Edwina Rogers vs. Michael J. Fox

Most of us at Freethought Blogs are wary that the Secular Coalition for America has hired as their executive director Edwina Rogers, a career long Republican aid, lobbyist, and lawyer. The SCA was formed as the lobby which would specifically focus on advocating for secular lawmaking against the influence of theocratically minded legislators who want to base their public policy on their private religious beliefs or on the religious beliefs of politically ascendent religious groups.

There are many things to be said both in her favor and against her. In a follow up post to this one I have spelled out some of the pros and cons I’m seeing in detail. But in this post, I want to point out one disturbing bit of her past work as a Republican operative that I have come across. Just watch the first clip featured in the video below:

The only real glimpse of her views on specifically secularist issues we get in the above video is that snippet right at the start. Right off the bat, in the video’s first clip, we get a red flag comment for those of us secularists who want a strong and passionate advocate for irreligious, science-based public policy about medicine.

First, the background of the clip. Several years ago Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, made a commercial in which he talked about the need for public funding for the sorts of embryonic stem cell research that could help find treatments for people with illnesses like his own. This research was (and is) opposed by right wing forces based on a flagrantly religious view of nature in which embryos have the full humanity of adult humans because they have “souls” already. In the ad, some of Fox’s symptoms were obvious. Rush Limbaugh saw the ad and disgracefully mocked Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s induced jerky body motions and accused him of acting and exaggerating in order to appear like his illness was less under control and more disruptive to his life than it really was.

In steps Edwina Rogers in the clip above. Acting as a Republican party hack, she distances herself from Limbaugh’s specific, politically toxic, remarks but does not stand up for Michael J. Fox and his integrity and the value of his scientifically informed testimony. She does not stand with a man whose health and life itself are on the line. She does not stand with the man conveying the realities of his experience and the realities of the science he has studied because his life depends on it. She did not stand up for evidence-based medicine itself against the influence of distinctly religiously based, anti-stem-cell policy.

Rather she condescended to him and patronizingly claimed that “sick people like Michael J. Fox” were being manipulated by “disappointing” people. Presumably, as the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America she is being hired to be one of those “manipulative”, “disappointing” people who argue that medicine policy should be based on science rather than religion.

She claims that she supports the mission of the SCA 100%. She claims she will stand for evidence-based policy. Has she only recently come to believe in evidence-based medicine? Has she only now come to realize that the people trying to manipulate the sick are those who tell them to believe in Christian dogmas at the expense of their own health? Has she only now come to realize the harm that is done by public policies that defer to the will of the people whose bidding she did in the past?

How passionate can she really be about secularism if she attacked Michael J. Fox on behalf of a theocratic stem cell policy?

Your Thoughts?

Elsewhere on Freethought Blogs:

IntroducingEdwina Rogers 
Attempting the Impossible?
Controversy comes with the new Secular Coalition for America Executive Director
I won’t comment
A Republican to Head the Secular Coalition for America?
Who is going to be our spokesperson on Capitol Hill?
Despicable Right-Wing Political Hack New Director of the Secular Coalition for America
Secular Coalition For… The Right Wing GOP?
The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Republican To Represent Secularists

Men Apologizing For “Having Abortions”
A Photographer On Why The Same Dress Looks Black and Blue to Some and Gold and White to Others #DressGate
Discrimination Against Atheist Invocations by Local Legislatures
Dear Mr. Ambassador, Representative of Pakistan (Re: #TwitterTheocracy)
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Stevarious

    Bothersome, but not damning, IMHO. You could certainly take some remarks I’ve made that far in the past (6 years ago I was not an atheist) and prove that I was a complete douchetool.

    • Matt Penfold

      If she has changed her mind on some issues it would be better if she was to admit as much. As things stand there seems to be incompatibility between things she has said in the past and things she is saying now and people are rightly asking questions about that. Keeping silent on the issue is not going to answer those questions.

