AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Barack Obama, speaking in Chicago last week.
I’m joined now by Max Blumenthal, Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute. His work has appeared in The Nation, Salon and many other publications, currently writing a book on the US evangelical movement. His latest article, “Rick Warren’s Hypocritical Double Life,” is online at dailybeast.com. Max Blumenthal joins us by DN! video stream.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Great to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the history of Rick Warren.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, the history of Rick Warren is pretty interesting. And you heard some of his views right there. These are views that people have only recently started paying attention to. Prior to this controversy, Rick Warren was, you know, proffered by the media as the voice of the new evangelical movement, which embraces environmentalism and fights poverty and is going to move beyond the old hobgoblins of the Christian right and the old, you know, draconian figures of the Christian right, like James Dobson and Pat Robertson. Rick Warren was supposed to be the pioneer of this new movement. He is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, a megachurch in Orange County. And he’s the author of The Purpose Driven Life, which is, you know, a sort of subtly Christian, self-help manual that sold 25 million copies. So he has a really broad appeal, and he’s planted churches across the world, especially in Africa.
And because, you know, the media has expected evangelicals, especially conservative evangelicals, to be draconian and retrograde, you know, they’ve made a hero out of Rick Warren without looking at who he really is and what he really believes. Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times, for example, has called Rick Warren an evangelical liberals can love. You know,Newsweek named Rick Warren one of the fifteen people who make America great. And even The Nation, which I’ve written for, you know, the venerable left-wing magazine, in 2005 published a piece calling Rick Warren America’s pastor.
You know, he wears a Hawaiian shirt. He looks like a big teddy bear. He doesn’t holler or hector. He speaks in a ponderous tone. And he does seem to genuinely care about the environment and care about poverty. It’s not clear what he’s actually done.
Pioneering conservative activist Paul Weyrich died on December 18 at the age of 66. Though Weyrich was commonly regarded as a behind-the-scenes Beltway operator, he achieved one of his most enduring goals in the backwaters of the South.
In 1971, before the Roe v. Wade decision riveted America, the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. At about the same time, the Internal Revenue Service moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating (blacks were denied entry until 1971.) The decisions infuriated a popular evangelical pastor from Lynchburg, Virginia named Jerry Falwell. “In some states it’s easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school,” Falwell complained.
Why couldn’t Barack Obama have at least selected Rich Cizik to deliver his inaugural prayer? Cizik was just drummed out as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals for revealing that, like Obama, he supports civil union (James Dobson had tried to oust Cizik over his environmentalism, but nailed him on the gay issue instead). But as I wrote at The Daily Beast, the man Obama did select to give the benediction, Rick Warren, had this to say a week before election day:
“Here’s an interesting thing: there are about 2% of Americans [who] are homosexual, gay, lesbian people. We should not let two percent of the population determine—to change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years. This is not even just a Christian issue, it is a humanitarian and human issue, that God created marriage for the purpose of family, love and procreation. I urge you to support Proposition 8 and to pass that on.”
The Republican campaign of 2008 will be remembered, among other things, for the accusation that Barack Obama was “palling around with terrorists,” namely former Weather Underground leader William Ayers. But visions of domestic terrorism don’t seem to bother the Republicans now. On December 10, President George W. Bush bestowed the prestigious Citizens Medal on Charles Colson, who plotted various acts of domestic terrorism in the Nixon White House. To paraphrase an old saying, one man’s terrorist is apparently another man’s medal-winner.
In Bush’s final days, perhaps few other gestures could capture the arc of the Republican era. Colson is a representative figure, once Richard Nixon’s special counsel and chief dirty trickster turned into born-again missionary for the religious right and mentor to Bush and his acolytes—including his former chief speechwriter Michael Gerson. By honoring him, Bush exalts the whole legacy.
Keith Olbermann, with a rapid fire synopsis of my Daily Beast story on the anti-Semitic origins of O’Reilly’s War on Christmas hysteria (go to 1:48):
One of the most confounding characteristics of open anti-Semites is their tendency to deny harboring any malice towards Jews after being confronted with their own anti-Semitic statements. At the 2006 American Renaissance conference, after David Duke delivered a conspiratorial disquisition in the hallway to me about the “Jewish Supremacists,” I asked him if all Jews were involved in an insidious plot to exploit the world. He stated, “Oh no, not all Jews are supremacists. There are good Jews.” Holocaust revisionist David Irving said the same sort of thing to me when I interviewed him, recommending to me the work of Norman Finkelstein, who I doubt would have appreciated this endorsement. And then there was the weird spectacle of Louis Farrakhan, denouncer of the “synagogues of Satan” and one-time mentor to beerhall demagogue Khalid Muhammad, playing a symphony by Mendelson.
In responding to my recent piece on the War on Christmas, Steve Sailer took issue with how my treatment of his theory of Jewish “de-assimilation.” I reported that Sailer had argued matter-of-factly that, “American Jews, those exemplars of successful assimilation now seem to be de-assimilating emotionally, becoming increasingly resentful, at this late date, of their fellow Americans for celebrating Christmas.” My mere quoting of this line was enough to arouse his anger and defensiveness. In his blogged response, Sailer claimed his column was devoted to “praising the large Jewish contribution to the great American Christmas songbook.” Right! Like Duke, Irving, and Farrakhan, Sailer is embarrassed by the depth of his resentment for Jews, and retreats when confronted with it.
The commenters on Sailer’s blog made no attempts to hide their true feelings, however. The id of Sailer lies below the fold.
Peter Brimelow praises my latest piece of “ethnic paranoia” as “a relatively good account of VDARE.COM’s role in exposing the War Against Christmas,” adds a few annotations, then asks for money. It is a pleasure to help the poor and needy white nationalists this holiday…I mean, Christmas season.
What would Christmas be without warnings of the secular crusade to destroy it? Thanks to the fulminations of cable news cranks and evangelical moralists, the War on Christmas has become an annual outrage. The story typically goes as follows: secular elements have intimidated stores into replacing the phrase “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays;” nativity scenes have been removed from public spaces under threat of ACLU lawsuits; a decadent culture is moving ever closer to eradicating Christian morality; and America slouches towards Gomorrah.
Judging from the panicked tone of movement conservatives, this year’s War on Christmas campaign threatens the country’s moral fiber more than ever. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger, the secular Grinch has claimed the economy as its latest casualty. “A nation whose people can’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ is a nation capable of ruining its own economy,” he fumed on November 20. Having laid off 20 percent of its staff the day after Election Day, Christian right mega-ministry Focus on the Family declared “Merry Tossmas” imploring its supporters to toss out holiday season product catalogs that wish shoppers “Happy Holidays.” (The 201 freshly unemployed staffers might have more practical reasons to trash their catalogs.)
On December 2, Utah Republican state senator Chris Buttars sponsored an urgent resolution demanding that stores greet shoppers with the phrase, “Merry Christmas.” “I’m sick of the Christmas wars,” Buttars proclaimed. “We’re a Christian nation and ought to use the word.”
The Christmas kulturkampf is a growth industry in a shrinking economy, providing an effective boost for conservative fundraising and a ratings bonanza for right-wing media. So who was the genius that created it? Was it the irascible O’Reilly, or a band of rogue elves from Santa’s workshop? To find the answer, a visit with the ghost of conservatism’s past is in order.