How Rev. Billy Graham Taught the Republican Party to Sacrifice the Poor on the Altar of Big-Business
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Since turning 95 last month, Reverend Billy Graham’s health has deteriorated, and judging by his family’s call for prayers, his life is nearing its end. Many things will be written about Graham's life by both disciples and his detractors, but if you want to know where the base of today’s Republican Party—the Christian Right—gets its mojo, look no further than this Southern Baptist preacher.
The genetic makeup of the GOP is one chromosome away from Graham’s DNA. Today’s Republican Party is a neo-Confederate pro-corporation movement, thanks to the supposed life-long Democrat (when he wasn’t endorsing Mitt Romney)—the Reverend Billy Graham. A close friend of Richard Nixon's, it was Graham who helped the disgraced president articulate the “Southern Strategy,” which won Nixon the White House in 1968.
Steven P. Miller, author of Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, writes that it was Graham’s public relationship with Southern Baptist ministers, and quips like, “Prejudice is not just a sectional problem” and “Criticism of the South is one of the most popular indoor sports of some Northerners these days,” that made him an much-loved figure among his fellow Southerners. Miller also says that Graham’s evangelical understanding of the sins of racism allowed many white Southerners to declare themselves absolved from past guilt.
Millennials can be forgiven for mistakenly thinking the Christian Right has been the main strain of the GOP since ad infinitum. It hasn’t. The Christian Right is still a relatively new dynamic on the American political landscape. Prior to the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, no serious presidential candidate ever claimed to have been “born again,” and the emphasis of faith for a politician seeking high office was as rare then as a candidate declaring his atheism is today.
But something weird happened on the way to the forum. Religious fundamentalists banded together to oppose Jimmy Carter’s 1980 reelection campaign (Carter was a Southern Baptist), and in turn, put their support behind Ronald Reagan, who was a divorced Hollywood actor. This strange coalition on the right became a movement better known as the Moral Majority, and Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell were the tip of the sword.
The Moral Majority surprised nearly everyone by helping sweep Reagan into the White House. The Sarasota Journal wrote as much on Feb 9, 1981: “The merging of the political right with the religious right has taken the country by surprise.”
Until then, not even your most casual political observer believed that conservative Christians could or would play a pivotal role in shaping the outcome of elections. Screenplay writer Norman Lear said at the time, “The Moral Majority is neither the moral point of view, nor the majority.”
With help from the likes of Pat Robertson and a coalition of anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-feminist, and anti-ACLU networks, the Moral Majority became the Christian Right. While Graham publicly distanced himself from the Moral Majority, this was done purely for political optics. The media’s gullibility in falling for the “genteel, bipartisan, apolitical preacher” narrative gave Graham’s voice even more political clout.
Graham was a skillful orator, and he adeptly infused the teachings of Ayn Rand with those of Jesus Christ. In the Bible, Jesus says, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” and urges his followers, “To sell what you have and give to the poor.” But Graham, with the biggest Christian following in America during the '80s, helped turn the biblical Jesus into a supply side economist who wants us to be anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-healthcare, and anti-assistance for the poor Christians.
Where Bible Jesus feeds the masses with two loaves of bread, Ayn Randian Jesus says, “Bugger off, this bread is mine, you lazy moochers.” While Graham removed Southern Christians’ guilt over segregation, Ayn Rand removed the Christian Right’s guilt for being selfish and uncaring about anyone except themselves. Bruce E. Levine, author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite, wrote on AlterNet, “Not only did Rand make it 'moral' for the wealthy not to pay their fair share of taxes, she 'liberated' millions of other Americans from caring about the suffering of others, even the suffering of their own children.”