Opinion

The Great Debate

Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom forum features a kinder, gentler Republican message

June 27, 2014

 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie walks out to shakes hands with Ralph Reed after he spoke at the second day of the 5th annual Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" Policy Conference in Washington

The great American composer and critic Virgil Thomson used to say that when he went to a concert, he didn’t listen to music. He listened for music.

That was a good way to approach the latest convention of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C. There was music in the air, especially for those who still hope there is some common ground in our deeply divided republic, but you had to listen hard.

“Every day of this presidency has been an impeachable offense,” said Monica Crowley of Fox News. “This is the deliberate takedown of America.”

Michelle Bachmann said that President Barack Obama’s most lasting legacy would be “the establishment of lawlessness in the United States of America,” at which point a man in a Revolutionary War uniform and tricorn hat waved a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag and shouted “Right!”

Through all the racket, though, came the quieter but distinct voices of serious people with serious ideas. This was surprising, not only because political discourse in the United States has grown so rancid but also because — as Thomson’s approach to music criticism suggests — everything good comes as something of a surprise.

Before an audience that could be counted on to cheer every reference to government dysfunction and overreach — and at a time when elections sometimes seem reducible to an argument about whether or not Washington is a positive evil — it was surprising just to hear leaders of Republican conservatism concede that government might be good for something.

Supporters of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran embrace after run-off victory in Jackson, MississippiAnd some of them went a lot further than that.

Utah Senator Mike Lee, who in 2010 defeated three-term GOP incumbent Bob Bennett in one of the Tea Party’s first big upsets, talked not about reducing the cost of government so much as moving the budget to states and local communities, to get government closer to the problems that need solutions. “The primary goal should always be to build a functioning government that works for all Americans,” he said, “especially for the poor and the middle class.”

Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum castigated fellow Republicans for “not connecting with the people who are hurting in this country….[I]f you listen to the message that we’ve been delivering, it’s all about the business owners, all about the corporations, all about Wall Street.”

Rand Paul, too, broke Ronald Reagan’s hallowed Eleventh Commandment and talked openly about the flaws of fellow Republicans — specifically, those who confuse the search for peace with weakness and those who exempt themselves from laws they pass and vote for bills they haven’t read. He called for term limits, described his political enemies as “bipartisan” and, unlike some at the conference who linked freedom exclusively to Christianity, cited the founding fathers’ call for civic virtue rather than adherence to any single creed.

Almost every speaker offered full-throated support for the pro-life position on abortion, but notable Republican pro-choice figures — Condoleezza Rice, Olympia Snowe, Tom Ridge, Colin Powell — were proudly invoked as an example of the party’s commitment to inclusion.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in his first appearance before the Faith and Freedom Coalition, talked about a “culture of life” that looks beyond the unborn child. “When we say we’re pro-life, we need to be pro-life for the entire life. We need to stand up for the hurt and the wounded. We need to be there for even for those who stumble and fall, to lift them up….To me that’s the true meaning of being pro-life.”

Arthur Brooks, president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, devoted virtually his entire speech to poverty in America, to the obligation to fight for “those who need it most. The rich will be fine, because they always are. But the poor need you. That’s why we’re here — because they’re being left behind. Some will say, ‘Yes, but they voted for the other guys.’ Who cares! Patriots fight for everybody, no matter how they vote….”

“I know you’re ready to fight for the free-enterprise agenda, for American greatness,” he said, “but that’s not the question. The question is whether you have enough love written on your heart to fight for everybody. Everybody. No exceptions.”

It is easy to be cynical about what politicians say, especially in an election year. But Brooks came with the poll numbers.

“Sixteen percent of Americans say that the Republican Party is compassionate,” he said. “Sixteen percent. What was the only piece of data you needed to call the 2012 presidential election? ‘Who cares more about people like you?’ That was all you needed, because it went two to one for Obama….We have to turn that around.”

In a week when black Democrats in Mississippi turned out to help save an old white Republican from a challenger perceived as reactionary and insensitive to their needs, it wasn’t hard to see how that might work.

The theme of the Faith and Freedom conference was “The Road to Majority,” meaning a mid-term election this year that would return power to Senate Republicans. But this new drift of GOP rhetoric seems aimed at more than a few Senate seats.

******

I welcome your comments, reactions, amplifications, relevant links and ideas for future columns. You can reach me at jimgaines.reuters@gmail.com.

