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POLITICS-US: The World According to Pat

Analysis by Bill Berkowitz*

OAKLAND, California, Nov 16 2007 (IPS) - In a two-week span that saw several conservative Christian evangelical leaders finally climb down off the fence and begin spreading their endorsements across the field of Republican Party presidential candidates, it was the unexpected endorsement by one of Christian conservatism’s longtime leaders that garnered the most media attention.

When Pat Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the man who created and helped make the Christian Coalition a political powerhouse in the Republican Party of the 1990s, recently endorsed former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, he accomplished at least two things: He enhanced Giuliani’s standing amongst those evangelicals still paying attention to Robertson – his CBN “700 Club” draws millions of nightly viewers – and he injected himself back into the political spotlight.

On Wednesday, in an exclusive interview on the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” show, Pat Robertson maintained that one of the key reasons he is supporting Rudy Giuliani is “judges, judges, and judges”.

According to Robertson, Giuliani “has assured the American people that he’s going to appoint justices in the likeness of Scalia and John Roberts, et cetera… and I believe him.”

Robertson also acknowledged that his priorities have shifted over the past few years from such social issues as abortion and same-sex marriage to the “war on terror”.

“The priority of this election in my opinion is defence against Islamic terrorism. I think if the bad guys set off a nuke in one of our major cities, I think it’s going to overshadow everything else, and I’m concerned about protecting the American people,” he asserted.


While you could almost hear a collective amen coming from the headquarters of various Democratic Party presidential hopefuls, religious right leaders were not nearly as sanguine; many of Robertson’s longtime colleagues felt blindsided and betrayed.

The far right Reconstructionists at the Chalcedon Blog – sponsored by the Chalcedon Foundation – characterised Robertson’s move as an act of political treachery.

“Here’s a man with a university supposedly dedicated to training Christians in cultural leadership and Robertson tramples over God’s law and the U.S. Constitution by endorsing the cross-dressing, pro-choice, three-time divorcee with mob ties,” Chris Ortiz wrote. “He did this when the most ardent constitutional defender and dedicated Christian, Ron Paul, is labouring to restore the American Republic. This is the clearest indication that Robertson is as much a part of the Establishment as any other Blue Blood. It’s time to turn off the 700 Club.”

The Campaign for Children and Families, which describes itself as “a leading West Coast pro-family organization”, issued a statement headlined, “Pat Robertson Has Lost His Mind? America’s Pro-Family Leaders Selling Out Pro-Family Values: Latest Hypocrisy is Pat Robertson’s Endorsement of Giuliani.”

Some conservative pundits claimed Robertson’s endorsement was more about Robertson than Giuliani. Hugh Hewitt, a law professor, broadcast journalist, and author of several books including “A Mormon in the White House?: 110 Things Every American Should Know about Mitt Romney,” maintained that the televangelist “want[ed] to show Jim Dobson that Robertson still matters.”

Focus on the Family’s founder James Dobson, one of the most powerful of the old guard Religious Right leaders, has shaken things up politically by stating unequivocally that he would never vote for Giuliani under any circumstances. Dobson has also expressed dissatisfaction with other so-called front runners, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Tennessee Senator and actor Fred Thompson.

How could Robertson, a still revered leader of the Religious Right endorse the thrice-married, abortion-supporting, pro-gay and anti-gun candidate?

For Pat Robertson, Election 2008 is not about the bread and butter social issues that have fueled the conservative Christian movement for more than two decades. Rather, it is about the “defence of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists,” Robertson told the National Press Club audience. “Our world faces deadly peril…and we need a leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead.”

It is unlikely that Ortiz’ rant or Hewitt’s charges will cause the lights to go dim at Robertson’s 700 Club headquarters anytime soon. Nevertheless, for many on the Christian Right a line has clearly been crossed.

“Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani reflects a tension that is currently roiling the Religious Right,” Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told IPS. “Is it better to back a candidate who looks like he can win even if you don’t agree with all of his positions or should you stand on principle with someone who has a much smaller chance of winning?”

Boston pointed out that Robertson is a “pragmatist” and believes most of all in backing someone that can win. “I believe the Supreme Court is the key issue motivating him. Robertson is aware that with just a few new appointments, the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade [the case that legalised abortion in 1973], begin dismantling the church-state wall and stop the advancement of gay rights,” Boston maintained.

“Robertson understands that it is the high court, not the president and not the Congress, that has the final word on many ‘culture war’ issues. Giuliani has promised to appoint justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and that’s good enough for Robertson.”

Frederick Clarkson, an author, journalist, and longtime observer of the religious right, told IPS that while Robertson “has always been a polarising figure, he has always been a pragmatist, a go-with-the-winner [type]. People forget that he endorsed Bob Dole over Pat Buchanan in 1996. He also endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, at a time when Bush was clearly the establishment candidate – choosing him over the far more ideologically reliable fellow Christian Right leader Gary Bauer and former Vice President Dan Quayle.”

According to Clarkson, several “leaders of the religious right are shifting their emphasis from domestic issues to foreign affairs and anti-Islamic demagoguery – and an approach to global evangelism that will often track with U.S. foreign policy and global hot spots.”

Robertson’s endorsement could open the door for other religious right leaders to back Giuliani, Clarkson said. “For Robertson, his well timed endorsement of Giuliani made him politically relevant again – just when it seemed he might be ready to fade quietly away from public life.”

The New York Times reported that not long after Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003, Giuliani and Robertson shared a flight back from Israel.

“We had a lot of time coming back from Israel to talk about our understanding of how important Israel is to the United States, how important they are in this whole vast effort that we’re involved in this terrorist war against us,” Giuliani recently told Radio Iowa. “We realised that we agreed on far many more things than we disagreed on.”

“Giuliani has positioned himself as the most hawkish candidate on foreign policy especially on the Middle East,” Jane Hunter, co-director of JewsOnFirst.org told IPS. “Robertson’s Christian Zionism is a good fit with Giuliani’s hawkishness.”

“Although Robertson has made a fool of himself with a series of oddball statements, that hasn’t scared off Giuliani from accepting his endorsement, which could bring Giuliani more access to Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. We can expect both of them to make common cause on conflating the war on terrorism with a war on ‘Islamo-Fascism.'”

*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column “Conservative Watch” documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

 
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