Monday, July 24, 2006

When Ralph Reed was defeated last week in his primary bid to be Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, it was one small triumph for common sense and moderation among a GOP in desperate need of some. The defeat of Reed, by his own party, may be a sign that voters actually do have limits as to how much brazen hypocrisy they’ll accept from those who would lead them. Who’d have thought? But was Reed’s rout in Georgia really a bellwether, or just a blip?

The former leader of the ironically-named Christian Coalition is only the latest in a long line of creeps cynically using a religious base to propel themselves to political power. But Reed, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the child antichrist of “The Omen,” was a creep’s creep, counting among his closest allies Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist with ties to the Bush White House.

Reed and Abramoff were friends from way back in their College Republican days, so it was natural that Abramoff would offer Reed a $5 million cut of the take from the Indian tribes he was scamming. And the scam was perfect for Reed. He took money from one tribe to rally his Christian base against casinos proposed by its competitors. These heights of hypocrisy are dizzying. Never mind the depths to which Reed was driven by his greedy demons. By my accounting he’s headed for Circle 8 of Dante’s Inferno, with pimps, panderers, and seducers, grafters, hypocrites, and thieves, evil counselors and deceivers, sowers of discord, scandal, and schism.

But not right away, unfortunately. We have not seen the last of Ralph Reed, not by a long shot. For those with outsized ambitions and no scruples to speak of, there is no such thing as defeat. But for the movement he invented and however perversely personified this is a major blow. It would be foolish to think that the era of political pandering to the religious right is coming to an end. There’s never a shortage of religious hypocrites—it’s still true, after all, that “Where God has his church the Devil will have his chapel.” But that small, seditious sect, only about two million strong, that Reed and the Reverend Pat Robertson founded two decades ago, which has been running roughshod over our national politics, may finally be losing steam.

Or maybe not. At the same time Reed was conceding his defeat, President Bush was signing his very first veto—of a bill to expand federally funded embryonic stem cell research. But what may look like a victory for the very arrogance and ignorance that was defeated in Georgia, will actually turn out to be a last ditch attempt by another brazen hypocrite to claim the moral high ground. Rest assured it’s only a matter of time before common sense prevails over pandering in the stem cell debate. The GOP will have to return at some point to at least the semblance of democratic governance which they’ve abandoned. And zygotes don’t vote.

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