Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christian Crusader Bart Stupak, DINO par Excellence, Hall of Shame Inductee No. 2

In its heyday the Christian Coalition, vanguard of the Religious Right, took control of the Republican Party, brick-by-brick, running self-described “stealth” candidates in local races that eventually set the stage for the election of national candidates. They pushed an extremist religious agenda, unknown to voters, to impose through government action a fundamentalist Christian doctrine on all aspects of civil society.

The Religious Right’s agenda blurs the lines between church and state on issues as seemingly benign as prayer in schools, includes Biblical Creationist mythology in our science textbooks, censors school board curricula, and rolls back decades of hard-fought civil rights for gays and women. It has spearheaded well-funded drives against gay marriage, and now a poison pill amendment to the House healthcare bill, introduced by little-known Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, threatens to severely restrict a woman’s legal right to an abortion, and tear down any hope for meaningful healthcare reform.

Explaining why the Christian Coalition backed “stealth candidates” who would downplay their affiliations to get elected, former Coalition director and GOP strategist Ralph Reed wrote: “It's like guerrilla warfare. If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It's better to move quietly, with stealth, under cover of night.”

The Religious Right’s power and influence hasn’t receded with the demise of such high-profile organizations as the Moral Majority, as some have been lulled into thinking. If anything, it has metastasized, gone underground, and grown stronger. The Religious Right has moved beyond the GOP to infiltrate not only the Democratic Party but government at all levels.

Until the titillating sexual scandals involving powerful Republican politicians Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, and Senator John Ensign of Nevada, both touted as GOP presidential prospects, not many people had even heard of the “Family.” Located smack in the heart of our nation’s capital, the Family is a shadowy and -- depending on one’s point of view -- sinister religious “Fellowship” catering to some of the most powerful and connected politicians in town and beyond.

When the sexual scandals broke, Bart Stupak denied any knowledge of the place, saying “I only live there.” Anyone who believes that will no doubt buy the fiction that the Family is simply a Christian frat house for politicians to commune with Jesus and share prayer breakfasts about being good Christian citizens.

Like a good “brother” with the white starched shirt, Bart Stupak kept his powder dry. Unlike his GOP brethren, Stupak was most adept at the stealth game. He was after all a Democrat, if only in name. Secrecy and a low profile were Family members’ guiding principles, which is why the sexual peccadilloes of the “brothers” threatened their mission, and Stupak was quick to distance himself.

The Democratic Party includes in its platform a strong statement preserving a woman’s legal, constitutional right to an abortion. Pro-choice Democrats are a solid majority in the party. Even so-called pro-life Democrats were comfortable with existing law -- the Hyde Amendment -- that forbids the use of any federal dollars to fund abortions.

The Stupak amendment changes all that. It goes far beyond the language of the Hyde Amendment to deny women the right to an abortion even with their own private funds. Most insulting of all, Stupak included a rider which would permit women to purchase “separate” abortion coverage in their choice of healthcare insurance. As if in this most traumatic event in a woman’s life she would have planned ahead of time to have an abortion. This is the modern equivalent of a Scarlet Letter. If ever there was any doubt as to what an arrogant, patronizing weasel Bart Stupak is, this should settle it.

The carefully crafted compromise language to retain the Hyde Amendment in the House bill was rejected as an “accounting gimmick” by Stupak and his allies, the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Incredibly, the CCB were given a seat at the table in the halls of Congress by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the minds of most pro-choice Catholics, the Catholic Church is hardly in a position to preach public and private morality to women about sexuality and abortion, in light of the scandal that rocked the Church involving its decades-long, systemic sexual abuse of children.

But this hasn’t stopped them from lobbying Congress and getting into the weeds of actually crafting anti-abortion legislative language. This gross violation of the spirit of separation of church and state, if not the letter of the law, should alarm every American, especially Catholics. How ironic that in Italy, whose government-run universal healthcare system is ranked first by the World Health Organization, abortion has been legal since 1978. There is little the Vatican can do about it. Just recently, Italian health authorities approved use of the abortion pill over the strenuous objections of the Catholic Church, which threatened to excommunicate anyone that uses it. Now there’s a 16th century response to a 21st century issue.

