Max Blumenthal of The Nation reports last week, while the media focused almost obsessively on the DNC’s spectacle in Denver, the country’s most influential conservatives met quietly at a hotel in downtown Minneapolis to get to know Sarah Palin. The assembled were members of the Council for National Policy, an ultra-secretive cabal that networks wealthy right-wing donors together with top conservative operatives to plan long-term movement strategy. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, who has confirmed internet rumors that her teenage daughter is pregnant. Palin says the seventeen-year-old daughter, Bristol Palin, will have the baby and marry the father. Aides to Palin’s running mate, Senator John McCain, say they made the announcement to quell speculation that Palin had faked her own recent pregnancy. Rumors had spread this weekend that Palin had claimed the baby as her own to disguise the fact her daughter is actually the baby’s mother.
The announcement raised new questions about how thoroughly the McCain campaign vetted Palin before selecting her as his running mate. But it also appears likely to bolster McCain’s standing amongst anti-abortion Republicans.
The Nation magazine contributor Max Blumenthal has been extensively covering the right-wing movement. He went to the Republican National Convention Monday following Palin’s announcement.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Max Blumenthal from The Nation. The official Republican Party plank rejects sex education and the distribution of condoms. Do you think Sarah Palin’s seventeen-year-old daughter could have benefited from sex education?
REP. ROY BLOUNT: I think what you have with that family issue, I think Senator Obama responded to that appropriately. More importantly, I think to most Americans, this is another welcome to everybody’s kitchen table. Everybody has challenges that are challenges to their family. Some challenges are exactly like this one. Generally, you don’t want this to be a challenge in your family. But I think moms and dads who have to deal with questions like this, who have to figure out how to pay their bills, who have to figure out how to make a small business work, I think that is something that the American people understand and appreciate. And I also think they appreciated the way Senator Obama responded to that.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Do you think they should understand more about contraception in public schools, like the school that Sarah Palin’s daughter went to? And do you think the Republican Party is being helpful by opposing that sort of education?
REP. ROY BLOUNT: I was actually real happy with the answer I gave.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I wasn’t.
Do you think Sarah Palin’s seventeen-year-old daughter could have benefited from more sex education, which the Republican Party plank rejects?
MEGHAN McCAIN: We’re just here to enjoy the convention, and we’re sitting in the box, so, you know.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Do you think they should teach it in public schools?
MEGHAN McCAIN: You know what? We’re just here to enjoy the convention and to watch my mom speak. So I prefer not to do an interview. We’re just trying to enjoy the moment.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Alright, thank you.
On the life issue?
ALASKA DELEGATE: Right to life. Right —-
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Reject abortion in cases of rape and incest, even.
ALASKA DELEGATE: Yes, we do, because there’s a lot of families that don’t have children who would love to have children. And they could put those babies up for adoption, and those families can have a family.
RON WARNER: Most Alaskans have a strict interpretation of abortion: life begins at conception, and there is no reason to kill a baby, you know, whether you consider him unborn or born. You know, a baby happens whenever you conceive it, so...
GRACE VAN DIEST: I believe in the right to life from the moment of conception until natural death. And we, as a Alaskan Republican Party, voted for that, too, to be a part of our platform.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And an abstinence-only education, do you think that should be the rule in public schools?
GRACE VAN DIEST: I think that it should be taught, yes. Yes, I think that abstinence should be a priority. We have taught our own daughters. We have three daughters and a son, and we home-school them, and we’ve taught them to not even date until they’re more ready to be married. They go out in groups from our -— like our church youth group, but they don’t date individually. Each one of the daughters have gone out on a date with their dad and talked about keeping themselves pure until marriage. They each have had a little promise ring, a little tiny diamond that they wear constantly to remind them about their promise that they will keep pure, so...