  • http://snipurl.com/2ccpt2 George Locke

    Rogers told Hemant Mehta that furthering stem cell research was one of the goals she hoped to accomplish in her new position: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/05/03/the-atheist-lobbys-new-executive-director-is-a-female-republican-strategist-who-used-to-work-for-george-w-bush/ . She mentions that this is an issue where the public is largely in line with the secularists in opposition to religious roadblocks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cosmicaug augustpamplona

      For what it’s worth, she claims in the interview she did with Ed Brayton (the second hour at http://goo.gl/0r6Zp ) that she was very pro stem cell research in that particular television appearance.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cosmicaug augustpamplona

      I really get the feeling that she outright lied on Brayton’s interview regarding the Michael J. Fox piece on Fox News and her strong support for stem cell research therein. This bothers me a lot more than whatever she might have said on Fox News. It has the feel of a reflexive lie in response to the knowledge that only a few seconds of that interview seems to be available.

      When these news shows get two guests like that it is almost always meant to be an adversarial arrangement. There’s no way they’d call a democratic party operative to support stem cell research and Edwina Rogers to simply agree with him. At best she might have said something like “I support stem cell research except of the part about killing all the widdle babies”. Clearly, Edwina Rogers was most likely called in to agree with Limbaugh’s message even while disagreeing with the way the message was delivered and his message was not one of strong support for stem cell research.

      I wish the rest of that interview was available somewhere.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Yes, I am trying to imagine what kind of an argument starts out by saying “I’m troubled by the people manipulating sick people like Michael J. Fox” and ends with “we really need to do as Michael J. Fox says and fund stem cell research, in defiance of theocrats who want to determine public policy on religious premises”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cosmicaug augustpamplona

      Daniel Fincke says:

      Yes, I am trying to imagine what kind of an argument starts out by saying “I’m troubled by the people manipulating sick people like Michael J. Fox” and ends with “we really need to do as Michael J. Fox says and fund stem cell research, in defiance of theocrats who want to determine public policy on religious premises”.

      One could support some sort of libertarian argument against any sort of government funding (which is where all the controversy was) while holding very favorable views on the value and desirability stem cell research. However, this would seem to contradict her statements of stem cell research being a goal in her agenda with the SCA since such a goal can only refer to public funding controversy (because private funding has yet to be a policy issue).

      Like I wrote, I would love to see the rest of that interview.

  • bubba707

    What Edwina Rogers has demonstrated in her career is she works for her employer. I submit that she has the skill sets and connections badly needed by the secular community and, given her work record, will work FOR her employer. Lets give all the negative a rest and judge her by the work she does for secularism and keep the Republican/Democrat issue aside. This should not be about political party but about effectiveness on the real issue at hand.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I get being a hired gun and don’t hold, for example, her general counsel work for the Senate Republicans against her. But this is a different issue. If she is going to publicly argue for secularist positions for us only for a paycheck while becoming a face of our movement, then what happens when her tenure with the SCA is up and she goes back to FOX News and maybe parlays her credibility with secular causes and people to take “compromise anti-secular” positions? Think of all the “former Democratic strategists” one sees on FOX News who take views that are in lock step with Republican talking points but are presented as basically “so mainstream and reasonable that this even a sensible Democrat can be persuaded of them”.

      If she’s willing to argue on the opposite sides of issues publicly depending on who is paying her, that sort of betrayal is quite possibly in her and something that could happen several years down the road.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    But – but – but she says that this theocratic stuff is just a minority view in the Republican party. Well if that’s the case then why did she bother to defend it on Fox News? Why didn’t she just say (on Fox News) that we shouldn’t be deciding medical policy on theological grounds? Why didn’t she just say that nobody but religious zealots thinks there’s anything wrong with stem cell research?

  • bubba707

    Daniel, yes, there is some risk involved but there is in anything. The choices are to be idealistic and get pretty much nowhere or learn to play the game with the big boys. Keep in mind those that work under her have the capability to also learn from her and become familiar with her connections, IOW, learn to play with the big dogs and this can become a long term assett to the secular community. Some food for thought. This can become a long term gain or be a wasted opportunity and those running the show will decide which. Then there is the option that she means what she’s saying and will continue working at this job for a long time and not go back to a political party. I really think too many are making snap judgments and jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’m not drawing conclusions, I’m presenting evidence that she’s not the kind of Republican who we should strategize with—one who quietly held views like ours all along though they just were not her emphasis before.

