For the record, I’ve been an admirer of Frank Schaeffer — both Frank Schaeffer Past and Frank Schaeffer Present.
That admiration, however, doesn’t blind me to his inexcusably horrible Christmas Eve article at Salon.com.
In the article, he criticizes his and his late father’s anti-abortion efforts in the 1970s and 1980s. He claims he and his late Dad are responsible for making the Republican Party an “extremist” organization, and for making the Tea Party movement happen. He also apologizes for doing so.
Again, for the record, I’ve been a fan of his father, too. The late Francis Schaeffer founded L’Abri Fellowship, the Greatham, England, branch of which still has a warm place in my heart, even if I’m more doubtful and skeptical (and less conservative) than I used to be, as many recent posts here testify.
My intersections with L’Abri as well as the writings of Frank Schaeffer and his late father were not political. They were refreshing and life-giving to me, attentive to the arts and philosophy as they were, and so they really helped me at specific times.
My departure from my own past involvement with the religious right makes me more likely to appreciate Frank Schaeffer’s departure from the same. So when I began to read Schaeffer’s article at Salon.com, I wanted to find something good to mull over.
But instead, what I read was irrational and indecent.
Just for radical clarity, I rejoiced at several sentences in his article, including, “You see, only in the Mafia, the British Royal family and big time American religion is a nepotistic rise to power seen as normal.” Ha-ha and amen to that!
I also shared Schaeffer’s disgust with the smug power-plays in the overlapping zone where the Republican Party and the evangelical priestly class mingle.
And here is Schaeffer’s knock-out punch, an excellent right-hook that should have appeared in a decent article:
What began to bother me was that so many of our new “friends” on the religious right seemed to be rooting for one form of apocalypse or another. In the crudest form this was part of the evangelical fascination with the so-called end times. The worse things got, the sooner Jesus would come back. But there was another component. The worse everything got, the more it proved that America needed saving, by us! Plus, it was good for fundraising.
YES, that is so friggin’ true.
But I’m still dismayed and astonished by Schaeffer’s abuses of rhetoric and misuses of his own credibility.
Let’s take a look.
First, if you haven’t already, read Schaeffer’s article.
Then, closely mark what Schaeffer says in the following two early sections of the article:
This zealous negativity has a long history. I was part of it as the nepotistic sidekick to my religious-right evangelist father. The 1970s Evangelical anti-abortion movement that Dad (Evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer), C. Everett Koop (who would be Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general) and I helped create seduced the Republican Party. We turned it into an extremist far-right party that is fundamentally anti-American. There would have been no Tea Party without the foundation we built….
You can’t understand why the GOP was so successful in winning back both houses of congress in 2014, and wrecking most of what Obama has tried to do, unless you understand what we did back then.
Schaeffer’s nonfiction, here and elsewhere, is full of hyperbole. The phrase “extremist far-right party” is just one example, a phrase that only applies if one is looking only at America with only conventional, contemporary perspectives, in other words, looking as if some perfectly moral social norm had always existed and the GOP is unique in its political transgressions.
More importantly, notice how Schaeffer conflates the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party (a.k.a. GOP) is an “extremist far-right party,” yet strangely enough, the Tea Party was unhappy with Mitt Romney as the official candidate.
So, the GOP has been taken over by Tea Party extremists who weren’t able to control the presidential nominee? Apparently, a group can take over a party without controlling the party. That doesn’t make sense, but that’s what Schaeffer is saying.
The heart of Schaeffer’s article deals with abortion. He assumes, wrongly, that today’s conservative movement within the GOP had everything to do with his and his father’s anti-abortion efforts. I can’t decide if that move is an oversimplification or a gross generalization or a bogus claim.
I’m leaning toward “bogus claim.” Anyone familiar with the conservative movement knows National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr., presidential candidate and senator Barry Goldwater, and author and professor Russell Kirk were crafting the movement long before Schaeffer & Son decided to get evangelicals fired-up about abortion. Maybe it’s a bogus claim combined with a side of self-importance.
The problems with Schaeffer’s assumptions about abortion, the Tea Party movement, and the GOP don’t stop there.
