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Christ Über Alles


November 1, 2008

The religion reporter talks about his experiences with “the Family,” the secret Christ-loving, Hitler-quoting powerbrokers of the modern world.

sharlet1.jpgAs the 2008 election campaigns enter their endgames, two elements have been dominating the political discourse: the economy and Sarah Palin. But earlier in the election cycle, both candidates were associated with preachers tainted by the whiff of scandal—John McCain when one of his endorsers, the evangelical John Hagee, was revealed to have made some unpalatable comments about Jews and the Catholic Church, and Barack Obama for his affiliation with Jeremiah Wright, whom the GOP has sought to portray as an anti-American religious extremist, and a Very Angry Black Man.

But how relevant are religious questions now? How much pandering will either candidate have to do when they are in office? Plenty, if Doug Coe has anything to do with it. Doug Coe is the unofficial leader of an influential evangelical group that Jeff Sharlet traces in The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

In 2002, Sharlet was invited by an acquaintance to Ivanwald, a group home outside of Washington, D.C., where young, conservative followers of Christ gather and live for a time in order to share and deepen their faith. Sharlet is not Christian—he’s Jewish, a religion reporter, and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and Harper’s, all of which he was upfront about with the brothers of Ivanwald. They welcomed him anyway because, in this brand of faith, you don’t have to be Christian to worship Christ. It’s not actually about religion at all—it’s about the Man himself, “Jesus Plus Nothing,” as they put it. But despite Sharlet’s expertise, even he didn’t realize what he had stumbled upon at first.

“My first clue,” he says, “was when Senator Jesse Helms, the extremely conservative senator from North Carolina, turned up, and the next week there was a visit from Kjell Magne Bondevik, the prime minister of Norway at the time. There were also two young lawyers from the African Republic of Benin who had been sent directly by their president. They were on the job, living at Ivanwald, forming international friendships, that kind of thing. So this was not just the Christian Right that I was familiar with; it was international. Plus there were almost daily invocations of Hitler as a leadership model. That’s some combo: real access to power and some really disturbing rhetoric.”

What Sharlet found at Ivanwald turned out to be just one of the elements of a complicated and little-known religious network, which he has now researched extensively and documents in his book. It’s a network that dates back to the 1930s, with ties across the world, immense political clout, and a line in empire-building, deal-brokering and National Prayer Breakfasts. Doug Coe is the Family’s unofficial leader, and secrecy is their preferred mode of operation. It might sound like a nutty theory, but Sharlet is quick to point out that there’s no actual conspiracy here: it’s just power, working as it always does, through connections and money, and preferably, behind closed doors, safe (until now) from the prying eyes of the mainstream media.

Sharlet is the kind of conversationalist who oozes knowledge—able to pull diverse political and religious references into the discourse. He’s soft-spoken but forthright about the values he holds dear, well-versed in all the relevant arguments, respectful, and completely honest. When we met, at a coffee shop in Brooklyn, he was relaxed and forthcoming, but talking with him, one is able to get a sense of why he must be such a deadly interviewer himself and why some of the Family members he talked to might have—finally—revealed more than they realized.

—Nancy Rawlinson for Guernica; Photo by Greg Martin

Guernica: Just how powerful is the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: This is something that I would constantly be asking myself throughout the whole research process. Some days I would get dispirited and say this book is pointless, these guys don’t really do anything, and then I’d say, wait a minute—they’ve done a lot.

But the short answer is that it actually has been quantified by a conservative sociologist named D. Michael Lindsay. He wrote about this in a book called Faith in the Halls of Power, about how American evangelicals are joining the elite. It came out from Oxford University Press last year. I give you these credentials to say that this is not a leftist claiming this. He writes positively about the Family, and he had tremendous access, and he interviewed three hundred and sixty evangelical politicians, congressmen and so on, two former presidents, I think it was Bush Sr. and Carter, and he did a survey about which religious groups are influential in Washington. And the number one vote-getter was the Family.

Guernica: But were all the people who responded to this interview members of the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: Some of them were, but Carter’s not a member. Bush is not a member—though he has worked with them. But everybody recognized their influence. One in three respondents recognized the group and it got more votes that any other group. When you see enough powerful people who have no interest in being critical talking about how influential this group is…that shows you something.

