A couple of weeks ago we flagged an important development on the Congressional campaign trail: The Ohio Elections Commission issued a finding of “probable cause” that the Susan B. Anthony List’s massive political advertising blitz (which falsely alleged abortion funding was part of health care reform) may have broken an Ohio law prohibiting false statements in campaign advertisements. Rather than defending their ads as truthful, the SBA List filed suit in federal court to overturn the law — a move that spoke volumes about their confidence in the accuracy of their claims.
This week a federal court declined to overturn the statute, allowing the Ohio Election Commission’s investigation to continue. This ruling is a significant step toward stopping the misinformation campaign designed to exact partisan retribution against pro-life Members of Congress who supported healthcare reform — legislation supported by pro-life faith leaders because it not only guards against federal funding of abortion, but also brings quality, affordable health care to millions of families who otherwise would go without it.
As we’ve noted many times, numerous analyses, from health policy experts such as Prof. Timothy Jost of the Washington & Lee School of Law, independent fact-checking organizations such as Factcheck.org and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact.com, and network news organizations have debunked the incendiary false claim that health care reform funds abortion. That may not matter to groups like the Susan B. Anthony List, but it seems to matter to the courts.
Much ink has been spilled of late trying to understand the Tea Party. Where did this backlash of populist anger come from, and how will it upend politics? What role does race play in a nearly all-white movement that gained strength only after the election of our nation’s first black president?
Public Religion Research Institute’s recent poll brought a new round of punditry (including our own analysis here at Bold Faith Type) after it found that nearly half of Tea Party activists identify with the Christian conservative movement (although fewer than a quarter of Christian conservatives identify with the Tea Party). This complicated the conventional wisdom that the Tea Party phenomenon is largely a libertarian movement that doesn’t care much about social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
Old fashioned shoe-leather journalism is rare these days. But the Washington Post’s months-long examination of the Tea Party (the paper set out to contact every tea party group in the nation!) is a major contribution to the burgeoning field of Tea Partyology. This kind of reporting helps sort out fevered opinion from sober facts. The Post found that far from being a coherent movement, the Tea Party is a disparate collection of local groups. Many are quite small, meet informally and rarely take steps to engage the political system. The groups frequently disagree over policy issues.
Seventy percent of the grass-roots groups said they have not participated in any political campaigning this year. As a whole, they have no official candidate slates, have not rallied behind any particular national leader, have little money on hand, and remain ambivalent about their goals and the political process in general…The findings suggest that the breadth of the tea party may be inflated. The Atlanta-based Tea Party Patriots, for example, says it has a listing of more than 2,300 local groups, but The Post was unable to identify anywhere near that many, despite help from the organization and independent research.
This confirms my sense that the Tea Party movement is less a defined political movement wedded to specific policy goals than a loose nexus for the inchoate anger and sense of cultural loss that a certain segment of America (largely white, older and male) is now experiencing. “Take Our Country Back” and “Restoring Honor” are Tea Party mantras that reflect a particular response to a changing nation that is less white, less traditionally religious and losing global preeminence. For a Tea Party sympathizer who lost his job, is unnerved by immigrants moving into the neighborhood and doesn’t feel comforted by a black president with a foreign-sounding name, patriotic appeals to an idealized past anchored by Christian values resonate in powerful ways. This emotional, cultural identity appeal is far more potent than calls for smaller government or lower taxes – even as those principles fit easily with a vaguely defined “liberty” agenda.
In a similar way that Barack Obama represented something more profound than new policies for a younger generation of Americans hungry for change and hopeful about politics for the first time, the Tea Party gives shape and meaning to those who feel like something is slipping through their fingers. While The Post found that social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights “did not register as concerns” for most activists interviewed, Public Religion Research Institute reported that 57 percent of self-identified Tea Partiers agree that “America is and always has been a Christian nation.” I think we can get stuck endlessly debating whether the Tea Party is libertarian or an extension of the Christian right. It seems this fluid movement comfortably embraces both of these strains of identity without conforming with either. The big question that remains is what long-term impact the Tea Party can have in an increasingly multicultural America where the ground is shifting under our feet.
To the millions of American struggling to care for their families without access to affordable health insurance, health care reform was a tremendous victory.
To the millions of Americans of faith who saw the great moral injustice of a broken system that allowed hard-working families to go into debt and bankruptcy because of staggering medical bills, and where profit-obsessed companies could kick people off their insurance policies because of pre-existing conditions, health care reform was a tremendous victory.
Some on the right apparently see it otherwise. In an interview with Hoover Institute research fellow Peter Robinson, Daniel Hannan, a conservative politician and writer from Britain, claims:
The real problem with the growth of welfare is not that it retires economic growth, although it does…The real malignancy is the way it frays the bonds that used to tie society together. It makes us less virtuous as individual citizens and it…it makes us–it infantilizes us. It makes us less likely to take on our responsibilities.
As a person of faith who tithes to my church and actively supports ministries to help care for the “least of these,” I’m not at all opposed to the concept of being virtuous as individual citizens and operating in a society where people are bonded together. But I’m missing Hannan’s logical jump whereby the strengthening of our safety net via governmental action makes us less likely to be good citizens. He goes on to say that there is a correlation between the growth of welfare programs and the decline of private society, including “the churches.” Knowing full well the important role of the faith community’s advocacy in the passage of health reform and the critical support and direct assistance churches and faith-based organizations provide to hurting families, there are some serious flaws in this hypothesis.
When comedian Stephen Colbert announced his “March to Keep Fear Alive,” Faithful America decided that matching the tone and launching a faux-protest would be a great way to draw some more attention to the campaign.
Right now they are launching a petition to put Colbert “on notice,” sending him a “Driven by Faith” bumper sticker for every 100 signatures.
They’ll also be at the rally on Saturday with “People of Faith for Sanity” signs, so keep a look out for them if you’re going.
Our friends at the Beatitudes Society, who work to train and support progressive Christian seminarians and clergy, put out a “Weekly Circuit Reader” that provides educational and spiritual resources as well as action items around a specific issue.
This week’s issue is focused on Christian responses to bullying and I think it’s a great complement to the “Faith Gets Better” project we’ve been highlighting on our blog.