Texas evangelical leader David Barton threatened a Tea Party challenge to Senator John Cornyn – a truly apocalyptic scenario
by Katherine Stewart, The Guardian, November 7, 2013
Texas Senator John Cornyn (flanked by Sen John Thune) has impeccable conservative credentials – yet faces a possible challenge from the religious right. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP
John Cornyn, the US senator from Texas, has been a stalwart of conservative causes. He did his best to destroy the Affordable Care Act. He opposes reproductive freedom and same-sex marriage. His voting record gets a perfect grade from the NRA, and he explained that cutting government benefits helps the poor because they “need a hand up, not a hand-out”.
But apparently, he WASN’T “conservative” enough for many Republicans in Texas. Over the past few weeks, Tea Party activists floated the idea of replacing Cornyn with David Barton, the evangelical activist who has done more than anyone else to advance the “Christian Nation” myth. Although Barton withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday, Glen Beck (among others) is still holding out hope that a “true conservative” might step in to take down the perfidious Cornyn.
The fact that this kind of discussion is even taking place helps put to rest two very common misperceptions about the right wing of the Republican party. The first is that the Tea Party is primarily about fiscal and economic issues. It is not; it is also about religion.
The second misperception that Barton’s abortive candidacy exposed is that the Tea Party is a conservative and patriotic force in American politics. In fact, it is a radical movement that seeks to destroy our present system of government. There is nothing comparable to it on the left or the right in American politics.
Let’s take a closer look at what David Barton really stands for. He presents himself as a historian, but by now, no serious person can buy that characterization. His most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, turns out to have been filled with distortions of the actual facts. The book came under criticism from numerous conservative Christians – most notably, Grove City College professors Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton, who published a detailed refutation of the book titled Getting Jefferson Right: Fact-Checking Claims about our Third President. In August 2012, Barton’s Christian publishing house, Thomas Nelson, stopped production of the tome, announcing that they had “lost confidence in the book’s details”.
But the facts have never stood in the way of Barton’s “history”, because the history merely serves as a platform for more ambitious goals.
Barton’s political agenda couldn’t be clearer. The organization he founded, Wallbuilders, holds the idea that church-state separation is a myth as its chief talking point. Barton also launched the Black Robe Regiment, an association of clergy members and “concerned patriots” whose goal is to establish “the American Church” as “overseer of all principalities and governing officials, as was rightfully established long ago”.
Barton’s ideas spread well beyond American’s system of governance. In his worldview, global climate change is God’s punishment for abortion. He also takes some interest in economic issues, usually to offer a “Biblical” perspective. People are on welfare, he announced on Wallbuilders Live, because they don’t read Bible!
If Barton were some out-in-the-woods extremist, we could appreciate him as a colorful detail in the diverse and vibrant landscape of American religion. But he is on a first-name basis with Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Michele Bachmann. One of Barton’s go-to organizations is the American Renewal Project, which is closely aligned with the fundamentalist policy group the American Family Association and whose “pastor briefings” bring rightwing clergy together with politicians.
The immediate cause of Barton’s rumored run for office had to do with the government shutdown. Specifically, it had to do with Cornyn’s failure to throw his support behind Cruz and push the button on an economic meltdown.
It would be wrong to characterize those who were itching to push that button as the “fiscal conservatives” in the room. Instead, the appeal of the shutdown to folks who follow Barton is precisely its apocalyptic nature. They want to create a crisis because they understand intuitively that the kind of change in our society that they wish to bring about can really only happen in the context of some major crisis.
Which brings up the second lie that Barton’s candidacy exposed: that he and the forces he represents are conservative and patriotic. The separation of church and state that Barton decries as a “myth” has been at the foundation of the American system of government for more than two centuries. The claim that Barton and friends want to “take back” America is nonsense; they want to turn America into something it never was.
According to Barton, God is punishing American for its grievous sins, like granting women reproductive rights. Clearly, Barton’s God is mad at America. But it isn’t hard to see that Barton is doing the judging. He really doesn’t like the electorate that returned Barack Obama to power. He doesn’t like our diverse, pluralistic society that worships many Gods and no God. He doesn’t like our nonsectarian public schools. And if he bothered to study the works of some of our Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, he probably wouldn’t like them, either.
Some establishment Republicans might take solace in the fact that Barton has decided not to burden the Texas GOP with a nasty primary battle, just as they might rejoice in the defeats suffered by the Tea Party in the elections this week. But they shouldn’t be overly optimistic. The predictable defeats of Tea Party stalwarts in 2010 and 2012 didn’t stop the Tea Party and its raging base from being a persistent force in American politics, and we shouldn’t forget that true Tea Partiers, such as Ken Cuccinelli and Dean Young, came within only a few percentage points of defeating their much better-financed rivals. The civil war within the GOP is by no means over, and if, as the Tea Party believes, you’ve got God on your side, it takes a lot more than a few narrow losses at the ballot box to stop you.