Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, interviewed Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush was interviewed in person at the Send North America Conference in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, while Marco Rubio was interviewed via video.
In an article at the ERLC website, Moore expressed his eagerness to interview the candidates while throwing out buzzwords such as "religious liberty" and "family stability".
"Evangelicals realize they can no longer consider themselves part of some silent majority, where our First Amendment freedoms are assumed and guaranteed. Instead, evangelicals want to know which candidates offer a clear, coherent vision of religious liberty and have a plan to defend it when the very idea is contested in American politics. Evangelicals are looking for leaders who not only understand their convictions about human dignity and family stability but have plans to address them, and this event will provide the opportunity for precisely this kind of discussion with some of the leading presidential candidates, and I am greatly looking forward to it."ERLC posted a video of the Bush interview on YouTube, from which I've harvested several quotes from Jeb Bush on "religious freedom", reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, and poverty.
At the 1:17 mark, Bush answered a question from Moore regarding "religious freedom" -- that is, the right for business owners to veil discriminatory practices with religious belief. Bush depicted such business owners as beleaguered Americans being pressured to keep their convictions out of the public square, rather than people who discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
"This is perhaps the most important discussion we need to have as a country going forward. The recent ruling as it relates to marriage puts into doubt now religious conscience, acting on your faith, not just faith. In fact, people will say it's okay to be religious. Just do it in your church and do it at home, but don't act on your faith in the public square, because that's discriminatory against others that may not agree with it. It's the other way around. This is the first freedom. This is a foundational freedom in this country ... You take this one away, it's very easy to imagine other freedoms being taken away as well."For Bush, "religious freedom" also extends to employers' denial of contraception coverage to employees. At the 4:32 mark, he applauded the Little Sisters of the Poor for their resistance to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate (calling them the Little Sisters of Charity by mistake).
"The best example is the Little Sisters of Charity, [a] group of nuns that are compelled to have contraceptives in their health care plan, and the courts are ruling against them for this. I mean, this is the insistence of HHS, Big Brother telling the Little Sisters that they have to have contraceptives, going totally against their own faith as devout Catholics? It gets absurd pretty quick, and if you persuade people with these kind of facts and stories, I think you can win people over."At the 11:01 mark, Moore and Bush discussed the controversial Planned Parenthood videos that have seized the media spotlight. Bush made his disdain for Planned Parenthood clear and vowed to defund the organization if elected president. He assured listeners that if elected president, budgets will be passed smoothly, "and in that budget, I can promise you, there will not be five hundred million dollars going to Planned Parenthood."
MOORE: Now I'm sure you've seen--if you've not see the videos, you've seen reports of these Planned Parenthood undercover videos--First, Bush conveniently forgot that the federal government cannot fund abortion anyway due to the Hyde Amendment. Second, his comment about women's health issues not needing $500 million in funding shows how little importance he assigns to women's health, something enlightened voters will remember on Election Day. Finally, many communities have a dearth of community health organizations, meaning that many women would be left without accessible reproductive health care if Planned Parenthood were defunded. To boot, not all community health organizations provide abortion services, so if Planned Parenthood were defunded, many women would be left without access to abortions. Does Jeb Bush really want more unwanted pregnancies (and all the problems that come with them) in America?
BUSH: Oh Lord.
MOORE: --that have really shocked the conscience of the nation right now. There was a vote that failed in the United States Senate yesterday to defund Planned Parenthood. Would you think that we have a continuing resolution coming up to fund the government? Given the atrocity of these children being destroyed with such callous disregard for their lives, shouldn't we make that an issue and say 'not one more red cent to Planned Parenthood'?
BUSH: We should, and the next president should defund Planned Parenthood. [Applause] I have the benefit of having been governor, and we did defund Planned Parenthood when I was governor. We tried to create a culture of life across the board. The argument against this is, well, women's health issues are going to be-- you're attacking, it's a war on women and you're attacking women's health issues. You could take dollar for dollar--although I'm not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women's health issues--but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations that exist, federally sponsored community health organizations to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues, but abortion should not be funded by the government, any government in my mind. [Applause]
Observers were quick to condemn the insensitive comment, according to the Associated Press. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called Bush "absolutely, unequivocally wrong" on Twitter. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders chided Bush as well, tweeting that "We actually need a heck of a lot more than $3 per person for women's health care". Bush later issued a statement insisting that he "misspoke", according to Talking Points Memo.
Moore played devil's advocate at the 13:25 mark, asking Bush how he would react to claims that his policies would harm vulnerable citizens.
MOORE: What would you say to people who would say, well yes, but if you're repealing Obamacare, you're dealing with entitlement reform and so forth, we have vulnerable single mothers in our communities, including in many of the urban areas that these pastors are serving, aren't we turning them over to Planned Parenthood when we don't have a robust support system economically around them?In reality, the federal government does not act in isolation of community organizations. Federal funds allow many social service organizations to exist. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the organization Bush criticized earlier in the interview, provides countless grants to service providers. Bush's response to Moore's question did not provide a coherent blueprint for protecting America's most vulnerable citizens.
BUSH: Look, this is a place where my personally belief is that life should be cherished. It's a gift from God from beginning to end, and if people are in vulnerable circumstances, government has a duty to help. Maybe more effectively than creating a culture of dependency around people, maybe we help people that are acting on their heart, like many of you do, which I applaud. There's many better ways to do what government does today in isolation of the big and caring hearts of our community, but certainly we as a just and loving and generous society should have a government that puts the most vulnerable in our society in the front of the line.
In conclusion, the Moore-Bush interview left me unimpressed. While Bush has better manners than a certain other presidential contender hogging the limelight, he brings no fresh ideas to the presidential race. His stance on "religious freedom" and reproductive rights will appeal to the Religious Right, but will also alienate women, religious minorities, and LGBTQ voters. In short, I doubt that Bush can win the 2016 election by disregarding so many important constituencies and espousing a platform at odds with 21st century America.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
The New Civil Rights Movement: Jeb Bush Says 'Not Sure We Need A Half-Billion Dollars For Women's Health' Then Says He Misspoke?
Think Progress: With Declining Evangelical Power, Only 2 Candidates Attend Southern Baptist Forum
Politico: Jeb Bush’s ad-lib offers Dems another gift