 

PHOTOS: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (L) walks out to shakes hands with Ralph Reed after he spoke at the second day of the 5th annual Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” Policy Conference in Washington, June 20, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Mississippi State Representative Rita Martinson (L) and Jennifer Hall, supporters of Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, embrace after results were announced that Cochran defeated Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel during a victory celebration in a run-off election in Jackson, Mississippi June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Lee Celano

 

 

Comments
13 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Freedom does not exist, and no politician wants that for you. The purpose to repeating certain words is to make you think they are real things. Even if you think that partial freedom, only limited by your societal responsibilities exists, you are delusional. Ralph Reed and every other manipulator are here to enslave you.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive
 

As long as the GOP maintains their “no new taxes” pledge that enables corporations & the wealthiest of the wealthy to pay little to no federal income tax; it’s attacks on the women’s health delivery system in order to deny women access to birth control; it’s anti-immigration policy; it’s veiled racist language & appeals to the racists voters; I won’t see them as kinder and gentler. From my perspective as an independent voter and a moderate individual, the GOP has allowed the far right crowd to take over their party & to retard the economic progress of the majority of Americans. From my strong beliefs in a loving and kind Creator, the right-wing GOP dominating the party’s policies are not true “Christians” but fundamentalists who distort Christian teachings.

Posted by ecarter | Report as abusive
 

A very good opinion Mr. Gaines. I hope to see more from you. I truly hope that a leader stands up that will speak as you indicate. That will lead all of the people, not just a voting block or two. But I’m not sure it is possible any longer. The country is under corporate America’s thumb. We no longer have candidates, we have political flunkies. President Obama slipped through the cracks and was able to become president, but since then those cracks and many others have been well sealed. No candidate that is not blessed by a party will ever be able to make an impact. I dare say it would be personally and truly dangerous for someone to try.
But I will keep hoping for real change.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

From a survey whose results I saw a few years ago the Tea Partiers are the remnants of the Christian Conservatives who still believe that George W. was a great president. As to Ralph Reed, the man is little more than a shameless opportunist who preys on the Christian Conservatives by pretending to be some sort of kingmaker when what he really is is interested in enriching himself through political connections. Ask him how his good buddy Jack Abramoff is doing nowadays, and how that North Marianas deal went.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive
 

‘Utah Senator Mike Lee, who in 2010 defeated three-term GOP incumbent Bob Bennett in one of the Tea Party’s first big upsets, talked not about reducing the cost of government so much as moving the budget to states and local communities, to get government closer to the problems that need solutions. “The primary goal should always be to build a functioning government that works for all Americans,” he said, “especially for the poor and the middle class.”’ First time ever these people have shown any interest at all in the poor and middle class other than as more rubes to shill.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive
 

President Obama should go on Air Force One to visit Venezuela, where there are frequent power outages affecting much of the country, and there are widespread shortages of basics, due to Maduro’s and Chavez’ socialist policies. He should see how well socialism works, in person. I doubt if he would be honest enough, or well-educated enough, to understand how the government’s price controls, rationing, excessive spending, etc., that he would find has gravely messed up the economy. However, it would still be good exposure for him to see what happens when you have a system that relies on government autocrats issuing economic decrees all the time, instead of one where the state fosters and promotes a mainly free market approach for letting people get on with their lives.

Posted by ExDemocrat | Report as abusive
 

The author really, really had to stretch even to find a few Republicans willing to give a tiny amount of lip service to anything kinder and gentler. It looked like the vast majority at this conclave were still competing for most extreme wing nut.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive
 

Jim – your either a sucker or a promoter.

Ralph Reed is about politics from the religious pulpit. He could never see the other side and allow a woman the choice to do what she thinks is best for her. His faith is the ONLY faith.

Not to mention he has a history of money laundering!!! Old friends of Abramoff…

sick

Posted by michaelryan | Report as abusive
 

a kinder and gentler message from republicans to the public? not unlike a rapist giving his victim a rose first before committing his crime…

i see nothing “kind and gentle” about the anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-obama, anti-middle class, anti-poor, anti-healthcare, anti-environment, anti-woman, anti-jobs message this group of extremists is pushing onto america through their ACTIONS.

i was always raised with the saying, “actions speak louder than words”. and the noise from the republicans actions is deafening, and drowns out the lip service meant to solicit more votes, nothing else.

Posted by tatman | Report as abusive
 

I’m old enough to know a scam when I see one, and this is a SCAM, people! These GOPers will say anything to get into office, but once they’re there, watch what they do. It’s all ‘radical right-wing social engineering’ (c)Newt Gingrich) with them. Vote Anti-R, for your own sake.

Posted by SunnyDaySam | Report as abusive
 

The GOP/TP is the Party of Nothing. They answer to Grover Norquist and the extreme wrong-wing ONLY. If you disagree, tell us ONE constructive the Republican’ts have done for the Average American in the last 10 years. They’ve only obstructed and sabotaged our economy.

Posted by SunnyDaySam | Report as abusive
 

I think most of the commenters here can’t see past their party affiliation. What a shame. If you can only here one side of a conversation why join it in the first place?
This country desperately needs more Americans and far less republicans and democrats.
You have been divided. Can’t you see that?

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Wolf putting on the sheep clothes.

Posted by DbPolk | Report as abusive
 

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