Thursday, October 1, 2009

Continued Merging of Religious and Teabagger Right: Right-Wing Watch on Take Back America Conference

Readers know that I’ve been paying attention to an emerging meme in neocon rhetoric, which weds traditional culture-war presuppositions with a purported post-culture war economic analysis fundamentally hostile to government. In my initial posting about this, I noted David Brooks floating this meme in a recent New York Times piece entitled “The Next Culture War.”

My posting concludes:

Far from portending the end of the culture wars and the influence of the religious right in our political and economic life, this new trope fuses traditional culture-war presuppositions with a new, bogus post-culture war economic analysis. In doing so, it continues the very culture wars it claims to eclipse. This is a dangerous—and fundamentally dishonest—new rhetorical game for neoconservatives to be playing ....

I’m happy to see that others are taking note of this emerging rhetorical strategy of the right. Peter at Right Wing Watch has just recapped the major themes of the recent How to Take Back America conference in St. Louis 25-26 September (and see also Pam Spaulding’s summary at her House Blend blog). The conference drew together right-wing gurus and power players ranging from Phyllis Schlafly and Janet Folger Porter to Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachmann.

Peter’s first bullet point as he summarizes the conference themes? It’s interesting, indeed:

▪ a continued merging of messaging and organizing among the Religious Right and “teabagger” right

There you have it in a nutshell. There’s where the neocon movement is going now. There’s where David Brooks’s recent op-ed piece about the need for a return to Calvinist sobriety, the work ethic, and self reliance—and the need to get government off our backs—wants to go.

Far from repudiating religious right fixation on culture-war issues like same-sex marriage, the neoconservative movement is seeking to merge that fixation with the government-is-the-problem preoccupations of the teabagger set. The pseudo-moral rhetoric proposed by Brooks to end the culture wars fuses the two, with a sleight-of-hand trick that appears to make the religious right fixations disappear, only to reintroduce them in a new anti-government rhetorical disguise.

As Peter reports, the How to Take Back America conference was full of workshops that demonstrate the coalescence of religious right and teabagger themes in current neocon ideology. He states,

The wide range of issues covered by workshops indicated the ongoing merging of Religious Right and far-right anti-government rhetoric that has been a hallmark of anti-Obama organizing.

The culture wars aren’t over. They haven’t gone away. Any of us concerned about their deleterious effects on our culture, religious life, and political process would be well-advised to pay attention to what’s really happening with the purported shift in emphasis in neocon rhetoric from culture-war issues to economic ones.

This shift represents a fusion of anti-government themes and religious right themes that ultimately only gives a broader base and greater power to the religious right. The Republican party is desperately casting about for a base—for any base at all. Republican leaders are not about to repudiate any of their constituencies, no matter how far to the right those constituencies may move.

The danger of the current strategy from the Republican side is that it may well identify the party with right-wing fringe groups. But to my mind, there’s a more serious danger for all of us who don’t buy into right-wing fringe rhetoric in any form or fashion: the fusion of teabagger and religious right themes may mainstream the religious right, as fiscal conservatives who profess to be social liberals make common cause with their right-leaning religionist counterparts in a coalition that pretends to have repudiated the culture wars.

As I revisit this discussion today, I want to take note of an outstanding comment a reader, Ralph in Charlotte, left at yesterday’s posting about these issues. Ralph responds with the following observations to the text I excerpted from a book glorifying the Calvinist past of mainstream American culture:

“As we pen these words we think of the hardships our parents and ancestors bore in their fights with the Indians … to protect their families.”
As I pen these words, I think of the hardships our ancestors inflicted on the Indians, whose native land this is. I think of the Indians’ struggles against those encroaching on their land and against those denigrating their culture. I think of the countless Indian women and children massacred so that our ancestors could steal (Exodus 20:15) their land and establish the basis for future wealth.
As our fine Republican/Christian adherents advocate sending illegal immigrants back to their own countries, I wonder if they pause to thank their ancestors for killing (Exodus 20:13) so many of this land’s indigenous inhabitants.

Points well-taken. Brooks’s neocon myth of America’s hard-working, sober, self-reliant Calvinist past obliterates the messy reality of our actual history. The land those hard-working Calvinists were tilling came from the native peoples, who were not reimbursed for it and who were systematically decimated by the early European settlers of the land. And many of those who were actually toiling in the fields were enslaved people of African descent.

We have a selective memory of our history, we Americans. And a highly selective way of using convenient scripture verses to legitimate our power game du jour—as Ralph’s comments also remind us.