Kuo and Christianism

A reader challenges me:

During the past week I became dimly aware of the Kuo book, but only from skimming over posts about it on your blog and the Corner, etc. I heard him interviewed on Fresh Air tonight and got up to speed on the theme of his book. I'll take him at face value - he seemed like a straight shooter.

The thing I was most struck by is that the gist of what he said amounts to a strong contradiction to your thesis that the Christianists are running the White House, Congress, and the Republican party in general. His main point is that the White House doesn't take the religious people seriously and mostly just uses them for political purposes. That's pretty unseemly, but it also suggests that you're wrong to think that a bunch of fundamentalists have the Republican party in their collective pocket.

The only problem with this analysis is that it assumes that Christianist dominance of the GOP policy agenda and cynical exploitation of it by party operatives are mutually exclusive phenomena. They're not. What Kuo is arguing, it seems to me, is that the base is genuinely committed to Republican politics for their own religious reasons, and that the party leadership sees this - or, simply by using it, came to see it - as a political tool and lever to win elections. And so cynicism crept in at the top and rage built at the bottom. And each reinforced the other. In fact, if the base weren't sincere it would be impossible for the elite to condescend to them.

But have the Christianists gotten nothing from this deal? Kuo's case is that not enough federal money was shoveled into their coffers. He was expecting an $8 billion bonanza - and got one percent of what Bush promised. But we also have the following set of facts: a party platform committed to criminalizing all abortions (including rape and incest) and banning legal same-sex unions by federal constitutional amendment; unprecedented federal and presidential intervention in the Terri Schiavo case; advancement of Christianist activist judges at all federal and many state levels; 39 states where same-sex unions are banned or gutted; the promotion of religion as science in the classroom; a federal ban on funding for stem cell research; restrictions on Plan B contraception; explicitly religious appeals by political leaders like Tom DeLay; a stepped-up federal war on state medical marijuana decisions; a concerted effort to withdraw Catholic communion from many Democratic politicians; and sectarian worship within the Armed Forces. Have Christianists overhauled the entire country? Of course not. Have they had unprecedented access to power and influence? Ask James Dobson and Jerry Falwell who gets to vet Supreme Court Justice nominees. Have the Christianists been bamboozled? To some extent, yes. But the radicalism of their agenda is self-limiting in a diverse, liberal society. There was simply no way that their cherished constitutional amendments could leap the hurdles the founders set for such drastic changes in one presidential term. But in the long term, the foundations have been laid - in organization, structure and policy. The shift in the judiciary is palpable - and would become far more permanent with another presidential term.

I think of the GOP and Christianists as being in an alliance of mutual use and abuse. After a while, who is using whom can become blurry. Both would be better off, in my view, with a lot more clear sky between them.