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Yes, really: This year, the Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower is championed by one candidate conservative evangelical Christians suspect of worshiping odd, fecund Gods who live, love, and multiply on strangely-named foreign planets, and by another candidate enthralled by an economic philosophy that helped birth Anton LaVey's Church of Satan.  

Back in 2011 a series of attacks from leading conservative evangelicals darkly warned that Ayn Rand devotees, Paul Ryan included, might be worshiping at the altar of crypto-satanism. Now, within the last 24 hours, a flurry of mainstream media articles cover a controversy erupting after evangelism superstar Billy Graham prayed with (and in effect endorsed) candidate Mitt Romney and observers noticed that an article on the website of Graham's flagship Billy Graham Evangelistic Association identified Mormonism as a "cult".

This train wreck wasn't supposed to happen.

A few months ago, despite ongoing, savage swipes from prominent fundamentalist pastors who called Mormonism a "cult", the Republican Party sloughed off evangelical right challengers in the 2012 presidential primaries, along with its "anyone but Mitt" syndrome, to pick a Mormon as the GOP standard bearer in the 2012 presidential election.

Then, Mitt Romney doubled down on the "cult" issue by picking, as his vice presidential running mate, a Congressman who as recently as 2010 (in official campaign ads no less) had praised a libertarian philosopher accused, in mid 2011 by a leading hard-right Catholic journal, of promoting a thinly-veiled form of satanism.

For a party that not too long ago under George W. Bush had managed to artfully wrap its bloodier instincts in the evangelical cloak of many colors that was "compassionate conservatism", Paul Ryan's radical budget - that provoked ire from across the Catholic political spectrum - and Mitt Romney's apparent disgust at the mooching "47% percent" of America - threatened to open up a rift between religious conservatives who see some sort of proper role for government in mitigating the worst effects of laissez faire capitalism, and secular conservatives who envision anarcho-capitalism as the road to a glorious, Ayn Rand-inspired utopia in which the "producers" would finally relegate the mooching masses to their proper, subordinate status in great chain of being.

It didn't help that Paul Ryan's plan for privatizing Social Security was, at base, a rehash of the Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian Piñera Plan cooked up under the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet - whose military regime helped refine torture methods later employed in Iraq at Abu Ghraib and has become known for "disappearing" thousands of its citizens, often by pushing them out of helicopters into the sea.

This is the dilemma - will modern American conservatism continue to pay at least lip service to traditional Christian social justice teaching, or will it break with that moral touchstone and remake itself as a party which cleaves to a Hobbesian social contract that reduces American society to an atomized struggle of all against all, nasty, brutish, and short?

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