“Ralph Reed is doing a great job here with the Faith & Freedom Coalition. This is going to make a big impact across America and I appreciate the work you are doing here.”
– Mitt Romney
It is like a bad dream looking back: The Republican Revolution of 1994. TheocracyWatch.org called it ”a watershed year,” and it was. That year saw Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives for the first time in four decades and made huge inroads in State legislatures. Three decade’s after Goldwater’s defeat, the Religious Right’s dream seemed to have come true.
There were millions of voter guides distributed ( 40 million of them according to TheocracyWatch.org in more than 100,000 churches across America). In 1992, 1994, and 1996, the Religious Right won forty percent of the elections they were involved. In May 1995, Time Magazine called 33-year-old Ralph Reed “The Right Hand of God” and credited the Christian Coalition with giving the Republicans their victories.
Ralph Reed’s reputation was gone from the political scene within two years when the Jack Abramoff scandal enveloped him. His troubles began in 1996, when the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleged that the Christian Coalition “violated federal campaign finance laws during congressional elections in 1990, 1992 and 1994, and the presidential election in 1992.”
Imagine that: big wins for the Religious Right in the years they broke the law.
In January of this year he wanted us to believe the Evangelical vote was a myth – the very same vote he helped to create. Right. And there is no such thing as dominionism. Reed famously called dominionism a “conspiracy theory” even while slightly less extremist Christian Reconstructionists (if you can believe that) were warning against dominionism.
We get it, Ralph. You are not good with the truth.
Yet as recently as 2004, Reed even worked on the Bush-Cheney campaign, asked pastors to get votes for his candidate, and presto! Bush received 78 percent of the Evangelical vote. But suddenly the Evangelical vote was a myth? Surely Reed didn’t found his Faith and Freedom Coalition in 2008 to rally a myth? Sure as shooting this snake-oil salesman founded it to make money, but he must have figured on a more than mythical base if he planned on turning bullshit into gold like the alchemists of old.
Now it is September, power and money are in the air like pheremones, and Ralph Reed has announced that the Evangelical vote is very real after all. Not only that: he says that he is going to win the election for Mitt Romney. On September 22, the New York Times reported that “An Evangelical Is Back From Exile, Lifting Romney.”
In that both of these men spend at least 50 percent of their time lying about the other 50 percent of their time, they seem like a good match. And with Romney demonstrating that he can’t even rally so-called Nascar-Christians to his cause, he clearly needs whatever help Reed can offer. Reports the Times:
In the coming weeks, he says, each of those 17.1 million registered voters in 15 key states will receive three phone calls and at least three pieces of mail. Seven million of them will get e-mail and text messages. Two million will be visited by one of more than 5,000 volunteers. Over 25 million voter guides will be distributed in 117,000 churches.
Two questions come to mind: what are we to make of this – is there or isn’t there an Evangelical vote; and what effect can Reed have on this election?
The answer to the first question seems obvious: yes, there is an Evangelical vote. We have seen it flex its muscles again and again over the past several decades. The Evangelical vote is either fact or every Republican 2012 presidential candidate spent the primaries bowing to a ghost. These men and women literally fell over each other in levels of zealotry, each trying to sound more extreme than the other. That we were left with the despised Mormon candidate, a guy whose belief system these same groups have long denied even counts as a religion, much less as Christian, was something of a surprise.
All this is enough to make you wonder just how important the Evangelical vote is in 2012.
The two main views seem to be that Reed could indeed compensate for Romney’s self-made political fiasco and get him elected despite himself. This is the warning Adele Stan issues on AlterNet this morning. It all centers around Reed’s ability to rally the extremist base:
So while members of the the Tea Party and the religious right may not love the ideologically bendy, Mormon Mitt Romney, they’re ginned up and ready for an attack on Obama, whom they’e been taught to fear, via all manner of tropes, ranging from the birther conspiracy theory to the lie of the so-called “death panels.”
