics. This, after Romney had spent the primary season touting "self-deportation" as the solution to immigration, and had brought Kris Kobach, co-author of the Arizona's SB1070 law that was largely struck down by the Supreme Court, and who is considered "the intellectual architect of the draconian state-by-state approach immigration reform," as Tim Dickinson pointed out in Rolling Stone, on board as an advisor on immigration issues.

It wasn't surprising to see Rodriguez at the podium during the GOP convention in Tampa delivering the opening night's benediction.

Rodriguez, who is no political novice, knew that he was backing a party xenophobic on immigration, and was dependent on white votes to carry it to victory.

According to veteran right-wing watcher and co-founder of the Talk2Action blog, Frederick Clarkson, Rodriguez "often describes himself as a cross between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. `with a little salsa tossed in.'" In fact, Clarkson pointed out, in a piece for Political Research Associates' The Public Eye magazine ( uelRodriguez.html), Rodriguez is, "a leader of the Christian Right who says he is not. He is a partisan Republican who claims not to be. And he is conservative on just about everything but immigration policy."

In a post-election piece, The Washington Post's Lisa Miller, an unflinching and uncritical admirer of Rodriguez, maintained that Rodriguez was "having a very good week." And, although he opposed Obama -- in part due to the president's support for same-sex marriage and abortion rights -- and whole heartedly supported Romney, Rodriguez evidently now feels entitled enough to demand that the president put immigration on the front burner.  

In an interview with The Christian Post, for which he is a senior editorial advisor, Rodriguez didn't acknowledge his role supporting Romney in the campaign, and instead stated: "Either [Republicans] press the snooze button on the Latino electorate and continue with an exclusive Southern strategy that is no longer applicable in a 21st century reality, or they have a 'come to Jesus' moment ... where they realize America has changed."

"The Republican Party needs to acknowledge the fact that they suffer from cultural myopia, and the idea of garnishing 75 percent of the white participation vote and winning the election via the conduit of a solidly white base is over," Rodriguez explained.

In another venue, Rodriguez said: "The white, exclusive" GOP, "is officially over." He joked that Republicans woke up to hear their radios "playing mariachi music and the cha-cha-cha."

Despite being characterized by the Chicago Tribune in 2008 as one of "a new generation of evangelical kingmakers on the political scene," the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is by no means a household name. However, over the past few years, in moves that even the most unique Chameleon would admire, he has been able to gain traction with both political parties.

Although a supporter of a more humane and open immigration policy, when one looks at the entirety of his political viewpoints, there's a deep dark and opportunistic side to the Rev. Rodriguez.

In a piece at his "Faith and the Common Good" blog ( rl-rove-of.html), Greg Metzger, a teacher and independent writer who over the years has done an excellent job in unpacking Rodriguez's career moves, dubbed Rodriguez the "Hispanic Karl Rove," a harsh, but appropriate description.

According to Metzger, "Due to his status as a prominent Hispanic Evangelical and his advocacy for a `compassionate' approach to immigration, Rodriguez has developed a reputation as a progressive-friendly evangelical leader. This reputation, and the privileged access he has enjoyed to the White House during Barack Obama's first term, is surprising given his outspoken commitments to right-wing causes and organizations. More surprising, and troubling, are the grounds on which he argues for immigration reform, appealing to conservative Christians' suspicion of Muslims and fear of Christian decline."

Rodriguez was the primary mover behind the "Oak Initiative," which Metzger described as a "a right-wing Christian advocacy group."  According to Metzger, Rodriguez has called Oak  a "Christian Tea Party," and "in 2010 he rallied the group with his claim that the Obama administration `has taken over the auto industry, the banking industry, the health industry, soon the energy industry. We have never been in this place before. Our founding fathers are turning in their graves. This is big government on steroids.'"

In addition to opposing President Obama's Affordable Care Act, knocking Obama for his environmental policies -- which Rodriguez claimed would hurt business interests -- "Under Rodriguez's leadership the Oak Initiative also distinguished itself as a virulently anti-Muslim organization committed to the notion that Obama is helping to advance an Islamic agenda in America," Metzger pointed out.

