Friday, February 01, 2008

Is Hillary Clinton a theocrat?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I think it's a question that needs to be asked -- and answered. Like this one, posed by Mother Jones: "Is she triangulating -- or living her faith?" Or both. Consider:

Clinton's God talk is more complicated -- and more deeply rooted -- than either fans or foes would have it, a revelation not just of her determination to out-Jesus the gop, but of the powerful religious strand in her own politics. Over the past year, we've interviewed dozens of Clinton's friends, mentors, and pastors about her faith, her politics, and how each shapes the other. And while media reports tend to characterize Clinton's subtle recalibration of tone and style as part of the Democrats' broader move to recapture the terrain of "moral values," those who know her say there's far more to it than that.

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. "A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation," says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. "I don't... there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer."

Make sure to read the entire piece. It's quite long, but it's also extremely important.

I have no doubt that Clinton is a solid liberal, progressive on some issues, less so on others, and is not some sort of christianist theocrat out to impose a right-wing religious agenda on America. And yet, one wonders:

When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian "cell" whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat.

Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan.

It would be good to know what Clinton's views are with respect to this "spiritual war," would it not? Surely there are other faith groups she could have joined. Why this one? Was it all an act of triangulation, an effort to reach out to conservatives -- and in particular to her conservative colleagues in the Senate? Or does she actually believe in the Fellowship and its goals, in bringing Jesus, the christianist Jesus, into public life, into her public life, into whatever office she holds? If so, what specifically does she believe? Or is she somehow being duped, an victim of the christianist strategy of "cobelligerency," whereby "conservatives sit pretty and wait for liberals looking for common ground to come to them," pulling them to the right and turning them into allies, witting or otherwise, of their noxious agenda?

More urgently, what would any of this mean if she were elected to the White House in November? Are we confident we know the real Hillary Clinton? Would she work to guide the country in a more progressive direction, or would she be, in essence, the Fellowship's liberal in the Oval Office, a friendly liberal willing and eager to do some christianist bidding?

I'm not at all confident. For a long time, my reservations about Clinton had largely to do with her triangulating positions on Iraq, Iran, and foreign policy generally. More recently, I have been appalled by some of what I have heard from her on the campaign trail. But there is this other Hillary, the Hillary who reaches out to, and cozies up with, the likes of Brownback and Santorum, the Hillary who attracts Newt Gingrich, the Hillary who wants to work with Republicans to get things done, things Republicans but not her fellow Democrats may want done. This other Hillary is hardly someone I want in the White House.

Again, we need answers to the questions posed above. But since there likely won't be any answers forthcoming, and certainly not satisfactory answers, we need to think carefully about what a Clinton presidency, a second one, would mean.

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As I have said before, I think that both Clinton and Obama could be good, even great, presidents but that I do not much care for either one. (For a thoughtful critique of Obama, see here.)

Just days before Super Tuesday, I'm still not sure where I stand. (It was with Edwards, alas.) Which is perhaps for the best. I'll support whoever emerges as the nominee, no matter what. (There's no way I'm supporting a Republican.)

It's just that these reservations are tough to overlook. And they seem, on both sides, to be growing.

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