Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Great Scary Read.

Speaking of friends who write scary things:

Jeff Sharlet has a new book coming out: The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

Read about it here.
Order it here.

Some comments about Jeff and his book:

"The stupidest of their students become journalists… [such as] Jeff Sharlet.”
-- Ann Coulter, writing on liberal professors in Godless.

"Of all the important studies of the American right, The Family is undoubtedly the most eloquent. It is also quite possibly the most terrifying. This story of a secretive and unmerciful church of "key men" goes way beyond Jesus Christ, CEO—it's Jesus Christ, lobbyist; Jesus Christ, strikebreaker; and maybe even Jesus Christ, fuhrer."
--Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas?

"This is a gripping, utterly original narrative about an influential evangelical elite that few Americans even know exists. Jeff Sharlet's fine reporting unveils a group whose history stretches from the corporate foes of the New Deal to the congressional lawmakers who gather each year at the National Prayer Breakfast. The 'Christian Right' will never look the same again." --Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: the Life of William Jennings Bryan and The Populist Persuasion: An American History

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A Family Crisis.

Today's Sunday Opinion Section of the New York Times asks the former candidates for the 2008 presidential campaign, what they would be talking about if they were still running. Eight responded: Joe Biden (D) points to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Tommy Thompson (R) looks at health care; Christopher Dodd (D) notes our crumbling infrastructure; Dennis Kucinich (D) says we should address the foreclosure crisis; and Tom Tancredo (R) predictably points out immigration.

Sam Brownback (R) writes that he would, as he did during his campaign, focus on A Family in Crisis:

Marriage is in crisis. Divorce and adultery, cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births, and a mentality that views children as a burden are all part of the problem.

Families should be able to keep more of what they earn and have more options in terms of education. We need to enact common sense measures to restrict abortion, encourage adoption and promote abstinence. We need to encourage broadcast decency and to address the effects of violence and pornography on our culture. We need a culture that knows right from wrong, encourages virture and discourages vice.

Whose virtue and whose vice? What struck me about Brownback's piece - beyond the doublespeak of families keeping more of what they earn (do not raise taxes) and more options in education (Christians are oppressed by separation of church and state in public schools) - is that we are accustomed to hearing this kind of language not only from our sitting president but from the Christian Right. We on the left too often understand this talk as misguided but well-intentioned. Our position that everyone should be free to voice and practice their religious beliefs has prevented us from recognizing the damage that the right has done to our personal freedoms.

I got a wake up call when I attended a talk sponsored by World Can't Wait at Think Cafe near NYU on Tuesday. Christina Page (spokesperson for, Kathryn Joyce (a dear friend from NYU and author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, 2009), and Esther Kaplan (investigative editor at The Nation and author of With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House, 2004) were the speakers.

Page reminded us that the 2008 election decides the fate of Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court, though currently sitting right of center, would have the muscle to overturn RvW with one more conservative on its bench. Each sitting president generally appoints 1 to 2 justices.

Kathryn's work always scares me. Her two latest articles in The Nation have addressed movements among the Christian Right: Quiverfull (the subject of her forthcoming book) encourages women to have more Christian babies to tip the voting scales in favor of more conservative and godly policies (; Demographic Winter proponents suggest that the declining birthrates among white westerners is leaving us open to marginalization by those in the rest of the world, predominantly non-white and non-Christian, who have high birthrates (

Esther Kaplan came to the talk armed with a list of actions that should be made immediately by an incoming president in order to restore personal freedoms and effective policies:

The Healthy Marriages Initiative must be ended
Partial Birth Abortion Act must be repealed
Comprehensive Sex Education must be government funded
International Aids relief must not be stifled by the gag rule
Abstinance spending must be diverted to programs that work
Faith based initiatives must be eliminated
and the list goes on

What we kind and uninformed voters on the left have allowed this administration to do is funnel billions of dollars into ideological programs that are misguided, ineffective and meant to legislate personal freedom.

How can you be hostile to a healthy marriages initiative? International Aids relief? Abstinance? Faith based initiatives? Read the fine print. Extraordinary amounts of money are now not reaching needy Americans (or needy people the world over) because these initiatives and laws, while rather benignly named, restrict what information can be given out or how recipients must act.

The abortion issue is only the face of the right's agenda. Brownback's NY Times piece today is not nice talk about what a family should look like, a simple reference to our elegaic (and inaccurate) cliche's of the 1950s family. It is a direct declaration of war on facts, personal freedom, the lower classes, women and children, and non-Christians. Restricting abortion, encouraging adoption and promoting abstinence are not "common sense measures". The real intent of the right?: to legislate what families should look like, what sex is appropriate, what knowledge we and our children should have access to, and how our tax money should be used to address national and international health challenges.

And you know what, toothless left? They're winning.