The lesson of the budget battle

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That abortion, in the form of defunding Planned Parenthood and prohibiting public funding in D.C., emerged as the final hurdle for the 11th-hour budget deal is an object lesson, but what’s the lesson? To Steve Prothero, it’s that that the old culture war agenda is what the Tea Party really cares about. To David Weigel, it’s that, with the jettisoning of the Planned Parenthood rider, social conservatives once again came away the short end of the stick. To me, it’s dramatic evidence of the cohesion of today’s conservative movement.

To those with eyes to read the survey data, it’s been clear for a while that Tea Party supporters are as socially conservative as any political grouping in the country. What’s less well recognized is the extent to which the religious right has opposition to big government in its DNA. Long ago, George Marsden called attention with some puzzlement to the preoccupation of the early fundamentalists with communism.

Could this have had anything to do with pre-millennialist anxieties about Gog, Magog, and the Antichrist? Let it suffice to recall Pat Robertson 20 years ago, riding high at the helm of the Christian Coalition, suggesting that the likes of Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush were “unknowingly and unwittingly carrying out the mission and mouthing the phrases of a tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing more than a new world order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers.”

Last December, the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival awarded its $101,000 Jubilee Award to “Agenda: Grinding America Down,” a documentary by former Idaho state legislator Curtis Bowers dedicated to the proposition that communism is about the business of destroying our Judeo-Christian civilization goday. Where Wilson, Carter, and Bush I once went, now goes Barack Obama. That it has been screened at churches around the country goes without saying.

The lesson is this. John Boehner and company were able to introduce abortion into the budget battle because they understand that they’ve got a constituency that sees social and economic issues tied up together. Indeed, for religious conservatives these days “big government” as construed over taxes, health care, or the deficit, is the culture war issue par excellence.