I don’t recall seeing anti-abortion signs in media coverage of Tea Party events. Of course it stands to reason I missed some, but I thought the T-E-A in Tea Party stood for “Taxed Enough Already,” which was a clever way to allude to the original Boston Tea Party anti-tax revolt, which was fundamentally foundational to America.
But anti-abortion politics are not foundational to the Tea Party. In the TeaParty.org’s “15 Non-Negotiable Core Beliefs,” not one mention is made of abortion.
Schaeffer’s premise for the article is his culpability for the entire Tea Party movement because of his and his Dad’s work as anti-abortion activists. Yet the Tea Party movement didn’t list it.
So Schaeffer (guiltily) takes credit for providing the seedbed for today’s Tea Party movement. This is his zaniest move. He assumes that the pro-life evangelical influence in the Republican Party walks hand-in-hand with anti-tax and anti-regulation folks.
He completely misses or ignores the real aggravations experienced by every-day people who were going about their business only to discover they’d violated a jot or a tittle in some inane law known only to busybody bureaucrats.
Maybe Schaeffer could scroll through Reason‘s frequently updated Brickbat blog to learn more about absurdities that fuel at least a healthy portion of the current anti-government backlash.
Instead, he subtly ties anti-government feelings to racism, as if the black people who have been screwed by their own government would just continue to support their government.
Of course, it’s easy and hip to peg the anti-government backlash on racism while the first black president is in office, and apparently the Salon.com editors, much like Schaeffer, don’t find it necessary to think beyond their own implicit political biases to the possibility that someone, somewhere, might just disagree with an Obama policy because of the policy.
But to clear things up, Franky could tell us why — in his post-evangelical, post-anti-abortion life — he (by apparent default) supports so many invasions of privacy outside the womb. He could go through each absurdity in the Brickbat blog and defend it, and then he could get back to accusing Them and Those and other random strangers of being racists.
(I’m glad you’ve overcome your own implicit biases, Franky. You can be proud of that, too, while you’re patting yourself on the back for throwing your Dad under the bus — justified violence in your mind, I’m sure.)
Schaeffer’s remarks about the anti-immigration movement as “part of the reaction to a black man in the White House” are baseless, unless ignorance counts as a basis for saying something.
Schaeffer apparently wrote his article without looking at the TeaParty.org’s “15 Non-Negotiable Core Beliefs” page, which most certainly deals with immigration, just not in the way the reader is led believe.
On that “nakedly racist” page we find, among others, Dr. Ben Carson and Lt. Col. Allen West, who, like the president, are black. “Nakedly racist” is a radically inaccurate description of the movement.
No one is accusing Schaeffer of being a racist just because he is a white guy who opposes black Tea Party leaders Dr. Ben Carson and Lt. Col. Allen West. That would be ridiculous — and inaccurate, and irrational.
But, unfortunately, Schaeffer is just that ridiculous throughout most of his article.
He uses an old trick among inflammatory political activists of all stripes: When you disagree with someone, lob a rhetorical hand grenade in his direction.
In the mind of an inflammatory activist like Schaeffer, a racially diverse group can be called “racist” because Salon.com’s editors and Franky won’t let accuracy get in the way of their special beliefs. Truth is chased-down and run-over by strong feelings.
(People can have all kinds of strong feelings. Some are found in stadiums and some in churches and some in mental wards.)
As a writer, pro-government Schaeffer could also defend the government’s decision to spy on an Associated Press office and to steal telephone records from reporters.
But no, instead, he’s subtly defending the Obama administration, which includes the Justice Department that broke the law and pissed on the First Amendment while spying on the Associated Press and stealing protected, confidential information from reporters. It’s irrational to support such a government.
And notice how Schaeffer smuggles in the assumption that everything Obama has done has been golden.
He writes, “You can’t understand why the GOP was so successful in winning back both houses of congress in 2014, and wrecking most of what Obama has tried to do, unless you understand what we did back then.” (emphasis added)
Buried therein is an assumption about Obama’s work even Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would question on their most kind-hearted days!
But that’s not stopping Schaeffer, who makes his appeal to the Salon.com crowd and then drives it full-speed into grotesque pandering.
I didn’t think smart people did that kind of thing. I thought Franky was smart. There’s a syllogism brewing here, but you can work it out for yourself.
Next time, we’ll look at even more egregious indecencies in Schaeffer’s article.
Read Part Two here.