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November 20, 2011 9:30 AM A frightening forum in Iowa

By Steve Benen

Just looking at the co-hosts of the event in Iowa yesterday for the Republican presidential field offered a hint of what was to come.

The “Thanksgiving Family Forum” was organized and sponsored by three groups: the James Dobson-founded Focus on the Family, a religious right powerhouse known for its bizarre cultural agenda; the National Organization for Marriage, perhaps best known for its unintentionally hilarious anti-gay commercials; and The FAMiLY Leader, an Iowa-based group of extremists that put together “The Marriage Vow” for GOP candidates, which argued, among other things, that slavery wasn’t that bad for African-American families.

Despite — or more likely, because of — the radicals behind the forum, six GOP presidential hopefuls showed up to pander to the religious right voters, each vowing to be more pious than their rivals. The only two candidates who weren’t there were Mitt Romney, who declined an invitation, and Jon Huntsman, who wasn’t invited at all.

The result was an event that was tough to watch.

Looking to court this state’s critical voting bloc of evangelical Christians, Republican presidential candidates sharply attacked secularism and the Supreme Court while calling for greater restrictions on abortion and gay rights at an event here on Saturday.

At a forum on moral values, which was held at First Federated, an evangelical church in Des Moines, the six candidates in attendance largely stuck to Republican orthodoxy and avoided criticizing one another. Instead, they called for dramatic changes in current law to achieve conservative aims.

To limit abortion, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the leading candidates in polls here, proposed a federal law defining “personhood” as starting at conception, similar to a provision backed by abortion opponents that was rejected earlier this month by voters in Mississippi. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he supported provisions that would limit the ability of gay couples to adopt children, while businessman Herman Cain called for changing provisions in the tax code that restrict churches’ involvement in politics if they want to keep their tax-exempt status.

Several committed to supporting state same-sex marriage bans and eventually a constitutional amendment to prohibit it, although libertarian candidate Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) said the issue should be dealt with by churches and families instead of the government.

Paul may have been the only candidate on the stage to oppose an anti-gay constitutional amendment, but he was quick to express his unyielding support for the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Obama and congressional Democrats are eager to repeal.

So, what did we learn from the event? That for all the focus on economic and fiscal issues at the national level, much of the Republican base is still preoccupied with a culture war — and most of the Republican presidential candidates are only too pleased to tell these voters what they want to hear.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on November 20, 2011 9:42 AM:

    I suspect that in the "Personhood Bill" that Newt would support, he'd also have something where a guy could divorce his wife simply by saying "I divorce thee," three times.
    And "I ain't paying no alimony" only once.

  • bleh on November 20, 2011 9:43 AM:

    ... most of the Republican presidential candidates are only too pleased to tell these voters what they want to hear.

    Well, sure. It's all benefit, no cost, at least for the primaries, and especially for primaries in states like Iowa, where the Fundie crazy really rules. The poor chumps in the audience get nothing for all their zealotry -- maybe a Paleocon judge or two, along with the usual sandy ass-rape by the Big Money Boyz -- but they keep comin' back for that good old-time gospel.

    Romney has his sights on the general, where the crazy is a turnoff, so he's gotta be careful. But the rest of these jokers are angling mostly for publicity (speeches, books, maybe a gig on Fox) or -- maybe, if they think there's eventually enough money in it -- the VP slot, so they don't care. Let Romney soothe the rabbits in the suburbs; they're lathering up the crowd and cashing in.

  • k l m on November 20, 2011 9:46 AM:

    And didn't Bachmann declare that a 'Family' is one man and one woman? I guess all those single parent or multigenerational households are just out of luck. They aren't really 'family' and as such not really even allowed a voice in our government, which Bachmann says is fundamentally 'the family'.

    Of course, she meant marriage is one man and one woman, but the implications of her misstatement are rather ridiculous.

  • Don K on November 20, 2011 9:52 AM:

    The NOM ads, while "unintentionally hilarious", seem, unfortunately, to be rather effective. In California and Maine, banning same-sex marriage was behind in the polls, but a barrage of NOM ads ("they'll be teaching kindergarten kids about gay sex", "they'll force your preacher to perform fake marriage ceremonies") seems to have turned things around.

