Know Your Right Wingers
SOURCE: August Pollak
It used to be that Ralph Reed walked on political water. Not anymore. The man who rose to prominence touting Jesus as the one true path to (conservative) victory just lost his bid for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia because of a mortal sin: Greed (a la the greasy hand of one Jack Abramoff). But let’s step back a bit to see how this Bible-wielding, vote-reaping, Christian Coalition-leading, Bush-adoring wingnut made it to the heights from which he just fell with such amazing gracelessness.
Reed started his illustrious career by being fired from the University of Georgia’s daily paper for plagiarism. The name of the article? You’ll love it: “Gandhi: Ninny of the Twentieth Century.” One could debate for hours whether the offense of calling Gandhi a “ninny” or using the word “ninny” is worse, but either way it ended his career as a journalist.
His college career, though, featured more than just journalistic disgrace. In 1981, Reed moved to DC to intern for Jack Abramoff at the College Republican National Committee. Reed, Abramoff, and Grover Norquist were collectively known as the triumvirate. This frightening name is not nearly as scary as what they did and required of the “new recruits” for the College Republicans, such as memorizing parts of the movie “Patton” with “Democrats” replacing every reference to “Nazis.”
To many it would seem as if Reed was heading down a dangerous and sinful path. But wait! One night in a high-end DC pub he heard… the Holy Spirit! Reed said that “[it] simply demanded that I come to Jesus.” He marched right out of that den of sin and to a phone booth where he thumbed through the Yellow Pages to “churches” and the next day was a born-again Christian.
From that point on, Reed claims to have devoted himself to a life of Christian Right “virtue.” He organized students for Jesse Helms’ reelection, staged a mock baby funeral in front of an abortion clinic, and was almost arrested after busting into a waiting room of the same clinic. This track record of lax observance of the Golden Rule led to his appointment by Pat Robertson as the first Executive Director of the Christian Coalition.
Reed pulled the shattered remains of Robertson’s failed presidential run into an incredibly potent lobbying force. The Coalition was a prime pillar of reworking the Republican Party of the ‘90s and later Newt Gingrich’s successful capture of Congress. In 1995, Time featured Reed on its cover with a creepy picture and the words “The Right Hand of God.” Apparently when the Holy Spirit comes calling in bars, a choir of angelic publicists accompanies it as well.
When Reed left the Christian Coalition, he entered the private sector. His first time up to bat with his new company he struck out; most all of his candidates/clients lost. He began building up the Republican Party in Georgia as State Chairman. And then… a miracle.
Not for thirty-nine elections had a Republican gubernatorial candidate won, but with Reed’s politically-savvy benediction, it happened. Sonny Perdue became Governor of Georgia, Saxby Chambliss became a Senator of Georgia, and Zell Miller (D-technically) kept his “Democratic” seat. Reed even had the honor of running the Bush-Cheney operation in the all-important Florida/Southeast region in 2004.
Then things kind of went to Hell. Reed decided it was time to stop working behind the scenes and threw himself into public life with a passion. He announced he would run for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia and racked up quite a war chest.
Initially, it was difficult to imagine how he’d have any trouble with an election within a Republican machine he’d all but built by himself in Georgia. Then that nasty “triumvirate” returned to the picture. Earlier, while Reed was still running his consulting firm Century Strategies, Jack Abramoff had been hired by a tribe of Native Americans to suppress some potential gambling competition in Mississippi. Fortunately, Less-than-Honest Abramoff had his ol’ buddy Ralph Reed down in that area. Abramoff then funneled money from the tribe (which of course Reed didn’t wanted to be associated with, only its money) to Century Strategies which then battled the gambling legislation and won.
In what was good news for Reed’s primary challenger, he got caught with his hand in the slot machine. When the news came out in various reports, as well as a Committee on Indian Affairs report, Reed fell from political grace with the charred wings of a banished angel. His challenger outpaced him in fundraising and ultimately in votes. Not even an appearance by Rudy Giuliani could save him. He conceded in front of an audience of about one hundred supporters.
Perhaps it’s too much to hope that Ralph Reed’s fall from conservative glory will be the end of his dramatic career. Remember, this is the guy who built the Christian Coalition from the ground up and won Florida for Bush in ’04. Whether we see him again soon or not, the gospel of Reed’s of ultra-conservatism has already left its mark – and continues to be preached – across America in the form of the Religious Right we know today.
Illustration: August J. Pollak