All in the Family: Top Bush Administration Leaders, Religious Right Lieutenants Plot Strategy in Culture `War'

By Whittle, Jim | Church & State, May 2002 | Go to article overview

All in the Family: Top Bush Administration Leaders, Religious Right Lieutenants Plot Strategy in Culture `War'


Whittle, Jim, Church & State


White House political strategist Karl Rove sounded like a general addressing his troops. "We need to find ways to win the war," Rove said. "This is a gigantic war with a whole series of battles that need to be fought. And what you all do every day is win important skirmishes a yard at a time."

But President George W. Bush's top adviser wasn't talking about the war on terrorism. He was talking about the White House's close alliance with the Religious Right in the nation's war over values.

Speaking to the Family Research Council's 2002 Washington Briefing, Rove assured a gathering of key Religious Right activists from around the country that the Bush administration shares their views on issues such as granting tax aid to churches, restricting abortion, opposing gay rights laws, promoting marriage and appointing "conservative" judges.

It was a speech that spoke volumes about the ongoing influence of the Religious Right in America. With the Christian Coalition fading as a political force, Republican political leaders are turning to other Religious Right organizations to plot strategy and lure conservative Christian voters into their column. These days, the Family Research Council (FRC) is moving to the front of the pack as a savvy lobbying group that plays partisan hardball.

The Washington, D.C.-based outfit has an annual budget of over $10 million, a grassroots network of contacts around the country and, perhaps most importantly, the ardent backing of James Dobson, the radio counselor who sparked the FRC's formation and gives its leaders a nationwide audience whenever the political situation warrants.

The group's agenda is decidedly hostile to the separation of church and state. FRC's goal, said its president Kenneth L. Connor, is "to help the family in our country and to advance a society that is informed with a Judeo-Christian world view and that reflects in the final analysis the sovereignty of the Lord over all aspects of our daily life."

The FRC's influence in the Bush White House shows in the guest list drawn to its annual briefing. In addition to Rove, other administration figures included Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives chief Jim Towey and White House Deputy Director of Public Liaison Tim Goeglein. (Claude Allen, deputy secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, was also scheduled to speak, but was called out of the country at the last minute.)

Rove's March 14 appearance at the gathering of some 300 state and local activists is apparently part of the administration's campaign to establish a stronger relationship with the Republican Party's religious wing in advance of the 2002 and 2004 elections. Last December he complained publicly that the GOP vote among evangelicals in 2000 was less than it should have been and vowed to "spend a lot of time and energy" on improving the turnout.

At the FRC briefing, held in the chandelier-bedecked Crystal Room of the Willard Hotel a few blocks from the White, House, Rove ticked off the laundry list of Bush positions sure to make Religious Right hearts beat faster. As activists munched on salmon, roast beef and other delicacies, he appealed for help in winning congressional battles and increasing the Republicans' strength in the Congress.

Rove cited the administration's drive to reauthorize "charitable choice" aid to churches to provide social services, and he touted a White House plan to spend $300 million for state programs to encourage families and marriage. He denounced all forms of human cloning and said he was "shocked" when the Orthodox Jews announced support for therapeutic cloning. He called support for that position "morally reprehensible to anybody who cares about life."

Rove hailed House passage of the so-called "Born Alive Infants Protection Act," calling it "a wonderful piece of legislation" and "another step in this creating a culture of life. …

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