Here’s another calculation of it—there’s a man named David Kuo, someone I think is interesting, as both conservatives and liberals respect him. He was the man in charge of implementing faith-based initiatives in George W. Bush’s first term, a former aid to Ashcroft, and he wrote a popular book called Tempting Fate, which was critical of Bush… and he says very plainly that “…the Family’s reach into governments around the world is impossible to overstate or even grasp.”

What you see in the Family’s expression of power is that these are not two opposite poles, but the head and heart, the realpolitik of world power.

Another government source tells us: “The Family totally circumvents the State Department and the usual vetting. If Doug Coe can get you some face time with the President of the United States, then you will take his call and seek his friendship. That’s power.” But it’s not power operating in the usual sense. When I talk to conventional reporters, they want an envelope stuffed with cash. They say, how many votes does The Family control? Well, it doesn’t control any votes. It would never tell anybody how to vote, it’s not doing ward and precinct organizing, they don’t get people active, they don’t choose sides in elections, they usually try to have a hand in both sides. It’s something that Americans are really uncomfortable with: it’s ideological influence. It has consequences; they are shaping the terms of the debate, and I think that in the long term that becomes a lot more powerful.

Guernica: But is it ideology, really? Or is it an anti-intellectual agenda masquerading as politics?

Jeff Sharlet: One of the most interesting things about anti-intellectualism in American life is that it’s a very intellectual project. Real anti-intellectualism, the Family kind, you know, “Jesus plus nothing,” the systematic stripping away of history, of theology, of any kind of influence—that’s an intellectual project. Not for nothing does Doug Coe express some admiration for Pol Pot. In year zero, he did the same thing. Pol Pot had all the intellectuals killed. You only do that if you have an idea. That’s an extreme form of ideology that says: I can purify things.

There are two great traditions that have been written about before, which are American rationalism and American sentimentalism. What you see in the Family’s expression of power is that these are not two opposite poles, but the head and heart, the realpolitik of world power. The sentimental narrative, which is anti-intellectual—is absolutely interwoven with the rationalist Family agenda.

Guernica: How international is the Family, and how does their international outreach work?

Jeff Sharlet: The Family’s interests tend to be in countries that American power is also interested in. The organization started in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, and they went international after World War II, primarily into Germany. Haiti was their first venture into the developing world—a country that America wants to control. It’s in our sphere, so we are always going to pay attention to Haiti. Back in 1959, there was a lot of congressional concern about this new dictator, so a couple of senators go off on a Family trip—not an official U.S. visit—with a group of businessmen to meet Papa Doc, and they report to the congressional prayer group that Papa Doc is a man of God, he’s a guy we should be supporting—and they are both on the Foreign Affairs Committee. You know, here are the memos from their groups that are in their archives, and here are the newspaper reports: Senate decides to support Papa Doc Duvalier. That’s not business as usual with religion as a veneer, that’s actually being driven by religion.

And then there’s Brazil, where they became very intimate with the generals in the sixties and seventies, which was their first extensive venture in working with Catholics because, remember, they are Protestant and they don’t really like that.

It goes on and on. Indonesia, South Korea where they are very invested, South Africa. So the Family is really just a proxy for American power. And the interesting thing is that the postmillennialists really believe that they need to work towards the thousand-year Christian rule. They have to slowly build towards this. And the way they do is through key men, top men, congressmen. And when they can get a congressman to tour some Pacific island nation, which might seem absolutely inconsequential, they’ll do it. Doug Coe went to Tonga. They are very proud of their work in Fiji, which has no strategic importance to anybody, right? But that’s the start of an enmeshing.

This is how they think: We can make ourselves useful to these men of power by becoming a conduit. You see this in the memos that they prepare for presidents, in which they list Family assets in all the countries where they have connections. Usually about thirty to forty countries. It would just be a long, confidential memo, saying, for example, in Indonesia, here are the guys available for back-channel diplomacy, and this is what we are working on. They are making themselves useful.

Guernica: So what’s more important for the Family&#8212: faith or capitalism?

The more you try and regulate the market and have rules that restrain these things—that’s lack of faith.

Jeff Sharlet: That becomes a really hard thing to figure out. They believe in something called Biblical capitalism. They think capitalism is ordained in the Bible, but at the same time, they say that capitalism is the “wedge”—it’s the wedge with which we introduce the gospel. They are very blunt. They recognize that capitalism is this very powerful and appealing force for governments that want to get in on that market, and the Family has all these connections. We can help you. We can bring businessmen your way. Yosemite, meet AES, the largest energy corporation in the world. Jordan, meet Raytheon, the defense contractor. Part of Biblical capitalism is that they believe that the gospel and capitalism travel together. So ultimately, they say, it is about your soul, but you are going to come to us through the market, and then your soul will be okay.

