An influential conservative Christian group with serious political sway in Iowa introduced a pledge yesterday that, among other things, asks potential Republican presidential candidates to condemn same-sex marriage and Sharia law. The pledge, which is being called "The Marriage Vow -- A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family," was introduced by The Family Leader, a conservative Christian group headed by Mike Huckabee's former Iowa campaign chairman Bob Vander Plaats.
Having arguably helped Huckabee clinch the 2008 Iowa caucus, and having most assuredly help unseat three incumbent Iowa Supreme Court justices who held in favor of Iowa's same-sex marriage law last year, Vander Plaats boasts some legitimate conservative king-making prowess (or queen-making, in the case of Iowa native and killer clown-spirited contender Michelle Bachmann). In a state where social and religious conservatives have done particularly well in past presidential primaries (consider the successes of Pat Robertson in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1996, and Mike Huckabee in 2008), press garnered by Vander Plaats' pledge could offer an edge to the several candidates vying for Huckabee's vacated seat as the go-to for conservative "values" voters.
The pledge itself contains a tidy distillation of social and religious conservative talking points. Via CBS News:
The pledge...includes 14 points, the Christian Broadcasting Network reported, including support for the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The pledge is also a commitment to personal fidelity to one's spouse, the rejection of "anti-women Sharia Islam" and to downsizing government.
None of these features of the pledge are particularly surprising, but the whole affair offers a pretty strong testimony to the ability of conservatives to pass off just about any sort of fear-mongering and bigotry under the label of family values.
And while there's nothing novel about the tired old "same-sex marriage is a threat to marriages everywhere" canard, the incorporation of Islamophobic elements into the pledge highlights the bizarre conservative fascination with the red (green?) herring of Sharia law that has played a prominent role in the posturing of several 2012 GOP hopefuls. Although GOP front-runner Mitt Romney has thus far avoided much direct Muslim baiting with his rhetoric, other contenders like Hermain Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Bachmann have all signaled their willingness to use fear-mongering around Sharia law to stir up the base.
So how should progressives go about responding to this pledge? I, for one, am inclined to say that after naming the pledge as the bigoted PR-grab it is, we just sit back and let Vander Plaats' media stunt run its course. Vander Plaats' pledge simply marks the latest means by which the conservative movement is continuing to winnow itself down to little more than lip service paid to some of its most objectionable social and religious values. This distillation of the conservative movement into its purest (and you feel free to read "white, Christian, hetero-normative" and whatever else you like into "purest") has been a trend on the Right for while now, and as we've emphasized time and again, the more uncomfortable we can make it for conservatives to claim that mantle, the easier our job becomes. And if conservatives in Iowa are ready to sign their names to a pledge that so perfectly embodies the degree to which contemporary conservatism is synonymous with bigotry and intolerance, so much the better.