Amy Goodman interviews Frank Schaeffer about his endorsement of Barack Obama. (Photo: Catholics for Obama-Biden)
Lifelong Republican Frank Schaeffer says McCain is "deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate."
Amy Goodman: We turn now to the McCain campaign's strategy of repeatedly invoking Senator Obama's connection to former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, now a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. It seems to very clearly have a serious effect of riling up crowds of McCain and Palin supporters, to a point that Senator McCain was booed at his own rally Friday when he attempted to defend his rival against character attacks.
Sen. John McCain: I want to be president of the United States, and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States.
John McCain: Now, I just - now, I just - now, look, I - if I didn't think I wouldn't be one heck of a lot better president, I wouldn't be running, OK? And that's the point.
AG: The Republican presidential nominee was speaking to a crowd near Minneapolis Friday. His attempt to defend Senator Obama was met with jeers.
At a Palin rally earlier in the week, Governor Palin referred to Senator Obama as a man connected to "a former domestic terrorist." She said she was "fearful" of his vision of America.
Gov. Sarah Palin: I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America, as the greatest source for good in this world. I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country.
AG: While Governor Palin was speaking about Obama, an audience member, it's believed, yelled out, "Kill him!" It's unclear if Palin heard the remark, but she didn't respond.
Obama was eight years old when, 40 years ago, Bill Ayers was a member of the militant antiwar group, the Weather Underground. Today, Bill Ayers is a tenured professor and leading expert on education reform at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
At another moment last week during the presidential debate, McCain referred to Obama as "that one."
Sen. John McCain: It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me.
AG: Our next guest, joining us from Boston, is Frank Schaeffer, the bestselling author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. He's the son of the late evangelist Francis Schaeffer, considered himself a lifelong Republican. He voted for John McCain in 2000. McCain even endorsed one of Schaeffer's earlier books on military service. But on Friday, Frank Schaeffer published an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun excoriating McCain for "feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate." The op-ed is entitled "An Open Letter to John McCain." Frank Schaeffer joins us now from Boston.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
Frank Schaeffer: Thank you, Amy.
AG: It's very good to have you with us. Can you - do you, by chance, have the letter in front of you?
FS: Yes, I do. I have it right here. What would you like to hear?
AG: Could you read it to us?
FS: Sure. This is the op-ed:
"John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as 'not one of us,' I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.
"At a Sarah Palin rally, someone called out, 'Kill him!' At one of your rallies, someone called out, 'Terrorist!' Neither was answered or denounced by you or your running mate, as the crowd laughed and cheered. At your campaign event Wednesday in Bethlehem, Pa., the crowd was seething with hatred for the Democratic nominee - an attitude encouraged in speeches there by you, your running mate, your wife and the local Republican chairman.
"John McCain: In 2000, as a lifelong Republican, I worked to get you elected instead of George W. Bush. In return, you wrote an endorsement of one of my books about military service. You seemed to be a man who put principle ahead of mere political gain.
"You have changed. You have a choice: Go down in history as a decent senator and an honorable military man with many successes, or go down in history as the latest abettor of right-wing extremist hate.
"John McCain, you are no fool, and you understand the depths of hatred that [surround] the issue of race in this country. You also know that, post-9/11, to call someone a friend of a terrorist is a very serious matter. You also know we are [a bitterly divided country] on many other issues. You know that, sadly, in America, violence is always just a moment away. You know that there are plenty of crazy people out there.
"Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs.
"John McCain, you're walking a perilous line. If you do not stand up for all that is good in America and declare that Senator Obama is a patriot, fit for office, and denounce your hate-filled supporters when they scream out 'Terrorist' or 'Kill him,' history will hold you responsible for all that follows.
"John McCain and Sarah Palin, you are playing with fire, and you know it. You are unleashing the monster of American hatred and prejudice, to the peril of all of us. You are doing this in wartime. You are doing this as our economy collapses. You are doing this in a country with a history of assassinations.
"Change the atmosphere of your campaign. Talk about the issues at hand. Make your case. But stop stirring up the lunatic fringe of haters, or risk suffering the judgment of history and the loathing of the American people -- forever.
"We will hold you responsible."
So that was the piece, and it got quite a response, actually. I've been swamped with email, and encouragingly, most of it favorable.
AG: Now, Frank Schaeffer, you supported John McCain in 2000, as you write.
FS: Yeah. I mean, you mentioned my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. And really, people who have read that book will know that I come from an evangelical family that was really evangelical royalty in the '70s and '80s. My father was a frequent guest in the Reagan, Bush and also even the Ford White House -- Bush, first, that is. And my background, therefore, was very unthinkingly Republican. We were always just associated with these folks. And so, in 2000, I was actually on a number of evangelical and right-wing stations, like with Ollie North, for instance, on his radio station, pleading the cause of John McCain, who I thought would be a much better candidate than George W. Bush.
But really, over the years, distancing myself from that evangelical background, as I talk about in the book, I've come to a place where I really see what Max Blumenthal was talking about in the earlier part of your show, and that is, you know, speaking of the secessionists in Alaska, the evangelical right-wing subculture in this country, particularly the Assemblies of God, by the way, that Sarah Palin comes from, have really already ceded from our union, in the sense of the fact that they have, you know, between home schooling and their own schools, their own publishing, their own radio, their own TV, many times very fundamentally anti-American, waiting for the Apocalypse, waiting for Jesus to take everybody away in the Rapture, weirdly Christian Zionist and at the same time assuming that the Jews will all be killed in Armageddon, when Jesus comes back, as part of their Rapture enterprise.
