Is Bryan Fischer the new kingmaker?

Yesterday, Newsweek’s Ben Adler posted an article featuring Bryan Fischer, Issues Analyst for the American Family Association. In it, Adler portrayed Fischer as a provocative imp who has crafted a media shtick filled with offensive and outrageous positions designed to get ratings and offend liberals. He may or may not mean what he says, according to Adler, but it doesn’t matter because the Christian political business rolls with outrage – requiring a sanctified shock jock to shake things up. Fischer is just doing his job.

To support the tone of his column, Adler referred to Fischer’s protests (oh, the horror!) that “President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords.” Adler also picked up on some anti-gay, anti-Muslim and yes, the anti-bear comments (you’ll have to click the link for more on that one) but he left out the worst and least entertaining, to wit:

Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews. Gays in the military is an experiment that has been tried and found disastrously and tragically wanting. Maybe it’s time for Congress to learn a lesson from history.

Adler said Fischer was both threatening and entertaining – I call it “hatertainment” – but Fischer’s reference to the Holocaust doesn’t seem very entertaining to me. Neither do disparaging remarks about Catholic Latinos and Muslim inbreeding (click the links to be hatertained).

To me, Adler’s article points to a new low in the culture war. Is the AFA cynically putting out shocking positions in a manipulative effort to entertain an audience? If that’s true, that is scandalous. If it is not true, then he and the AFA really mean all of those things and deserve the scrutiny given to them recently by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Either way, the audience is clearly there. According to Newsweek, right wing politicians have taken notice:

Fischer’s program, “Focal Point,” reaches about two million listeners and has featured guest appearances from a number of prominent Republicans such as Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, and Mike Huckabee and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who on Wednesday told Fischer he would be in favor of reinstating Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

All of those guys are or have been at various stages of positioning for a run at the GOP nomination. Herman Cain, who just declared his intent to run for the nomination, was just on the show as well. Does this mean that the road to the GOP nomination runs through Bryan Fischer’s radio show?

I hope not.

It is certainly possible that none of Fischer’s GOP guests know of the outrageous positions he promotes. However, that was little defense for John McCain when he was endorsed by megachurch pastor John Hagee in 2008. Catholic groups were outraged. Why? On one occasion, Hagee accused Catholicism of being “a godless theology of hate” which during the Nazi’s reign, promoted “a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews.” Over time, reporters dug up more statements by Hagee which embarrassed McCain. McCain said he didn’t know Hagee’s views and if he had known, he would not sought his endorsement. After months of being dogged by the matter, McCain explicitly rejected association with him.

To date, Fischer has given his stamp of approval to Herman Cain and Mike Pence. However, those not inclined to support these candidates are already questioning the wisdom of even appearing on Fischer’s program. For instance, Andrew Sullivan asked about Fischer yesterday:

More to the point: is embracing a man who believes this kind of bile now essential to being viable as a primary candidate for president in the current GOP? If a Democrat had gone on a radio show with anyone as far out on the left as Fischer is on the far right, his or her career would be over.

Talk about burying the lead: Now I have come to the question which is the title of this post and which echos Sullivan’s question – is Bryan Fischer the new GOP kingmaker? Let me add some questions for discussion – is it fair to evaluate candidates based on friendly appearances with people who express incendiary views? Is Sullivan correct about a Democratic candidate who made a comparable appearance?

These questions are political but I am also interested in reader feedback on the religious matters involved. Applying Bryan Fischer’s evaluation of the President (“either he means what he says or he is a bald-faced liar”), how should we evaluate the positions promoted by the AFA? Is being shocking as a means to an end good practice for a Christian ministry?

Oh, so that’s why Bryan Fischer says the darndest things!

Newsweek has it all figured out. The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has been getting in touch with his inner imp. Zany? Wacky? Outrageous? Nah, it is all a ploy to get ratings and irritate the opponents.  According to Newsweek:

You might think that attention in the form of mockery is not what a public-policy organization would want. But when your business is waging a culture war, there is no such thing as bad publicity for ideological or rhetorical extremism. Being criticized by liberals in the media raises the profile of a socially conservative organization, and burnishes its credibility among the base. Just ask Sarah Palin, or her fans. Fischer’s critics also benefit from the twofer of his being both entertaining and threatening.

Call it “hatertainment.”

But he doesn’t really mean it, does he? Here is Newsweek’s take on that question.

