Right Samuel Francis’s remarks (“The Abortion Gambit,” October 1994) on the efforts by neoconservatives, especially Bill Kristol, to co-opt the religious right are convincingly presented. Francis rightly notes that Kristol, Bennett, and other neocon movers and shakers are working to control the religious right and thereby to provide themselves with a mass base that they would not otherwise have. Francis is also correct that neocons are presenting the religious right as innocuous representatives of “family values,” less to sell them to the electorate than to push them toward nonradical mainstream views. If the neocons succeed, as Francis perceptively argues, the religious right will abandon its radical stands and become mere neocon pawns in the Washington power game.

On these points, I must tip my hat to him for knowing the enemy so well. Where I disagree is on his judgments about the religious right. There is nothing in its current rhetoric that could make me think twice about leaving it as a gift package to Bill and Irving. At the Christian Coalition gathering on September 16, the liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich heard so much public praise of Martin Luther King that he thought he had wandered onto a Freedom Bus. Though Bill Kristol and George Weigel may have ulterior motives for doing so, it is they and not the religious right, as Francis concedes, who have taken the paleoconservative position on abortion. The religious right’s insistence on an antiabortion amendment (together with one allowing for school prayer) shows lack of regard for the power of the states, as protected under the Constitution. It also confirms what I noticed about the religious right in Washington: its desperation to find public sector jobs for its members and friends. It is they who illustrate at least as well as the neocons the perils of “big government conservatism.”

Long before Bill Kristol swooned over them, religious rightists were already embracing such bona fide neocons as Cal Thomas, Jack Kemp, and Bill Bennett. Last year Christian Coalition members, though not its leaders, wildly applauded a speech by Pat Buchanan, but this year the coalition paid enthusiastic homage to Kristol handlee (pardon the neologism) Dan Quayle and joined the media cult of Martin Luther King. Though some of those present may exemplify Francis’s “Middle American Radicals,” the religious right, with which they are now identified, seems made for a neocon takeover. I agree with Francis that the religious right can fuel a right-wing populist movement, but that can be the case only if traditionalists leave the religious right for a more intelligent and more consistently rightist politics. Ollie North, whom the neocons opposed in the Virginia senatorial race, may have been doing exactly this; when asked whether he favored what is presumably the religious right position on creationism, getting the state to impose it on local schools, North responded that he believed local school boards should decide philosophical questions for themselves. North also distinguished himself from the religious right by what he didn’t do: not compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott, not sentimentalize Martin Luther King and Jack Kemp, and not recommend that federal agencies deal with the nation’s moral agenda.

        —Paul Gottfried
Elizabethtown, PA