Edwina Rogers’ appointment as the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America has had the atheist blogging community in a tizzy ever since Hemant posted his interview last week. Now Greta Christina has jumped in with an audio interview (MP3) that validates many readers’ suspicions. (Additionally, a transcript of the interview is available here.)
To be clear, the issue here is not about Rogers personality or intellect or even her prior involvement in the Republican party; it’s that the cumulative effect of all of those things has not been addressed in any reassuring way by Rogers. Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to a leader who had different values from myself, past or present, so long as questions about those values were made clear and we had some initial, important common ground.
Troublingly, Rogers demonstrated a pretty stunning inability to communicate her motivations even for joining the Republican Party in the first place. Here’s the relevant portion of the interview (emphasis mine):
Greta Christina: The question that people are asking is, why support that party? And why put years of your life and work into supporting that party, rather than supporting a party that supports you on the issues?
Edwina Rogers: Well, I was a Democrat, because I was born and raised in Alabama. At one point, in the 80’s, when Reagan came through, the majority of Alabama switched and became Republicans because the idea of working hard, and getting ahead, and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps really resonated with people in Alabama. And I am a Republican. I’m a conservative Republican, and I definitely don’t have any plans to change parties, and I don’t think that the Secular Coalition for America would be as interested in me if I was another person who was closely affiliated with the Democratic Party. They’ve got that covered. They’ve got that covered very well. So the plan is not for me to try to go and… operate in a party that I have not been. The plan is for me to try to work with Republicans and also with Democrats, and build common ground.
Now the coalitions I’ve worked with in the past, they were bipartisan, and this one actually is bipartisan. And you know, that’s what the leadership thinks, that’s what the leadership wants, and they had no problem with the fact that I happen to be a Republican, and we’ve been over my personal position. But for people to think that there are people with in the Republican party that are the opposition and they have opinions that are different from my opinion and that that is somehow my fault. I totally disagree with that. Because I don’t think that it is. I think I’m just going to go out and do what it takes to win over any groups and as many decision makers as possible to the movement, and make them allies, and I’m not planning on sitting here and writing everybody up. I’m going to go and work hard and educate and persuade and have the best advocacy positions that we have hand have the best written materials and be tenacious and get our foot in the door and get a seat at the table and move beyond our traditional reach, is what I’m planning on doing.
Rogers can’t seem to understand the conflict between her personal political opinions and the goals of the secular movement, which Greta Christina attempted to clarify over and over again in the interview, nor can she even coherently explain her own dedication to the party beyond “Reagan was persuasive.” There are plenty of arguments, particularly economic arguments, that a person might make to justify belonging to a more conservative party despite supporting more progressive policies elsewhere, but I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the popularity one gets during a presidential campaign does not constitute a strong argument.
Furthermore, Rogers seems to believe, out of ignorance or design, that Republicans support secular values despite decades of actual policy that contradict her. A common thread throughout the interview was Rogers responding to questions by questioning and warning against “stereotyping,” though she had no evidence to support her claims beyond her “years of insider experience.”
Fundamentally, Ms. Rogers needs to understand that the population she is representing does not see her years of experience with and commitment to the Republican Party as an asset unless she has strong evidence for doing so. She demonstrated a clear lack of understanding about the evolution of conservative politics over the last thirty years, and, more troubling, that her own personal experience somehow trumps data and evidence (another common thread in the interview was the general setup of “well, I don’t know…but my experience is the opposite…” to answer questions).
Moreover, the bumbling answers and rhetorical circus in the interview demonstrated not only an individual quite separated from the priorities of the secular and atheist movement, but also someone who doesn’t care about reality.
Quite simply, I cannot trust someone who believes that the Republican Party is just as pro-choice as it is pro-life. Or just as pro-gay marriage as anti-gay marriage. Or just as concerned about separation of church and state as it is about injecting church into state. Democrat, Republican, or the Party of Polka Dotted Sock Enthusiasts — I don’t particularly care, so long as we both value policy made for and driven by objective reality-minded individuals.
Edwina Rogers has certainly not inspired that confidence in me. Nor am I confident in her ability to accurately represent me or other atheists when it comes to the issues we care about. Either I have a lot of surprises coming my way from the Secular Coalition for America, or they have made a colossal misstep. I’m cautiously pessimistic; I won’t write Ms. Rogers off completely, but if she wants to win over the godless crowd, she needs to drop her spade, quit shoveling, and familiarize herself with the people she is being paid to represent.