And yet in America, the only advanced nation not to provide universal healthcare for its citizens, we are fighting battles with the Catholic Church for the right of 44,000 people not to die every year for lack of healthcare. Where is the Catholic Church’s concern for them? Where is their concern for the once innocent living children, recipients of hush money, that they damaged for life?

In the wee hours of a Saturday morning the House Rules Committee voted to allow the Stupak amendment an up-or-down vote on the House floor. Pro-choice Democrats were stunned. After roundly defeating the Stupak amendment in Committee in favor of the compromise language, they felt the issue had been settled. Their hastily organized opposition was no match for Stupak, all of the Republicans, and the 40 pro-life Democrats who were Stupak’s ace in the hole.

Stupak’s legislative guerilla tactic, executed in the dead of night, should have come as no surprise. It was pure Ralph Reed. Stupak telegraphed his intentions all along, even boasting of his ability to mobilize his bloc of 40 Democratic votes: “Now, I have not threatened that every time that we went to Rules Committee and we didn’t always get our pro-life amendments, I did not try to take down any rules. You have to pick your fights at the right time. You can’t be crying wolf all the time because you lose your wolfishness. You lose your credibility. So I’m not going to lose my credibility. So you use it at certain times when it’s appropriate.”

Pure, cynical power politics, perfectly executed with stealth, subterfuge, secrecy, and hypocrisy. Pure Family.

The Family’s cult of secrecy and distortion of Christianity, sees it as a doctrine in which the elites or anointed ones, “the new chosen” carry out their mission for Christ by any means necessary, which includes the flouting of laws that apply only to lesser citizens, undermining governments, parties, and presidents, and the application of ruthless power to the greater glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Family is not the benign religious group dedicated to lawful good works within civil society that it seeks to project. Rather, it is a theocracy-in-waiting of Christian crusaders, arrogant in the righteousness of their mission in Christ.

Bart Stupak and “the brothers” live in “Ivanwald,” a sleeper cell of warriors for Christ in the heart of our nation’s capital, hosting lawmakers from both political parties who patiently bide their time before striking. The guerilla spirit evoked by Ralph Reed, the admiration for Mao, Hitler, and Stalin is very much a part of their twisted “theology.” All of these men changed the world through the power of a covenant, they say, but the Family has the covenant of a “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ: “Jesus plus nothing.”

Members include Republican senators Jim DeMint, who vowed to make the defeat of healthcare reform President Obama’s “Waterloo;” Chuck Grassley, the health insurance industry shill who openly perpetuated the lie about “death panels” while pretending to collaborate with Democrats; John Ensign, whose anti-healthcare rants, filibusters and frivolous amendments obstructed and delayed the Finance Committee’s work on its bill; James Inhofe, a fierce global warming denier, opponent of cap-and-trade energy legislation, and contemptuous of environmentalists and President Obama.

Surprise, surprise, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had since 1993 a personal relationship with the Family’s leader, Doug Coe. Considering her meteoric political rise from New York senator to just a step away from the Democratic presidential nomination, it wouldn’t surprise that her association with the Family factored in her being dropped as a vice presidential prospect and hastened her flight to Foggy Bottom. Keep your adversaries close: despite assertions to the contrary, the President is no dupe.

If there is a pattern to this tale of stealth power politics, it is that the Family is actively engaged in undermining the presidency of Barack Obama. Target One: the President’s major domestic initiative, healthcare reform.

While they might not be monolithic, Family members of both parties work strategically to achieve at least six of one, half-a-dozen of another. And so, if there is to be a healthcare bill, the Family will work across party lines to water it down, to serve the corporate health insurance interests and the Catholic Church. How will Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a Family member, vote on the Stupak poison pill amendment? We shall see.

The Religious Right’s threat to the body politic is bigger than anyone could have imagined. Were it not for the sex scandals of religious bigots who believe they live by one set of rules and everyone else by another, and for Bart Stupak’s frontal assault on a woman’s right to choose a legal medical procedure, we might never have known.

Knowledge is power. It’s time to push back, and push back hard against the religious bigotry and arrogance of these Christian mullahs and crusaders who would take us back to the days of back-alley abortions and of intolerance against gays, and who seek to turn our democracy into the Kingdom of Christ on Earth, as they see it.

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