Friday, April 20, 2007

A Progressive Response

Again, Oldfield's continued use of the term Christian Right may suggest to some he is speaking of any Christian involvement in politics, but he is not.

I think it is interesting here that he is critical of the way that this viewpoint has been opposed by liberals.

The enumerations will appear on Tuesday, followed by an international perspective and then finally Oldfield's bibliography

III. A Progressive Response

How should progressives understand and respond to the Christian right's foreign policy influence? One of the most common approaches adopted by opponents of the Christian right and its predecessors has invoked the language of extremism. Extremists, such as members of the radical right, are seen as distinct from the reasonable world of normal or mainstream politics. They are viewed as irrational, psychologically disturbed people who do not accept the rules of the democratic game. This approach has a long, intellectual history from Daniel Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Richard Hofstadter's analyses of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society to later interpretations of the Christian right (see Bell 1955, 1963, Lipset and Raab, and Crawford). Although this approach has been much criticized by academics, it is the analysis that guides major lobbying groups that attempt to counter the Christian right. 17 People for the American Way's very name implies a distinction between the normal politics of the “American way” and the dangerous extremism of the group's opponents, “the radical right.” The Interfaith Alliance describes itself as an “organization of people of faith and goodwill” engaged in the process of “promoting mainstream values” and “shining the light on extremism.” (see Interfaith Alliance). Painting oneself as mainstream and one's opponents as extreme and un-American can be an effective political strategy. Elements of the Christian right's approach to foreign policy, equating the UN with the Antichrist for example, certainly are extreme and should be pointed out by its opponents. Nonetheless, understanding and countering the Christian right's foreign policy influence by using the language of extremism is a mistaken approach for several reasons.

The extremism approach has particular dangers for those critiquing the Christian right from the left. The analysis of extremism is inherently one that upholds the “responsible” center against both extremes. Michael Rogin provides a powerful account of the ways in which such an analysis was inaccurately used not only to attack the radical right but also to link it to--and thereby discredit--progressive movements involving populists and the student activists of the 1960s. 18 An analysis that contrasts the pragmatic and responsible leadership of, say, Colin Powell and George Bush Sr. with the extremism of Christian fundamentalists can also be used to contrast such leadership with the extremism of antiglobalization protesters.

Pitting a rational center against irrational extremists also blinds everyone to the irrationality of the center and the rationality of the extremes. It is a serious mistake to think that the extremes of the Christian right are the only places where dangerous nationalist myths take root. The ideology of American unilateralism draws on a variety of sources from mainstream popular culture and civil religion (see Jewett and Lawrence). It is also a serious mistake to underplay the rationality of the Christian right. Dismissed again and again as an irrational, reactive movement lashing out against the modern world, the Christian right has continually confounded its critics by behaving in an effective and politically astute manner, building its institutions, forging alliances, and working pragmatically to advance its agenda.

Finally, and most importantly, the Christian right is no longer an extreme separate from the foreign policy mainstream. Seeing the Christian right as an extreme fringe element that has somehow wormed itself into the realm of responsible mainstream foreign policymaking is simply mistaken. With its grassroots strength, the Christian right is a major component in the electoral coalition of the country's dominant political party. It enjoys close relations with the president and his neoconservative advisers, and, for the moment at least, the Christian right is a significant element in a unilateralist alliance that dominates American foreign policy. This stature must be taken into account by those who would attempt to counter the influence of the religious right.

If the Christian right is part of a dominant foreign policy alliance, how should those who oppose it proceed? The most obvious and effective countermeasure would be the electoral defeat of the party and administration with which it is allied. Over the last quarter century, the Christian right has become ever more closely intertwined with the Republican Party. Its potential for influence closely tracks that party's electoral fortunes. Of course, this solution begs the question--how is this electoral defeat to be accomplished? I have no magic bullet to offer, and the question is beyond the scope of this paper. However, I would suggest that those looking to organize against the Christian right, and the unilateralist alliance of which it is a part, begin by examining the inherent tensions and contradictions within that alliance and within the Christian right itself, a few of which I will now enumerate.


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