Archive for Monday, September 4, 2006

True believers’ expand their political clout

September 4, 2006


I offer three cheers for Katherine Harris.

Harris has brought this nation together, done a more effective job of uniting people than any prayer breakfast, sensitivity class or Benetton ad I've ever seen. Thanks to her, Christians and Jews, Muslims and atheists, Republicans and Democrats, are now standing as one and saying, "That Katherine Harris, what a moron."

Really warms the heart.

Harris, GOP senatorial candidate from Florida, produced this united front by doing an interview with the weekly newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention. In it, she pronounced the separation of church and state a "lie" and warned that if Christians don't stand for election, we will end up "a nation of secular laws." The coup de grace was this bon mot: "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

The line of people denouncing Harris stretched out the door and down the block. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic representative from Florida, pronounced herself "disgusted." Ruby Brooks, a Christian, Republican and activist, called Harris' remarks "offensive." Jillian Hasner, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Harris was not "representative of the Republican Party." Ahmed Bedier, the Central Florida director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he was "appalled." And, yes,, a service of American Atheists, condemned Harris for "religious bigotry."

When first most of us met her, Harris was the Florida secretary of state who played a crucial role in the selection of George W. Bush as president. Six years later, she is a congresswoman with senatorial ambitions, a score of former staffers who chose unemployment over working for her, an FBI investigation into illegal campaign contributions and the dubious distinction of having been asked by her own party to drop out of the primary because she is unelectable.

In short, she's a train wreck. And maybe your instinct is to laugh at this new smash-up and move on. That would be a mistake. Because here's the thing about what she told the newspaper: She meant it. She may try to soft-pedal now in the face of a public relations shellacking, but she meant it. And I doubt she's the only one.

Hasner, of the Jewish Coalition, says Harris is not representative of the GOP and certainly we can agree that most Republicans are not fanatics. Yet Harris is hardly unique.

The forces of Christian fundamentalism have made terrific inroads in the Republican mainstream over the last quarter century. Some would argue they ARE the Republican mainstream. At the very least, they hold a position in the party roughly analogous to that held by blacks in the Democratic Party. Namely, they are a core constituency that sometimes demands, as a price of its loyalty, that the party adopt positions that are politically risky.

Where blacks are concerned, that usually means affirmative action. Where the GOP's putative Christians are concerned, it means theocracy, it means Vote God, it means just what Harris said: a nation where only Christians can be elected and where the Bible supersedes all federal, state and municipal codes. Just like Iran, except with crosses instead of crescents.

In the world envisioned by these true believers - "Talibaptists," one of my readers calls them - there would be little room for Jews or Muslims or atheists or, indeed, Christians who refused to drink the Kool-Aid of fundamentalism. After 25 years of watching Talibaptists take over school boards, mayor's offices, the presidency, 25 years of watching them grow ever more shrill and bold in encroaching the rights and freedoms of their fellow Americans, I take Harris at her word.

Moreover, I believe there are many who feel exactly as she does. The difference is, they aren't impolitic and imprudent enough to say so.


- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


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