Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


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APRIL 12, 2012 2:36PM

War on Women No Hoax

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Imagine an America in which Catholic nuns patrol the streets armed with rulers and issue citations like meddlesome meter maids to women whose hemlines rise provocatively more than two inches above the knee.

Preposterous? I would have thought so, too, until the controversy over women's access to birth control rose from the dead, zombie-like, after being safely interred for more than half a century.

Today, conservatives seem more eager than they've been in a very long time to stick their noses into parts of our private lives that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

Conservatives insist all this talk about a "War on Women" is just a ruse, a liberal invention to distract attention away from more problematic issues for Democrats, such as joblessness and gas prices. Real women, say the white-gloved ladies of Concerned Women for America, don't care about contraception, or Planned Parenthood, or trans-vaginal probes. Only "feminists" do. In fact, this whole debate isn't about women at all. It's about "religious liberty."

Much of the controversy about the "War on Women" and the insertion of religion into our politics is mostly semantics given that the wall of separation between church and state in America still remains high, despite recent attempts by conservatives to scale it.

But there's no need for metaphysical disquisitions over the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin when we debate whether the "War on Women" is real or just a metaphor since we already know what such a war looks like and that the usual aggressors almost always turn out to be religious conservatives.

In Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch, women continue to be treated as "legal minors" by their male "guardians" who still retain the power to determine whether women may work, study, marry, travel, and even undergo medical procedures. Recently, a doctor in her forties lost a court appeal to have her father removed as her guardian after he refused to give her hand in marriage and then confiscated her income. She now lives in a women's shelter. In another case, two women were forced by their brothers to marry five men each for money and against their wills. Another woman was sentenced to 300 lashes and 18 months in prison for "appearing in court without a male guardian."  

Things are a little better in Iran. According to USA Today, women are still not equal under Iran's constitution, adopted in 1979 after the overthrow of the Shah, but Persian women do enjoy greater liberties than those in neighboring Arab nations. Unlike most Arab women, those in Iran can drive by themselves, get a university education and hold public office. In Tehran, there is even a professional fire company composed entirely of women -- the only female firefighters in the entire Middle East. But according to USA Today, Iranian law still treats women as just half of a man on matters like inheritances, compensation for injury and death and giving testimony in court.

Women are also finding their liberties under increasing assault in ultra-Orthodox Israel, writes Daily Beast columnist Peter Beinart. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism was born out of terror and hatred of the Enlightenment and is based on a rejection of all secular values, including the emancipation of women, says Beinart. "And so, like their counterparts in the Muslim and Christian worlds, ultra-Orthodox Jews have responded with increasingly aggressive efforts to subjugate women in public life," he says.

Thankfully, says Beinart, liberal Israelis are taking to the streets to fight the "moral depravity" of  this "ultra-Orthodox misogyny."  But the ability of ultra-Orthodox Jews to demand segregated buses, sidewalks, and public events, he says, is rooted in their control of key ministries in Netanyahu's Likud government.

You say it cannot happen here? How could anyone oppose equality for women? That's what liberals were asking themselves a generation ago when the drive to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution stalled a few states short of ratification.

Say what you will about Phyllis Schlafly, she was a genius of messaging and organization who understood the vulnerabilities of America's political system to a small but determined minority -- even one that represented a worldview most would regard as backward if not appalling.

Many would also agree with Chris Mooney, author of a recent book on conservatism, that Schlafly represented a politics that was "authoritarian, traditionalist and hierarchical" to its core. But Schlafly also spoke for those who saw feminism and the ERA "as an attack on marriage, the family, the homemaker, the role of motherhood, the whole concept of different roles for men and women" -- and who also saw the "traditional" family unit as "the single greatest achievement in the history of women's rights."

The War on Women that Republicans are desperately trying to dismiss as a figment of liberal imaginations was certainly real enough for Jimmy Carter when, in 2009, he severed a 60-year relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention to protest that conservative religious organization's treatment of women as second class citizens.

"This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread," said Carter. "At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities."

