The Screaming Minority

by digby

I hope that nobody gets the idea that Newt Gingrich's comments to James Dobson exposing him as a rank hypocrite are going to mean anything to the Christian Right. They have proven that they are remarkably flexible when it comes to the personal morality of Republican leaders. If they repent for what they've done, they are forgiven, no harm no foul. (See most recently, Mark Foley.)

When it comes to Democrats, you have a very, very different story.

Here's Dobson in September of 1999:

As with many Christians around the country, Shirley and I have been in prayer for our leaders in government who must deal with the fallout from this scandal. They will need great wisdom and discernment in the days ahead. Our most serious concern, however, is not with those in Washington; it is with the American people. What has alarmed me throughout this episode has been the willingness of my fellow citizens to rationalize the President’s behavior even after they suspected, and later knew, that he was lying. Because the economy is strong, millions of people have said infidelity in the Oval Office is just a private affair--something between himself and Hillary. We heard it time and again during those months: “As long as Mr. Clinton is doing a good job, it’s nobody’s business what he does with his personal life.”

That disregard for morality is profoundly disturbing to me. Although sexual affairs have occurred often in high places, the public has never approved of such misconduct. But today, the rules by which behavior is governed appear to have been rewritten specifically for Mr. Clinton.


How did our beloved nation find itself in this sorry mess? I believe it began not with the Lewinsky affair, but many years earlier. There was plenty of evidence during the first Presidential election that Bill Clinton had a moral problem. His affair with Gennifer Flowers, which he now admits to having lied about, was rationalized by the American people. He lied about dodging the draft, and then concocted an incredulous explanation that changed his story. He visited the Soviet Union and other hostile countries during the Vietnam War, claiming that he was only an “observer.” Numerous sources reported that he organized and participated in anti-war rallies in the United States, Great Britain, and Norway. Clinton evaded questions about whether he had used marijuana, and then finally offered his now-infamous “I didn’t inhale” response. There were other indications that Bill Clinton was untruthful and immoral. Why, then, did the American people ignore so many red flags? Because, and I want to give the greatest emphasis to this point, the mainstream media became enamored with Bill Clinton in 1992 and sought to convince the American people that “character doesn’t matter.”


It is obvious that the media now realizes they misled the American people. Most of the largest and most influential newspapers in the country are calling for Clinton’s resignation. Maureen Dowd, writing in The New York Times, said, “Mr. Clinton has killed something worthy and important in public life. All this carnage, and for what? To cover up some seamy sexcapades? His game has grown exhausting.”


As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.


Well, that brings me back to the issue with which we began. The American people have now heard the President’s dramatic confession of adultery. There is no longer any reason to speculate, and yet, the media reports that the majority continues to believe “it doesn’t matter.” At one point during the shocking revelations last month, Clinton’s public approval rating approached 70 percent! I just don’t understand it. Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the President’s behavior? Are moms and dads not embarrassed by what is occurring? At any given time, 40 percent of the nation’s children list the President of the United States as the person they most admire. What are they learning from Mr. Clinton? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? How can we estimate the impact of this scandal on future generations? How in the world can 7 out of 10 Americans continue to say that nothing matters except a robust economy?

I am left to conclude from these opinions that our greatest problem is not in the Oval Office. It is with the people of this land! We have lost our ability to discern the difference between right and wrong...Clearly, this nation has been blessed because it was based on a commitment to biblical morality. But that is changing. Eleven years ago, Gary Hart was forced to withdraw from the Presidential race after a brief tryst, and yet the majority today seems to find nothing wrong with behavior that is too disgusting to be reported on the evening news.

We are facing a profound moral crisis — not only because one man has disgraced us — but because our people no longer recognize the nature of evil. And when a nation reaches that state of depravity — judgment is a certainty.

Keep in mind that Clinton had publicly expressed remorse and asked for forgiveness numerous times at this point. He did everything but crawl down Pennsylvania avenue flagellating himself with a cat-o-nine-tails. The Christian Dobson would have none of it.

