STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Once upon a time there was a dystopian novel, originally published in 1996, in which a candidate of the Republican religious right makes it to the presidency in 2004. The son of a racist truck-driver who first gets elected to the House of Representatives in the time of Newt Gingrich, his name was Jefferson Davis Hague. Hague won the Presidency on a platform of “ending welfare, cutting taxes, emasculating ‘government regulation,’ especially of the environment and for consumer protection, criminalizing abortion, banning ‘sodomy’ [gay marriage was hardly an issue when the book was written in 1994-95], and establishing ‘the centrality of God in America’ ’’ (a phrase in the book actually taken from a fund-raising letter circulated by Newt Gingrich in the summer of 1995). He was able to win the presidency on a platform like that because his Democratic Party opponent was an old-fashioned Bill Clinton-like, Democratic Leadership Council type, center-right, “let’s-all-work-together-to-find-the-middle-ground,” Democrat. He had no stomach for fighting the kind of no-holds-barred fight that would have been necessary to defeat Hague. And so, with a massive turnout, especially of the Christian Right, Hague won easily.
All of Hague’s positions were drawn from real Republican/Religious Right speeches, legislative proposals, platform planks, and etc. from the 1980s and 90s. So the writing in the book was not prescient, just observant. But does this all of it possibly sound familiar now? Well, it should, because it was all there front-and-center in the Presidential-candidacy announcement speech of Ted Cruz on July 23, 2015. In fact it was eerily familiar, and in my view has to be taken very seriously. As a commentator on NPR on March 23 noted, most candidates announce their candidacy on home grounds, often from a favorite place in their states. Picking another location can be considered very symbolic. For example, Ronald Reagan announced his 1980 candidacy at Philadelphia, MS, where the three civil rights workers had been murdered in the Freedom Summer of 1964. And he made it clear that he was not there to memorialize them.
Cruz chose to announce his candidacy at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, which was during Reagan’s time and still is a hot-bed of Republican-Christian Rightism. As noted, his platform sounds very much like Hague’s. But further, he claimed that “Americans’ liberties” are granted by “God,” and that that wording is found in the Constitution. In fact, neither the word “God” nor the word “Christian” is to be found anywhere in the Constitution. Cruz was in fact referencing the Declaration of Independence (which while a great document is not part of the Constitution), misquoting it by claiming that the famous phrase about “inalienable rights” were said to “be endowed” by God. Actually, this is mistake, intentional or not, the the Repubs. are making over-and-over again, with increasing frequency. The writers of the Declaration, who could certainly have chosen the word “God,” chose instead the word Creator. It happens that I, a non-theistic Reasonist, am entirely comfortable with that word, for for me our Creators are the immutable laws of chemistry, physics, and biology.
Cruz’ concept of “God” is at the very center of his thinking. I do believe that, unlike the character J.D. Hague, who just used “the preachers” as he called them, to gain power, Cruz really believes this stuff, which makes him even more dangerous. A right-wing columnist said that talking privately with Ted Cruz was like listening to a set of stump speeches.
Although he is now regarded as a long shot, his shot may not be so long, especially because right at the beginning of his speech he talked about getting a very strong ground game going. He will not only be able to call upon the Christian Right (and “Evangelicals” is a polite misnomer: there are plenty of non-Republican, non-political evangelicals). Of course, he will also be able to call upon the Tea Party activists of the type who propelled him to the Senate in Texas.
So Ted Cruz is a real threat. And if he gets the GOP nomination he is not going to be defeated by arguing about what the Constitution doesn’t say about “God” and “Christianity.” Nor is he going to be defeated by talking simply about women’s rights and gay rights, just in the context of those rights, per se, which certainly exist under any reading of the Constitution besides that of Cruz and his ilk, as found in Article VI and the First, Ninth, and 14th Amendments. The attack has to go on to Cruz’ own ground, that which he claims as “religious liberty.” For example, how ironic it was that when Cruz resolved to restore “American liberties” he also vowed that under his presidency the right of women to determine the outcome of pregnancy and to determine, according to her own religious beliefs (or non-religious beliefs for the Reasonists among us) when a fetus becomes a “baby” whilst still in her womb, let’s say at the time of viability as in Roe v. Wade, would be criminalized.
Indeed, these are issues of religious liberty, for all people, not just for those who claim a particular association with “Christ,” as they conceive of him, and the “inerrant word of God,” as set forth in the King James version of the Bible, which happens to be an early 17th century translation put together by a team of 48 theologians and academicians.
There are plenty of women who choose to have abortions who are religious, just as there are plenty of LGBTQ people who are. The height of religious oppression is for a legal system to place one set of religious beliefs above all the others, and then go on to criminalize everyone else’s. This is where the stand must be taken. This is where the battle must be won. There is no “middle ground” on these issues and any candidate who claims otherwise will lose, for themselves and for us too. This is an issue to which I shall return on a regular basis throughout the upcoming Presidential campaign. Whether or not the GOP candidate is Ted Cruz, that party is going to use the false claim of “religious repression” to justify religious repression. And they must be stopped.