The Faith and Freedom Coalition held their annual “Road to Majority” conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C. today. The gathering, hosted by evangelical leader Ralph Reed, is a conglomeration of the biggest names on the right, and a rallying point for conservative evangelicals across the country. It is a test of strength for one of the three stool legs of conservatism: traditional values.
While there were fire and brimstone speeches at this year's event, there was a clear division in the room between politicians, think tanks, and religious leaders. While many of the religious leaders focused exclusively on religious matters, the politicians and think tanks fused the two to promote their own personal agendas.
Senator Ron Johnson focused on the overreaching federal government as a moral hazard. He attributed the expansion of government to both a moral and economic decline in our nation. Michele Bachmann, who received the longest standing ovation of the morning, used the platform to argue her pro-Israel stance. She criticized President Obama and Hillary Clinton for failing our Jewish brethren in the Middle East, and claimed they make Clinton ineligible for the presidency. She also claimed that this has led to a rise in anti-Semitism.
The two most interesting speeches, however, came from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Christie seemed to be making a stump speech, and defended his record to the crowd of several hundred in attendance. He then made a passionate defense of life, saying, “We must be pro-life our entire life.” His speech was well-received by the crowd and was more substantive than his CPAC address. This was his most passionate defense of life yet in his political career.
Arguably, the most refreshing speech was by AEI president Brooks, who had a new take on the role of the Christian right. Brooks took a very libertarian, “teach a man to fish” approach with regards to the role of the government alleviating poverty, a source of contention for some on the right. Brooks also pushed for economic free markets and little government help. He promoted the idea that government should not promise anyone he can be a billionaire, a knock at crony capitalism. In addition, Brooks was the only speaker to bring up the poor conditions that many of our public schools are in. “We are entrapping our kids in schools that don’t teach!” he exclaimed. Brooks treated that as a moral failing and pushed for more freedom of school choice, which could open up religious schools to parents who may not be able to afford them otherwise.
Many of the religious leaders pushed lines about protecting marriage and bemoaned the downfall of morals in society. While many of their speeches were based on extremely conservative arguments and had overtly religious overtones, they rarely strayed into the political atmosphere of economics, instead focusing on the usual social issues: same-sex marriage, free love, and abortion, with Israel policy mentioned intermittently.
While the crowd was small, the powerful speeches proved one thing: while there is talk in some circles of ditching the religious right in order to modernize the GOP, the religious right will fight until the bitter end. As economic times look bleak, many on the right will turn to church and family to find comfort. The religious right, while shrinking in numbers slightly, is just as powerful as when Reagan spoke of his three-legged stool.
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