Getting attention from a perch so far off the mainstream media radar screen requires ingenuity. And Fischer is able to shock even jaded journalists and pundits. But does he really believe his most widely circulated statements? Yes and no. A Dec. 21 blog post earned Jon Stewart’s mockery on The Daily Show when Fischer asserted, “President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords.” All Obama had done is express approval for the nonbinding U.N. Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples which contains one passage affirming land rights. Does Fischer honestly believe that Obama is going to turn your home over to a Native American tribe? Not really, but by pretending he does—which he defends as “taking Obama at his word,”—he gets to make a ludicrous claim. “Either Obama meant what he said or he’s a bald-faced liar,” says Fischer. “I don’t think Obama meant what he said.”

Clever. Since Fischer is just pretending, let’s try that in reverse.

When Fischer says things, either he means what he says or he’s a bald-faced liar. You pick.

Maybe President Obama could be a talk show host on the AFA radio network. According to Fischer, the President has got the formula down.

According to Newsweek and Newsweek’s experts, the whole shtick is more business than conviction. 

“Like all Christian political groups [AFA] has leaders who are entrepreneurial,” says Green. “In the past [Christian conservatives] have sometimes been controversial on purpose, to get attention from the rest of us and to raise money for their organizations. It’s not that they are insincere, but there are organizational motives.” So if Fischer shocks or horrifies coastal media elites by expressing views that they consider bigoted or simply baffling, he is just doing his job.

So if there are “organizational motives,” then saying goofy, offensive stuff you don’t really mean is not insincere but just part of the biz. Glad that’s all cleared up.

After reading the Newsweek piece, I am not sure which more offensive – what Fischer does with his platform or Newsweek’s cynical regard for what they portray as business as usual for Christian ministry.

Newsweek: PEPFAR funds will not be held for Uganda

Katie Paul at Newsweek has an interview with the US PEPFAR coordinator, Eric Goosby, today. She sets up the story by referring to the infamous ex-gay conference in March. 

The thinking behind them [Anti-Homosexuality Bill] is just as disturbing, since this latest round of anti-gay fervor was kicked off at a conference held by by American missionary groups that went to proselytize about the twin evils of Nazism and homosexual behavior in Kampala earlier this year. Just to hammer home how far-out that is, this means the Ugandan government got its advice from the author of a book called The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, which claims the Nazi movement was “entirely controlled by militaristic male homosexuals throughout its short history.” The result has been a vigilante campaign against the country’s LGBT community, whereby gay detainees are tortured and tabloids publish the names, places of employment, addresses, and physical descriptions of gay rights advocates under headlines that scream “TOP HOMOS IN UGANDA NAMED.” It would seem the stuff of Orwellian parody, but it’s real.

To Paul’s question about US funding, Goosby replied:

I’m very concerned about any decision that any country–including our own–would make to target a group that’s in the population, and that’s always been in the population, by excluding them from a service or passes legislation that criminalizes their behavior. Everytime you do that, you push the behavior underground. It never works. Rather than minimizing the spread of the virus, it actually amplifies it.

The U.S. policy is trying to work with governments to say exactly that. I think I would do more harm than good by connecting our resources to respond to the epidemic to making them dependent on a behavior that they’re not willing to engage in on their own. My role is to be supportive and helpful to the patients who need these services. It is not to tell a country how to put forward their legislation.

Goosby goes on to suggest diplomacy will work if he points out the public health argument. Will this work? I don’t have much confidence in this. Go read Katie’s thoughts on the matter and the Obama policy.


Newsweek issues correction on Palin social issues story

Katie Paul at Newsweek alerted me that Newsweek printed a correction to their story claiming that Palin cut funding for teen mothers and the state WIC program. I blogged about it here and had extensive conversations with Alaska officials about the claims. Ms. Paul was also diligent to work with Alaska officials to correct the story once I made her aware of the facts.
Here is the correction (at the end of page 2):

Clarification (updated Sept. 11, 2008) : A number of readers have challenged the assertion in this story that Gov. Palin “cut by 20 percent the funding for Covenant House Alaska, a state-supported program that includes a transitional home where new teenage mothers can spend up to 18 months learning money management and parenting skills.” In fact, she did not cut existing funding, but rather trimmed by $1.1 million funds the Alaska legislature had allocated for Covenant House Alaska this year for a capital construction project. We have also clarified the original wording which implied that Palin had voided the entire Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program. This was not our intent; Palin voided $15,840 the legislature had allocated for a WIC provider.

Now when is the Washington Post going to correct the Sept 2 story that started the teen mom claim?

Did Sarah Palin cut funds to poor women and children?

As I noted yesterday, Newsweek is the latest mainstream media to repeat the inaccurate claim that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin cut funding to teen mothers. In fact, she signed a 2008 budget that dramatically increased funding to a charity which is expanding to serve more needy kids.
In the same article and in the attempt to make a case that Palin is not family friendly, Newsweek writer, Katie Paul, claimed:

Palin has also voided funds for two other similar programs during her tenure as governor. One, the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program, would have provided breast pumps and nutrition support to low-income rural women, for a total cost of $15,480. Another, the Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s student housing and daycare facility project, would have built a childcare facility and family-style housing units for students pursuing vocational education in Anchorage, most of whom come from rural areas.