AMY GOODMAN: That piece produced by Nation magazine’s Max Blumenthal. We’ll go to break now. When we come back, he joins us live here at SPNN, at Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, public access in the Twin Cities. We’re breaking with convention. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: What you just listened to before the break was interviews by Nation magazine’s Max Blumenthal at the Republican National Convention. Max joins us here now in St. Paul at Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, SPNN, where Democracy Now! broadcasts in the area.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: It’s great to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about being on the convention floor, the people you talked to, the Republican platform.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I was on the floor at a really unusual time for the Republican Party. You know, the Republicans had cut short the convention program because of Hurricane Gustav battering New Orleans. And at the same time, there was a lot of buzz about this scandal, which has enveloped the party because of Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, who has become pregnant at the age of seventeen and has decided to, to paraphrase Madonna, keep her baby.
And this is a really exceptional Republican scandal, partly because it doesn’t involve a closeted preacher, but also because it speaks to the larger issue of the Republican program, the Republican program on social issues.
And right now, a lot of bloggers and Democratic operatives are debating how to handle this. You know, should we just ignore it and let it play itself out?
And what I did with my video is frame it within the context of the Republican National Convention’s party platform, which explicitly endorses abstinence-only education and rejects the distribution of contraception. So you saw me asking Roy Blount, who is one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, about whether Bristol Palin, Sarah Palin’s daughter, could have benefited from the sex education that the Republican Party rejects in its platform and that the Alaska Republican Party, which is one of the most radical Republican parties in the country, rejects.
And I also spoke to members of the Alaska delegation to show, you know, the ideological tilt, how radical, you know, the Republican Party is in Alaska, because this is the soil from which Sarah Palin emerged and grew into an excessively socially conservative figure in Alaska, who, for instance, rejects — who would illegalize abortion in cases of rape and incest.
So, her daughter, in a sense — there’s no way anyone could say Sarah Palin is a bad mother or she doesn’t embrace family values, because, in a sense, she does practice what she preaches. But her daughter, at the same time, is a casualty of Republican policies. So the chickens are kind of coming home to roost here.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this was very odd, as this — and Democracy Now! doesn’t usually deal with these kind of issues — as all of this stuff was swirling around, all the photographs on the internet showing her daughter getting larger and saying she was pregnant, and so they were trying to prove that Sarah Palin’s youngest child, who is just a few months old, was actually her oldest daughter’s child. And this forced — according to the Palin campaign, this is why she released the information yesterday saying, in fact, her daughter is pregnant.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And actually, when the McCain campaign vetted Sarah Palin, they knew about this in advance, which may seem unusual on the surface.
But if you go back to the video I produced, the third woman in the Alaska delegation, whose name slips my mind, who’s talking about how her daughters go on dates with their father and discuss staying pure. And it seems like an unusual phenomenon to a lot of secular people. In the Christian right, you know, it’s almost a — the Christian right is almost a counterculture. And they have what’s called purity balls, where daughters will go like a prom-style to a ball with their father, dressed up in a dress, and their fathers will put on purity rings that signify that they’re going to stay pure until marriage. And so, the culture is totally different.
And I asked this woman, you know, “Your daughters have pledged to stay pure until marriage, but what about Sarah Palin’s daughter?” And she said, “Well, this happens a lot, you know, in our communities. And Sarah Palin is at least practicing what she preaches by not having an abortion.” And so many of the people I speak — I talked to in the Christian right, they have a born-again experience, where they go through a personal crisis, and they use this evangelical religion to medicate their crisis. So, in a sense, this scandal could actually be an asset for Sarah Palin.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about, Max, the Council for National Policy, the story that you broke.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, this is the larger issue, which is, you know, what role Sarah Palin would play in a potential McCain administration? And last week in Minneapolis at the Radisson Hotel, without any media present, the most powerful power brokers of the Christian right met and essentially vetted Sarah Palin. They were there to watch her speech accepting her selection as the vice-presidential candidate. And they were delighted.
