The Religious Right’s annual “Values Voter Summit” (VVS) takes place this weekend. Americans United staffers Simon Brown, Sarah Jones and I will be there. (Barry Lynn usually pops in too, in case anyone wants to take a selfie with him.)
If you are a religious person, please pray for us. If you’re not religious, please forward some recommendations for stress-relief strategies – favorite liquors, ice-cream brands, yoga positions, etc. – as I suspect we’ll all need some way to unwind when this thing is over.
The Summit is sponsored primarily by the Family Research Council along with the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel and others. I’ve been to a lot of these meetings over the years. Today I’d like to share with you five of my favorite (and by “favorite” I actually mean “most offensive”) speakers from Summits past – with a little information about what makes them so special.
Herman Cain: Does anyone remember Herman Cain? Do the phrases “9-9-9” and “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” ring a bell? Cain, you might recall, is a former pizza magnate who inexplicably became the Republican Party’s presidential front-runner for a brief period in 2011. He appeared at the Summit the same year, and I have to say, he wowed the crowd.
Unfortunately, it was all style, no substance. Cain’s platform consisted of a string of simplistic ideas passed off as homespun wisdom. Virtually no one who looked at his proposals seriously believed they could work. But he presented well, and his speech at VVS was an effective mix of fiery denunciations of President Barack Obama, humor and hubris. At one point he told the crowd, “My challenge to you is stay informed because we are up against a lot of stupid people in America.” (You don’t say!)
Cain had a lot of promise. No one, other than Cain himself, actually believed he was going to be president, but he could have worked the Religious Right’s speaking circuit for years propelled by his incredible bombast. Alas, not long after that speech, he started having trouser-related problems and was soon out of the race. Although he still works the Tea Party crowd, Cain hasn’t been back to the Summit since.
Newt Gingrich: Smug and arrogant, the thrice-married serial adulterer Newt Gingrich is a VVS institution, even though he’s really just a walking sack of chutzpah on legs. Given his own checkered past when it comes to respecting the bonds of marriage, you would think Gingrich would refrain from accusing gays of trying to undermine that institution. But you would be wrong. He does it all of the time.
Gingrich is often lauded as a right-wing intellectual; I’ve never understood why. His grasp on American history and the text of the Constitution he claims to revere have always been tenuous at best. He seems to labor under the delusion that the United States was founded to be a religious state, and the last time I heard him speak he went on and on about his plan, if elected president, to remove federal judges who dare hand down rulings affirming the separation of church and state. He seemed untroubled by the fact that nothing in the Constitution gives the president the power to do that.
Gingrich’s own ethical lapses, of course, are well known. That doesn’t stop him from judging everyone else.
Star Parker: I’ve had the misfortune to hear Star Parker speak perhaps a dozen times. Prior to her appearances at the Summit, she was a regular fixture at the Christian Coalition’s “Road to Victory” events during the 1990s.
Parker’s claim to fame – and it’s a very old, tired story – is that she says she was once a drug addict and welfare mother who lived in a taxpayer-subsidized luxury apartment with a swimming pool, fireplace and sunken living room in California. (Jesus delivered her from all that.) As far as I know, no one has ever bothered to check her implausible story.
Parker doesn’t so much speak as she does scream. She’s frequently incoherent and usually delivers a stream-of-consciousness rant that careens from one Bible verse to another. Also, she really does not like liberals, gay people or atheists.
Bryan Fischer: The American Family Association’s resident extremism czar, Fischer first came to my attention some years ago after he wrote a column suggesting that a killer whale at SeaWorld that had killed a trainer should be executed. You see, that’s what the Bible calls for. (You might have seen this documentary, which explores the issue with considerably more nuance.)
Since then, Fischer has unleashed a string of gems: implying that women’s suffrage was a mistake, asserting that states can ban Islam, demanding religious tests in the military, opining that the lack of mandatory prayer in public schools led to the Newtown, Conn., school shootings and so on.
Fischer’s actually not a very compelling speaker. His main attraction is that you never know what he’s going to say next – but you can be sure that it will be pretty insane. At the 2009 VVS, he informed the crowd that Adolf Hitler had invented the separation of church and state.
Glenn Beck: Listening to Glenn Beck speak is like watching an avant-garde movie. You might not know what’s going on most of the time, but it’s just strange enough that you keep looking.
Beck’s delivery is so dramatic and staged that it’s often easy to overlook the fact that what he’s saying makes no sense. The last time I heard him speak, I was uncertain if I had just heard the ramblings of a madman or a brilliant piece of performance art. He’s a lot like Howard Beale from “Network.” He goes on and on, and you keep waiting for him to tell you to stick your head out the window. But in the end, he’s crying and you feel like it too.
I’m still not convinced that Beck actually believes the things he says – can an entire belief system rest on word salad? – but there’s no denying that it does pay the bills.
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I’m not sure that this year’s event can top any of that, but we’re about to find out.
Although I poke fun, don’t get the wrong idea. These people are scary. There is one thing you can’t deny about the Values Voter Summit: They put it all right out there. Summiteers have a vision for America. It’s a nightmarish theocracy where LGBT Americans, non-Christians, progressive and moderate Christians, women, non-believers and others would find their rights curtailed, if not gone entirely.
Every year, the forces of retrogression and oppression spend two days plotting to knock down the church-state wall and raise the banner for their vision of a “godly” society based on “Christian” values. They outline their plan and vow to bring it about. Onward go the Christian soldiers.
We can’t say we weren’t warned.
P.S. Be sure to visit “The Wall of Separation” on Monday. Simon will have some thoughts on this year’s Summit. For more on what this event is like, here is a personal reflection I wrote about the 2011 confab.