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2012-08-27

Top GOP Leaders Tout Fundamentalist Views in Bid to Drum Up Massive Religious Voter Turnout

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker both spoke on Sunday at a celebration of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which has launched a massive push to get conservative religious voters to the polls in November. We discuss the religious right and its impact on elections with Adele Stan, longtime political reporter and Washington bureau chief for AlterNet. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Gingrich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker both spoke later Sunday at a celebration of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which has launched a massive push to get conservative religious voters to the polls in November.

To talk more about the religious right and its impact on the elections, we’re joined by Adele Stan, longtime political reporter, Washington bureau chief for AlterNet. She’s here in Tampa to cover the Republican National Convention.

Adele, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of these events and the comments that we have been listening to, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also big tea party gathering that took place here at the River Church in Tampa.

ADELE STAN: Yes, thanks for having me, Amy.

Yeah, it was quite a day yesterday. My colleague Peter Montgomery and I covered no fewer than four events, right-wing events, some more secular, some more religious. With the Faith and Freedom Coalition event and Gingrich’s comments, I mean, it’s almost as if any issue, they will kind of, you know, carve out that has any kind of emotional pull to people, and they will just simply say—and Gingrich is the master of this—you know, that Obama is the most extreme, whether it’s true or not. And we’re in this kind of post-fact universe, because the people who are listening to Newt Gingrich, who are listening to Ralph Reed, who are in these rooms, are willing to take their word for it. I mean, they’re not going to go and read the Democratic platform. They’re not reading the regulation that Obama sought to loosen for the states to be more creative in getting people back to work. You know, so they’re just going to take the word of their leaders, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to stick with Newt Gingrich for a moment—

ADELE STAN: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: —and turn to his speech, the part where he attacked President Obama’s foreign policy record. He criticized Obama for not being tougher on Iran.

ADELE STAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: He also said the Arab Spring has given way to, quote, "an anti-Christian spring."

ADELE STAN: Right. Well, this is all part of the—

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the clip.

NEWT GINGRICH: Today, in Tehran, after all the president’s language about isolation, sanctions, etc., 120 countries are meeting in Tehran. Forty heads of state are going to Tehran. The head of the United Nations is going to Tehran. And they are laughing at the Obama administration, which looks totally weak, totally foolish and totally out of touch with reality, because it doesn’t have the courage to stand up and tell the truth. And so, I think we need to have a real commitment to a president who will confront our enemies, support our allies, and have the courage to tell the American people the truth about what’s going on around the world.

And while we’re talking about the Middle East, let’s be quite clear: the Arab Spring, in all too many countries, has become an anti-Christian spring. But you wouldn’t notice it from the Obama State Department. We need a commitment that religious freedom involves everybody. It doesn’t just involve us tolerating radical Islamists while they dictate to the rest of us what we should accept. And if you look—if you look at some of what’s going on in Egypt today, you have to be concerned. This is not fun and games. These are mortal threats to the future of this country, mortal threats to the future of our allies, and the re-election of Obama would be a disaster in that sense.

AMY GOODMAN: There was much talk at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Sunday about Iran and Israel. I want to play a comment of the coalition’s founder, Ralph Reed.

RALPH REED: In Iran, thousands of centrifuges spin, as we gather here today, at nuclear installations in Natanz and [Fordow] and other nuclear sites all across that country. And today, the most brutal and bloody dictatorship in the bloodiest and most dangerous region of the world stands on the threshold of possessing the most dangerous weapons in the history of mankind. In Egypt, the Arab Spring has given way to a cold and bitter radical Islamic winter, and the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the leading terrorist-sponsoring organizations in the world—and an ally of Iran, by the way—has taken control of the presidency and the parliament.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ralph Reed. Adele Stan, talk about what they were saying, this very serious focus on Iran—there was also a great deal of focus on Israel—and who Ralph Reed is.

ADELE STAN: Well, what—it was quite astonishing, though, the amount of—there was a real focus on this particular issue of Iran and of the Arab Spring and about Israel. And, in fact, I had never seen before at one of these religious right events the Israeli flag actually on the stage at the event. Reed—this was not a typical topic for Reed, that I know of. And what I see happening with this is, well, it serves several different purposes. One is the othering of Obama, right, that we’ve been seeing with, you know, the notion that he might be a crypto-Muslim and that he’s not quite American and all of that stuff. And then, if you couple that with the sort of Islamo—what we would call Islamophobia, fear of Islam, that is kind of stoked within the religious right, it—that also feeds a very secular neocon foreign policy, which is all about, you know, being the strongman in the Middle East for the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And the evangelical support for Israel? The whole issue of the flag? There was a prayer that was said for Israel.

