I neglected this point when I wrote this post, but I should add: Here's how Chris Smith (R-NJ) saw fellow House Pro-Life Caucus co-chair Bart Stupak's role in the health care reform push. As I wrote in an October 29th story,
Pro-Life Democrats in Congress played a "magnificent" role in blocking health care reform during the Clinton administration. And, under the "courageous" and "smart" leadership of House Pro-Life Caucus leader, Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, with the support and prayers of Republicans categorically opposed to the Democratic Party's health care reform effort, the Blue Dogs may be able to do it again.
That's what Stupak's caucus co-chair Chris Smith (R-NJ) told the audience at a "townhall" panel event on Friday September 18th at the Family Research Council Action's Washington DC 2009 Values Voter Summit.
Rep. Smith's statements are on video that can be seen at the end of my October 29th story.
As some have forecast, Democratic women may revolt if the Stupak-Pitts amendment isn't removed, in conference, from the health care bill. But, how did the amendment get into the bill ?
For many on the left, it seems as if the successful bid, by Michigan House Representative Bart Stupak (D-Mich) to attach an anti-choice amendment to the health care reform bill that the House voted to pass on Saturday night, was a surprise.
To me that's bizarre, and it's symptomatic of how little, to this day, Democratic Party activists, strategists, and political progressives seem to understand or care about the impact of religion in politics. Stupak had liabilities which, publicized, might have derailed his amendment push. Almost no one tried, because few knew the territory.
That bodes ill for 2010.
Stupak's amendment would likely further reduce the access of American women to abortion services - which are currently unavailable in 87% of US counties according to the Guttmacher Institute. The absence of informed efforts to stop it suggests to me that the American left hasn't come all that far since the Democratic Party was blindsided in 1994 by the Republican Party's historic takeover of the House and Senate, powered to considerable degree by Christian right organizations such as Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.
Over the course of many weeks prior to his amendment gambit, Bart Stupak had been making appearances on Christian media and declaring his intent to block the House health care bill from getting to the House floor. Stupak's message, invariably, was that he had the votes to block the bill from getting to the House floor if Democratic House leadership didn't allow a vote on his anti-choice amendment.
As it turns out, Stupak may not have had enough votes to do that but that would have been almost impossible to know prior to Saturday, and House leadership didn't want to test the actual head count of Stupak's block of potentially renegade Democrats and so risk failure to pass the health care bill. So Stupak got his way. Reproductive rights advocacy groups, and American women, lost.
A Missed Opportunity ?
Since 1992, Bart Stupak has lived at the "C Street House" which became notorious over the course of the last summer as no less than three separate sex scandals broke involving current of former national Republican politicians who had lived at or attended Bible study classes at the C Street House.
The C Street House is registered officially as a "church" but provides under-market rate rent to members of the influence-peddling Christian fundamentalist Washington association known as "The Family" that was the subject of a 2008 book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, by journalist Jeff Sharlet who argues that The Family, which actually maintains several group homes for politicians in and around Washington DC, functions as an unregistered lobby.
[below: NBC special report on the Fellowship/Family]
As I described in detail in an October 22, 2009 story (one of three I've written on Stupak and The Family), among Bart Stupak's fellow Family members and C Street Housemates are Republicans who have been most noisily working to block health care reform - including Jim DeMint who, in a July 17th conference call, told conservative activists that "...if we're able to stop Obama on this [health care] it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."
In the weeks leading up to the House vote on the health care bill, indications were that Bart Stupak was very, very concerned with avoiding publicity over his long residence at the C Street House. Rightly so.
There are endless scandalous and disturbing stories associated with The Family, whose long-time head Doug Coe is on video celebrating the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin, and Mao. And, the C Street House is owned by another evangelical organization whose founder and head advocates that Christians infiltrate key sectors of society such as business, government, education, and media.
