WASHINGTON, D.C. – There are two events that are virtually guaranteed to command the attendance of every Repugnican, er, Republican presidential candidate: Nationally televised debates (minus, of course, the ones sponsored by black and Hispanic organizations) and the Values Voter Summit, sponsored jointly by the ultra-right Family Research Council (FRC), American Family Assn. (AFA) Focus on the Family (FotF) and Gary Bauer's American Values.
The Summit, according to FRC president Tony Perkins, is the "annual event for Americans who want to preserve the Judeo-Christian values that form the bedrock of our nation," and this year was attended by nearly 3,000 true believers, many of them students from nearby Regent University and Patrick Henry College – and at least a couple of heretics, including one AVN reporter.
The event was also a "must-attend" for just about anyone who is anyone in conservative media and politics, with speakers and panelists including Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Jean Schmidt, former Rep. Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, conservative talk-show hosts Bill Bennett, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, James Dobson and Paul Weyrich, conservative minister Richard Land, conservative rabbi Daniel Lapin, former Attorney General Ed Meese, former Nixon Special Counsel Chuck Colson, former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, former Equal Rights Amendment opponent Phyllis Schlafly and former comedian Ben Stein. They'll be dealt with in Part 2 of this series.
There was a certain amount of tension for the candidates going into the Summit, since less than a month before the conference, which took place on Oct. 19-21, a group of evangelicals including Perkins, FotF's James Dobson and several dozen other far-right religionists had met in Salt Lake City and agreed that if the eventual Republican nominee were not sufficiently "moral" – a clear reference to Rudy Giuliani – they would support a third-party candidate whose philosophy was more in tune with their reactionary religious values, a position they more-or-less reiterated at a follow-up meeting during the Summit.
It was against this background, as well as an explicit statement from Dobson denying any possibility of support, that John McCain took the stage as the first candidate speaker.
"My friends, I know that before I can win your vote, I have to win your respect, and to do that, you expect me to be honest with you about what I believe," McCain began, noting that among his values were free-market economics, an aversion to political pork... and, of course, his faith in "a just and loving God."
McCain's problem with this crowd, however, was that he was one of two 'Pug candidates who'd ever actually served in the military, and the only one who'd been captured and tortured for months in Vietnam ... and that gave him just a bit too much understanding of the "radical Islamic extremism" that he still described as "evil," and its adherents as "people who scorn life and dignity."
"We will not surrender to the terrorists, and we must not surrender to our fear," he told the audience. "We must resist at all costs the temptation to believe that we can protect America by sacrificing the values that make it worth protecting. ... I know very well the tools some governments have resorted to when threatened — indefinite detention without trial, torture of prisoners and a belief that anything is permissible in dark places, where power is the only law. But these tools are not American tools, and the easy way is not the American way. We must remain true to our ideals not in spite of the threats we face but because of them."
Trouble was, this crowd had no problem with indefinite detentions and torture of prisoners – hell, half of them, if given the chance, would perform the waterboarding themselves – and despite McCain's clear understanding that, "In the decades to come, our prosperity and security will depend in part on what people in distant corners of the globe see when they turn their eyes toward America," these believers knew the Lord would come through for them when international trade and treaties didn't, and eventually put McCain at the bottom of the Summit's straw poll.
Next up was Sen. Sam Brownback, probably the candidate with the most in common with Summit attendees ... until, a few hours after his talk, he withdrew from the race, lending his support to McCain.
After eulogizing some evangelical leaders who had died recently – D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham's wife Ruth – Brownback got down to The Message:
"May I suggest to you that God has laid on our hearts two great things: the end of abortion and the renewing of the American culture. That these are great things and we must do them. And we must not stop until we win, and we will win if we do not stop. We've got to keep moving forward on these, and we can."
Among the things he exhorted the crowd to move forward on were banning abortion ("Roe v. Wade is a legal fiction built on a lie."), banning the elderly's right-to-die, and banning same-sex marriage ("Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. That's what it is. That's what it has been for thousands of years. This vast social experiment that's going on right now to redefine marriage is one that the early results of this are catastrophic."); promoting the work of Mother Teresa (who, with her virulent anti-birth control stance, was responsible for India's skyrocketing indigent population), promoting faith-based welfare and prison programs – although, he claimed, "I am not for a theocracy. That's been tried in Western civilization a few centuries ago. It's bad for the church, it's bad for the faith, it's bad for government. That doesn't work." – and, of course, promoting Jesus – all without once mentioning Iraq. Considering the venue, that's quite an accomplishment in itself.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, whose campaign has been based around figuring out how to deport the 15 million or so undocumented immigrants, followed closely on Brownback, even accusing the senator of stealing one of his jokes, and after acknowledging that he's a "second-tier candidate," launched into his main theme.