This post relates to the WIC claim; I plan to examine the Cook Inlet Housing Authority situation in a future post (for now, see the UPDATE at the end of this post).
The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program is a federally funded program which should be a red flag to the Newsweek claim. As worded, the reader could easily come away thinking that Palin voided the entire WIC program which amounted to a cut of $15,480. However, this is far from accurate.
Here is the fiscal year 2009 budget summary for the Alaska WIC program. According to the budget summary:

The Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program is 100% federally funded and provides nutrition services to pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to their fifth birthday. Applicants are screened for health and nutritional risk, and eligible families receive nutrition education, referrals for other support services, and food warrants to purchase specific food items at state-approved WIC vendors. Nutrition services are also available through three additional family nutrition programs that are primarily federally funded. The WIC Farmers Market Nutrition program allows WIC participants to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables at Farmer’s Markets. The Commodity Supplemental Food program provides commodity food boxes to seniors, and to low income pregnant and postpartum women and children up to six years of age as an alternative to WIC. Senior citizens can also receive locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs through the Seniors Farmers Market program.

The program is alive and well in Alaska and is primarily funded via federal allocation although some state moneys supplement the federal funds. So the first impression that somehow Sarah Palin “voided” WIC for poor moms and kids in Alaska is wrong.
In fact, the budgeted WIC allocation increased from FY 2007 to FY 2009. Look at page 4 of the budget summary and you will see an increase from $26,328,100 in FY 2007 to $27,140,800 in FY 2009. According to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson, Wilda Laughlin, actual WIC expenditures increased from fiscal year 2007 to FY 2008. Laughlin quoted a current WIC budget figure for FY 2009 of 27,173,100 which is an increase over the 2009 budget summary I linked to above.
The Budget summary lists accomplishments for WIC in Alaska in FY 2007:

In FY07, WIC provided supplemental foods and nutritional education to over 25,203 women and children each month.
· The WIC program promotes and supports mothers in their breastfeeding efforts. Alaska’s breastfeeding rates are among the highest in the nation and meet the Healthy People 2010 goals. Breastfeeding peer counseling services are being provided at the Providence WIC clinic, through a special USDA grant. In addition, over 5,600 contacts with breastfeeding mothers were provided throughout the state and support offered through distribution of electric breast pumps, lactation consultant visits, phone calls, and classes.
· Provided approximately 85,500 vouchers for the Farmer’s Market Nutrition program (FMNP) to WIC participants for the June 2007 through October 2007 harvest season. The value of redeemed FMNP vouchers for the 2007 season is expected to be $190,000.
· The Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition program (SFMNP) project provided more than 3,300 coupon books with approximately $70,500 in coupons to 25 senior agencies for distribution to income eligible seniors. Seniors may exchange the coupons for fresh produce at 63 locations statewide.
· The Commodity Supplemental Food program provides assistance to 2,200 participants in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

What about the $15,480? According to Laughlin, the figure was actually $15,840 and was requested by a Fairbanks area non-profit for office supplies and literature (UPDATE: Ms. Laughlin wrote to say that Vitamin D supplements and other supplies were requested as well. Here is a link to the budget request so readers can see for themselves what was requested. Keep in mind that other agencies received money for similar requests). Contrary to the Newsweek contention, breast pumps were not a part of the grant request. Ms. Laughlin said, “The request was vetoed by the Governor because it was determined to be a lower funding priority than other requests.” As is clear from the above review, many needy people were served by WIC in Alaska but some requests for funds were turned down. Turning down this grant request does not make Palin’s administration insensitive to needy moms and kids.
Now here is something of interest to me as a former advocate for mental health counselors that no one is reporting. Palin’s administration asked for and received increases in rates for social services providers, including behavioral healthcare providers. If anything, it appears to me that Palin is actually pretty friendly to social programs and services. Contrary to false reports over the past few days, she signed budgets which increased funding for vulnerable teens, WIC, special education and recently enhanced reimbursements to providers of social programs.
UPDATE: 9/10/08
Regarding the Cook Inlet Housing Authority daycare and housing project, the Newsweek story is accurate. This project was approved by the legislature but removed by Palin. Wilda Laughlin, DHSS spokesperson told me, “The Governor vetoed the project because it creates a new facility or program, and the Administration placed a higher priority on deferred maintenance for existing infrastructure.” Other projects were funded and I will be able to add more to this aspect of the matter as I get information. Not every project can be funded and it costs money to maintain existing programs and facilities. It appears existing facilities needed some upgrades.