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Right Wingers Marching in DC Is Big News -- But the Same Old Faces Are Pulling the Strings

The men behind the religious right make a comeback with the Tea Party movement.

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I signed up for Viguerie's workshop via ResistNet, a project of Grassfire, another astroturfing group, one that caters to the fringier elements of the right-wing coalition. On the Grassfire Web site, one will find the endorsements of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. Both appeared on the podium at the post-march rally on Friday sponsored by FreedomWorks, the astroturf group led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Tex.

Are you beginning to get the picture?

Whenever the right appears to fall in on itself, as it did with the collapse of the Moral Majority, it begins rebuilding on a broader base. In his fundraising workshop, Viguerie stressed the importance of building coalitions.

After the Moral Majority fell apart, the men behind the scenes rebuilt the religious right with more muscle by building on the media empire of the Rev. Pat Robertson, which was not limited to Christian fundamentalists, but encompassed denominations outside the Protestant establishment, including Pentacostals and charismatics.

When the Christian Coalition became unglued, the Family Research Council, a network of state-based policy groups with a heavily right-wing Christian bent, picked up the slack. The Family Research Council, founded by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, does not limit its mission to matters of morality, but also <strike>embraces a range of</strike> wanders into the territory of economic issues.

Now, with 30 percent of Americans defining themselves as "spiritual but not religious," according to a recent Newsweek poll, the organized right has branched out once again, giving its latest incarnation, in the form of the Tea Party movement, a more secular face -- a good move at a time when the population is more distressed about economic than cultural issues.

After the 2008 election, liberal pundits declared the religious right dead, as if its primary focus eve was religion. It was not: its primary focus is, and always was, power -- power that ultimately serves the interests of Big Business via the goal of defunding and disempowering those forces that argue for regulation and a social safety net -- in other words, the forces that enact the ideals of liberals and progressives.

And it is not dead; it has simply had a makeover. The remnant of the religious right has been folded into this new coalition, which emphasizes the resentments of white people who feel economically and culturally threatened, while occasionally referencing the evangelical fervor that marks the latter-day religious right. The figure of Sarah Palin -- the gun-toting, sovereignty-floating, Obama-Swift-boating Christian charismatic who took the right by storm as the running mate of 2008 presidential candidate John McCain.

At a conference sponsored last month by Americans for Prosperity, one speaker urged Tea Party movement members to take up positions in their local political parties, and to run for local office. This is exactly the model used by Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition executive director, when he promised in 1990 to take the country, "p recinct by precinct." He did not succeed immediately; Bill Clinton would win another term before the election of the born-again George Bush (who proved a disappointment to the religious right). By that time, Reed had moved on from the Coalition to consult for the Bush campaign.

Reed's consulting firm, Century Strategies, found him partnered in business with a man named Tim Phillips, who today runs Americans for Prosperity, who told me in an interview that his expertise is in mobilizing grass-roots activists. Last month, Reed debuted his new organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, at an anti-health-care reform rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.