"As a conservative, I'm troubled and maybe you are, too, by the influx of what we call hyphenated conservatives nowadays — neo-conservatives are over here; paleoconservatives over there; compassionate conservatives in the White House; and the latest nonsense, common-sense conservatives," Tancredo analyzed. "What I want to know is, since when is conservatism by itself not enough? When exactly has it helped our party either in policy or in politics to qualify our commitments to limited government, to the rule of law, to a strong national defense and to traditional values? As best as I can tell, every effort to hyphenate conservatism has led to both policy and electoral catastrophe."
Among the "catastrophes" Tancredo listed were "the largest tax increase in the nation's history" (actually, Reagan did that with TEFRA), "President Bill Clinton," "No Child Left Behind," the "Medicare Prescription Drug Act," "open borders," "Nancy Pelosi" and the State Children's Health Insurance Program ("S-CHIP"). It apparently escaped Tancredo's attention that all of the programs he decried were passed by a conservative Republican Congress, which itself decried hyphens. Tancredo called those folks prostitutes ("ladies of the night").
"For years, conservatives have been warned by political professionals of the costs of standing too strongly on principle," Tancredo claimed. "Today, ladies and gentlemen, we're paying the price for not standing there at all."
In other words, despite all the carpet-chewing that's gone on in Congress for the past 16 years, and in the White House for the past six, about how Reaganesquely-conservative all the Republicans have been, now that the economy is in the toilet, the national debt has doubled since 2000, unemployment has skyrocketed and millions of homeowners are in foreclosure, now comes Tancredo to claim that his colleagues, during that time period, stood for no principles at all ... and that the "values voters" should elect more Republicans (especially himself) who are claiming to stand for just the principles his unprincipled colleagues claimed to have stood for since the eve of their taking power in Congress in '95. Talk about a hard sell! (Well, maybe not so hard with this crowd ...)
And then: "We need a leader ... that is opposed to abortions ... that believes in a strong national defense, because our enemies are psychopaths and our allies are the French ... who understands there is nothing compassionate about giving millions of people amnesty who have broken our law and broken into the country [and] creating a linguistic and cultural tower of Babel."
"America is the last best hope — I repeat, the last best hope of Western civilization," he wrapped up. "Everything we are, everything we have achieved in this nation is under attack from jihadism abroad to multiculturalism here at home. Our leaders charged with the responsibility to defend our land, our culture, our sovereignty refuse to do their job."
Joe McCarthy couldn't have said it any better.
Law & Order's Fred Thompson rounded out Friday morning's candidates ... but first he had to convince his daughter Hayden to leave the stage and stop stealing his thunder. (Hey, he's a Family Guy just like all the rest, eh?)
After claiming that the Founding Fathers had "announced to the entire world that we believe and we acknowledge and we know in this country that our basic rights come from God and not from any government" – well, not quite, they didn't – Thompson launched into a relatively fact-free soliloquy about federalism, freedom ("Our people have shed more blood for the liberty of other people than any other nation in the history of the world, and we're proud of that.") and family values before repeating the obligatory rants against abortion, same-sex marriage and Social Security.
One touchstone of Thompson's acumen, especially considering his ongoing TV role, has to be his stance on judges, and especially Chief Justice John Roberts, whom Thompson had shoehorned through the confirmation process.
"I have seen good judges and I have seen bad ones," Thompson declared. "I have appeared before them. I have helped them get confirmed. I've sat on the Judiciary Committee and worked there, trying to get good ones. I know the difference between a good one and a bad one, and we need somebody in the presidency of the United States who doesn't have to call his lawyers in order to know the difference between a good judge and a bad judge. ... I had the opportunity to receive a call from the president of the United States, who asked me to help Judge John Roberts, now Chief Justice John Roberts, get confirmed through the Senate for the United States Supreme Court. I believe he will go down as one of the great chief justices. We just need more of them."