Religious conservatives today say they are the ones being treated like second class citizens. They insist that all they want to do is participate in American politics like everyone else and they don't see why their religious commitments ought to disqualify them.

Conservatives also compare themselves to the religious movements led by such spiritual leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King in the fight for civil rights, and before that abolition. And they accuse liberals of hypocritical double standards for insisting on a wall of separation between church and state - but only when it's conservatives organizing  themselves politically to push for their religious values in public.

This is dangerous nonsense. Liberals have never believed people must check their most deeply held beliefs at the door or be treated like moral and ethical eunuchs whenever they take part in politics.

The problem is that conservatives want more. They aren't interested in merely participating in politics. They seek to change the nature of American politics altogether by making the private, public.

The civil rights and abolitionist movements that conservatives are so eager to be identified with addressed issues that were already political in nature, meaning they touched on the relationships between human beings and how we treat one another. By taking part in those movements for human dignity and freedom, the liberal churches were merely adding their own religiously-informed voices to the larger agitation already underway for change and justice.

What religious conservatives seek, on the other hand, is to radicalize politics by making what we do in the privacy of our own homes into a fit topic for public debate, public discussion and even public law-making. But an authoritarian code of conduct requires an authoritarian state to enforce it. 

The Catholic Church, for instance, has well-established positions on a whole array of legitimate political issues - on war and peace, on the welfare state, on capitalism and labor relations, on the environment, on the death penalty and criminal justice.

But these are not the issues that interest the Catholic bishops most when they insert themselves into the public square. Instead, the Catholic hierarchy is motivated by the same "morals" issues that the religious imagination has always been obsessed with, whose regulation and enforcement is what separates a modern society that gives individuals broad liberties and freedoms from a traditionalist one in which those same individuals are forced to conform to ancient and rigid norms of behavior. Often on penalty of death.

This most recent spasm of political activism by the Catholic bishops and other church leaders wouldn't be the first time that such autocrats have asked for nothing more than to make use of the rights guaranteed by a democracy in order to advance a cause that undermines it. For what distinguishes democracy from all other forms of politics is that thin line which separates authority from autonomy.

The classic expression of this democratic principle was provided by John Stuart Mill who, in his famous essay On Liberty, wrote: "The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant."

Mill's distinction between the public and the private is not one that a traditional society or that society's traditional religious leaders would  recognize at all.

"This was not a fight that we picked," said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, posing as the victim in the bishop's dispute with President Obama over birth control. But as Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan smartly observes, to a religious mind like Dolan's "any space for non-believers is an assault on belief itself."

When conservatives like Cardinal Dolan or Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention see individual autonomy, choice, and freedom in the modern world they are appalled by it, says Sullivan, for it represents to them all the values they detest: "secularism, feminism -- homosexuality."

We may be a world apart from the traditionalist societies of the Middle East, but Sullivan says there is a difference "only in degree" between Islamism's view of the role of women and that of Focus on the Family's James Dobson or End Times fabulist Tim LaHaye.

"Very, very few women control any religious institutions on the religious right," says Sullivan. "Patriarchy rules there as it rules in Pakistan."

If, in the view of religious conservatives, the law cannot be neutral between competing moral ideals. And if the law must reflect God's will regardless of the views of religious minorities. Then faith of any kind is always and everywhere preferable to no faith at all or to sincere doubt, says Sullivan. And so, to conservatives the distinction between religion and politics must finally disappear.

Sullivan says that the logical next step for a Catholic hierarchy and for the religious right that seeks to sever conservatism from its roots in the post-Enlightenment world is to weld themselves "permanently to an older, pre-modern vision of mankind and religion."

And if that means an attack on America itself and on America's democratic ideals, then so be it, says Sullivan. "These are core beliefs we are talking about, and some of them run deeper than patriotism."

An assault on women's rights and freedoms, as well as the attempt to control women's sex lives, has always been a distinctive manifestation of these authoritarian and hierarchical movements as they grab for public power to police private behavior, "purifying" the culture by re-imposing upon populations hostile to their views the conservative movement's own "individual mandates."  

