Conservative Christian leader Richard Viguerie said yesterday “Now comes the revolution.” We speak with Esther Kaplan, author of the new book With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W Bush’s White House. [includes rush transcript]
Tuesday’s election saw the participation a record number of Americans. An estimated 120 million voters cast ballots, fifteen million more than in the 2000 Presidential race. About sixty percent of eligible Americans voted, the highest level of participation since 1968. And although the Democratic party received a boost as record numbers of young voters, African Americans, and Latinos headed to polls, their influence was more than offset as self-identified Evangelicals voted in record numbers.
Bush won three-quarters of white, born-again Christian voters, who are now one of every five American voters. More than half of Bush voters said “moral issues” were most important to them. State initiatives prohibiting gay marriage in eleven states may helped Bush record a victory, as evangelicals and conservative Christians cast ballots both for the ban, and for George W. Bush.
- Esther Kaplan, author of the new book With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W Bush’s White House.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the people who is a rising star in the Republican Party in the Senate is a doctor, Dr. Coburn from Oklahoma, who just won the Senate seat there. Can you talk about his story, and how that gives us a picture of the increasing Christian conservative power right now?
ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, Coburn, he’ll be a freshman in the Senate, but I think he’s certainly someone to watch. He’s a very effective politician. He actually came in as a congressman during the Gingrich revolution, but after a couple of terms he went home. That was part of the Gingrich platform was term limits, so he kind of stayed true and went back to Oklahoma to work as an OB/GYN again, after that became a board member of the Family Research Council, which is one of the most important Christian-right organizations in Washington. I’ve interviewed him before. He’s proudly and openly anti-gay. I think people may know he’s famously, in the past not so recently, called for the death penalty for abortionists. There was a scandal during his campaign —
AMY GOODMAN: He’s an obstetrician?
ESTHER KAPLAN: He is. He is. That he had sterilized one of his patients without her consent — something that ended up in court. Despite all that, he won handily in Oklahoma. He actually wasn’t even expected to get the Republican nomination there, let alone win. But James Dobson, who’s the head of Focus on the Family, who actually took a leave from his non-profit position in order to really dig in politically to this campaign, worked very hard for George Bush and very hard for Tom Coburn.
AMY GOODMAN: James Dobson’s Focus on the Family based in Colorado Springs?
ESTHER KAPLAN: Exactly. One of the most massive Christian media empires, and he —
AMY GOODMAN: How many radio stations do they own? More than 700?
ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, they’re syndicated but — but, yeah, I mean, he reaches — his broadcasts reach millions, and he also has a publishing house and et cetera. But he —- From the moment Tom Coburn’s website went up, there was a letter of endorsement from James Dobson on it. I think his victory is a kind of example of the way that these anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives really influenced turnout in key states. There was one on the ballot in Oklahoma. It was a wipeout in opposition to gay marriage; and I think that that combination of turning out for Coburn, turning out for Bush, turning out against gay marriage, really brought the evangelical vote—-
AMY GOODMAN: All eleven states where gay marriage bans were on the ballot they —
ESTHER KAPLAN: Won decisively.
AMY GOODMAN: — won.
ESTHER KAPLAN: I think the lowest was around sixty percent. In Mississippi it was — I think it might have been higher than eighty-five percent. Now, this is — you know, all the polls show that this is something that’s only going to work to the right’s advantage for ten or twenty years, cause there’s a real generation gap on the issue; but for now, it was extremely effective. I think that when we look at Ohio and Bush’s victory in Ohio, I mean, we’ll see when all of the numbers sort out; but I actually think that the turnout for the ballot initiatives against gay marriage, completely exempted from campaign financing limits, that turnout effort led by the grassroots Christian right probably was decisive in Ohio for Bush, too.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And of course, it is a tactic that the — of using referendum to — at critical junctures inflate or change the nature of the vote that the Democratic party has not been very good at using in any event — in any of its races. But I ’d like to ask you, in terms of this whole issue of Christian fundamentalism. This is a continuing theme throughout American history. I mean, if you go back to — from going back to the battles between the — those who were more followers of puritanism among the founding fathers over the role of the church within — within our government versus the Jeffersonians, Madison and Franklin and those who were more of the Enlightenment strain; but it seems to have definitely grabbed hold at this particular time again, because there have been periods in American history where the fundamentalist vote has arisen. Why now has it arisen again?
ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, it’s interesting when you bring up the history, because it was actually very significant on the progressive side at another point in our history. Fueling the abolition movement and — and some of the social reforms around the turn of the century and so on. There was in this case, starting with the defeat of Goldwater in 1964, a concerted effort to peel off this group which was really in political retreat. Still a significant movement within the United States, but really had divorced itself from political life, from public life. There was a concerted effort to recruit that movement into the Republican party and it took thirty years, but it really worked. And that began with the organizations that cropped up in the 1970’s: the National Right to Life Committee, the Eagle Forum, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. All of this was kind of called into being by Republican operatives like Richard Viguerie, like Paul Wyrick who really saw this as the way for the Republicans to regain a majority; and it looks like after all of their hard work it’s really panned out. We don’t know the numbers exactly, but Karl Rove famously after 2000 said, “You know, we lost the popular vote because evangelical conservatives did not turn out in the numbers we wanted.” He vowed to turn them out in greater numbers. The early indications are that that probably worked. The poll — the exit polling questions were phrased very differently in 2000 and 2004 so that direct comparisons are tough; but it looks like at least a few percentage points, maybe even more, bump up in the turnout, and that really helped contribute to, not just the electoral a college victory, but the popular vote victory.
AMY GOODMAN: Interesting comment of Fareed Zakaria on ABC news. He said, “This is what really divides the U.S. from other industrial democracies: Gods, gays and guns, if you will. If you were to take a sampling of public opinion in countries all around the world,” and this has been done by the Pew foundation, “you’d find that the United States on most of the core cultural issues is much closer to Nigeria and Saudi Arabia than to Europe and Japan.”
ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, that’s a sad comment, but it’s true. We’re completely out of step with other industrialized democracies.