If, in eight of those nine battleground states , Reed and his allies manage to turn out 90 percent of the right-wing base, and Obama turns out only 60 percent of his, Romney wins.
The opposing viewpoint, that Reed’s claim is braggadocio, was expressed by Rob Boston on Americans United’s Wall of Separation blog yesterday in a post tellingly entitled Murky Math: Why Ralph Reed’s Latest Political Claims Don’t Add Up.
Here’s the deal according to Boston:
When he ran the Christian Coalition, Reed had a history of exaggerating his influence. (The less charitable might say he told big, fat lies.) It seems he’s up to his old tricks. The Times reported that Reed has compiled the “largest-ever database of reliably conservative religious voters.”
And the math just doesn’t work, Boston says. He says that “a little simple arithmetic shows that” Reed’s claim that he will distribute 25 million voter guides in 117,000 churches is “almost certainly not true.”
He starts with the estimated the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there are estimated 350,000 religious congregations in the United States, which as he no doubt correctly points out, “many of which would have nothing with Reed’s group.” He also strips away the now demonized mainstream Protestant congregations whom Evangelicals seem to believe are doing Satan’s work these days, and discounts the 24,000 Catholic and Orthodox congregations as well.
And even while Ralph Reed brags that he has over $10 million to throw around on his efforts this year (Adele Stan makes much of this sum), Boston points out that $10 million isn’t much in a time “Sheldon Anderson, a casino magnate, donated $10 million to a Romney Super-PAC in one day.” But while he admits that “None of this means that the Religious Right isn’t a powerful political force or that it doesn’t have influence,” Boston points out that,
Reed has a history of exaggerating what his groups will do or even what they are capable of doing. Rather than just write down and print his claims, journalists should engage in some basic fact checking. If they did, they would quickly see that Reed’s numbers simply don’t add up.
The New York Times itself concluded by pointing out that there are even Republicans who doubt Reed’s ability “to mobilize a new evangelical army” – an army, remember, which Reed himself said this January was a myth. But the Times also points to a troubling statistic from Virginia where exit polls from the 2009 governor’s race “showed that evangelicals’ share of the electorate had jumped to 34 percent from 28 percent in 2008.”
There is no doubt that Reed has, and can be again, the voice of Evangelicals. He is a snake-oil salesman, and to judge from the success of people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Tony Perkins, David Barton, and others, that seems to be what it takes to mobilize believers in a fantasy America: lies to fire up people who like to believe in lies. It makes sense, in a sick sort of way.
Whether, like a heavy metal band, Reed can make a comeback from his mid-90s glory days, remains to be seen. He says he won’t be out-Obama’d again (as he was in 2008), but then Obama didn’t have to resort to breaking campaign finance laws or violating IRS regulations, to win, and Reed seemingly can’t win without doing either.
A vocal and intolerant minority will use whatever tricks are at its disposal to triumph over a more tolerant but laid-back majority. Germany in 1932 proved that this can happen. It would be irresponsible to suggest that it cannot happen here. If Reed can fire up enough Evangelicals and should Obama fail to fire up enough liberals and progressives, who knows what might happen?
But Reed is fighting a two-front war. Not only against the Obama Campaign but against his own candidate’s campaign. Can he push forward two steps for every one step Romney takes backward? For the record, as of this writing, Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition has 6,892 followers on Twitter and 11,228 likes on Facebook, which is much fewer than PoliticusUSA’s 20,226 Facebook likes. You can make of that what you will.
Just remember that in Germany’s 1932 elections, the party with the second-most votes came out on top, because they were the party of authoritarian fanatics willing to do anything to obtain power. Complacency is as much the enemy for American liberals as it was for German liberals in 1932. America, fortunately, does not have a parliamentary form of government, but we do have our own share of authoritarian fanatics. Liberals cannot afford to fall into complacency as they did in 2010; not while there are cultic charlatans like Reed, who doesn’t even know what a moral compass looks like, working the crowd.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.