What more do you need to know? Well, maybe this: "But I know what I would do the first hour that I was president. I would go into the Oval Office and close the door and pray for the wisdom to know what was right."
Friday afternoon started off with Rep. Duncan Hunter, who spoke wistfully about taking off from Reagan National Airport "early in the morning, when that light is just shining on the Arlington Cemetery and reflecting on those crosses and those Stars of David" – and what does he see when he looks out of the airplane window?
"You see what I call the arsenal of democracy, and that's all the plants and factories and facilities where we make things in America. And we use those products for domestic purposes in times of peace. But in time of war, we turn that manufacturing capability into national defense."
You'd never guess he used to be chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wouldja?
"That was the industrial might and the industrial base of the United States. We are losing that industrial base right now, and that's one reason I'm running for president."
Gotcha! Throw more money at the American war machine! Right on!
Hunter also claimed that "China is cheating on trade. They're devaluing their money by over 40 percent [and] buying ships and planes and military equipment." Um ... Duncan? The Cold War's been over for 20 years.
And what speech would be complete without a paean to our great fighting men like ... Audie Murphy? Or border agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, convicted of shooting an unarmed suspect in the back? "I'm going to call up the Bureau of Prisons and I'm going to tell them, as president of the United States, that Agents Compean and Ramos are to be released so they can go back to their families."
Thanks, Dunc! Now go guard the Mount Soledad Cross against all enemies, foreign and domestic ...
Obstetrician-turned-Libertarian-turned-Republican Ron Paul was up next, and his message was "not complex; it's rather simple, and that is that freedom is much better than bureaucracy and government socialism. Freedom really works. How do we go about achieving this goal of freedom and recognition of the importance of the individual? Well, we don't have a very tough job to figure out what to do. All we have to do is enforce and obey the Constitution. There's nothing more that's necessary."
That's what this crowd needed: Somebody who could boil the biggest bureaucracy in the history of the world down to a few simple homilies! No wonder he scored third on the Summit's straw poll!
For the record, Paul came out against the income tax, against abortion – "I frequently tell the story about when I was a resident, that this issue came up. It was in the 1960s, when abortions were still illegal, but my professor was doing abortions and permitting abortions to defy the law. And I accidentally walked into a room where they were doing an abortion, and they delivered a two-pound fetus, an infant that was breathing and crying. And they took this baby and put it over in a basket in the corner, and they waited, pretended they didn't hear it and let it die." – and in favor of something called the "We the People Act."
"I think one of the most despicable of all court rulings has been the Roe v. Wade, and that should be our goal, is to repeal Roe v. Wade," Paul stated, to thunderous applause. "Now, there's a couple of ways that that can be done. Of course, we could wait until we have our Supreme Court justices appointed for them to, when the time comes, rehear a case like that and rule differently; that's taking a long time. We've been living with Roe versus Wade since 1973, and it hasn't happened. I certainly support that, but my approach is a little bit more direct, and it could happen much quicker, and that is accepting the principle that we can, as a legislative body and as a president – we can remove the jurisdiction of this issue from the federal courts. I have a bill called the We the People Act, and this addresses several subjects – prayer in school, the marriage issue as well as the abortion issue – which literally just takes it away from the federal courts, which means any state could pass a law passing a prohibition that could not be heard in the federal courts."
Of course, that "approach" would pretty much destroy the federal judicial system, since any state would be able to nullify any federal court ruling ... but what the hell, eh? Damn the consequences and full speed ahead!
And of course, Paul, who in a sense is the perfect conservative, favors pulling out of NAFTA, CAFTA, the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO and the U.N., as well as eliminating food stamps, Social Security, the Federal Reserve system, Medicare, Medicaid, mandatory inoculations for school kids, and even the entire public school system, all of which will probably save a couple of bucks ... and when we pull all of our troops out of foreign countries (including Iraq), that'll save a few more.
"So if we do this, we will have a much better society," Paul concluded. "Sure, some people are going to make mistakes. Sure, some people, even though they think they're self-reliant, might not take care of themselves as well as they should. But freedom assumes responsibility for one's own actions, whether it's in the material sense or in the spiritual sense. We're all responsible for our actions; to assume otherwise means that we concede way too much to the government."
