Monthly Archives: September 2009

Jane Smiley Reviews “Republican Gomorrah”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley on Republican Gomorrah: Terrific...but appalling.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley on Republican Gomorrah: "Terrific...but appalling."

Jane Smiley’s review, from the Huffington Post:

About twenty years ago, I read an article about a death row inmate who had shot a clerk in a convenience store. The way the murder was presented by the man on death row was mysterious–his hand just rose up and the gun went off. Shooting the clerk in the face in the midst of a robbery wasn’t in fact his fault. He never said, “I shot a man.” It just happened.

I thought of that man while reading Max Blumenthal’s terrific, but also, of course, appalling new book, Republican Gomorrah. Apparently there isn’t a single person in the present incarnation of the Republican party who does anything. Things happen–God does it. Satan does it. No Republican is an agent of his or her own success or failure, sin or redemption. It just happens.

The consequences of this lack of responsibility are there for all to see–screaming threats, guns at rallies, unhinged behavior every time a Republican doesn’t feel the way he or she wants to feel, absolute sense of powerlessness leading directly to an absolute will to power. Because that was the thing that struck me about the murderer in the 7-11–he had the power and in his own last moments, the clerk knew it. But the killer, no matter how well armed, never felt it.

Republican Gomorrah is a frightening book because it is clear to all of us on the outside that the various Republican operatives who surround James Dobson and his ilk have no consciences and will stop at nothing. They invoke the name of God for purposes that shame God absolutely–hurting, destroying, maiming, and damning others who either don’t accept their beliefs or don’t acknowledge their power and righteousness. Of course that is frightening.

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Six Questions With Scott Horton of Harper’s on “Republican Gomorrah”

1. You open your first chapter with a portrait of R.J. Rushdoony, the son of survivors of the Armenian genocide, who devoted his life to a socially conservative vision of Calvinism that sees the United States as a political extension of that religion. What led you to pick a fairly exotic figure like Rushdoony as a starting point for your account, when most students of the religious right in America would put the Southern Baptists at the movement’s heart?

Rushdoony’s tomes advocating the replacement of America’s constitutional democracy with a theocracy based on Leviticus case law–under which disobedient children, witches, adulterers, abortion doctors, and blasphemers would be executed–provided the antecedents of the Christian right with a blueprint for the government it hoped to establish. Rushdoony’s vision of the church supplanting government functions like healthcare and schooling, a system he called Christian Reconstructionism, also influenced the rise of right-wing libertarianism.

Bush faith-based initiatives guru Marvin Olasky referenced Rushdoony in some his early writings. Olasky was clearly influenced by the libertarian undercurrents of Christian Reconstructionism. Rushdoony’s greatest financial angel was another libertarian: Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., a reclusive far-right businessman and the son of one of Southern California’s most renowned philanthropists. As I report in my book, Rushdoony became Ahmanson’s surrogate father after he inherited $300 million dollars at age 18, then went crazy, spending two years in a mental institution. In return, Ahmanson funded Rushdoony’s think tank as well as initiatives from Intelligent Design to California’s anti-gay Prop 8 that have advanced his dream of American theocracy.

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Inside The 9.12 Project: “Get The Gov’t Out Of My Social Security!”

While Fox News cameras covering the so-called 9.12 Project on the National Mall lurched away from signs morphing President Barack Obama’s face into Adolph Hitler’s, I zoomed in. Histrionics and manufactured paranoia were hard to avoid at the massive September 12 anti-Obama rally orchestrated by Fox News host Glenn Beck and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s corporate lobbying front group, Freedom Works.

When I dove into the angry mob with a camera, I captured scenes of self-proclaimed “real Americans” declaring that the community organizing group Acorn was Obama’s version of Hitler’s SS; that the President planned to establish concentration camps for right-wing dissidents; and that Obama was raising a private army in the guise of a civilian volunteer force. The death panel rumor is just one of a rapidly growing array of conspiracy theories reverberating through the Republican base. Each one is more hysterical than the last.

Conspiracism has proven a useful tool for distracting many of the 9.12 Project participants I met from their own economic interests. Having been convinced through endless hours of right-wing media that government involvement in their healthcare would lead to totalitarian slavery, some demonstrators told me they were content to not have healthcare at all. Others said they would stop collecting their Social Security as soon as “the government gets out of my life.”

My video tour of the 9.12 Project is yet another exhibit of how the Republican Party’s big tent became a one-ring circus that operates according to the rules of P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

(For the inside story of how the radical right took over the GOP and drove it to the margins, check out my new book, “Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party.”)