Tea Party Jesus: Koch's Americans For Prosperity Sidles Up to Religious Right for 2012 Campaign
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Bachmann didn’t make her scheduled appearance in person because Congress was consumed with the last-minute budget brinksmanship that ultimately averted a government shutdown. But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose presidential positioning is increasingly focused on appeals to religious conservatives, did make it to Liberty, where he spoke to an invitation-only “leadership luncheon” alongside prominent “birther” Joseph Farah.
The thrice-married Gingrich began taking up the God cause about five years ago, as he sought to reclaim his place in public life after he was forced to step down as speaker and his adulterous affair, with his current wife while still married to his second wife, was exposed. His 2006 book, Rediscovering God in America, makes the case that the nation’s founders intended the Christian God to occupy a central role in the work of the republic. In 2007, Falwell offered this justification for inviting the less-than-pure Gingrich to speak at Liberty University’s graduation: “Gingrich has dedicated much of his time to calling America back to our Christian heritage,” Falwell wrote in an op-ed.
Gingrich appears to derive much of his God-and-country rhetoric from the revisionist “Christian nation” history of David Barton, a Religious Right “historian” and GOP operative who has reached millions of Americans with his frequent appearances on Glenn Beck’s soon-to-end Fox News television show. According to Barton, Jesus himself is also opposed to progressive taxation, the capital gains tax, the minimum wage, and even collective bargaining.
That sounds like the kind of Jesus that David Koch, not known for his religiosity, could get behind. Koch, the billionaire who, with his brother, Charles, leads Koch Industries (the second-largest privately held corporation in the U.S.) recently gained additional notoriety for his role, and that of Americans for Prosperity, in fomenting the anti-labor actions of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
But long before the current battles over the budgets of states and nations, the strategists of the Right were plotting the merger of the Tea Party and the conservative evangelical movement. In 2009, the Freedom Federation, an umbrella group, was launched by a constellation of right-wing groups, and described as a collaboration among religious groups. Federation members include familiar Religious Right political groups like the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America, as well as dominionist “apostolic” groups that are increasingly being embraced by the Religious Right, such as Generals International and Morningstar Ministries. But also among the founders was Americans for Prosperity, which may account for the fact that the Federation’s "Declaration of American Values" not only proclaims the groups’ allegiance to the social agenda of the Religious Right but also to a system of taxes that “are not progressive in nature, and within a limited government framework, to encourage economic opportunity, free enterprise, and free market competition.”
Today, Republican officeholders in Washington and state capitals across the nation are trying to keep both economic and social conservative voters happy by simultaneously pushing attacks on government and on women’s access to reproductive choice, linking the latter to government spending on women's health programs.
During the weeks of public debate over various short-term continuing resolutions to fund the federal government -- leading up to the recent last-minute budget deal that kept the federal government operating -- Religious Right groups called budget cuts a moral imperative, so much so that Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service wrote in February that the debt had become the “new hot issue for evangelicals.”
“America’s growing debt is not just a financial issue, it’s a spiritual one," Jerry Newcombe of Coral Ridge Ministries told Burke. "The Bible is very clear about the moral dangers of debt.”