Senator Ensign and The Bonds of Fellowship
guest post by myrna the minx
First, a little introduction by your hostess… As an aside, I had the weirdest power outage, so this post showed up in the wrong place. It's now where it belongs. Moving on…
Let's talk Senate, 2006.
I also wanted to update you on the Lamont – Lieberman happenings. Jane had
a great post up earlier, which talks about what it all comes down to. Howie talks Iowa. Also, we're still fundraising. I've got CDs for the first 20 donors, which still hasn't been met. In addition,
Ned Lamont has extended his dollar for dollar matching guarantee. So give what
you can if you haven't already.
But myrna is going to be taking on Senator John Ensign tonight. The once veterinarian,
now turned pretty boy senator, is running for re-election against Jack
Carter, Jimmy Carter's son. So, since I don't do local politics,
I've invited a Reno, Nevada resident, myrna the minx, to cover the race. Here's
a little bit about Myrna, from the minx's own perspective: I take my name
from a character in one of my favorite books, The Confederacy of Dunces. I blog
because, for some reason, people in the blogosphere are attracted rather than
repelled by my brutal social manner, and my tendency to pinch the elbow skin
of people who don't agree with me. I gained my unique perspective from residencies
on the West and East coasts; including a long stint in the Virginia suburbs
of Washington D.C. I now live, work, and blog in Reno, Nevada–home of seedy
casinos, the Awful-Awful
and the one of a kind Reno Mullet.
Please welcome her. She'll appear weekly, on Saturday nights, discussing the
Senate seat that Carter wants to take away from pretty boy Ensign, among other things political.
One thing I can say living in Nevada right now, is that I can't find anyone who can tell me what Ensign has
actually done for Nevada. He looks good, if you like his type. Basically, he's a Sean Hannity Republican.
You know, all image and GOP talking points, with no there there. Well, tonight, Myrna takes the pretty boy
down to size. Ensign is a member of “The Family.” Talk about a small
world. You'll see what I mean.
But the big question is why Senator Harry Reid isn't helping Jack Carter beat pretty boy Ensign. It's the dirty political back stabbing story of 2006. Maybe
Myrna, with a little help from Las
Vegas's Daily Gleaner, can find the answer. I'd like to read that story, wouldn't you?
Now, I give you myrna. Again, please welcome her.
|The Ensign victory scream.|
Nevada's junior Senator, John Ensign, has a reputation for looking good and ingratiating himself to corporate America, particularly to telecommunications giants like AT&T that help the government spy on American citizens. Nevada bloggers like the Las Vegas Gleaner, the Desert Beacon, and even the usually single-minded Nevada Scandalmonger at Vote Gibbons Out have been diligently documenting Ensign's tendency to choose the interests of corporations over consumers for years. With just about every vote he makes or position he takes, Ensign has proved that he is no friend of the real working men and women of this country. Usually operating under the radar while his more famous and influential conservative colleagues do the work of rolling back support for preventative health care, education, civil rights, and the environment, with the stem cell research debate, Ensign has been pushed into the spotlight. But hey, he likes kittens.
Ensign's latest move was to be one of the 37 Senators to vote against HR 810, legislation that would have allowed federal funding for research on stem cell lines derived from embryos that would otherwise be destroyed, and one of the few pieces of legislation in a long time to have strong bi-partisan support. In state known for its strong libertarian streak, Ensign has exhibited no backbone whatsoever. He's made a career out of being a Bush lackey. Since assuming his seat, Ensign has voted with Bush 96% of the time. He even managed a perfect score in 2004.
Was his vote against HR 810 a surprise? Of course not. But any cursory look at Ensign's background brings up some pretty interesting associations with groups front and center in the culture ware between those who think Christian ideology should play a central role in governmentÃ¢â‚¬”groups on the far right like the Promise Keepers, the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the Fellowship. Ensign's constituents are barely aware of how he votes on the issuesÃ¢â‚¬”they're either bamboozled by his game show host good looks or deceived by ring general Harry Reid's protective order.
But you've never heard of the Fellowship have you? That, my friends, is completely by design. You're probably familiar with the National Prayer breakfast they sponsor once a year and attended by the President and other influential people, but the rest of their operation is a mystery to us lay folks who don't see a place for religion in politics. When its members are asked about the Fellowship, they either deny its existence or decline to answer questions. In 2002, The Los Angeles Times published an article called “Showing Faith in Discretion” by Lisa Getter, that gives us an inside glimpse into this secretive group:
“The Fellowship is a collection of public officials, business leaders and religious ministries that defies easy description. Sometimes known as the prayer group movement, its members espouse a common devotion to the teachings of Jesus and a belief that peace and justice can come about through quiet efforts to change individuals, particularly those in positions of power. Personal outreach is paramount. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦.They also share a vow of silence about Fellowship activities.”