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Another really fine post on what after all is the deeper malaise in the culture, as it interacts with religion and politics.

Did you see the article by David Campbell and Robert Putnam in this months FOREIGN AFFAIRS on "How the Tea Party Undermines Religion"? Their research shows there is a weakening in the overall objectives as more moderate ministers realize they are jeopardising the future of their movement, and their pay checks if they overly politicise, and the cracks are starting to show.

I agree, Dobson is still their point man, but he hasn't quite found a replacement with his punch. He was the first person Santorum spoke to after stepping down, but it's not like the papacy. Fundies are more like independent contractors and enterpreneurs. Power acrues to whoever brings in the big numbers--believers and their dollars. The little guys have to watch out for themselves, and like Santorum says: "Education is the enemy."

However, I will only recognise this when I see it at the polls. The institutional enforcement remain firmly entrenched. The old timers will literally have to die, and their children realize they have more control over their lives than daddy ever taught.

It could well be the future of liberalism in America now rests in the hands of women who have declared and embraced their emancipation. We'll see in November, won't we?
Americans seem to think that authoritarian repression of women can't happen here, but if we give in to those thirsting for "the good old days" pretty soon we'll have those morality squads roaming the streets. Patriarchal religions must be opposed every time they seek to control the levers of government. Great post!
I'm astonished and rather fearful about this trend. And afraid women are too blase (or busy) to notice.
Yes, there's a war on women, but it's far worse than that -- it's a war on modernism, on secularism and on humanism. The saddest part of it all is that for the most part, it is being waged in the name of Jesus, who was crucified for daring to suggest that religion was a matter of the heart and the spirit and not of the law and the temple -- or the church.

Jesus listened to what Dolan and Land and Perkins and Robertson and Hagee and Dobson, et al, said in His name, and Jesus wept.
Thanks everyone, we are all on the same page. And thanks for the FA suggestion, Ben, I will definately check it out.

I am constantly alarmed at how fragile a liberal democracy is, and so how easy it is for those hostile to the Open Society to wage wars against it while disguising their genuine authoritarian intentions behind liberalism's most cherished values, such as freedom and tolerance. In the conservative mind, tolerance means acceptance of intolerance and freedom means having the power to make people conform. I mean, white Christians are an oppressed minority? And white Christians whose politics are motivated chiefly by the imperative to persecute others who do not subscribe to their narrow worldview.

There were a few other ideas I had that were left on the cutting room floor because the piece was already way too long. The first was the idea that like the chorus of crickets who come out every spring, conservatives can be counted on to remind us everytime a liberal Democrats gets elected to the White House that America is a republic and not a democracy. This distinction of course is designed to prevent the government from imposing on the legal and constitutional rights of plutocrats by making it impossible for them to pollute our environment without cost or to defraud the public without penalty. Yet, when the subject turns from economics to social issues conservative rhetoric swings seamlessly from the republic/democracy dichotomy to the rights of a majority -- any majority -- to enact its will once they've captured political power.

The second was the panel that CBS’s Face the Nation assembled on Easter Sunday to discuss the current condition of church-state relations in America today and those hot button issues like contraception and gay marriage where this divisions play themselves out.

The conservatives on the panel engaged in furious historical revisionism as they tried to explain that the Separation of Church and State was meant to facilitate the insertion of religious doctrines in politics not impede it.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said John F. Kennedy was “misunderstood’ when he called for a separation between Church and State that was “absolute.” Kennedy did not mean to imply there should be a “cleavage between one's faith and one's political decisions,” the Cardinal insisted, since no one should be coerced into putting “a piece of duct tape over their mouth” that keeps them “from bringing their deepest held convictions to the conversation.”

Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention agreed, saying he believed in a wall of separation between church and state, too, but only one that protected the church from the state not one that separated “religiously informed morality from public policy.”