      Look, even though Dick Cheney didn’t stop the Bush 2004 campaign’s horrible exploitation of gays he never, to my knowledge, actively participated in it. When pressed on the issue of his gay daughter he just declined to address the issue. Now when he lobbies behind the scenes for gay marriage, people know the score. He personally always believed in this and in his own family lived like he did and accepted openly his openly gay daughter and her wife. For the sake of all the rest of his political convictions he stayed in the Republican party. But he never threw her under the bus. If he were to do a gay-marriage-specific public campaign, it would be hard to refuse him on the grounds that he politically was bedfellows with Republicans. We should want him out there challenging those who will listen to him. I mean, we should also loathe him for being a war criminal, of course. But I don’t think we should refuse to accept his sincerity on gay issues.

      Rogers does not have that kind of relative purity on stem cell research—an issue which has served as a central litmus test of secularism this past 12 years.

  • bubba707

    Dick Cheney was alot higher in the political food chain than Edwina Rogers ever got and could get away with much more. It comes down to will she or won’t she give the job her best effort. There is simply nothing to indicate she won’t give the job her best efforts and there is the opportunity for others in the organization to learn from a successful professional and pick up very useful contacts in places we need them. I’m simply being pragmatic on this thing and you need a huge dose of pragmatism if you want to successfully lobby on Capital Hill.

  • http://last-comments.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

    He personally always believed in this and in his own family lived like he did and accepted openly his openly gay daughter and her wife. For the sake of all the rest of his political convictions he stayed in the Republican party. But he never threw her under the bus. –Daniel Fincke

    That might not be true. At one point in the 2004 campaign, Mary Cheney and her wife did not appear on stage with the rest of the Cheneys. It seemed quite orchestrated and would qualify as throwing her under the bus if she did not go on stage because she was in a committed same-sex relationship or because she was gay.

    And then there was the time where the Cheneys acted horrified when their Democratic opponents mentioned that even Dick Cheney had a gay daughter. Horrified because the secret was out? Horrified because they don’t actually approve of gay people? Why would a family who actually loves and accepts their gay daughter act horrified when her sexual orientation is mentioned?

    It seems to me that the Cheneys weren’t above hiding or using their daughter’s sexual orientation and her relationship against her and other gay people.

  • John D

    She is friends with the G. Ford family. Outstanding! Gerald Ford was the kind of Republican I miss. He did not pander to the religious.

    After watching this clip I am even more of a fan. Go Rogers!

    • http://lordsetar.wordpress.com Setár, self-appointed Elf-lord of social justice

      Nice to see that you’ve finally dropped the “centrist” pretense and gone with the straight up right wing lies.

      You didn’t have to be so obvious about it, though…

    • John Morales

      “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice, but mercy. … let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.”

      No pandering there, nosiree!

  • M Groesbeck

    OK, so there are apparently some people who want to push the SCA in the direction of being the secularist equivalent of GOProud. Can we get a secularist equivalent of Queer Nation going instead?

  • http://rixaeon.blogspot.com Rixaeton

    I don’t see a problem here; she has said… exactly what she was paid to say. There is no requirement that she actually believes what she is saying, is there? All she has to do is sound sincere, and lobby constantly for whatever pay she is receiving in order to convince elected officials that it is in their best interests to do what she says they need to do.

    That is the sort of sincerity that only money can buy. /snark

    Partially seriously, there is no evidence that she actually believes what she says in the earlier interviews either. Lobbyists are not paid to support causes they already believe in. If they were that sincere, they would more likely volunteer to support and promote those beliefs.

    Or maybe she has had a change of mind over these issues. I can’t say, so these comments are already overextended above their nominal worth of $0.02.