Right! Probably the only question left after that is, Who's going to sweep up all the bodies?
Mitt Romney got the favored nighttime spot on the Summit agenda – and they even played one of his TV ads before he spoke! Heckuva treatment for a guy who's "not even a Christian," according to plenty of evangelicals.
(See, the religio-reactionaries have a problem with the fact that, although Romney claimed, when asked about the Bible in the Nov. 28 Republican debate, that, "I believe it's the Word of God. I mean, I might interpret the Word differently than you interpret the Word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the Word of God," he's still a Mormon, and according to a Baptist Press article, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "professes a belief in its own published version of the King James Version of the Bible, although it views three other documents also as scripture: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Those latter three texts are where the church gets some of its unbiblical beliefs." [Emphasis added.] Hence, lotsa luck getting any support from the Southern Baptists that control the religious wacko wing of the GOP.)
So of course, Romney only once mentioned his religion during his speech, saying, "By the way, I imagine that one or two of you may have heard that I'm Mormon. I understand that some people think that they couldn't support someone of my faith, but I think that's just because they've listened to Harry Reid." The crowd got a couple of yuks out of that.
Instead, he talked about the same touchstone issues that the rest of the candidates had mentioned: The family as a "vital unit"; why welfare is a Bad Thing; why same-sex marriage is a Bad Thing; ditto for abortion; ditto for embryonic stem cell research; ditto for drugs; ditto for "socialized medicine." He gave props to home-schooling and a "stronger military."
Interestingly, Romney was the first candidate to mention porn at the Summit:
"I'm going to fight the modern plague, internet pornography, especially as it affects our youth. You may recall that following the Columbine shooting, Peggy Noonan said that our children are swimming in an ocean of filth she called it: Pornography, perversion, violence, sex. It's time we clean up the water that our kids are swimming in. Computer pornography has given new meaning to the words 'home invasion.' If I'm president, I'll work to make sure that every computer sold into the home has an easy-to-engage pornography filter so that parents can protect their children from unwanted filth into their home. And about those predators who use the internet to lure in children? In my book, it will be one strike and you're out! And for me that means long prison sentences, and if you ever get out, it's an ankle bracelet for the rest of your life."
The convention planners apparently decided to save the worst and best for last, scheduling Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee for Saturday morning.
Giuliani had a problem going into the Summit since everyone there, being avid readers of FRC's, AFA's and FotF's daily e-mailings, already knew that Giuliani had favored keeping abortion legal, had been married three times, and had favored gun control, no matter how he might try to back-pedal at the Summit.
And sure enough: "Please know this: You have absolutely nothing to fear from me," America's Mayor pleaded with the fundies. "I find it difficult understanding those who try to make me out as an activist for liberal causes. ... I'll protect the values that we share, just like I'll protect America from the enemies that we face. Because I find myself too often failing to reach the ideals of my religious and moral beliefs, I don't easily publicly proclaim myself as the best example of faith. Possibly because I grew up in an environment where faith was considered, if not private, at least separate from political life, there's a certain reluctance that I have that I kind of grew up with to discuss it in detail in political environments. But my belief in God and reliance on His guidance is at the core of who I am. I can assure you of that."
"Ronald Reagan had a great way of summarizing it," Giuliani continued. "He used to say, 'My 80 percent friend is not my 100 percent enemy.'" Translation: Please, please believe I'm only against 20 percent of your values!
Giuliani traded on the only thing he has to trade on: His stint as mayor of New York, a city which he claimed that even religious people aren't afraid to visit anymore.
"There might have been a time when you were afraid to come to New York City in the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, and the early '90s," he said. "Times Square, which is kind of a symbol of New York City, had become a haven for drug dealers, for prostitutes, and for purveyors of pornography. My city was suffering an average of about 2,000 murders a year. That's almost six per day. ... So I understand the frustration that comes when you feel values are under assault by a culture that is moving in the wrong direction."