Daily Beast Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan said the main problem today is not that there is too much religion in politics but that there is too much politics in religion where groups like Richard Land’s Southern Baptist Convention and Cardinal Dolan’s “far right Catholic hierarchy” have become so “fused” with the Republican Party that we now have one major political party that is indistinguishable from a particular religious faith.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple of Los Angeles came closest to my own position when he said it’s impossible to separate our values from our politics but that when we engage in politics we have an obligation to translate our moral values into utilitarian and non-sectarian arguments that are accessible to all faith traditions -- and to no faith tradition at all.
I saw a bit of that Face the Nation discussion, and was as usual appalled by Richard Land (who is at least lucid in expressing his views -- which makes him all the more dangerous). As for this: "we have an obligation to translate our moral values into utilitarian and non-sectarian arguments that are accessible to all faith traditions -- and to no faith tradition at all."

Would that Land and Dolan, et al, understood that necessity in a pluralistic society -- they don't. Indeed, they don't even understand the faith they claim and what Jesus meant when he said "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
I think the greatest enemy of the evangelical movement, and the Catholic hierarchy is itself--any resistance from the outside only strengthens their resolve. Look around and ask: who is it who knows otherwise? Who is it who isn't buying the old creed any more, or who is it who can't see past it? It is their own intolerance that in the end will be their undoing.

Hypocrisy comes with a price. Religion, as Jung said, may well be an instinct, and renders many incapable of self-discrimination and sovereignty (I use this word specifically) but the form is not and has been shown to change with time as the collective consciousness evolves.

That's really the hope. It always has been. It always will be. Politics is the mere surface, culture beneath that, and religion beneath that and if we don't want to allow ourselves to be consumed by the fires, it pays to recognize there is a broader context. I think this is the fundamental liberal position, as it is reasonable.
You nailed it -- human nature doesn't change, but human culture does. Sadly, the direction of the American culture over the last thirty years does not qualify as progress.
Excellent post from start to finish, Ted. It feels like the McCarthy Era for Women right now. We can't all be delusional. Rated.

I especially like your phrase “religion may well be an instinct, and renders many incapable of self-discrimination and sovereignty, but the form is not and has been shown to change with time as the collective consciousness evolves.”

Many of those we are talking about have embraced the “form” of religion but not its spirit since they are a slave to faith rather than set free by it.

Have you read Andrew Sullivan’s essay on religion in Newsweek. He touches on these themes. He says for instance: “Christianity itself is in crisis. It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial—or that most Catholics, even regular churchgoers, have tuned out the hierarchy in embarrassment or disgust. Given this crisis, it is no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Catholics in an inquisitive spiritual desert. The thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest human questions—Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death?—remain as pressing and mysterious as they’ve always been?”

I also like what Reinhold Niebuhr has to say about "profane" religion. As I wrote a couple of years ago, Niebuhr says a profane religion is like the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. He's the one who ostensibly worships his father (or The Father) and does everything he's asked, but who "uses this relationship to satisfy a sinful egotism."

Niebuhr writes that no Christian church or religious organization has a right to preach to a secular age "without a contrite recognition" of the shortcomings of historic Christianity which tempted the modern age to disavow its Christian faith" in the first place. Niebuhr says it's always difficult for those of religious faith to present that religious ethic to a skeptical secular world without also succumbing to "the spirit of self-righteousness." And while the truths of the Bible may be easy enough, "it is not easy for any human institution to mediate them without pride or hypocrisy."

Even in Christian civilizations "the strong are tempted to exploit the weak, the community is tempted to regard itself as an end in itself, and the rulers are tempted to use their power for their own advantage."

And so when injustice "is falsely covered with the aura of the divine" or when injustice's critics are "falsely regarded as enemies of God," it is only natural, says Niebuhr, that those who are most conscious of these social wrongs "should adopt an attitude of cynical secularism toward the pretensions of sanctity made in behalf of a civilization."