Guernica: But where is the scripture to back this up?

Jeff Sharlet: When I was at Ivanwald, we had a weekly seminar in Biblical capitalism where various corporate executives would come and talk to us, and one guy in particular, an insurance executive, would bring a little Xeroxed Bible passage and a story from Fortune or the Wall Street Journal or something, and he’d read them together. He once brought the Parable of the Talents, which is actually a very difficult story. In a nutshell, a master has some servants and he gives them each talents, which is a currency, and one goes out and basically gambles it and wins and comes back and the master loves him. Another goes out, invests it, doesn’t do so well, but master says, alright, good, and the other says, no no, master, I buried it, so it would be safe, and master slaps him around and says, You’re a fool, a fool. He rewards the guy who basically gambles his money and comes back with a big return. Now this has nothing to do with economics. That’s why it’s called a parable. But we actually had a lesson on how God loves the stock market. Don’t worry about saving your money—don’t be a stingy Jew, is what they are saying in their anti-Semitic way—put it out there and God will reward you, and if he doesn’t reward you, that’s because he’s trying to teach you a lesson. So if you are poor, God is trying to tell you something and if you are rich, he’s also trying to tell you something, and the richer you are, the more you put your money out there and don’t worry about it, that’s just showing your faith in God, and the more you try and regulate the market and have rules that restrain these things—that’s lack of faith.

Guernica: Let’s talk about the fascism and the extent of that rhetoric within the Family. McCain got in trouble for receiving an endorsement from John Hagee, who justified the Holocaust, and he had to distance himself from that, but none of the stuff about the Family seems to be in the public discourse.

Jeff Sharlet: What Coe said is much more monstrous than what Hagee said, although the very words that Hagee used go back to a particular verse from Jeremiah, which is that God ordered hunters to hunt down the Jews. That’s what Hagee got in trouble for, and he’s saying that Hitler was just doing what God wanted. But this is the official party line from the Family post-World War II—that exact same verse would be cited. So they have the same rhetoric, but Coe is much worse. He’d say, Hitler, Goebbels, and Himmler, these three buddies, they get together and look what they can do! And you go straight from that to Hillary Clinton, being quoted on NBC news: Doug Coe is a genuinely warm and loving spiritual mentor in God. NBC thought they had a huge scoop. Nothing. The liberal bloggers could not be bothered.

Guernica: Why not?

Remember, unity is the rhetoric of fascism, not democracy. Democracies are unified in disagreement, but the disagreement matters. Americans are always forgetting that.

Jeff Sharlet: When I wrote the original article, before I even started work on the book, I had long debates with my editors at Harper’s about how much of that Hitler talk we should put in because we knew that people would have a hard time believing it. There’s the idea that, how fascist could these guys be? Bono spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, and he’s hardly a fascist, right? And the media are actually right about that: they are not fascist, they are influenced by fascism, but they are not fascist. There’s more than one kind of bad under the sun. And then there’s the fact that John Hagee looked like what a fundamentalist is supposed to look like. He’s a big, fat, sweaty, jowly man, pounding the pulpit. He’s so goofy he makes us feel better about ourselves—clearly we’re much smarter than him. Whereas the Family functions like the mafia, they keep everything invisible. Let me quote from the book here: “Everything invisible is transitory, everything invisible is lasting, forever. The more you can make your organization invisible, the more permanence it will have.”

That’s not a conspiracy, that’s just an explanation for how power works in Washington.

The lack of media attention is a deference to establishment power in American life. Jeremiah Wright is an outsider. When you see him on video he’s wearing some kind of funny costume! And Doug Coe? Everybody’s met him. When you talk to him, he doesn’t seem that crazy, he doesn’t come up to you and say, hey, let me tell you about Hitler. He doesn’t ask for money on TV, he’s not Elmer Gantry, he’s bipartisan.

But remember, unity is the rhetoric of fascism, not democracy. Democracies are unified in disagreement, but the disagreement matters. Americans are always forgetting that. And these guys are talking about unity and harmony—well harmony is not the sound of democracy, cacophony is. Me disagreeing with you, sharp elbows. Tolerance is not something to do to all get along, tolerance is what we do to those who we really don’t like, but we agree not to kill them and they agree not to kill us, and we claw each other’s eyes out on the floor of Congress.