Like his soul-mate Joe Lieberman, his concern was not really with the alleged legal transgressions but rather with Clinton's inherent bad character and the "evil" message it sent to the nation to have an admitted adulterer leading the nation.

He wasn't alone.
more from a Christian Coalition meeting during the Lewinsky scandal:

At this year's convention, which ends on Sunday, the group's leaders used the Clinton scandal as the ultimate evidence that Washington was in need of a restoration of ''family values.''

''Character matters, and the American people are hungry for that message,'' said Mr. Reed, the coalition's former executive director and now a private political consultant. ''We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character.''

I know. I know.

It's possible that these people will reject Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani for the same "moral" reasons they condemned Clinton. But I very much doubt it. Dobson and Falwell and all these guys are hucksters and the people who follow them either have no moral consistency or they are shallow and insincere. Oh, they'll find some lame rationale, as all Republicans do, but it's long been clear that the only thing that matters to them is that the candidate be a member in good standing of the tribe and that they pay tribute to the High Priests.

I continue to wonder when the Democratic establishment is going to recognize that the Christian Right is run by a bunch of powerful phonies and that this small slice of the American electorate has been the tail that very cleverly wagged the dog of American politics for far too long.

These people will very likely back Newt in my opinion. He's a real member of the right wing tribal leadership. And if they get behind him, he may win the nomination. Newt Gingrich is one of the most unlikeable politicians in America.

Run, Newt, run.

Update: Here's Falwell today:

I was pleased to hear Mr. Gingrich state: “I’ve gotten on my knees and sought God’s forgiveness.”

He has admitted his moral shortcomings to me, as well, in private conversations. And he has also told me that he has, in recent years, come to grips with his personal failures and sought God’s forgiveness.

I have been very impressed with the spiritual maturity of this man and am convinced that he has been honest and forthright in clarifying his past failings and his quest, as a Christian, for God’s forgiveness.

Mr. Gingrich, now 63 and a grandfather, openly discussed his two divorces with Dr. Dobson, including the affair that took place during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. It is a “very painful topic and I confess that to you directly,” he stated.

As a pastor with more than a half-century of experience of working with fallible people, I have ministered to a few men who have experienced moral collapse. I have usually been able to tell which of these men was genuinely seeking forgiveness for their actions. My sense tells me that Mr. Gingrich is such a man. He is today happily married to wife Callista, and committed to be the husband he should be.

I well remember the challenge we evangelicals faced in 1980 when our candidate, Ronald Reagan, was the first presidential candidate who had gone through a divorce. We wisely made allowance for God’s forgiveness and America was the beneficiary of this historic champion.

Consequently, I decided earlier this week to invite Mr. Gingrich to come to Liberty University on May 19 as our graduation speaker. This will be his second commencement speech at Liberty, previously addressing graduates in 1991.

In recent years, Mr. Gingrich has dedicated much of his time to calling America back to our Christian heritage.

His most recent book, “Rediscovering God in America,” is a brilliant essay that highlights the unique and obvious Christian influence that inspired our nation’s dawning. The book takes readers on a tour of Washington, D.C., inspecting many documents, memorials, friezes and writings of presidents and national leaders who clearly put allegiance to Almighty God at the forefront of the nation’s development.

There has been a war on God in our nation in recent years and the effort to rekindle our national commitment to God is urgently needed.

Mr. Gingrich is certainly one of the brightest men I know in public life today, and he is becoming one of our great ambassadors for reawakening the spirit of our Founders.

In fact, his topic during the May 19 graduation will be, “Rediscovering God in America.” I am already anxious to hear it and am pleased that our young people will hear this modern American statesman.

I’m proud to call Mr. Gingrich my friend and I will continue to pray for him and his family as he contemplates a run for the presidency and as he deals with the coming media scrutiny of his past, present and future.