  • c u n d gulag on November 20, 2011 9:58 AM:

    Also, too:
    What I find amusing is that the snake-handlers and tongue-talkers don't think the magic underwear crowd has any legitimacy as a Christian religion.

    I suspect their pet python babbles something about that to them - "Jesssssssssussssssss sssssssssssssays no'sssssss to'ssssssssss Mormonssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss."

  • hells littlest angel on November 20, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Of course, with right-wingers even economic issues are really cultural issues. Their concerns about government spending are entirely about not spending money on the undeserving "others," unless it's being spent killing them.

  • berttheclock on November 20, 2011 10:51 AM:

    "businessman Herman Cain" - When, will this "businessman" nonsense stop. He has been a lobbyist for almost 20 years. He headed the lobbying group known as the National Restaurant Association, which has lobbied against minimum wage, alcohol intoxication laws and health benefits for emplyees. They lobby both at the federal and state levels. He, has worked for the Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity, which is a major lobbying group. In fact, he bonded with his smoking campaign manager on field trips for AfP. He went into Wisconsin and lobbied against government unions and supported Wallker. Part and parcel of being connected to those two brothers by another mother.

  • FlipYrWhig on November 20, 2011 10:55 AM:

    Paul may have been the only candidate on the stage to oppose an anti-gay constitutional amendment, but he was quick to express his unyielding support for the Defense of Marriage Act,

    Sure, it makes perfect sense for a "libertarian" to back the idea that the government can define how you organize your household. No, wait, what's the opposite of sense?

  • Repack Rider on November 20, 2011 12:54 PM:

    Although the initial purpose of three hundred "debates" (where everyone tries to be the most in agreement with the others) was to get free publicity, the downside is that they are doing Democratic oppo research for free.

    20 or 30 hours of video gives each of these buffoons the opportunity the make dozens if not hundreds of statements that are silly, untrue, and embarrassing, and these will be played ad nauseum both during the campaign and on the Daily Show, where the mashups will have the candidate arguing with himself.

  • Zorro on November 20, 2011 1:32 PM:

    [F]or all the focus on economic and fiscal issues at the national level, much of the Republican base is still preoccupied with a culture war.

    And, we also learn from this that the GOP has many liberal snowed as well.

    The GOP powers-that-bet don't give a rat's ass about social issues. They never did. They learned in the late '70s, however, that, by mouthing pious sentiments such as these, they could trick poor religious whites into voting against their own economic self interest. You do remember What's the Matter with Kansas, right?

    In short, the GOP uses religious talk to bring out the sheep to vote for them, then proceed to all but ignore their concerns in the interests of favouring the economic interests of the 1%.

    Think about it: for the past 30+ years, the US has been under a Republican President, Congress, or Supreme Court nearly every single second. Yet, abortion remains legal, albeit more restricted than before, and gay rights are more firmly established now than ever before. Had the GOP actually cared about all of this pious nonsense, then they would have found a way to reverse both of these- this is, after all, a group which had no problem whatsoever in stealing 2 Presidential elections. The fact that they did not tells me that the pious platitudes are nothing but cover for their true aim: protecting the wealth of the people who own them lock, stock, and barrel. And, by and large, the ultra-rich don't give a crap about moral issues, as long as you don't ask them to pay a penny more in taxes.

    -Z

  • Jim on November 20, 2011 1:57 PM:

    The whole Republican field is crazy as pear orchard boars.

  • neil b on November 20, 2011 5:21 PM:

    — and most of the Republican presidential candidates are only too pleased to tell these voters what they want to hear.
    And most of the media are only too pleased to not tell the rest of the voters about all this, because their owners need the Republicans' favors (even better to them than from Democrats. BTW, is Obama's FCC clown really trying to loosen ownership rules?)

    "left:"

  • David on November 21, 2011 1:53 AM:

    "A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends."
    Henry A. Wallace

  • The Oracle on November 21, 2011 4:18 AM:

    If Jesus Christ had walked into this church during this Frank Luntz-moderated Republican presidential candidate event, he'd have said, "This used to be a house of worship, but you've turned it into a den of thieves."

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