Based in Arlington, Virginia, the Fellowship's official name is the Fellowship Foundation, but it does business as the nonprofit International Foundation and has an annual budget of $10 million. The Fellowship does not solicit moneyÃ¢â‚¬”a handful of individuals support the Fellowship with personal contributions. Founded by Abraham Vereide, “a Methodist evangelist who feared that Socialists were corrupting municipal government in Seattle in the mid-1930s,” Vereide wanted to effect change by organizing prayer groups with local business and government leaders. Eventually, he took his prayer group model to Washington D.C. and began expanding its mission to international diplomacy. Getter outlines some of what we know about the Fellowship's involvement in the political arena:
“The Fellowship was a behind-the-scenes player at the Camp David Middle East accords in 1978, working with President Jimmy Carter to issue a worldwide call to prayer with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. During the Cold War, it helped finance an anti-communism propaganda film endorsed by the CIA and used by the Pentagon overseas.
Last year, the Fellowship helped arrange a secret meeting at Cedars between two warring leaders, Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame–one of the first of a series of discreet meetings between the two African leaders that eventually led to the signing of a peace accord in July.
Then-Sen. David Durenberger retreated to the mansion in 1986 when he began having marital problems. GOP strategist Lee Atwater came seeking spiritual guidance in 1990 when he learned he was dying. Jackson and his children stayed in October, while in town for a benefit concert for victims of last year's terrorist attacks.”
Clearly we can forget about the separation of church and state here. Although the Fellowship maintains its rule of working in silence is purely a religious insistence on humility, its pretty clear they remain silence to prevent the public from learning about influence they have and how they use it.
I was unable to confirm whether this is still the case, but in 2002, who do you think was living in a house owned by the Fellowship on Capital Hill that just happens to be registered as a church? Why, our own Senator Ensign along with fellow soldiers of the culture war Sam Brownback and Tom Coburn (who proposed the death penalty for doctors who performed abortions, which I guess means he also believes in suicide since he has been exposed as a doctor who performed abortions). Reportedly, Tom Delay is another famous member. According to Jeff Sharlet in the January 2006 article for Rolling Stone magazine, Brownback was brought into the Fellowship fold by Frank Carlson, a former Republican senator from Kansas. Sharlet points out that at a 1955 meeting of the Fellowship, Carlson declared the group's mission to be “'Worldwide Spiritual Offensive,' a vision of manly Christianity dedicated to the expansion of American power as a means of spreading the gospel.”
No church and state conflict there. More on the Fellowship's god peddling from Jeff Sharlet for Rolling Stone:
“They were striving, ultimately, for what Coe calls 'Jesus plus nothing' — a government led by Christ's will alone. In the future envisioned by Coe, everything — sex and taxes, war and the price of oil — will be decided upon not according to democracy or the church or even Scripture. The Bible itself is for the masses; in the Fellowship, Christ reveals a higher set of commands to the anointed few. It's a good old boy's club blessed by God. Brownback even lived with other cell members in a million-dollar, red-brick former convent at 133 C Street that was subsidized and operated by the Fellowship. Monthly rent was $600 per man — enough of a deal by Hill standards that some said it bordered on an ethical violation, but no charges were ever brought.
Brownback and Ensign also lived with Fellowship brother Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma doctor who has advocated the death penalty for abortion providers. The men in Brownback's cell talk about politics, but the senator insists it's not political. 'It's about faith and action,' he says. According to 'Thoughts on a Core Group,' the primary purpose of the cell is to become an 'invisible “believing” group.' Any action the cell takes is an outgrowth of belief, a natural extension of 'agreements reached in faith and in prayer.' Deals emerge not from a smoke-filled room but from a prayer-filled room. 'Typically,' says Brownback, 'one person grows desirous of pursuing an action' — a piece of legislation, a diplomatic strategy — 'and the others pull in behind.'
In 1999, Brownback worked with Rep. Joe Pitts, a Fellowship brother, to pass the Silk Road Strategy Act, designed to block the growth of Islam in Central Asian nations by bribing them with lucrative trade deals. That same year, he teamed up with two Fellowship associates — former Sen. Don Nickles and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond — to demand a criminal investigation of a liberal group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Last year, several Fellowship brothers, including Sen. John Ensign, another resident of the C Street house, supported Brownback's broadcast decency bill. And Pitts and Coburn joined Brownback in stumping for the Houses of Worship Act to allow tax-free churches to endorse candidates.
The most bluntly theocratic effort, however, is the Constitution Restoration Act, which Brownback co-sponsored with Jim DeMint, another former C Streeter who was then a congressman from South Carolina. If passed, it will strip the Supreme Court of the ability to even hear cases in which citizens protest faith-based abuses of power. Say the mayor of your town decides to declare Jesus lord and fire anyone who refuses to do so; or the principal of your local high school decides to read a fundamentalist prayer over the PA every morning; or the president declares the United States a Christian nation. Under the Constitution Restoration Act, that'll all be just fine.”
We can be thankful that Senator Ensign and his Fellowship brothers have been unsuccessful passing legislation like the Constitution Restoration Act–so far. However, they are not about to stop trying. They are part of the “Worldwide Spiritual Offensive” that hopes to use their patriarchal Christian faith to expand American power in order to further spread their anti-choice (government enforced pregnancy for all) and anti-science beliefs as widely as possible.
Jeff Sharlet also went undercover in the Fellowship to write “Jesus Plus Nothing” for Harper's Magazine in March of 2003. It's a fascinating read.