A tragicomedy of errors

By CRAIG UNGER  |  November 20, 2007

If the once powerful Christian Coalition had become moribund — and it had — that was because it had been replaced by a far more powerful institution: the Republican Party. Indeed, in 2004, no fewer than 41 out of 51 Republican senators voted with the Christian Coalition 100 percent of the time. When the new Congress took office in early 2005, it included Tom Coburn, newly elected senator from Oklahoma, who believed that doctors who performed abortions should be executed. Asserting that global warming was a hoax, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) compared environmentalists to the Nazis. He argued that American policy in the Middle East should be based on the Bible, that Israel had a right to the West Bank “because God said so.” And on the Senate floor, in a speech about the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, he displayed an enormous photo of his extended family, and told the august assembly, “We have 20 kids and grandkids. I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.”

Meanwhile, the White House sought extraordinary means to get its message across. In late January 2005, a man named James Guckert showed up at a presidential news conference using Jeff Gannon as a pseudonym, and lobbed softball questions to President Bush. “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy. . . .” he told President Bush. “Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work — you’ve said you are going to reach out to these people — how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?”

Gannon’s questions were so friendly, critics suspected that they might have been planted, and found out that he worked for Talon News, an apparent front for the conservative website GOPUSA. More titillating, Gannon had appeared naked on several gay-escort sites, such as hotmilitarystud.com, and was reported to be “a $200-an-hour gay prostitute.” More titillating yet were reports that Gannon visited the White House regularly, often on days in which there were no press conferences. Was it possible that he might be part of what was known in Washington circles as the Lavender Bund, the coterie of closeted right-wing gays who helped the religious right and the Republicans advance an agenda that was often explicitly anti-gay? Later came revelations about Congressman Mark Foley and his suggestive e-mails to young congressional pages, and Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals, who had a relationship with a male prostitute.

As the culture and political wars continued, they took a toll on the White House’s credibility. In March 2005, Republican politicians and the religious right — most of whom, theoretically at least, had been proponents of States’ rights — ignited a national controversy when they tried to intervene on behalf of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state, to prevent the removal of her feeding tube.

In April, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald continued to investigate the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s name. But journalists Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of the New York Times refused to divulge their sources. The question of who in the Bush administration had leaked her name was both a Washington parlor game and a profound inquiry into what was really going on in the White House.

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