The late Francis Schaeffer was one of the most celebrated evangelical Christian writers of the late 20th century, the author of several influential books, including How Should We Then Live? Though less well-known than such figures as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Schaeffer nonetheless played an important role in the rise of what is usually called the Religious Right.
Schaeffer’s son, Frank, has in recent years begun to trade on his late father’s legacy, asserting that Christian conservatives and the Republican Party have been bamboozled and hijacked by extremist charlatans. Chief among the charlatans, according to Frank Schaeffer, is Sarah Palin, whom he savages with a guilt-by-association attack involving Lynn Vincent, my longtime friend and co-author of Donkey Cons, who also happened to be Sarah Palin’s collaborator on Going Rogue.
Among the telltale idiocies of Frank’s attack is the way in which he cites a paragraph from Chapter 6 of Donkey Cons regarding Whittaker Chambers’ revelations about Alger Hiss. This shows that (a) Schaeffer is getting his talking points from Media Matters, and (b) Schaeffer doesn’t have any real comprehension of Chambers’ significance in the history of American conservatism. Chambers’ landmark memoir Witness was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite books, and Chambers interpreted his own experience through a religious lens. And it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that Chambers’ exposure of Hiss was a turning point in world history. (Just in case anyone is curious — I feel like Paul McCartney discussing his songwriting partnership with John Lennon — Chapter 6 was largely Lynn’s work.)
In his desperate desire to smear Palin, Schaeffer doubles down on idiocy by making Lynn the linkage for a second-degree guilt-by-association attack. Some such attacks — including a misinformed outburst by Rachel Maddow a few weeks ago on NBC’s “Meet the Press” — have tried to use me as a stick with which to beat Palin, for having worked with Lynn, a “known associate” of such a terrible person as myself.
Schaeffer, however, chooses to focus his own guilt-by-association Palin smear on Marvin Olasky, who as editor-in-chief of World magazine was for many years Lynn Vincent’s boss. (Readers are invited to smile with me at the irony of this. Would you wish to be held accountable for everything your boss ever said or did? And did I happen to mention that I spent 10 years working for The Washington Times, whose founder is the Rev. Sun Yung Moon?)
Schaeffer endeavors to convince readers that Olasky is a dangerous “far right” extremist, “who has been working to more or less turn America into a theocracy ever since the late 1980s and early 1990s,” and whose work “was largely funded by far right banker” Howard Ahmanson. Generally speaking, I distrust any writer who, as Schaeffer does, insists on shoehorning three “far rights” into a single paragraph. Schaeffer earns compound interest on my distrust when, in support of his claim that Olasky is an advocate of “Bible-inspired totalitarianism/theocratic neofascism” (!) he cites Max Blumenthal, son of our old Clintonista acquaintance Sidney Blumenthal.
Most remarkably, Schaeffer does all this while posturing as a friend to Republicans and conservatives and — further exposing himself as irony-impaired — invoking another historic figure:
The chief characteristic of Palin’s book is her trashing of the old cautious and respectable William F. Buckley-style Republican Party . . .
Buckley was among other things a close associate of that notorious extremist, Whittaker Chambers, but anyone familiar with Buckley’s career knows that for many years the founder of National Review was regarded as anything but “cautious and respectable.” Buckley’s seminal book God and Man at Yale was famously denounced as “having the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night” (Saturday Review) and its author’s methods described as “precisely those employed in Italy, Germany, and Russia” (New Republic).
By dint of his long and successful career, Buckley eventually obtained a stature that might be deemed “cautious and respectable,” but to invoke Buckley’s name as a means of denouncing an eminent conservative intellectual like Olasky as a “neofascist” is the act of a fool, which Frank Schaeffer most certainly is.