“Perry Ad Attacks Gay Rights in Appeal to Iowa’s Evangelicals” says the headline from The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire site.
It’s a reference to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s latest campaign ad, in which he not only “attacks gay rights,” but also attacks the separation of church and state and the religious freedom of any American who isn’t an evangelical Christian.
Here’s a link to the video. And here’s the text of the ad:
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
As President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.
Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.
There’s a lot packed into those five sentences. The initial phrase is a slimy insinuation that anyone who disagrees with Rick Perry must be “ashamed” of their faith (the allusion there is to Romans 1:16).
That’s followed by an affirmation of the central contention of the religious right — “there’s something wrong in this country.” For this ad’s target audience, that “something wrong” is that America has backslidden from its sectarian, righteous, Bartonian heritage. That “gays can serve openly in the military” is, for Perry and his target audience, clear evidence of that “something wrong.”
This first sentence ends with two absurdly nonsensical lies: “Our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Children in public schools can and do openly celebrate Christmas — whether they wish to or not, and they can and do pray in school. Perry’s contention here only makes sense if, for him, celebrating Christmas and praying in school entail a strictly sectarian practice of officially sanctioned and mandatory worship. Perry has since confirmed that this is exactly what he means and exactly what he intends for public schools, telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace that he supports a constitutional amendment to allow local school districts to enforce sectarian prayers.
The ad concludes with two false and malicious slurs and two vapid platitudes that reinforce them.
It’s a nasty piece of work. And it’s explicitly a nasty piece of work that is intended, as The Wall Street Journal says, to “appeal to Iowa’s evangelicals.”
Both the newspaper and the political professionals in the Perry campaign are certain that this is how one goes about appealing to evangelical Christian voters in America — by demonizing gays and denouncing the separation of church and state.
The Family Research Council rushed to confirm that they’re right, praising Perry’s add and saying the candidate “stands to benefit with everyday Americans who are tired of seeing their values in the line of fire under this administration.”
The Family Resarch Council claims to speak on behalf of evangelical Christians, presenting itself as representing their views and interests. This claim is routinely supported by less explicitly political institutions of “mainstream” evangelicalism, such as Christianity Today, in which the FRC and its spokesman, the Liar Tony Perkins, are regularly cited as “evangelical” voices (see, here for example).
Many will rightly object that neither the Family Research Council nor Rick Perry’s ad represents the views of all evangelicals. True enough. But Perry isn’t aiming to appeal to all evangelicals, just to most of them, and neither his professional pollsters nor the veteran political pundits seem to think that he is misreading what it is that most evangelicals want to hear.
Perry’s ad was, apparently, hotly contested amongst his campaign staff. But that dispute wasn’t about whether or not its message would be effective as an appeal to evangelical voters. Everyone agreed that it would be. The worry some had was that it would be too effective at appealing to those voters — that such a full-throated expression of support for evangelicals’ anti-gay sentiment and for their desire for legally enforced sectarian privilege might alienate other Republican voters and conservative-leaning independents.
That worry seems justified in view of the reception that Perry’s ad has received. While it hit the bullseye for religious right groups like Family Research Council, outside of that circle the ad — like the candidate himself — has been denounced as a crude piece of bigoted silliness. Evangelical voters are a big chunk of the base that votes in GOP primaries, but they still make up less than half of that partisan base. So Perry seems to have boosted his standing with 40 percent of one party’s voters while fatally damaging his political prospects with the rest of the world.
Here’s just a sampling of the fierce, and often hilarious, response Perry’s ad has received outside its narrow target audience of evangelicals:
- “Rick Perry promises war on homosexuals and religious freedom“
- “Rick Perry and the Real War on Faith“
- “Rabbi Jason Miller responds to Rick Perry“
- “Rick Perry’s Unpopular Opinions“
- “Rick Perry — Weak, man“
- “Jesus Responds to Rick Perry (1)“
- “Jesus Responds to Rick Perry (2)“
My guess is that this ad will be a millstone around Perry’s neck in the increasingly slim chance that he becomes the Republican nominee. And neither Newt Gingrich nor Mitt Romney would likely want to take on the burden of defending that ad by picking Perry as a running mate.
But I’m no expert at politicking. I suspect the ad will be damaging to Perry’s political future, but you should look elsewhere for evidence or more informed opinion about its likely political effects.
What concerns me here is not the impact of the ad on Rick Perry’s reputation, but the disastrous effect such ads have when evangelicals allow them to go unchallenged. By not quickly and unambiguously denouncing such crude attempts to win our support, we reinforce the ugly, negative — and largely deserved — reputation now burdening American evangelicalism.
Ads like this one, and our failure to reject them, further cement the impression that evangelicals are incapable of loving our neighbors — incapable of living as neighbors with anyone who doesn’t share our particular sectarian faith and sectarian political ideology.
It says that we want gays hidden in the closet. It says that our message to GLBT men and women in uniform is never “Thank you for your service,” but rather “Go away.” It says that we are intent on destroying public education, but that in the interim — as a half-measure toward our goal of tax-funded education for our kids but not for yours — we want to force your children to pray the way ours do. It says that we cannot live alongside others who don’t believe exactly as we do, but must instead live above them — elevated, privileged and honored as their superiors due to our adherence to the one, true faith.
It says, in short, that we are awful, awful people.
If we do not wish to be perceived as awful people — and if we do not wish to be awful people — then we must make it clear that “appeals” to us like this one are an insult and an affront, that they will earn our contempt rather than our support.