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GOP looks like nation's first religious party

by Alan Markow, published

Kevin Phillips in his 2006 bestseller American Theocracy warns of the dangers of too much religious influence in the Republican Party.

“Never before,” the former Republican strategist writes, “has a U.S. political coalition been so dominated by an array of outsider religious denominations caught up in biblical morality, distrust of science, and a global imperative of political and religious evangelicalism.”

Flash forward to 2012 and Phillips’ writings seem even more relevant as Rick Santorum, current GOP frontrunner in most polls, pronounces himself the “Jesus candidate” and states publicly that “Satan has his sights on the United States of America.”  In fact, the entire Republican cadre of candidates (with Ron Paul largely being the exception) has made religious faith a center point of their campaign, tried to paint President Obama as anti-religion and hinted that the president may not be a Christian.

The L.A. Times reported yesterday:

“…at a tea party gathering in Tucson, Santorum saved most of his criticism for President Obama, questioning his moral values and accusing him of ‘trying to crush the traditional Judeo-Christian values’ of the country.”

As the Washington Post wrote in its February 21 “On Faith” column:

“In their relentless search for enemies to loathe and not love … right-wing politicians have assumed yet another victim role, this time as targets of a ‘war on religion’ and victims of an assault on ‘religious liberty’.”

In my opinion, this direction will drive the Republican Party off a cliff come the general election.  Because, unlike countries that function under religious law, the United States does not operate under rules derived from holy books or religious leaders.  We are instead a nation of laws created under the aegis of our Constitution.

There is a disturbing policy outgrowth that has become conflated with this theocratic view of the world:  the issues of contraception and abortion.  The Republicans appear to have lumped these issues of women’s reproductive rights into “moral imperatives" for their party.  The parade of men arguing against the free distribution of contraceptives at Representative Darrell Issa’s recent hearing is a prime example.

According to Slate:

“Issa's hearing on allowing women whose employers refuse to cover birth control to get it anyway through their insurance companies was intended to reframe the issue as ‘religious freedom’…."

Most of the witnesses -- all men -- were religious leaders.  The medical profession and the women affected by the policy were simply left out of the discussion.  But these tactics may in fact be backfiring on the Republicans, reports Wednesday’s Huffington Post:

“Obama tops 50 percent support when matched against each of the four GOP candidates and holds a significant lead over each of them, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll.”

While the lately improving economy clearly impacts these poll numbers, there is a strong possibility that the GOP’s focus on women's reproductive rights and religious issues are making a difference.  Questioning what is conservative about the intrusion of someone's religious convictions on your life, Maureen Dowd wrote in Wednesday’s New York Times:

“Why is it that Republicans don’t want government involved when it comes to the economy (opposing the auto bailouts) but do want government involved when it comes to telling people how to live their lives?”

Kevin Phillips wrote a stark warning in the Preface to American Theocracy in 2006:

“The hucksters in the United States rank with any Shiite ayatollahs, and the last two presidential elections mark the transformation of the GOP into the first religious party in U.S. history.”

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