There’s also the Hitler rule—everyone knows that if you compare your political opponent to Hitler, well that’s hyperbolic and that’s extreme, and indeed it is. No American politicians like Hitler, and people who compare Bush to Hitler are being unfair to both, and they are wrong.

Guenica: Is there a certain type of person who might be drawn to the Family? The one quality they seem to have in common is a sense of entitlement.

Jeff Sharlet: I would qualify that—wounded entitlement. There’s a sense of entitlement but a sense also [that] somehow these guys have been robbed of their due. But I think the other thing that unites these characters, usually on a personal level, is their high integrity. If you dropped your wallet on the street, you’d want one of them to find it. And not just because they are Christians, but because they tend to be decent people and also orderly people in that sense. But there’s also another common thread that’s surprising—we’re talking about people who are elites, in this powerful world, and people who thrive in a world that is run on the principles of rationalism, and yet people are drawn to the Family as opposed to the more conventional Christian right because there’s a seeker element to it, there’s a mysticism, there’s almost a kind of Gnosticism to how it works. So you take someone like Abraham Vereide, the original founder of the Family, and he’s having visions of God. That’s not standard conservatism. Doug Coe, Vereide’s successor, is a Gnostic in the worst sense, but he is very much a Gnostic and a mystic, which is also true of some of the men who they are able to recruit—like Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. At one point, while I was hanging around with him, he called me up and said, Jeff, I just want to share something that is on my heart, and he starts talking about the great spirit. The great spirit? And he says, you know, like the American Indians have. I mean, I could go down to the local head shop and hear this kind of talk. A lot of the Family characters throughout have that. It’s an authoritarian mysticism.

Guernica: That sounds powerful and naïve and childish…a scary combination.

Jeff Sharlet: It is, indeed. Wounded entitlement plus mysticism equals age eleven. And there’s a reason, in religious traditions, why mysticism isn’t something you are supposed to get involved with when you are eighteen—mysticism is for very learned men. In Orthodox Judaism, you’re supposed to wait until you are forty. You can’t do it before then. Go back to the beginning of the Family and it’s guys that were raised to be the ruling class. Then along comes the Great Depression and everything is topsy-turvy. The institutions that they don’t need in good times, like the Church? Now they do need them, so they turn to the Church and what do they find? A lot of women. And they don’t like that. Part of the wounded entitlement thing is that “I’m supposed to be the male headship—God ordained me to be in charge and yet my authority is constantly being questioned—this isn’t fair!” You can say, with perfect respect, these were people who were told that they were going to be in charge and the world into which they matured was not the world they had been promised, so some people move on and in fact become all the more interesting for that and some people, like those in the Family—I don’t want to say fall back—but go in a different direction.

Guernica: What was your experience of that at Ivanwald?

Jeff Sharlet: Living there, in this cul-de-sac of twenty houses all owned by the Family—it’s utopian, it’s positively utopian. In many ways, I loved living there. I got to experience being a kind of man I never was in the real world. I was never a jock or anything like that—but there, by virtue of being a man, I had authority. Everyone is good at sports in the Family. They are very gentle that way. Every man is good at things that men are supposed to be good at, and if he’s not, Brother, I’ll help you get there. There’s none of that “Har Har, you’re a loser.” It’s very soft and comforting. It doesn’t matter what your political views are; you find yourself responding to it. It’s true of the men of that world and it’s also true of the women as well. Many people find something very comforting in falling back into these pre-ordained gender roles.

Guernica: But it just seems so….reactionary. Surely this isn’t going to filter through to the mainstream?

Jeff Sharlet: I think that people will dismiss that more extreme stuff by saying it’s fringe and one of the things you learn writing about religion is that there’s a very fluid relationship between fringe and mainstream. Take a group like this—what are they? Are they fringe or are they mainstream? We’re talking about mainly senators and congressmen here—so that’s not really fringe. On the other hand, invoking the leadership lessons of Hitler? That’s certainly not mainstream. So these things are very fluid and influential and going back and forth. For example, since the nineteen-thirties, the Family have been saying that the separation of church and state is a myth, it’s not real.

And suddenly this idea, that the first amendment doesn’t exist—a fringe idea—has moved so mainstream that people don’t even know that it’s a fringe idea anymore, and I think the same happens with gender roles and ideas about power and authority and how that’s exercised.

