By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Those Democratic Devils
Many America "reclaimers" take great care not to employ partisan language. Still, the Reclaiming America conference is a Grand Old Party. This is a place where the terms Republican and conservative are all but synonymous.
Atlanta political activist Phil Kent is there flogging his book, The Dark Side of Liberalism, to anyone who will listen. "I've gotten Ken Starr, my friend, to endorse the book," Kent crows of the former Bill Clinton independent prosecutor who is also a friend of Kennedy's and a former conference speaker. "I've got ten chapters of public policy: courts, immigration, media, environment. The last chapter is where do we go from here, how we need to venerate our heroes, control of our borders, illegal immigration. I talk about Jesus being the ultimate hero."
He's also handing out fliers called "Defending a Christian General," referring to Jerry Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense, who came under fire for disparaging Islam. In one instance, Boykin told an audience that a Somalian warlord boasted that Allah would protect him from capture. "Well, my God is bigger than his god," Boykin said. "I knew my God was a real god and his was an idol." Kent's defense is thus: "This is true!" Concerns by "left-wingers, atheists, and candidate [Howard] Dean" that Boykin would inflame "our radical Islamic enemies" is a "joke," according to Kent.
Clinton certainly remains the ultimate bugaboo for many. Land can't resist going after him a few times from the pulpit. "National leadership that has character is a sign of God's blessing," he says. "The lack of that leadership is a sign of God's judgment. I firmly believe that William Jefferson Clinton was a judgment of God on the United States of America for our sin and our degradation."
Rank-and-file members freely declare their allegiance to the Republican Party and especially to George Bush.
With a little urging, John Hope shares his political opinions while waiting to be served his beef au jus during an evening banquet the first night of the conference. The 64-year-old Hope hails from the small town of Rockville, South Carolina, where he's a building contractor and chairman of the local zoning board. He's dressed casually in a polo shirt, and, in a formidable Southern accent, flirts a bit with the young women serving the table.
"He's come under a lot of flak -- mostly from the press, the liberals, the Clintonians, the Hillaryites," he says of George W. Bush. "But most people admire him. Christians, and even people who are agnostics, recognize that the world was ready for a Christian president who would practice his religion in office. I think we were blessed. I think it was by the grace of God that he is in office."
Whether he agrees or disagrees with, say, Bush's invasion of Iraq or his dismantling of environmental regulations is irrelevant, Hope says, because the president is a born-again Christian.
Hope comes from a religious tradition that didn't mix politics with the church. But his epiphany came in the late 1970s, when the Christian Coalition "infiltrated" local Republican rallies. "That was my wakeup call," he recalls. "It didn't take me long after that. Within a year or two, I was involved with the Christian Coalition, and I was hootin' and hollerin' and raisin' sand right along with 'em."
Hope has been emboldened by past conferences. When he became chairman of the zoning board, one of his first acts was to begin meetings with a prayer. There was silence, he said, but no objections. He's continued the practice since. His home church has a strong tradition of keeping religion and politics separate, but Hope continues urging his fellow parishioners to mix it up.
HWJV: How Would Jesus Vote?
Bowtied and dark-suited, Tygh Bailes is a dead ringer for a college-age George Will. His political views are also strikingly similar to those of the conservative pundit. The baby-faced Bailes, however, doesn't write about conservative politicos; he builds them. Bailes is a grassroots campaign consultant for the Leadership Institute, whose mission is to "identify, recruit, train and place conservatives in the public policy process." Before he joined the institute, he had worked on the campaigns of Oliver North and Virginia Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen.
Bailes presents conservative Christians a straight-up secular primer on "The Real Nature of Politics and Elections," or tips on handing your candidate the keys to the gates of elected office. Bailes recognizes that in front of him is the best promise for the Republican Party: conservatives driven to do God's work.
First of all, forget your Sir Galahad Theory of Politics, which holds that "I will win because my heart is pure." Remember Barry Goldwater, the father of the modern conservative movement who was trounced by Lyndon Johnson in 1964? Well, it was his Galahadian campaign slogan that did him in: "In your heart you know I'm right."
Sixteen years later, supporters of Ronald Reagan, whose political beliefs differed little from Goldwater's, had concluded that "being right is not sufficient to win," Bailes says. "Political success is determined by the number and effectiveness of the activists on the given sides." Those who use their time, talent, and money most efficiently (including using a public relations veil to downplay a candidate's stands on such social issues as abortion and homosexuality) will win. It's an anomaly of the modern American electorate that winning most local races comes down to courting roughly 4 percent of the registered voters -- the small group that is registered and not aligned with a party. That's the group from whom candidates should seek votes.