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Religious Right to Tea Party: Join Us or Die!

At the Values Voter Summit, religious-right leaders offered Tea Partiers a Faustian bargain: Embrace our theocratic agenda, or lose big-time in November.

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Birthers, Breeders and Producers

At the Values Voter Summit, it's tempting to get lost in the dazzle of hot buttons pushed on the emotional matters of sex roles, race and culture, especially with the election of the nation's first African-American president, who, like his wife (who will likely resume her pre-White House career after her First Lady stint is through), was educated in Ivy League schools.

This year's summit did not disappoint, especially when the stage was taken by birther Dale Peterson, who made a name for himself during his failed campaign for Alabama agriculture commissioner by making a tough-talking ad featuring himself in a cowboy hat with a rifle on his shoulder. During his anti-immigration speech, Peterson said he'd yet to see Obama's " little feet on that birth certificate." The crowd, which was nearly all white, ate it up. (More here.)

This year's paean to anti-feminism was seen in the spectacle of the Duggar family, stars of the TLC reality program, 19 Children and Counting . Only 18 of the Duggar children took the stage, seeing as the most recent arrival, a recovering preemie, was deemed too fragile to make the trip. The children sang a song about being washed in the font of Jesus' blood that asked, "Why should I not be put in Hell to suffer for all time?"

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Education Secretary William Bennett, former Reagan adviser Gary Bauer and anti-feminist stalwart Phyllis Schlafly, among others, supplied a steady stream of Muslim-bashing.

These are the themes that get attention, the most-tweeted bon mots . But they do not constitute the main event; rather, they are advanced in the service of a core economic message that expresses the religious-right worldview: that those who live virtuous lives will be rewarded by the fruits of their own labor, and those who find themselves in dire straits are likely there because of their own moral failings. It's a message as old as America; it's Calvinism 101, and one now called to serve the corporate overlords of the Tea Party's pitchfork-wielding peasants. In its secular form, this ethos has evolved into what researcher Chip Berlet calls "producerism," the contention that producers of goods and services are beset by parasites at the top and bottom of society in the form of cultural elites and the undeserving poor.

Fiscal Theology

In the Omni Shoreham's richly appointed Diplomat Room, at a breakout session titled "Indivisible: Social and Economic Foundations of American Liberty," Jennifer A. Marshall, director of domestic policy studies for the Heritage Foundation, is making the case for the religious right's fiscal worldview. "Forty percent of children today are born to a single mother," she tells the Values Voters. "Among Hispanics, it's a little over 50 percent, and among blacks, it's 70 percent." At the citation of the statistic pertaining to African Americans, an audible groan is heard from several in the crowd. "And that has economic implications as well as social implications."

It is the lack of personal responsibility, rooted in traditional Protestant theology, that makes government social services necessary, according to the religious right's fiscal theology. When the people are virtuous -- when they enjoy stable, two-parent families -- they do not require government help, relieving the haves of the burden of supporting the have-nots, the reasoning goes.

From the main stage of the Values Voter Summit, Jim DeMint put it this way: "When you have a big government, you're going to have a little God, you're going to have fewer values and morals, and you're going to have a culture that has to be controlled by a big government. But when you have a big God, you can have a responsible and capable people with character to control themselves and lead their own lives, and you can have a little government that promotes freedom and allows people to keep more of their own money and a government that's not bankrupt. We're talking about fiscal issues."