Friday, March 12, 2010


I'm very much in agreement with most of what Frank Rich writes -- but I just know he's going to cite this Politico story as yet more evidence of the potential for trouble on the right that isn't actually going to arrive:

The rise of a new conservative grass roots fueled by a secular revulsion at government spending is stirring fears among leaders of the old conservative grass roots, the evangelical Christian right.

A reeling economy and the massive bank bailout and stimulus plan were the triggers for a resurgence in support for the Republican Party and the rise of the tea party movement. But they've also banished the social issues that are the focus of many evangelical Christians to the background.

And while health care legislation has brought social and economic conservatives together to fight government funding of abortion, some social conservative leaders have begun to express concern that tea party leaders don't care about their issues....

As it turns out, I read this story just after a visit to Right Wing Watch, where I learned about a new Republican congressional candidate in Iowa's 2nd District -- Rob Gettemy. Gettemy's campaign Web site leads with a post about how inspirational he found the 9-12 tea party rally. Gettemy bills himself as someone who

has a history of entrepreneurial successes. Rob served as Vice President of Direct Sales and Service for Parsons Technology before starting three successful businesses....

In addition to his entrepreneurial ventures, Rob is an instructor of entrepreneurship at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa. Each semester, Rob teaches as many as 200 students the skills to succeed as entrepreneurs.

So he's one of those tea party secularists, right? Er, no:

Rob and his family currently own and operate a startup Christian apparel company,

That's "" as in 1 Million 4 Jesus Christ.

If tea partying is incompatible with being a member of the Christian right, Rob Gettemy doesn't seem to have gotten the memo.

I know -- he's just one guy. But many of the best-known supporters of the tea party movement -- Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich -- are also God-botherers. (Yes, Gingrich -- if that surprises you, you may want to get up to speed.) And while tea party lobbyist Dick Armey has expressed disdain for evangelicals, his group Freedomworks did join with the Family Research Council and other religious right groups for a webcast in response to this year's State of the Union address.

Yes, teabaggers are going to try to keep secular issues in the forefront, in the hope of attracting members outside the Bible Belt who aren't with the religious right program. And there is some tension in the rank and file -- Jonathan Raban attended the recent tea party convention in Nashville and noted (in an article for The New York Review of Books) that some attendees were made uncomfortable by the religiosity of the gathering (and the absence of alcohol at meals):

That evening, our prayer was led by Laurie Cardoza-Moore, the founder and president of a Christian Zionist organization called Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. We were asked to join hands with our neighbors while Moore delivered a long, impassioned appeal to God, imploring Him to compel the United States to show unwavering loyalty and devotion to the State of Israel. I felt an increasingly steady pressure on my right hand from the woman holding it, as she sang out her "A-mens!"; but my left hand, lightly held by my new partner in skepticism, registered a quick double-blip from her forefinger and thumb that unambiguously said, "Uh-oh."

As we sat down to our steak-and-jumbo-shrimp dinner, my neighbor said, sotto voce, for my ears only, "You know, I phoned my husband last night. I told him that being here has made me realize that I am a
liberal conservative."

But the mere fact that there was this religiosity tells you that, once the dust settles and we have dozens of new teabag-friendly members of Congress, they could be a hell of a lot more Christian-rightist than the secular rhetoric of the movement would lead us to expect.

Raban notes that even Joseph Farah's birther speech at the convention was religion-drenched:

He took us on a quasi-scholarly tour of the first chapter of Saint Matthew's gospel, where Christ's genealogy is traced from the patriarch, Abraham, down through many generations to "Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ," then invited us to compare Jesus' unassailable ancestry with Obama's dubious family tree.

Maybe the emergence of excessive religiosity is going to lead to schisms in the movement -- but my hunch is that that won't happen until after the 2010 elections, because there's too much shared rage and the Christian rightists are keeping their issues mostly on the back burner. After their likely big victories? At that point I think the religious rightists are going to step to the fore and push their agenda in Congress. Secular teabaggers will express disillusionment. But by then it'll be too late.


UPDATE, SATURDAY: Dear New York Times: I'm not sure it's appropriate to publish an article titled "Tea Party Avoids Divisive Social Issues" when much of what we learn from the article is that the tea party movement often has a very hard time avoiding divisive social issues:

Social issues still pack a wallop: a group of Democrats opposed to abortion rights could determine the fate of health care legislation in the House. And Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, while celebrating the Tea Party for energizing their movement, spent much of their time talking about banning gay marriage and overturning Roe v. Wade. "God's in charge," Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota told a cheering crowd.

Tea Party leaders themselves have found it hard to keep the issues out. The inaugural Tea Party convention, organized by the social networking site Tea Party Nation, featured remarks by fervent opponents of gay marriage and abortion rights, including the Baptist pastor Rick Scarborough And some leaders criticized Sarah Palin -- normally a Tea Party favorite -- for advocating "divine intervention" to help the country.

... The subset of Tea Party organizations known as 9/12 groups, founded by Glenn Beck, asks members to embrace seven of nine principles, the second of which is "I believe in God and he is the center of my life."

I can't tell whose interests are being served by this wave of stories. Are we reading them because the mainstream political culture really needs to believe that the tea party movement will founder as a result of intra-conservative bickering (in which case we can ignore it and pretend that the American right hasn't turned rabid and crazy)? Or are we reading them because people like Dick Armey want them out there, in the hope that the far-right can get bigger?

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