Wonder if Rudy understands the frustration of free speech advocates when they listen to this bit of double-think – which, of course, the faithful applauded furiously:
"We drove pornography out of Times Square and other public spaces. In 1987 there were 35 pornographic theaters and shops on just one stretch of 42nd Street. When I left office, there were zero. None. It didn't happen by accident. It didn't happen by wishing that they went away. It happened based on a very well-organized campaign, a study demonstrating the impact of pornography on neighborhoods, an intense battle in court that nobody thought we would win, and we won. And most importantly, the pornographers lost and they were chased out of Times Square. ... We significantly reduced pornography throughout the city of New York, and we took on other institutions, like the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which was using taxpayers' funds to display an exhibit that showed the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung. It was just another example of the double standard that exists for people of faith. There's just no outrage among the politically correct crowd when Christian icons are desecrated. We stood up and we said, 'Enough,' and I led the effort. Some of the liberals were furious ... But they never, ever really got the point. Of course you have a constitutional, protected right of free speech. But we also have the same right of free speech. We also have the same right to express our opinions. ... People of faith should not be marginalized in our civic debates. Believers have every right to participate in the political process. There's no exception in the First Amendment that says we have the right of free speech except for people of faith or people of religion or people of strong religious views."
But apparently, there is such a clause exempting pornographers!
Giuliani hit the same talking points as the rest of the hopefuls, but it didn't do any good; he still scored second from the bottom with 1.9% of the straw poll vote.
Which left Mike Huckabee, Arkansas governor and former minister, who won the poll among attendees at the Summit – and no wonder; the first words out of his mouth were, "Thank you. Thank you. God bless you. Thank you."
"I come today as one not who comes to you, but as one who comes from you; you are my roots," Huckabee proclaimed. "Most of you know that prior to my getting into politics and becoming lieutenant governor for three years and a governor 10 and a half years, I was a pastor and a denominational president in my state of the Baptist faith. Now, that created a lot of heartburn for people not only in Arkansas, but other parts of the country. Anytime you have been a person who was identified as a pastor and you've got a seminary education and theology degree, people tend to worry about you. And when I first ran for office, people would come up to me, I remember one lady in particular. She said, 'Mister, is it true you're an ordained minister?' And I said, 'Yes, ma'am, that's correct.' She says, 'Baptist?' I said, 'Yes.' She asked, 'Are you one of those narrow-minded Baptists who think only Baptists will go to heaven?' I said, 'Lady, no. Actually I'm more narrow than that. I don't think all the Baptists are going to make it either.'"
That had the believers rolling in the aisles, and plenty of jokes followed. "Always leave 'em laughing," Carl Reiner used to say.
And of course, Huckabee talked about values, values, values.
"We are gathered here to talk about the values that bring values voters together," he said. "We're defined by what we value, what's important to us, what's non-negotiable for us, what matters more than anything else in the world when we go and vote. That is what it means when we say we are values voters. These are not some things we're merely interested in. These are things we are committed to, and there's a big difference. And I would suggest today that there are some values to which we're committed and which are non-negotiable: The value of freedom, the value of family, the value of faith."
Needless to say, all of those were threatened: By "Islamofascists," by immigrants, by foreign oil, by taxes, by same-sex marriage ("I'm very tired of hearing people who are unwilling to change the Constitution, but seem more than willing to change the holy word of God as it relates to the definition of marriage."), by abortion ("It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to accommodate someone's risky behavior. ... We do not have the right to move the standards of God to meet new cultural norms. We need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards.") and by not using enough Bible metaphors in everyday life.
"We ought not to see things like the world does because most of you, probably like me, grew up being tutored in Sunday school," Huckabee intoned. "And I don't know about you, but I never outgrew some of that. I don't guess I outgrew any of it. You see, I was led to believe that it was a lot better to be with David – that little shepherd boy with five smooth stones – than it was with Goliath with all his heavy armor. I was thought that it was better to be Daniel than it was a whole den full of lions because Daniel would come out better off then those lions. It went to sleep before it was all over. I was taught that it was better to be one of the three Hebrew children than it was to be the fiery flames of the furnace, because with God's power those flames couldn't even leave the smell of smoke on the lives and the clothes of those three Hebrew children."
Huckabee's biblical references went on for another five minutes, and the audience ate it up as he concluded, "I don't want ever for us to let expediency or electability replace our principles as the new value. The new value needs to be the old value. We believe in some things. We stand by those things. We live or die by those things."
And likely, if Huckabee gets elected, a lot more people will "die by those things" than most folks reading this article can even imagine.
At one point, Perkins mentioned that all the Democratic candidates had also been invited to speak at the Summit, but all had declined. Now you know why ... but you can read about more reasons in Part 2.