Last edited: February 14, 2005

Fundie Eruptions

New York Press, July 3, 2002
333 7th Ave, 14th Fl., New York, New York 10001

By Michelangelo Signorile

It was the fire-breathing Mary Matalin, when she was working in George the Elder’s 1992 loser of a campaign, who noted that Bill Clinton was hounded by "bimbo eruptions." George W. Bush, it may then be said, is pestered by "fundie eruptions." Every now and then, just when the Bushies are beginning to look somewhat civilized on social issues, a shadowy Bush/Christian-right plot lurches forth from the darkness, like a crazy old uncle pushing his way down from the attic. The suddenly indiscreet scheme usually lands on a front page somewhere, a reminder that, contrary to the administration’s moderate gestures, the Christian right maintains its stranglehold.

The public exposure sends the Bushies into fundie-eruption spin mode, producing some very curious results. It happened most recently two weeks ago when The Washington Post slapped on its cover a story about how Christian-right groups "have joined forces with Islamic governments to halt the expansion of sexual and political protections and rights for gays, women and children at United Nations conferences," noting that the groups "received a major boost from the Bush administration, which appointed antiabortion activists to key positions on U.S. delegations to U.N. conferences on global economic and social policy." Last January, after I wrote a column—"The Real American Taliban"—comparing the Christian fundamentalists’ positions to those of Islamic fundamentalists, the letters of outrage came pouring in from all the predictable quarters. But lo and behold, here is evidence that they’re actually down on the killing fields of the culture wars together, battling side by side against the rest of the world.

The thought that a president who asserted that he’d liberated the women of Afghanistan—and used his wife to herald such claims—is secretly working to undermine women on the rest of the planet is beyond hypocritical. And the thought that the U.S., in its role at the UN, is joining forces on the gay issue with Islamic countries that execute known homosexuals is absolutely horrific. In recent months, as I’ve written on 9/11-related issues, I’ve received a great many e-mails from gays and lesbians trapped behind the Islamic Curtain. One man who contacted me from the United Arab Emirates (whom I telephoned at a time when no one was at home), told me of his "Taliban-like" male relatives who brag about friends who’ve hurled their wives from the tops of buildings.

"Please help me to get out of this hellish situation," he wrote me in a desperate e-mail plea, representative of so many others I’ve received. "I have developed severe psychological problems. I often am suicidal. I can’t imagine talking so openly to any close friend or any mental health doctor." He believes his life is in constant danger, as homosexuality in the UAE is punishable by death—and if the state doesn’t get you, clearly a relative or someone else might hurl you from a building.

Certainly this is not the kind of thing our dear compassionate conservative President wants to be connected to: damn those fundie eruptions! And so it seemed almost too convenient that just a few days after the revelation about the UN scheme, our attorney general, John Ashcroft, came under attack from some Christian conservatives for not being conservative enough anymore—specifically because he allowed a deputy to speak at a Dept. of Justice-sponsored gay pride event. How lucky can you get? Just when your administration is exposed as being profoundly intolerant for empowering groups that are working with our most dreaded enemies—including Iraq and Iran—your very own Mr. Intolerance is attacked for, well, not being intolerant enough, shifting the debate entirely. Lucky indeed—unless, perhaps, you helped promote the latter story yourself so that you might look more moderate.

It was the rather natty Concerned Women for America that voiced its disapproval of the Justice Dept. gay event to The Washington Post, as did the little known Culture and Family Institute. But you have to wonder just how angry the most powerful leaders on the Christian right were about the DOJ event. Why were the voices of the more influential groups that actually do much of the brokering with the White House so toned down, or even nonexistent? Where was Pat Robertson? Where were the conservative Republican members of Congress? They certainly didn’t stay silent when the Clinton administration, including his Justice Dept., celebrated gay rights. Maybe they toned it down because they’re reeling in much greater catches. What, after all, should a little pride celebration among a bunch of DC bureaucrats matter when you’ve literally been handed the world via the UN, particularly when you know the administration has to throw something to the moderates in order to counter the exposure of the latest plot?

A fundie eruption similar to the UN scheme occurred last summer when, again on page A1 of The Washington Post, we were told that "the Bush administration is working with the nation’s largest charity, the Salvation Army, to make it easier for government-funded religious groups to practice hiring discrimination against gay people." In return, the Salvation Army was going to help Bush gain support for his faltering faith-based initiative program. Caught red-handed—or, shall we say, with White House adviser Karl Rove’s hands all over it—the administration soon backed off the entire plan.

It’s nice to know that when you shine a light on their back-room dealings with the Leviticus-obsessed, the Bushies drop everything and scamper like roaches. But it would be even nicer if they actually did the right thing on their own, for reasons other than strictly political ones. Last week Bush signed a bill that allows for federal death benefits to be paid to anyone listed as a life insurance beneficiary—including same-sex partners—of firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty (until now only spouses, children and parents received such benefits). The bill’s passage was credited to the plight of survivors of victims of the 9/11 attacks. Gay groups, perhaps seeing an opportunity to rub it in the religious right’s face, sent out effusive press releases praising Bush, claiming a gay rights victory. And some gay conservatives, who seemed to develop amnesia about the Bush-backed Islamic/Christian alliance revelation of only two weeks ago, actually seemed to see this as a sign of Bush’s support for gay people.

But in fact, Bush and any other politician—Republican or Democrat—would be stupid to snub anything having to do with compensating victims of 9/11, which has at this point become sacred. And one of the cosponsors of the bill, Illinois Congressman Donald Manzullo, is an antigay conservative whose main concern was not compensation for same-sex partners but other family members. The administration nonetheless downplayed the bill-signing, sending out only an e-mail announcement late in the day. If Bush actually supported gay rights, he’d come out in favor of domestic partnership benefits, civil unions or same-sex marriage for the millions of other gay people who need protections. At the very least he might have held a ceremony to sign the bill or mentioned the word "gay" in his announcement—instead of the closeted signing he offered.

Still, for some conservatives even that was too much. "I’m very saddened that he signed it, because of the precedent that it sets," that dinosaur among conservative right activists, Paul Weyrich, told The New York Times. "Conservatives are becoming somewhat troubled by some of the things that the administration is doing, and if you have just a percentage or two who stay at home, it’ll mean the difference between control or not in the 2002 elections."

Weyrich mentioned the magic word: elections. You can only imagine that Rove is already in meetings with him and the like, coming up with some new under-the-radar plot to give the Christian right more power. Get ready for the next fundie eruption.

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