Rodriguez has been called on to headline a bevy of Religious Right political events, including Texas Governor's Rick Perry's ultra-conservative "The Response" rally in 2011. He also delivered the benediction at the Ronald Reagan award dinner at the CPAC annual convention, joined "the steering committee of the Freedom Federation, an umbrella organization of key conservative Christian groups founded in 2009 to, among other things, `secure the individual right to own, possess, and use firearms as central to the preservation of peace and liberty,' ... and joined the coalition of Christians opposing the HHS Mandate, writing in the Washington Post that `the end of our religious freedom in this country has begun,'" Metzger reported.

Despite his reactionary advocacy, Rodriguez was a sought after figure by the Obama Administration.  According to Metzger, Rodriguez "was one of a small number of religious leaders who led a private prayer service on the morning of Obama's inauguration. ... [he] was one of a group of leaders of Hispanic organizations who met with Obama to discuss a push for immigration reform, ... [and he] served on the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which published a report on `Fatherhood and Healthy Families.'"

While opposing Obama's health care initiative, challenging the Administration's environmental policies, opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights have been important to Rodriguez, it is the immigration issue which he hangs his hat on. His work helping to derail the GOP's efforts to potentially deport 12 million Hispanics, put him on the political map. Metzger writes: "Thus was born the image of Samuel Rodriguez, post-partisan evangelical and bridge to the burgeoning Hispanic Protestant community."

The mainstream media had found a Hispanic leader worthy of touting, progressive evangelicals cozied up to him, and many organizations recruited him for service on their boards. However, as Metzger pointed out, "Rodriguez's conflicting positions and dueling alliances have never been fully acknowledged in national media. ... This lack of scrutiny may be due to the fact that, while Rodriguez has staked out a number of policy positions far to the right of most Hispanics, on the need for comprehensive immigration reform he has generally pushed for policies clearly consistent with the desires of the Hispanic community and largely in keeping with his post-partisan image."

Rodriguez's argument for immigration is multi-faceted, but much of it hinges on the notion that in the growing Christian Hispanic population is made to order to prevent a burgeoning Islamic presence and influence in the United States.  

Metzger's thoroughgoing research has found that Rodriguez's pro-immigration reform advocacy "raises the most troubling questions about [his] positions and arguments. While religious and mainstream media have ignored his reasoning, an abundance of public documents and videos shows that Rodriguez's pro-Hispanic-immigration activism draws explicitly on anti-Muslim ideology and the promise of a renewed Christian America. While he makes use of arguments focused on human rights and biblical compassion to justify his call for immigration reform, those concepts do not for him preclude arguments that denigrate Islam, promote the salvation of Christian America, or emphasize competition with Catholics."

Rodriguez argues, as he did on NPR's "Tell Me More" program in July, that it is in the interest of conservative Christian evangelicals to embrace Hispanics because the latter could swell the former's numbers and influence. Metzger pointed out that on an appearance on Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club," Rodriguez said, "We are two syllables -- `His' `panic.' We are His, capital `H.' We may very well be God's `panic' to the kingdom of darkness in the name of Jesus in America.... At the end of the day the Hispanic electorate may be the salvation of the conservative movement and the Christian Church in America."

Fred Clarkson recently reported that "Rev. Derrick Harkins, the Faith Outreach director of the Democratic National Committee has disassociated himself from Rodriguez's organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.  Harkins, who has been featured on the NHCLC web site for years, says he was `surprised' that he was still listed as an adviser, and has asked that his name be removed."

In an email exchange, Greg Metzger told me that "Rodriguez's standing as a man able to deliver a constituency for the Republican Party and worthy of being taken seriously by GOP leaders, depends entirely on reporting by mainstream media. If the Washington Post and The New York Times continue to ignore ... reporting ... that calls into question his integrity and his real popularity among Hispanics then I suspect that he will continue to be listened by GOP leaders.

"But," Metzger added, "if he is actually portrayed in the elite media as what he really is -- a figurehead for religious right groups that want a Hispanic name on their promotional materials and a man with an uncanny ability to say whatever any given audience wants to hear -- then I suspect GOP leaders who really want to reach actual Hispanic voters outside their culture warrior base will begin to ignore/downplay Rodriguez's importance."


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