The only way I found out about this meeting is through a web video posted by the Christian right organization Focus on the Family, in which they discussed attending the meeting. One of James Dobson’s spokesmen discussed attending the meeting and being electrified by the selection of Sarah Palin. The Christian right absolutely loves this woman. And so — and what I wrote in my article is that the Council for National Policy is sort of the hidden hand behind the selection.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who is in this council.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. And it’s hard to know who is in this Council for National Policy. What it is is an umbrella group of the most powerful figures in the Christian right; the biggest donors of the right wing; the activists, like Grover Norquist, anti-tax activist; people like Erik Prince from Blackwater and his family; people —-
AMY GOODMAN: He’s a part of the council.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yes. Paul Weyrich, the Catholic right organizer; Tim LaHaye, author of the best -— "Left Behind" series; James Dobson and his entire family are in this. You know —-
AMY GOODMAN: James Dobson, who said pray for rain during the Democratic convention.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Exactly, exactly, and who thinks SpongeBob is gay, and who I consider the most powerful figure in the Christian right, by the way. And -— but remember —-
AMY GOODMAN: So they all met, as the Democrats were in Denver, in Minneapolis.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. They all met -— exactly. And the point of meeting while the media was focusing on the Democrats was so that the media wouldn’t, you know, detect this meeting, because they want to make — they want to plan for the long term without any — you know, outside of the spotlight. Their membership rolls are completely secret.
And so, that’s part of the reason why the selection of Sarah Palin caught people off guard, because John McCain had always been seen as a maverick who defied right-wing orthodoxy, and it was hard for the media to imagine that he would make such a radical selection for vice president, someone who would actually be the liaison to the Christian right in his administration. She wouldn’t play a role like Dick Cheney, where she, you know, has any influence over foreign policy. She would control the agencies like Health and Human Services and block condom distribution to Africa, block sex education in public schools, things like that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, are you saying that this whole questioning of, oh, is this really being done to attract Hillary delegates, is way off base, that this is about shoring up the evangelical base?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, this never would have happened if Barack Obama had selected Hillary Clinton as his vice president, that’s for sure. He would have selected Romney or Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor. And if McCain is elected president, you’re going to have another radical administration, in part because Barack Obama was afraid of being overshadowed by the Clintons.
But this has nothing to do with attracting Hillary supporters. And the Hillary supporters I’ve spoken to are actually offended by this pick, because most of them are feminists who are pro-choice.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you learn of this secret gathering?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. I saw a web video posted on Focus on the Family, where they mentioned in — where the spokesman for James Dobson, Tom Minnery, mentioned in passing that he had attended this gathering the week prior and that all of these power brokers — I don’t know who was there, because they kept it secret — had watched — you know, had met to watch Sarah Palin and discuss her and that they were electrified by her selection. And they feel now that they can support a McCain administration.
So James Dobson, the most powerful figure in the Christian right, who had said — who had earlier vowed that he could never vote for John McCain, I expect to endorse John McCain and to play an enormous role in this campaign. He has 3.5 million members. He has thirty-six policy councils in the States. His organization has a $150 million budget.
So, McCain is doing this in part to get the — to channel the grassroots muscle of the Christian right into an electoral victory over Barack Obama. And I think, you know, anyone who dismisses Sarah Palin’s lack of experience or her seeming shallowness on policy, you know, should not underestimate her, because this is — there’s a larger story here, and it’s about, you know, winning this election by pandering to the Christian right.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the Alaska delegation in the context of — in the political spectrum in comparison with all the Republican delegations that are here this week?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. Well, I mean, you can clearly see how radical most of the members of this delegation are through my video. Those three people I spoke to were indicative of, you know, the — you know, all of the interviews I did. Many of them are Ron Paul supporters — excuse me — Buchananites, people who identify with the far fringes of the radical right.
And Sarah Palin, herself, is a member of a party called the Alaska Independence Party, which has endorsed seceding from the union and may have ties to other neosecessionist groups, like the Vermont — excuse me — Independence Party, which themselves have ties to neo-Confederate groups. So you’re talking about, you know, a state far off in the hinterlands, where people deeply mistrust government, where they — you know, where they have a, you know, very radical ideology on social policy. And we’ve never had a candidate from that state elevated to this position. So I think this is unique, and at the same time it’s typical, because the Republican Party, through John McCain, is intent on continuing the social policies of George W. Bush, which have been disastrous.
AMY GOODMAN: And now, James Dobson said he would never support John McCain —-
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —- has reversed his position.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, he said he may support him. And now I expect him to actually support him and throw the full weight of his organization behind John McCain.
AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Of course, people can watch that video on our website, and we’ll link to yours. Max Blumenthal of The Nation magazine.