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Clippings by Evan Johnson: The problem with 'values' politics

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Posted on October 31, 2013 |
By Evan Johnson



As a writer and a journalist for a few different publications, I find myself putting in miles on my assignments all over Vermont. On these drives, I listen to the radio, tuning the full range of the dial. I don’t listen for content, so much as the ambient sound of a human voice; be it ESPN sports banter or NPR. I was somewhere near St. Johnsbury recently when I heard a broadcast of the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.

The Family Research Council, which hosts the Values Voter Summit, is one of a number of groups with similar sounding names (see also: American Family Council, Focus on The Family) concerned with the moral fabric of our society. Never mind the shootings in the inner cities, the tons of pollution pumped into the air or the safety of our food; the main priority of these organizations is “traditional family values.” The Values Voter Summit, held every year, is chance for conservative activists and elected officials to feel good and get a preview of potential presidential candidates. They thump bibles, rattle sabers and wax nostalgic about somebody named Reagan. Like any political rally, it is completely narcissistic and thoroughly steeped in “us-versus-them” rhetoric, but the Values Voter Summit is truly one of a kind for its fear and loathing.

Here’s what was on tap this year:

Still riding on the high from his recent 21-hour filibuster, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the main attraction in the center ring. Though he spoke for only 20 minutes this time, Mr. Cruz still highlighted the urgency of the situation.

“We’re nearing the edge of a cliff my friends,” he said. “We have a couple of years to turn this country around before we go off the cliff to oblivion.”

During his speech, Cruz likened the present political climate to the Carter administration and spoke lovingly about something he kept referring to as the “Reagan Revolution.” Along the way he strung together quotes from the Bible, the Constitution, and a few jokes about the French.

“I believe in two things,” he concluded. “Faith in a benevolent God who loves each and every one of us and an American people who love liberty unlike any nation in the history of this world.”

It’s clear that when he mentioned “every one of us,” Cruz was talking about the audience seated in the room.

In light of this summer’s Supreme Court decisions, the Family Research Council is well aware of their struggle to stay relevant in the midst of a society that is increasingly supportive of the LGBT community. But that didn’t stop speakers from offering some winning sound bytes. National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown was adamant that marriage equality was not a “live-and-let-live debate” but an attempt to deconstruct the very nature of reality; and radio host Sandy Rios endorsed the power of ex-gay therapy and insisted children are brainwashed by the public school system to tolerate and accept “the homosexual lifestyle.”

Religious conservatives’ obsession with a vast homosexual conspiracy to corrupt and destroy America has already been established and registers as white noise to even the casual listener. But this year’s summit featured a true a marvel of spin; conservatives’ newfound conviction that they are the ones under attack from a “War on Christianity.” For many, the Values Voter Summit was a moment to set the battle lines against a number of boogeymen including radical Islam, Planned Parenthood, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

By all means, the American Christian Right demonstrated its willingness to leverage government authority to carry out their pet projects. Michele Bachmann would make abortion illegal, and Rick Santorum has stated on multiple occasions that he supports laws against homosexual intercourse. But these Christian politicians have no interest in making the Word of God actionable when it comes to just about anything else. While the government should enforce moral uprightness of marriage, sex and family, the 2013 Values Voter Summit was notably missing remarks on living wages, labor rights or basic incomes.

As a result, this conference revealed the values of those who attended and promoted it. Rick Santorum is not about to propose opening a soup kitchen; he wants prayer in schools. Michelle Bachmann is not about to become an advocate for HIV testing; she wants the Book of Genesis to be taught alongside high school biology.

Because according to them that’s what America needs in order to grow and prosper.

It appears the religious right’s concern is maintaining the assurance that they’re on the right side of history (pun intended) while the rest of us march toward Stalinism and damnation. But with a system crumbling around us, maybe there is something worthwhile in their fever dream. And if that’s your preferred brand of Kool-Aid, step right up; there’s a big cup with your name on it. 

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