How I Destroyed the Republican Party

Okay, I had some help. But without me and lots of like minded right wing religious ideologues who put theological "principles" ahead of governing, the Republicans might be set to win again this year.

I dropped out of the Evangelical right in the mid 80s and became a movie director and then a novelist. These days I'm an avid Obama supporter. But long before that we Schaeffers were Evangelical royalty. When I was growing up in my parents' religious community it was not unusual to find myself seated across the dining room table from President Ford's children or Barbara Bush.

Mom and Dad met with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr., stayed in the White House and as their nepotistic sidekick, I was along for the ride. Why?

Did Dad or I have any political, economic or military expertise? No. We had something better: the devotion of millions of right wing Evangelical voters. We had been preaching a "gospel" of making America "Christian again." So the Republican leadership wanted to connect through Dad and I (and through many other preachers) to a base of voters that only asked for "correct" theological ideology, not good governance. It was the opposite of put up or shut up. It was; just say the right things and we'll let you get away with just about anything else.

It is ironic that McCain hammered the final nail into the coffin of the Republican Party by trying to reach out to "my" religious conservatives once again. He did this through nominating Sarah Palin. The only reason he chose her was because Palin is ideologically pure on the culture war "issues" that have motivated the far right: abortion, prayer in schools, gay marriage, a concept of a "Christian America," the usual "End Times" Christian Zionism, etc., etc. And the only reason McCain thought this would work is because in the early 1970s through the mid 80s my late father (Francis Schaeffer) and I, along with many others from Dobson to C. Everett Koop to Falwell et al. preached a new religion: national salvation through religiously correct politics. For a while it "worked." Just ask Rove.

Fast forward to the uniquely miserable W. Bush. He only got elected because the "base" I helped create voted for him. They voted for him because of his theology (born-again) and because he said the correct things on the social issues too. Ability, fitness for office, willingness to govern, none of that mattered to the base.

With Palin, the Republican Party faces the full awful logic of putting theology and ideology ahead of the ability to govern. Here we have the ultimate right wing Evangelical candidate: she's so suspicious of the US Government she is even friends with Alaska's secessionists! Here we also have the Evangelical's evangelical; a member of the Assemblies of God for 20 years who are, more or less, the most fundamentalist denomination in the country.

This time the American people have had enough.

When ideology replaces policy, you get sermons instead of programs. You get people who will no longer trust actual information, preferring their own adjusted reality, devoid of anything challenging to their presuppositions. So it is that if right wing Evangelicals insist that Obama is a Muslim (or "a Arab") he must be one and damn the facts! And so it is that if government is evil, then to hell with banking regulation. And if our guy is chosen by God, then who cares if the reasons we went to war in Iraq aren't even true. God's in charge! Anyone who isn't on board is a socialist, or maybe a witch, sumthin' bad, that's for sure! Never mind the details, such as the economy, health care, or even things as mundane as mere truth.

Facts are what the elite talk about and the elite is bad! What is good isn't facts; its being right with Jesus. Facts say that the earth is hundreds of millions of years old but we know that dinosaurs and men coexisted a few thousand years ago! We also just know that America was a Christian nation. We know that God wants us in Iraq. The President said so and he's one of us...

The Republicans got away with this nonsense for the better part of thirty years. The way things worked was that some very smart people -- Rove, Cheney, the neoconservatives -- took advantage of some very sad "little peole" rubes, funny when interviewed by Borat, or caught on tape in Religulous, but not who you want governing, or rather not who you want putting one of their own (Bush or Palin) in the White House.

For a while the people the religious right wing that I helped form put in office cruised on inertia. Then the bill came due: Katrina, Iraq and the economy, our military stretched, our reputation broken...

It will be a long time before mainstream America allows a vocal minority of wingnuts (of any political party or faith) to elect someone again only because they share their ideology. Obama is winning because he exudes non-ideological competence. He has a strong moral inner compass but also seems to understand that belief is not enough. He actually seems to want to govern and to do so pragmatically. And he is smart, maybe even so smart he is one of (heavens above!) the elite! It's about time, say many Americans, that someone smarter than us calls the shots.

McCain was looking backward by picking Palin, playing the old game my father and I helped invent. Fatal mistake. Times have changed. But here's a warning: if the Democrats sweep, take it from this repentant ideologue, real results, not another form of ideological hubris better be the order of the day.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy For God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back (Now in Paperback)