Guernica: There’s massive global financial insecurity at the moment, and talk of a second Great Depression—how might this affect the workings, standing or recruitment of the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: It’s hard to say—but I don’t think we can assume this hurts their standing, necessarily, especially given the fact that they first emerged as a direct response to the first Great Depression. Regardless of whether they prosper or retreat, I don’t see them disappearing—their theology is in our DNA. I think, in fact, that the lack of any even vaguely leftish or radical response to the economic crisis is indicative of how deeply interwoven the free market fundamentalism, which the Family championed seventy years ago, now is. Obviously, everyone’s having second thoughts, but those thoughts are still along the line of “how do we save capitalism?” That it can be saved and should be saved are articles of faith.

Guernica: If you take the religious trappings away, and you just think about the Family as a political machine, which it is, then it’s really not doing anything that you wouldn’t expect a political machine to do: seeking power, holding power, enabling power, taking power for itself. So are we not just laying at their door the sins of all political machines? That’s what they do. Why expect a dog not to be a dog?

Jeff Sharlet: Yes, it’s business as usual, but there are some interesting qualifications of this machine, one is that for seventy years, [it has been] one of the most successful political machines in America. It’s a secretive political machine and more machines aren’t. So there are differences, but it comes down to this. Why should we care? Because that’s our fucking job. Our job is to look at the business as usual, the subversion of democracy, the corruption of democracy, the taking away of power from ordinary people, the use of faith, which is very precious to many, as an exclusive property of the few. Our job is to look at that and say, how the hell does that thing work?

People say, isn’t OPEC more powerful? I don’t know if OPEC is more powerful, but it’s certainly powerful—this is, again, the reductionist narrative where we say, okay, who is the puppet master? There is no puppet master behind it all. There is no conspiracy. There is empire. And there are many moving parts in the empire, and the Family is one of them. So why do they matter? Because they are one of the parts of empire.

Why in America do we have such a problem with health care? Why does every other developed nation have health care? Does this have anything to do with our lack of a strong, organized labor movement such as every other developed country has? Why don’t we have a strong labor movement? Now you’re going to start paying attention to the Family, which defined itself from the beginning as breaking the spine of organized labor.

So yeah, it is business as usual. This is the religion of the status quo. As Douglas Coe says, we work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t. And that second half of the equation—business as usual? That’s very easy for us to say in America—oh, that’s how politics work—but if you are in Indonesia? Even today, there’s no one in Indonesian who doesn’t know someone who was killed by Soeharto. You don’t say, oh, who cares, business as usual. That. Matters.

The way that power works, and I think the Family understands this, is always with a veneer of inevitability. It is, so it had to be. If I’m a senator, it must be because God wanted me to be a senator. And I think the American press is very invested in that inevitability thesis. But it didn’t have to be…just look around the world, at every point, there were choices.

Guernica: But surely some of those dictators were just playing lip service to the Christian god?

Jeff Sharlet: Yes, kind of—look at Barre in Somalia. He said, look, I’ll pray to your Jesus, but in return, I want my defense budget doubled, I want a meeting with Regan, I want, I want. And Coe writes back and says, done, done, and done. But Barre still calls himself a Koranic Marxist.

Guernica: So isn’t he everything they wouldn’t want?

Jeff Sharlet: Except power. The Horn of Africa matters. Somalia’s across the water from Iran, and it’s the biggest listening post in the world. I think there are two important things here—America wants Somalia as a client. This is how they get Somalia as a client. But the second thing that matters here is that what religion brings to the table is not just the veneer of piety but the deep investiture of piety.

Some of the senators involved in Somalia are good guys. They want to believe they are doing the right thing. So how do you believe you are doing the right thing if you are doubling the defense budget of a man who has clearly lost his mind and is strafing his own people? You make him pray to your God. There are a few blackhearts out there, but not everyone is Cheney or Kissinger.

Guernica: But what does the Family get out of this?

Jeff Sharlet: Here’s the interesting thing about the Family’s theology, and it’s where they break from the Christian Right. Your faith doesn’t matter. Your obedience matters. It doesn’t matter whether or not Barre believes in God, as long as he obeys God.

Guernica: Isn’t that a Judaic concept, that it doesn’t matter what you think, only what you do?

Jeff Sharlet: According to the Family, obedience is blind and it’s determined by God’s revelations to already chosen men, in private, beyond the din of the vox populi, beyond the people. Obedience matters. Barre was obedient because he prayed. He prayed.

