Sunday, December 4, 2011

More Gems from the Thanksgiving Family Forum

In a prior post, readers were treated to startling quotes from Republican presidential candidates from the first few minutes of the Thanksgiving Family Forum. In this post, we have even more right-wing rhetoric to share from CitizenLink's edited video of the roundtable discussion, available at

First, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spoke of values and religion, conflating secularism with an absence of values. He claimed that a faction in the U.S. "which believes thing which are profoundly wrong" is determined to destroy values. At the 19:00 mark, he had this to say.

"I don't think liberty means libertine. I don't think liberty means absence of values. None of the Founding Fathers thought liberty meant that. The pursuit of happiness in the 18th century enlightment meant wisdom and virtue ... The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to organize Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin says 'religion, morality, and knowledge being important,' we need schools. It was the Pelosi House that cut off the first three words, and said 'knowledge being important.' None of the founding fathers would have said that education without character is useful. They would have said it is in fact dangerous. Now what you have today is an outgrowth of the French Revolution. Gertrude Himmelfarb brilliant book on three enlightenments captures it perfectly. The French Revolution was an anti-clerical, anti-God rejection of the larger world in favor of secularism. It has dominated our academic world. Our academic world supplies our news media and our courts and Hollywood, and so you have a faction in America today which believes thing which are profoundly wrong. Now that is a fight. That's not a passivity. In a culture in which they know what they're doing and they are determined to destroy our value system, and we are passive or confused, is a world in which America is going to stay in deep trouble."
Gingrich, like so many other right-wing commentators, painted the world in black-and-white, binary terms. In this vision of the world, forces of faith and morality struggle against immoral secularism, with little room for gray area or thoughtful analysis.

At the 34:20 mark, Gingrich lashed out at the Occupy movement, caricaturing demonstrators as entitled, lazy protesters who need to bathe. The fact that Occupy demonstrators might have valid grievances, pay taxes, or defy stereotypes was not discussed.
"All the Occupy movements start with the premise that we all owe them everything. They take over a public park they didn't pay for, to go nearby to use bathrooms they didn't pay for, to beg for food from places they don't want to pay for, to obstruct those who are going to work to pay the taxes to sustain the bathrooms and sustain the park so they can self-righteously explain that they are the paragons of virtue to which we owe everything. Now that is a pretty good symptom of how much the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country and why you need to reassert something as simple as saying to them, 'go get a job right after you get a bath.'"
Other participants waxed poetic about the "Judeo-Christian" values that supposedly undergird American society. At the 21:19 mark, Texas Governor Rick Perry told the audience that "Judeo-Christian" values need to be the values guiding the issues faced by Congress and the president.
"If you are a pastor, you need to be in the pulpit every Sunday, and frankly every day that you have the opportunity to be in that pulpit, talking about values, because values are going to get decided. Somebody's values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the president of the United States is going to deal with, and the question is whose values? And let me tell you, it needs to be our values, values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers."
Similarly, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann argued that American exceptionalism is grounded in "the Judeo-Christian ethic" and that the Ten Commandments allegedly formed the foundation of American law. These comments were framed in her larger commentary on the "censorship" of Americans pastors, who must abstain from endorsing candidates to maintain their tax-exempt status. At the 24:08 mark, Bachmann had this to say.
"I think probably the the greatest amount of censorship in this country today is in the pulpits of our churches, because we have a law that limits pastors for what they can say about politics in the pulpit. That's not the American way ... That is the First Amendment, allowing pastors to say whatever they want to say in the pulpit, because one thing they recognize is the the whole concept of American exceptionalism, and American exceptionialism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were the foundation for our law."
By branding restrictions on clergy endorsement of candidates as "censorship," Bachmann fails to consider the role this restriction plays in safeguarding church-state separation. Furthermore, by linking America's alleged exceptionalism with "the Judeo-Christian ethic," Bachmann seems to suggest that Christianity is what makes the U.S. strong and unique. Bachmann's statement should be troubling to those who value church-state separation and religious diversity in the U.S.