You know, just to put it frankly, the evangelical movement that I grew up in as a child used to be a fairly respectable and respectful group of people. They regarded themselves as Americans and part of the system. And now, I really think it's been taken over by a group of people that have to be described fairly as just wingnuts. And if you read Crazy for God, you're going to find, through my own journey, coming out of the '50s and '60s, that I watched all this change. I mean, you know, I preached from Jerry Falwell's pulpit. He sent a jet up to get me once. You know, I know Pat Robertson and Dr. Dobson and all these people personally. And the fact of the matter is, the movement has gone off the rails.
And the dangerous thing about Sarah Palin is, is that there's a very direct line from her to the kind of extremism that would literally destroy this country. So, you know, when you look at what eight years of George Bush has done to our economy, on one side, when you look at the war we're in in Iraq - and, by the way, my son was in the Marine Corps and fought twice in Afghanistan, took one mission to Iraq, one to the Horn of Africa, so I speak as someone whose son actually was out there getting shot at because of these policies. When you look at all this, as I talk about in the book, what you see is that we really are at a crossroads here.
This election is not just an election. This election is a mirror that is being held up to the United States, saying you can choose what sort of country you want to be. Do you want to be with the Sarah Palin wingnuts who are burying high-powered rifles in their gardens for the time when the United Nations sends Black Hawk helicopter-type missions against America? You know, do you want to assume that Jesus will be coming back to rapture everybody, so you hope there's an atheist co-pilot in every plane? I know this sounds laughable, but there are tens of millions of Americans who are buying into this crap. Or do you want to be a member of the United States of America - Republican, Democrat, left, right, center, but part of the American family? Or have you already ceded from our union?
So, basically, I think what this election is about and what my book is certainly about is, besides the politics, besides whether we have Barack Obama or John McCain as our president, is also another kind of a choice, and that is, are we going to give the right-wing evangelical/fundamentalist wing nuts of all stripes, of the Sarah Palin types, a voice in literally destroying this democracy? Do you want another eight years like the eight years that have passed, double, triple, and go from there?
So, you know, my problem with McCain now is that by nominating Sarah Palin and, as I talked about in this editorial, by opening the floodgates of hate because of his ambition to win, basically doing whatever it takes to do that, he's clearly choosing to try to empower the America that will destroy the real America. When I say "the real America," I mean people who are proud of their country. So we've come to a very weird place. We have Sarah Palin, who talks about Barack Obama not liking his country enough. Her husband and her are associated with secessionists, so we have someone who wants to run for vice president who doesn't even want the union to hang together, who would have fought on the other side in the Civil War, as it were, when it comes to the States, you know, going up against Barack Obama, who I personally think would make a terrific president.
AG: It's very significant, your endorsement of Barack Obama, considering where you come from and your own beliefs.
AG: I mean, your father was a famous evangelical preacher --
AG: - a person who gave sermons around the world. Really, you convinced him to take up the anti-abortion line -
AG: - to make it central to his philosophy and your own.
AG: So, here you are, anti-choice, pro-life, and pro-Obama, Senator Obama, who is fiercely pro-choice.
FS: Right, right. And you know what? It's an imperfect world, but I would rather have a president that I disagree with on the issue of choice who's fit to be president than an old man who has just shown such a lack of judgment as to literally connect himself to the lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe. It isn't just someone you disagree with politically. That's one point.
And I'd say something else about the choice issue. I am pro-life. I haven't changed in that regard. If people read my book, Crazy for God, they'll see that I've gone left, if you want to put it that way, in many, many areas, but not that one. But I actually believe that if your interest is not ideology and ideological purity, but rather abortion itself, i.e. you want more or less abortions, that the medical and social programs that Barack Obama is talking about for our country, in terms of care of women and children and families, improvement in education and possibilities for all Americans, actually will result in less abortions. So my interest in the abortion issue is that I think abortion is a tragedy. My interest is not the politics of it, as in always appearing to vote for the person who has the correct ideology.
And so, I think there's a choice for Americans interested in this issue who are like me, pro-life, and that is, do you want to choose ideological purity attached to a party that will so destroy our economy and all the social programs that there will be more abortions, i.e. as there have been through the Republican-controlled years, when they've been talking about this issue for thirty years and done nothing about it for actually helping women and children, or would you rather have a president like Barack Obama, who you disagree with on this one ideological point, in terms of what you might call the theology of the issue, but whose program would practically result in a more conducive environment for families to prosper, for people to have children, for kids to go to school, for women to be taken care of? And I would rather vote for a person who's going to do the job rather than just have the correct ideology.
AG: Frank Schaeffer, also on this point of terror and terrorists, you make a very interesting point. I was reading your book throughout yesterday and last night, and about -
FS: Thank you. Thank you.
AG: - about your dad and about being invited to the White House by President Reagan -
AG: - by President Bush, Sr., by President Ford, and you talked about him calling for the violent overthrow of the United States, yet still being invited to the White House.
FS: Yeah. I mean, the hypocrisy is total. Again, it goes back to what Max Blumenthal was saying. And, by the way, I totally commend him. I hope everybody goes to his website and looks at this. This is a huge and underreported story he was talking about, and he is getting to the nub of it. So, well done, Max Blumenthal.
But people who read Crazy for God will come to see that what I decided was happening was that the people who were talking from the right were actually -- about patriotism and wrapping themselves in the flag were actually, in a weird way, profoundly anti-American. They wanted disaster. The worse the country got, the closer it was to Christ coming back, the more you needed Christians to tell you to accept Jesus as your savior. You know, they needed -- they needed an apocalyptic frame of mind.
AG: We have eight seconds.
FS: Yeah. So, essentially, yeah, I would just say, you know, my point is, there was a hypocrisy, because the anti-Americanism was very much in the right while the right was talking about and pointing the finger at the left.
AG: Well, Frank Schaeffer, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a film director, former evangelical Christian. Latest book, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. He has written "An Open Letter to John McCain."
Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!