Guernica: Where would you place Sarah Palin on the conservative Christian spectrum, and do you know how she is viewed by the key figures within the Family?

There’s no question Palin changed the race, but not enough to determine it. That’ll lead the press to make the same mistake they’ve made in the past: when Obama wins, they’ll declare fundamentalism finished.

Jeff Sharlet: She comes out of a populist Pentecostal background. But she’s clearly interested in moving to the mainstream. One of her chief champions within the McCain campaign was former Senator Dan Coats, who also played a matchmaker role in the John Roberts nomination. (Roberts, by the way, is apparently on the board of the Alaska State Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, the most openly fundamentalist of all these Family-linked affairs.) Coats is a longtime Family member and he’s also the guy who, along with two other Family men—John Ashcroft and then-Ashcroft aide David Kuo—laid the foundations, in the late nineties, for faith-based initiatives. What’s interesting about his backing for Palin was the chance I think he saw in her to marry populist fundamentalism to elite free-market fundamentalism.

But all that said, I think Palin is absolutely unpredictable. There’s not much precedent for her. I tagged her as the second coming of George Wallace the day she was announced—not for her racism, but for her ability to create herself outside of the establishment even as she sucks up power from the establishment. Who knows, maybe she’ll be broken by this campaign. But if not, she might become another Family hack — or she might become the first real American fascist since Huey Long.

Guernica: With the economy dominating the pre-election discussion, how much of a bearing do you think the religious affiliation of either candidate will have on the election outcome?

Jeff Sharlet: There’s no question it changed the race—Palin changed the race, that is—but not enough to determine it. That’ll lead the press to make the same mistake they’ve made in the past: when Obama wins, they’ll declare fundamentalism finished. They’ll say Palin couldn’t deliver. That may be true inasmuch as an election goes, but it doesn’t tell us much about what’s going on in the culture. For instance, a by-product of this campaign season has been the production of two new national Christian conservative leaders—Huckabee and Palin—and the full anointing of a third, Rick Warren. Warren, we know, will have a presence in an Obama administration. Whether Obama has much use for his self-help fundamentalism isn’t the point; Obama has made clear that he’s going to listen to Warren.

Guernica: Will the election of Barack Obama have any impact on the “Jesus as Empire” workings of the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: Yes. The Family, like the larger movement, has different tendencies within it; the ascendance of Obama will surely benefit the “liberal” wing of the Family. Look for guys like Senator Bill Nelson—briefly shortlisted as a possible VP—and his wife, Grace, to grow in influence. And as Obama expands faith-based initiatives, Family friends and members will find new opportunities as well. Internationally, Obama shouldn’t present a dramatic challenge to Family influence. He’s a diplomatic character; like Nixon, Ford, Bush Sr., and Clinton, he ’ll use the Family as one more channel of communications. In some ways, Bush Sr. was an aberration. But The Family endured. They endure—elite fundamentalism endures—because no one wants to venture too close to religion, [which is] considered “private.” For a moment, in Philadelphia, it seemed like Obama might. But then he decided to throw Wright under a truck altogether, and he ’s been subtly but surely moving rightward, religiously as well as politically, ever since.

The thing about Obama, he’s not going to make any radical break with the Family, nobody would, but he does come from a religious tradition that is radically different from that of the Family. And he would be the first president in fifty years to be actively from a different tradition. Certainly John Kennedy was a Catholic, but one thing that Kennedy believed in was establishment power.

Obama’s the first person to come out of the liberation theology tradition, which says that God does not work through a few key men, God through works through the masses, and there’s a few guys out front and the masses behind them, pushing them, warning them, saying you’d better do what we’re going to do.

And also, he was an Alinskyite organizer. Saul Alinsky was a great community organizer, and if you read his great book, Rules for Radicals, about community organizing in Chicago, the Alinskyite model is not that you elect a great man. His model is that you put someone in office and you assume that they are going to betray you from day one. They stink! Everyone one of them stinks! You put them in there, and then you hold their feet to the fire and you never let go, and you make their lives a living hell. Politicians are there to be punished. Obama knows that, and it really works. We’ve got to hold his feet to the fire. I’m very concerned with what he’s doing with these evangelicals now. He’s doing all kinds of outreach, which is fine, but there should be no horse trading there. No trading away gay rights. No hedging on choice.

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