Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, made news last week when referring to Mormonism as a cult while introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry to the Values Voters Summit.
In the past couple of days, Jeffress is doing anything but backing away from his comments, saying on Sunday that "Part of a pastor's job is to warn his people and others about false religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mormonism are all false religions. And I stand by those statements."
My views on these various religions aside, this sort of rhetoric is distinctly unhelpful in reaching the goal that : ending the Obama administration after one term.
The "mainstream" media are already foaming at the mouth over Jeffress's remarks, using them to reinforce their journalism school-learned bias against Republicans as small-minded bible thumpers, or perhaps, to coin a phrase, as people bitterly clinging to religion.
Liberals, like the Washington Post's Sally Quinn, are already making parallels such as wondering if Jeffress's statements are Rick Perry's "" But there's a big difference: those same liberals wanted nothing to do with the Reverend Wright story even though Barack Obama's attendance at the anti-Semitic Wright's America-hating church for two decades said much about that candidate.
They didn't want to talk about any of Obama's other unsavory friends, either, such as unrepentant terrorists Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, or criminal and helpful house-finder Tony Rezko (except perhaps to say that Obama had given away Rezko's donations and was distancing himself from the convicted felon.)
While Obama attended Wright's church for twenty years, soaking in the reverend's hatred and lunacy, Rick Perry does not attend Mr. Jeffress's church. Indeed, a 2010 story in an Austin newspaper discussing the fact that Perry and then challenger Bill White "mirror (the) population in attending more than one church," does not mention First Baptist Church as being a place whether either man worships, not surprisingly since Perry lives in Austin, not in Dallas.
It's true that Pastor Jeffress sent members of his congregation to an August 6th prayer rally organized by Governor Perry called "The Response." In an interview prior to that event, Jeffress said that Perry had assured him that the governor's remarks at the rally would stay away from the political, and that he believed Perry's "heart was pure about this."
If Jeffress thought that it was wise to keep an overt mix of religion and politics away from his candidate -- and their apparent shared desire to beat Barack Obama in 2012 -- it's hard to understand why he continues to try to inject religion into the Republican primary with his repeated attacks on Mormonism, going from calling it a "cult" to mentioning it in the same breath with Islam, obviously implying it is a threat to the nation.
Jeffress may think that he is weakening Perry's leading opponent (though Herman Cain may soon take that position if current trends continue), but he is doing much more damage to the GOP and its electoral hopes, and perhaps to Rick Perry, with the distraction he is creating and the minor furor he is allowing the media to foment.
Rick Perry has released an aggressive ad attacking Mitt Romney for "Romneycare," tying the man and the issue to President Obama and Obamacare. The ad has high production value and might be effective in getting more conservative voters to think twice before supporting Romney.
But the "earned media" that Perry should be getting on this ad is being overrun with talk about Jeffress' remarks about Mormonism. In part because Mitt Romney seems like a decent guy no matter what you think of his policy positions, Jeffress' attacks on Mormonism make Romney seem like the victim of a small-minded extremist, thus working directly against Perry's interests.
Furthermore, one cannot doubt that these questions will be front and center in tonight's Republican debate in Hanover, New Hampshire. Instead of being able to go after Romney on the issue of health care (to be followed, certainly, by Romney going after Perry on immigration -- a battle of issues that I agree with Ann Coulter represents a bigger problem for Perry than for Romney), Perry will have to spend his time criticizing his would-be supporter and trying to gracefully defend his opponent.
One can almost hear Perry already, trying to thread the needle while keeping some suspicion of Romney's faith alive: "Pastor Jeffress speaks for himself. While I am not a Mormon and can't say I understand that faith entirely, Governor Romney has shown himself to be a fine family man. Voters will simply have to decide for themselves how they want their candidate's faith to inform their political views. With me, the answer is plain."
And the controversy will live on, spurred by the gleeful liberal media who live to create divisions with the Republican Party, especially when the president they have so much invested in is teetering on irrelevancy.
It's a particularly unfortunate time for the Jeffress distraction given the Occupy Wall Street movement being visibly co-opted by unions and Democrats. Pictures of unwashed youth and probably more hygienic government workers who believe they are owed a living by the rich, which is to say by those who already pay a disproportionate share of federal income taxes, would and should be everywhere in the media.
Liberal news outlets are actually promoting the Occupy protests, blind and deaf to the double standard they are creating compared to their coverage of the Tea Party movement. But just as one can't be angry at a puppy for peeing on the rug -- it's just what they do -- it's hard to be too angry at the addled "journalists" from whom we have learned to expect so little. Instead, at least in this case, the fact that they are so out of touch as to think that these protests are broadly popular should be used by Republicans to their advantage.
Other than the several dozen viewers of MSNBC, few consumers of TV news will look fondly at these protesters even if they share some anti-banking sentiments. Most viewers would tie the protesters to the Democratic Party and its union backers (almost the only backers the party has left, other than trial lawyers and the unemployed), a connection made much easier by those groups bear-hugging the protesters -- and presumably taking a shower afterwards.
As Jonah Goldberg points out, one of the "leaders" of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Brian Phillips, is "the head of communications for the NYC General Assembly." In an interview with a New Zealand television station, Mr. Phillips is living proof of Newt Gingrich's description of the Occupiers: "I regard the Wall Street protests as a natural outcome of a bad education system teaching them really dumb ideas."
Gingrich is exactly right, as is Herman Cain who called the protests "more anti-capitalism and anti-free market than anything else." Even with the pro-protester bias in most "mainstream" reporting, Occupy Wall Street should be a golden opportunity for conservatives to show what a "Progressive" mindset really is: barely-tempered socialism and support for beggar-thy-neighbor policies based on a mindset of jealousy and entitlement which is, or at least until relatively recently was, anathema to the American mindset.
But instead, we're deluged with media reports about Pastor Jeffress, Mormonism and cults, all in an effort to get voters to think of Republicans and the future Republican presidential nominee as out of touch with mainstream America.
Governor Perry should put Pastor Jeffress back in his box (and I hope Jeffress understands the importance of staying there) so that the conversation can be refocused on America's true dangerous and false religion: Obamaism.
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