All of that was public knowledge, as was the fact that Stupak had very recently changed some pet legislation he'd crafted which would have unconstitutionally gifted Michigan Coast Guard property to a Christian School. All Americans United For The Separation of Church and State had to do was call Stupak's office once, to politely question the legality of Stupak's legislation. AU didn't need to publicize the issue. Stupak didn't fight, he immediately agreed to amend the legislation. He just rolled over.
Rep. Stupak is on the public record denying any association with The Family. As Bart Stupak told Michigan Messenger's Ed Brayton,
"I don't belong to any such group, I rent a room at a house in `C Street.' I do not belong to any such group. I don't know what you're talking about, [The] Family and all this other stuff."
But Stupak's denial was a blatant lie. Not only has Bart Stupak enjoyed, for over seven years*, Family-subsidized rent living at the Family's C Street House, he is co-chair of the Family's House Prayer Breakfast.
On April 9, 2008, at the 56th National Prayer Breakfast, Stupak told attendees, "I am Bart Stupak, co-chair of the House Prayer Breakfast. In my sixteen years in the house this is the second time that I have had the honor to address you from the dais." Both the National Prayer Breakfast and the House Prayer Breakfast are institutions established over half a century ago by The Family, and speaking spots at the National Prayer Breakfast are reported to be tightly controlled by Family head Doug Coe. Ed Brayton, writing for Michigan Messenger, has additional information on Stupak and the Family in his July 23, 2009 story, Stupak denies knowledge of connections to mysterious ‘C Street’ house he lives in
Same As it Ever Was, Or : 2010 Here We Come.
A few in alternative media, such as Alternet's Adele Stan, noticed Bart Stupak's Family ties in relationship to efforts to insert an anti-choice amendment into the House health care bill. Beyond those (very) few, however, lay a howling wilderness of journalistic, activist, Democratic Party and NGO oblivion.
I suppose I once again fell into the trap of believing that more people would get it, the fact that religion is a field which Democrats (and their supporters) can play on, not just GOP members - without triangulating and ceding policy positions (which alienates the Democratic Party's base.)
Jeff Sharlet's breakthrough with his Family book, propelled to considerable degree when Rachel Maddow picked up the C Street House story over the summer, fooled me into thinking that somebody, somewhere who had the ability to project the Family/Stupak story at a level I couldn't, would pick it up.
That didn't happen, and in my opinion this is part of a pattern does not bode well for Democratic Party prospects in the 2010 election. Many media pundits claimed,in the late 1980's, that the Christian right had ebbed or was dying as a movement. Then came the 1992 sweep. Will economic discontent, right wing religion, "Tea Party" madness, and new GOP tactics power another Republican upset in 2010 ?
My own experience doesn't lead me to be all that optimistic. Here's why. Last May 2008, I posted online a little 3 and 1/2 minute video that appreciably shifted the dynamics of the last presidential election by causing (as credited by numerous mainstream media outlets) John McCain to renounce his long-sought political endorsement from mega-evangelist John Hagee. The feat got written up as a chapter in the book Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press by Media Matter's Eric Boehlert, but beyond that interest from political activists - how had I done it ? could specialized knowledge of religion and politics be used in such a dramatic way again ? was it reproducible ? - was all-but nonexistent, and such experiences have led me to believe that the American left may well again be blindsided, in part by the GOP's leveraging of religion.
The renunciation of Hagee's endorsement hurt McCain's already shaky relationship with the Christian right but in the end conservative evangelicals turned out for McCain in higher numbers than for George B. Bush in 2000 and 2004. The reason was Sarah Palin. And, in picking Palin, McCain drove away many pro-McCain independents who felt Palin to be strange, inexperienced, and spooky. But the American left (and America at large) to this day is unaware of the nature of Palin's religious associations, which I wrote on (along with a co-researcher), to no avail, last Fall.
*Note: my original dating, on the number of years Rep. Bart Stupak has lived at the C Street House operated by the Fellowship Foundation was incorrect. I dated Stupak's residency at "over a decade and a half." The correct figure is "over a half a decade." Lisa Getter's 2002 LA Times story, "Faith in Discretion," indicates that Stupak has lived at C Street at least since 2002 - seven years by 2009.