ADELE STAN: Right, Jim Garlow, who’s actually known for being anti-gay. That’s usually his shtick, you know? Yeah, what you have going on there—and with the religious right, of course, this whole issue around Israel has also been theologized now for the last several years, having to do with when Jesus will return, and Israel has to be in existence. And if you can convince people that Israel is—you know, its existence is threatened—and it is, too; I mean, there are real threats, so, you know, you don’t have to go really far to make people frightened for the future of Israel. But if you can convince this particular demographic of people that Israel’s destruction is imminent, then that screws up Jesus’ return to the earth, so it’s very, very deep cultural—you’re challenging very, very deep cultural beliefs. So it makes it very emotional. It makes it almost impossible for them to support Obama and see him as anything other than—

AMY GOODMAN: And this all comes at the same time that Israel is amping up in all the Israeli papers—

ADELE STAN: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —the possibility of attacking Iran.

ADELE STAN: Of attacking Iran, yes. So it sets a stage.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to another issue that was raised. Adele Stan, I want to ask you about the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s massive push to mobilize voters on the religious right in order to elect candidates like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who pushed the transvaginal ultrasound—

ADELE STAN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —became famous for that bill. Ralph Reed spoke Sunday about how the coalition is getting voters to the polls in November.

RALPH REED: The first step is to register the unregistered. Yesterday—actually, two days ago, we dropped in the mail this mailing. It says, "Get off the bench, and get in the game." This mailing says, "Get off the bench, and get in the game. Make your vote count." This is landing next week in 1.97 million households in 10 states all across America. We’re backing that with over four million phone calls, from Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Now, Mike’s not going to be personally calling four million people. He’s—he’s recorded a message.

After that, we move on to the second stage, which is to educate and inform. And we’re distributing 30 million nonpartisan voter guides. We’ve identified 17 million faith-based voters in 15 states living in 11 million households. Every one of those households is going to be contacted by this organization—seven to 12 times. We’re going to mail them. We’re going to text them. We’re going to email them. We’re going to phone them. And if they haven’t voted by November 6, we’re going to get in a car, and we’re going to drive to their house, and we’re going to get them to the polls.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ralph Reed again. Adele Stan?

ADELE STAN: Yes, well, this is Ralph Reed’s big comeback. And what he’s doing—

AMY GOODMAN: He was the founder of the Christian Coalition.

ADELE STAN: That’s right, and he was, you know, quite famous for the ground operation that the Christian Coalition built. And by "ground operation," we mean getting out the vote. And on the other hand, you also have now this broadened movement, thanks to the tea party movement, right? which was, you know, created to sort of bring in people who might not be quite so religious. And Reed is really working both sides of that street, together with Americans for Prosperity, which is run by his old business partner, Tim Phillips. They were partners in Century Strategies, which Ralph Reed is still a principal in this consulting firm.

And what they’re doing is they’re—they don’t deal with—especially Reed, his deal is not to get—not to look for the pursuadable voter. His deal is to identify people who he knows are going to vote his way if he can get them to the polls, and to get them. And so, he—in the Christian Coalition days, you were reporting about the voter—the bulletins that they put in church bulletins, these voter guides, right—they’re supposed to be nonpartisan, but they’re, you know, couched in very—they list the candidates’ positions in very, you know, skewed rhetoric. Well, they’re still doing that, but they’re also using texting and microtargeting and all kinds of high-tech—

AMY GOODMAN: And Americans for Prosperity’s links to the Koch brothers?

ADELE STAN: Yes, well, David Koch is the chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and he’s the founder of Americans for Prosperity. It’s assumed that he still backs them, but we can’t know that because their tax status, you know, prevents us from knowing.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the tea party, and they gathered last night at the River Church. I want to turn to another voice from the religious right, Minnesota congressmember, former Republican presidential contender, Michele Bachmann, who spoke at this event at a tea party unity rally held at the River Church in Tampa. She talked about how the tea party has influenced this year’s Republican platform.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: I’m here tonight to say thank you and take a bow, because if you’ve been watching the Republican Party platform this week, the tea party has been all over that platform, because these concepts—taxed enough already, don’t spend more than what you take in, and follow the Constitution—are now a part of the Republican Party platform, thanks to the tea party.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Michele Bachmann talking about the power of the tea party. It’s the first time there’s a Republican convention after the formation of the tea party, Adele.

ADELE STAN: Indeed there is, and it is bringing together all of these different kind of factions of the right into a single umbrella. And the other thing that you see in both of these events is that it really illustrates the broad reach, the deep reach of the Kochs. I mean, she is very much supported by Americans for Prosperity. Scott Walker—and Ralph Reed helped Scott Walker overcome that recall attempt. You have—Herman Cain spoke on that platform, and he’s, you know, been working for Americans for Prosperity for quite some time.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Adele Stan, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Washington bureau chief of AlterNet. We’re in Tampa, Florida, "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." Back in a moment.

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