Christian Coalition Meets
By Leonard Zeskind
Searchlight Magazine October 1993
Under the banner "The Tide Is Turning," over 2,400 people attended the Christian Coalition's third national conference on September 10th and 11th in Washington, D.C. The meeting was a combination rally and strategy session for the far right-wing of the Republican Party. Despite executive director Ralph Reed's attempts to open the meeting to the mainstream press and add economic issues to the group's agenda, the conference overflowed with attacks on the "liberal media," public education, abortion rights for women and civil rights for gays and lesbians.
Reed hoped the press would forget his 1991 remark. "I want to be invisible. I do guerilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag." Thereafter Christian Coalition members who ran for public office were called "stealth candidates," because they often hid their affiliation.
The Christian Coalition was founded in 1990 by television evangelist Pat Robertson. It claims 450,000 members and 872 chapters as well as a database of 1.6 million supportive voting households. In 1991, the Coalition began a precinct-by-precinct, state-by-state drive to take over the Republican Party. As a result, a third of the delegates to the 1992 Republican Convention owed their allegiance to Robertson's organization.
This year's meeting featured speeches by a line-up of Republican Party 1996 Presidential hopefuls: Sen. Bob Dole from Kansas, Bush's Housing secretary Jack Kemp, and Sen. Phil Gramm from Texas. But the loudest applause was reserved for Pat Buchanan, who plans a repeat of his 1992 Presidential bid.
Buchanan pushed back Reed's attempt to throw Christian Coalition support behind the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). Reed hoped to make friends with mainstream Republican's such as Dole and the many neo-conservatives who support NAFTA. Buchanan, on the other hand, opposes NAFTA with a variant of pre-World War II Old Right-style, America First ultra-nationalism.
Buchanan's speech also attacked "multi-culturalism," claiming "our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity." He threatened to split the Republican Party if it changed its staunch anti-abortion platform.
Some moderate Republicans believe that Buchanan's and Robertson's widely televised inflammatory calls for cultural war at the 1992 Republican Convention cost President Bush the election. Some Democratic Party leaders similarly believe the Christian Coalition is an albatross which cost the Republican Party moderate voters. But Ralph Reed has also launched a drive to recruit Blacks and Hispanics, mainstays of the Democratic Party.
Reed commissioned a survey in August, which he claimed demonstrated that African Americans, Hispanics and whites were all equally conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay rights. He also invited Roy Innis to speak at the September conference. Innis presides over the Congress of Racial Equality, once widely respected in the civil rights movement but now shrunk to a handful of Innis loyalists. He flirted briefly with the Lyndon LaRouche organization and Rev. Moon's Unification Church. Now Innis is running in the New York City Democratic Party Mayoral primary against incumbent David Dinkins.
But Reed's recruitment efforts will be stymied by the Coalition's attacks on public education and support for obvious racists such as Buchanan.
Paul Weyrich and National Empowerment Television (NET)
Since its founding, the Christian Coalition has focused on training its members to identify right-wing voters and run for political office. But it hasn't forsaken the electronic media which pushed Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority to the forefront in the 1970s. This time around they are combining Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network–and its panoply of talk shows, news broadcasts and other opinion molding programs–with Paul Weyrich's more focused satellite television, NET. Since 1991, Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, has used a KU Band satellite link for space age interactive television. Programs are beamed to designated groups of viewers who watch talk show style programs and then speak directly with the show's guests. It is the "electronic town meeting" popularized by Ross Perot during his 1992 presidential campaign.
Although NET only broadcasts on selected hours each month, Weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation use the NET programming to build grass roots support and quickly mobilize constituents. They have also been broadcasting into Russia through an agreement with the Russian Ministry of Information.
Next December, NET will begin 24-hour broadcasts on an open channel, geared to the 14 million Americans with satellite dish TV. The closed channel interactive programming, geared to a select group of right-wing activists, will also continue.
Anti-Abortion Violence Continues
While the Christian Coalition mobilizes right-wing voters, violent attacks on women's rights continue. In August, Dr. George Tiller was shot in both arms as he was leaving his abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas. Police arrested a 38-year old woman from Oregon who had written letters of support to the man charge with killing Dr. David Gunn. Gunn ran an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. In 1992, Operation Rescue had attempted to close down Tiller's clinic with a mass blockade which resulted in hundreds of arrests. Attorney General Janet Reno is reportedly investigating the use of federal laws to stop right-wingers attempts to close family planning clinics.