The candidates' comments at the Thanksgiving Family Forum troubled me for several reasons. First, several candidates conflated American identity with Christianity -- presumably right-wing Christianity -- thereby excluding Americans of other faiths or no faith. To exclude non-Christians from national identity in a religiously diverse society is to promote division. Second, political rhetoric at the Thanksgiving Family Forum demonized secularism and liberalism, promoting a right-wing Christian vision of the state. Sadly, none of this rhetoric was new, as this batch of candidates has made similar statements in the past. In short, American voters need to take these candidates at their word, and remember their theocratic rhetoric in November 2012.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Religion Dispatches: Gingrich’s Anti-Secularism Greatest Hits

Slate: Rule of Lord

Def Shepherd: The GOP Thanksgiving Family Forum Debate: The Giblets


  1. Lordy, lordy, lordy. They can't even get past the "thou shalt not bear false witness" one.

  2. Uh, I think that public park was paid for by everyone's TAXES, but why let a little reality stand in the way of some entrenched pomposity?!

  3. Oh, to have a working time machine that could allow for a little get together of these wingnuts and our Founding Fathers!

    Bachmann, Gingrich, and Perry sound more like failed comedians immitating Archie Bunker than public servants.

    Yes, Newt, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If more people had a little of it you guys would lose your stock-in-trade.

  4. So, to Gingrich, the 18th century pursuit of happiness meant wisdom and virtue, and yet the French Revolution (coincidentally also in the 18th century) was anti-clerical and anti-God? I think that he'd better check his math again. I doubt he recognizes it, or perhaps he does but does not care, but his words are pushing for the establishment of Christianity as our national religion by suggesting that schools should start doing the work of churches.

    As for Bachmann, I'd love for he to cite in American law where it is that you must only worship God, that you can't make idols, that you can't blaspheme, and that you can't work on the Sabbath, you know, the first four of the Ten Commandments which serve as the foundation of our law. I say left the churches speak politically, and take away their tax exempt status at the same time.

  5. Many conservative religious movements like to define the world in black and white, good vs evil terms. Gingrich and Bachmann understand and are playing into that. (Perhaps Bachmann actually believes it.) Anyhow, they've certainly know how to use fear to their advantage.

  6. Murr -- Ain't that the truth!

    Knatolee -- Since when did the Religious Right let reality get in the way of a nasty sound bite? Sadly, Gingrich isn't the only right-winger who has stereotyped and demonized the Occupiers.

    Doug -- Indeed. They neglect so many facts about the founding fathers, choosing instead to mould them into whatever they want them to be.

    Wise Fool -- Oh, I'm sure Gingrich knows exactly what he's saying. In a race with such high stakes, I'm convinced that he chooses his words deliberately. He's trying to appeal to right-wing Christians with his rhetoric, and it seems to be working. As for Bachmann, she's full of nonsense, and she has a skewed view of history.

    Donna -- Fear is a well-worn tool in the Religious Right toolbox, be it fear of secularists, fear of gays, fear of Muslims, etc.

  7. It seems there is a whole industry in this country engaged in manufacturing "traditional Judeo-Christian values" for people who are too poorly educated to know a Judeo-Christian value from a Grecco-Roman value -- or any other value.

  8. Paul -- Too true. People attribute values to Christianity that actually emerged out of Greek, Roman, or Enlightenment thought. This is why historical literacy is so important.

  9. Yeah,it really irritates me that our country seems to be discarding the values of the Enlightenment -- which are largely the values it was founded on. Or am I wrong about that Ahab. Am I wrong to think that Enlightenment values are under assault today?

  10. So Newt, the guy who cheated on and abandoned his cancer-stricken wife, is now the authority on morality and values?

    That's rich.

  11. Newt knows what everyone should do. He knows what preachers should preach, how we should handle every problem we face, even how poor children should earn their education. So why don't I believe him as an engineer of smaller government?

    Ever read Scott Peck's People of The Lie?

  12. Yeah, you're probably right about Gingrich. He's smart enough to know what he's doing, even if he's not moral enough to think it's inappropriate.

  13. Paul -- You're not wrong at all.

    Cognitive Dissenter -- The hypocrisy is just mind-blowing, isn't it? What stuns me is that his supporters seem to have no problem with this.

    Wise Fool -- Best to keep an eye on folks like him.

    Nance -- This is what makes so many right-wing calls for "small government" so disingenuous.

    I haven't read PEOPLE OF THE LIE, but I just looked it up, and now I want to. Thanks for the book tip.


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