If indeed American secular culture has turned its back on God and therefore sunk into moral and ethical depravity (which I do not believe), then religious conservatives -- with their sanctimony and their conflation of bigotry with "traditional religious values" -- have no one to blame but themselves
Fundamentally, conservatives believe in the god given right to discriminate against anyone that is not just like them. This is what creates stratified society by property, law, money, gender, religion, color. Maybe they are just born this way, as studies show again and again- low effort thinking, conservative politics, low IQ, religious ferocity- and maybe we are just seeing more and more non conservatives allowed to live and speak up- and slowly turn the tide. Cave brains aren't on the way out (they have lots of kids) but modern brains are thankfully shedding some light on the choice humans can make- creating a better future for everyone, or choosing war.
Tom C:

I'm actually encouraged on the cultural front over the last 30ty years, i.e. same sex marriage, equal rights amendment, a "black" president, wow. If you compare it to the hundred years before the 60's it isn't a discussion. The "social conservatives" have been huffing and puffing, and politically the winners, but they're losing ground when you take a long term view and not get bogged down on that level.

My God, who doesn't know their gay uncle or aunt doesn't deserve respect, or the smartest and most committed teacher they had was Mrs. Washington who glowed like an eight ball? God love her and keep her and bless the innocent who believe in the reality in front of them rather than the prejudices behind. That's how the fuck change happens.


I'm not a big fan of Sullivan, though I get we're on the same page with this latest essay. He's too polemical for my taste, which might be necessary for him since he worked his way to venues like the NYTIMES and NEWSWEEK.

Niebuhr is the guy who needs to be "trickled down," as does Kung, the arch-enemy of the current Pope. His book on the papacy is what broke the camel's back, and I can't think of a theologian I'd more highly recommend.

If we're gonna get pedantic, here's mine: THE HISTORY AND EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Eric Neumann. He's the philosopher of Jungianism. The only Jewish member of Jung's inner circle, who lived out his life in Israel. A must read for anyone truly interested in these matters. The rest are floundering in the mud.

The other thing that's changed, believe it or not, is Catholicism, though a new generation isn't aware of it. I come from the last of the old order--trained by priests and nuns in the same way as went back to the 15th century.

That's pretty much over. The vast majority of clergy from that period all walked away, which partly explains who stayed. This country is now importing priests and nuns from the "third world," and while it may appear the church hasn't changed it sure as hell ain't what it used to be. (don't pardon my pun.)

In a mere ten or twenty years following Vatican II a way of life that had endured since the middle ages came to an end. That's about as significant as it gets, and while the ones left over are still in charge I think they know their time is coming. The hierarchy has made their choice, it's up to the "believers" to make theirs.
And then there is this: forgive me Ted, I'm on a roll and appreciate the opportunty.

The greatest anomaly of the twentieth century, inexplicable but unescapable by persons of conscience, indicative that it is time for a paradigm shift is that Germany was one of the most "Christian" nations in the world at the time of the Holocaust, and if that doesn't put the "form" of the faith into jeopardy I don't know what else it would or could.

The "instinct" is undoubted still there, but the "form" or "archetype" needs to be expanded to take into account this new material. If that was the dominate faith how can it justify itself in the face of what happened? I can't find a way toward a reconciliation personally. It's the turd in the punchbowl that won't go away.
Such an excellent post! As an old feminist, I am terrified for the young women who will be forced once again into the back alleys for abortions.

My best friend in college in the 1960's nearly died from a quack illegal abortionist's work. He gave her no anesthetic, and smoked a cigar and told her dirty jokes while he performed the abortion. No wonder she wound up with a raging infection! The doctors said if I hadn't gotten her to the hospital, she would have died in just a few hours.

My heart is broken that the women-hating troglodytes are coming out of their caves again.
Such an excellent post! As an old feminist, I am terrified for the young women who will be forced once again into the back alleys for abortions.

My best friend in college in the 1960's nearly died from a quack illegal abortionist's work. He gave her no anesthetic, and smoked a cigar and told her dirty jokes while he performed the abortion. No wonder she wound up with a raging infection! The doctors said if I hadn't gotten her to the hospital, she would have died in just a few hours.

My heart is broken that the women-hating troglodytes are coming out of their caves again.