Standing before several thousand of his Christian Coalition faithful -- many of whom came to town as delegates to the Republican National Convention -- the Rev. Pat Robertson expressed amusement with media reports of the religious right's demise, adding that someone should notify the fire department that the hotel's ballroom was jam-packed "with corpses ... cheering, 'Amen!'"
Robertson's got a point. The Christian Coalition has endured a period of upheaval, including investigations by the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, since the last presidential race -- not to mention the $1.5 million in debt it finds itself in. And just Tuesday, the New York Times released a poll of convention delegates that showed them to be well to the right of ordinary Republican voters; you can bet that a good number of those delegates first found their way into politics via the organizing efforts of the Christian Coalition.
As light-projected stars danced on a blue background behind him, Robertson was effusive in his support for George W. Bush, whom the televangelist expects, he said, to fulfill his long-ago stated goal of sending "a born-again man or woman," to the White House by the year 2000. (Of course, regardless who wins, that will happen.)
"We need to have the election of a man who will appoint righteous judges to the Supreme Court of the United States," Robertson thundered. Judging by the enthusiastic applause that met his proclamation, you might think that this crowd never heard Bush's promise to eschew litmus tests for judicial appointments on abortion or school prayer or any other issue. Robertson himself seemed confident that, if elected, Bush would appoint justices who would not only overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, but would correct, in his view, a host of other offensive high court rulings, beginning with Griswold vs. Connecticut, the 1954 decision that struck down state laws prohibiting the sale of contraceptives.
It's rhetoric that is sure to ingratiate Robertson with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at a time when his organization could use an infusion of legitimacy. And it's a point won in the GOP platform by Robertson ally Phyllis Schlafly, the right-wing Catholic leader of the Republican Coalition for Life. Thanks to her efforts, the platform calls for the replacement of family planning programs for teens "with increased funding for abstinence education." The platform also asserts the GOP's opposition to school-based clinics "that provide referrals, counseling and related services for family planning," a provision which, if enacted, would slap a gag rule on the school nurse when it comes to advising sexually active kids on their options.
Robertson also noted the high court's most recent decision on abortion in Carhart vs. Nebraska, which struck down that state's ban on so-called "partial-birth abortion."
"It's been said that the Swedes are the most secular people in the world, and the Indians are the most religious," Robertson said. "The American people are like Indians ruled by Swedes!" (Or, to use the parlance of New Jersey, an important swing state: dot-heads ruled by square-heads.)
In George W. Bush, Robertson said, "We have a candidate for the Republican Party who has promised to appoint justices who ... will uphold the original intentions of the framers of the Constitution."
Throughout the week, pro-choice Republicans have assured me that W's promise of no litmus test would save Roe vs. Wade from being overturned as a result of his appointments. "Pat Robertson is not George W. Bush," said Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey's pro-choice governor when, on the convention floor, I asked her to respond to Robertson's comments. "And George W. Bush has said he will not use a litmus test. And, frankly, that's who I'm electing -- not Pat Robertson."
Yet the moderates have been burned already by W.; in his strong-arming of platform delegates to accede to the whims of the right, and in the pact he made with Tom Ridge, the pro-choice governor of Pennsylvania, to keep the governor's name in play as a possible vice-presidential pick long after Ridge had declined to be considered.
It remains a mystery, because while Christie Whitman and her allies have a lot of confidence in George W., it's matched equally by their pro-life opposition.