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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

'It is Such a Very Powerful Thing...'

"It's called a covenant. Two, or three, agree? They can do anything. A covenant is... powerful. Can you think of anyone who made a covenant with his friends?"

We all knew the answer to this, having heard his name invoked numerous times in this context. Andrew from Australia, sitting beside Doug [Coe], cleared his throat: "Hitler."

"Yes," Doug said. "Yes, Hitler made a covenant. The Mafia makes a covenant. It is such a very powerful thing. Two, or three, agree." He took another bite from his plate, planted his fork on its tines. "Well, guys," he said, "I gotta go."

--Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America's secret theocrats, Jeffrey Sharlet, Harper's Magazine, 2003

Hillary Clinton was in a little trouble. Seems she'd exaggerated a trip she'd made to Bosnia as First Lady. In a speech in Pennsylvania, Clinton told supporters, "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

Yeah, it didn't so much happen. The BBC reports that a video of the landing and disembarkation showed "Mrs Clinton and Chelsea walking across the tarmac smiling and waving before stopping to shake hands with Bosnia's acting president and meet an eight-year-old girl." I don't know why, but it's the eight year-old girl part that cracks me up. Was she the sniper?

Anyway Clinton, caught in an obvious lie, tried to lie her way out of it. That never works. She says she misspoke. Now, if she'd confused Bosnia with Hungary, then I'd believe she'd misspoke. But you don't say "We just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles," when you mean to say, "We met a very nice little girl."

It may be that the only damned thing Donald Rumsfeld ever said that was worth anything was, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Clinton must wish she'd followed Rumsfeld's Rule of Holes. Instead of clearing everything up, she'd managed to make it worse. In desperate need of new headlines, Clinton spoke to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about Barack Obama yesterday.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a wide-ranging interview today with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporters and editors, said she would have left her church if her pastor made the sort of inflammatory remarks Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor made.

"He would not have been my pastor," Clinton said. "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."

Clinton hadn't really jumped into the controversy up to that point. She had her reasons and they were good reasons. But Obama's big scandal turned out to have no legs. After a short stint of falling behind Hillary in polling, Obama rebounded -- thanks mostly to an incredibly well-crafted and honest address on the issue of race in America. In a beautiful example of grace under pressure, life had handed Barack Obama lemons and he'd made the sweetest lemonade with them. Observers referred to the speech as "historic" and a "profile in courage." Hillary's big chance had come and gone. Barack Obama had not destroyed himself and that was the only hope she'd had left.

So, she forgot her good reasons for leaving religion alone and decided to poke the Rev. Wright controversy with a stick, to see if there was any life left in it. I don't think there was. But Hillary's own religious problem is coming to brighter light (it's always been there) and in poking Obama's with a stick, she roused her own.

It's ironic that she chose the wording, "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend," because Clinton has chosen both. She belongs to a secretive evangelical group known alternately as "The Fellowship" or "The Family."

Mother Jones:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. "A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation," says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. "I don't....there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer."

"When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group," we're told. "For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian 'cell' whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat."

From the outside, The Family looks pretty benign. For the most part, it's known for organizing the National Prayer Breakfast. But, like most groups that are problematic, it looks bad from the inside. In his expose for Harpers, Jeffrey Sharlet wrote, Family members "forge 'relationships' beyond the din of vox populi (the Family's leaders consider democracy a manifestation of ungodly pride) and 'throw away religion' in favor of the truths of the Family. Declaring God's covenant with the Jews broken, the group's core members call themselves 'the new chosen.'"

Is this what Hillary believes, that democracy is "a manifestation of ungodly pride" and that Jews have broken their covenant with the Almighty? If someone out there with access -- say, someone in the media -- could ask her about that, it'd really help to clear everything up.

The Family's reach goes far beyond Washington. MoJo tells us, "The Fellowship's ideas are essentially a blend of Calvinism and Norman Vincent Peale, the 1960s preacher of positive thinking." That anti-democratic thing comes from the Calvinism. God chooses the leaders of nations, not the nations themselves, so democracy is only a pretense. Someone might ask Hillary is why God chose Saddam Hussein to lead Iraq, being all evil and all.

"It's a cheery faith in the 'elect' chosen by a single voter—God—and a devotion to Romans 13:1: 'Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers....The powers that be are ordained of God,'" we're told. "Or, as [Family leader Doug] Coe has put it, 'we work with power where we can, build new power where we can't.'" "The elect" refers to the belief that the saved are already saved, preselected by God, and everyone else -- i.e., you and me -- was damned the day they were born.

What fun.

For myself, I find this all deeply unamerican. People have made reference to Team Clinton's sense that they're "entitled" to the Democratic nomination (most recently, Bill Richardson). Could it be that Hillary believes that God chose her, one of the elect, to be the President? Seems to me that they've got a pretty weak god going there, since his will can be so easily thwarted by one of the unsaved non-elect.

And what's with Coe's "Yay for Hitler" stuff? Shouldn't that be just a little concerning? In the quote I opened with, the people surrounding him were so familiar with the argument that they were able to finish it for him. While Obama can believably say he's never heard any of the "God damn America" stuff from Wright, it's a lot harder to believe that Clinton's never heard this from Coe.

It might be that Clinton's good reasons for keeping away from the subject of crazy-assed religious beliefs kept her from visiting the Wright scandal (at least, personally. Team Clinton members were free to comment and have been delighted to). Those good reasons were Doug Coe and The Family.

So, when Hillary says, "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend," ask yourself why she chose this family and this church. If it were just a shallow attempt at networking with powerful Washington insiders, that'd be bad enough. But if she joined up because she believes this crap, then we've all got a bigger problem than some guy in Chicago who thinks we should sing, "God damn America." We've got a candidate who's every bit the theocrat that George W. Bush is.

We don't need another president who thinks that God chose them. The last one sucked hard enough. Hillary has her own religious nutcase problem and now that she's opened Pandora's Box, someone ought to ask her about it. Does she believe in democracy or does she believe in The Family?

If her answer is the latter, then we have good reason to reject her as unfit for the presidency.


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Emily said...

Fascinating stuff, and definitely worth investigating further.

One (honest) question, though. You say, "While Obama can believably say he's never heard any of the "God damn America" stuff from Wright, it's a lot harder to believe that Clinton's never heard this from Coe." Why is that?

Wisco said...

Because Wright's only on record as saying "God damn America" once in a twenty year career, while Coe's Hitler analogy was so familiar to Family members that they were able to finish his thought for him.

Emily said...

Ah, OK. I just read the articles, too, so it makes more (scary) sense. Thanks, by the way--both of them were very...educational.