National Voices

Saturday, Sep 15 2012 10:00 PM

DANA MILBANK: Voters that Romney and Ryan don't need

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    Dana Milbank

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It's not often that a secular Jew from Long Island becomes a hero to the Christian right, but this was my lucky month.

My debut as a darling of religious conservatives came Wednesday afternoon at the National Press Club, where Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, gave a luncheon talk. He spoke about his opposition to gay marriage, his anti-abortion position, his dismissal of a war on women -- and his common cause with me.

"This would seem an appropriate place to mention Dana Milbank of The Washington Post," he began, generously praising my "common sense," my "call to civility" and my pen "dipped in H.L. Mencken's inkwell." Of my critics, he said, "hate can do terrible things."

One of these critics, Josh Glasstetter from the liberal People for the American Way, sent me an email as he listened to the speech. "You're getting a shout-out from Tony Perkins at the press club," he wrote. "Congrats." I doubt he was being sincere.

As much as I have enjoyed my prestige among religious conservatives, I fear it will be short-lived. This is because I plan to use my newfound bona fides to criticize Perkins and the Family Research Council.

Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, addressed the council's "Values Voter Summit" in Washington on Friday morning. And, as a member-in-good-standing of the religious right, I would like to tell Ryan that was a mistake. Fifty-three days before the election, this is not the sort of message Mitt Romney and Ryan should be sending to the American public.

In the column that won me Perkins' praise, about the ideologically motivated shooting at the FRC headquarters, I criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign for referring to the Family Research Council as a "hate group" -- putting it in the same category as neo-Nazis, the Klan and other groups that incite violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center still disagrees, though its president, Richard Cohen, calls that a "fair point" because "there's a greater degree of violence associated with some" of the so-called hate groups.

But while it's needlessly provocative to put the council in the same category as groups that arrange lynching parties, I also argued that Perkins should cease the false propaganda his group has put out about gay people. Perkins hasn't followed this advice. In fact, the group has done little, if anything, to distance itself from a range of absurd and outrageous statements on a variety of issues.

There's Perkins' claim that pedophilia is "a homosexual problem" and his labeling as "disgusting" a campaign to help gay youth overcome bullying. There's the statement by Jerry Boykin, the group's executive vice president, that "Islam is not a religion and does not deserve First Amendment protections" and his belief that Jews should be converted to Christianity. I asked council officials about such statements but was offered no repudiation of them.

There's also the 2010 statement by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, one of the Values Voter Summit's co-sponsors, that "homosexuality gave us Adolf Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews."

Classy.

Is this the sort of thing Ryan and, by extension, Romney wish to associate themselves with? Apparently so. In Ryan's speech, he said nothing about such outlandish positions, telling the FRC "we can be confident in the rightness of our cause" and promising that Romney is "a defender of marriage."

But as the Romney campaign fights for the support from the middle of the electorate, the gays-as-pedophiles theme has limited appeal. It would seem to be better to put some distance between the Republican ticket and the sort of people who blame the Holocaust on gay people.

Back in 1999, after it was learned that then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., had spoken to the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Jim Nicholson, advised Republicans to sever ties to the group.

In the case of the Family Research Council, the opposite has happened. Perkins boasted at the press club that "we have a waiting list of those who want to speak" at the Values Voter Summit. "We've had to turn away members of Congress."

All the more reason why Ryan should have given his slot to somebody else.

Email Dana Milbank of The Washington Post at danamilbank@washpost.com.

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