Monday, May 28, 2007


How much influence did Jerry Falwell have and for whom?

Many Republicans and conservative leaders regarded Falwell as a liability. During the 1984 race, a Democratic campaign aide told Time: "Jerry Falwell is a no-risk whipping boy." Ed Rollins, who ran President Reagan's re-election campaign, later agreed: "Jerry Falwell, no question, is a very high negative." Politicians also noticed that Moral Majority was mainly a direct-mail operation and had never built much of a grassroots organization. With ebbing support from the political world, Falwell quit as president of the group in 1987. It folded two years later.

Since then, the religious right has had a complex political history. For a time, the Christian Coalition loomed as a powerful successor and it eventually crumbled. Although conservative Christians took up a key role in Republican politics, they were far from monolithic, having a variety of leaders and viewpoints. Their activists came to see Falwell as a small part of their heritage, if they thought of him at all.

Liberals, however, did not forget Falwell. As a political consultant once advised his fellow Democrats: "Find your candidate a nasty enemy. Tell people they are threatened in some way . . . It's a cheap trick, but the simplest."

Falwell obliged by continuing to supply fresh ammunition. In 2001, for example, he went wildly over the top by saying that God may have allowed the 9/11 attacks as payback for the nation's moral laxity.

Accordingly, his name remained a fixture in liberal speeches and fundraising letters long after his actual power had shrunk. When he endorsed school choice and opposed abortion, liberals cited his position as a reason for taking the other side. When he supported Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, Sen. John Kerry mentioned him and other conservatives in a floor speech: "This right-wing reaction can only mean one thing: they know what kinds of opinions Judge Alito will issue in line with their extreme ideology."

Just askin'

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Blogger kcatmull said...

hmmm well for me at least, for example -- just a year ago, when he was starting his campaign up for real, John McCain had a big public visit with Jerry Falwell and called him a great American. Spoke at the Liberty U commencement, etc. That made me think McCain thought Falwell was important to the conservative GOP base (not really McCain's strong point), and he seems like part of the mainstream Republican Party (McCain! not Falwell). But eh I am obviously not a republican insider!

10:32 PM  
Blogger Mike LaRoche said...

Jerry Falwell was a man liberals loved to hate. The classless posts made at the time of his death on many leftist blogs is ample evidence of just how deep that hatred was.

However, from my perspective, Falwell's actual influence on the Republican Party as any type of "king maker" was minimal.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

Agreed about the 'classless posts'. Interestingly, one of the warmest tributes was in the L.A. Times by his close friend Larry Flynt (of Hustler infamy). Which might go to show that those in the pulpit publicly pontificating and spouting sometimes need to sit down and listen to silence, and learn; and those in the business of sleaze can sometimes speak gold. Both so in need of grace.

It seemed politically at large his influence quickly spiked but repeatedly saying dumbass things like 'God may have allowed 9/11 as payback for moral laxity' weakened greatly his power.

On a personal level, Falwell had very little influence on me as a Christian the past 28 years. And why would he? I, along with many others, did my own critical thinking and reasoning while working out my politic. There really are believers who aren't of the kool-aid drinkking variety.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Gary M said...

Let's make it all-but-unanimous: it's in the interests of the left, and a tiny fringe of the right, to inflate Falwell's real importance. Circa 1982 (when I was all of 30) he was a live issue; for at least a decade and a half, he's been about as relevant as William Katt and Bob Culp in "Greatest American Hero"

12:28 AM  
Blogger David N. Scott said...

Falwell was embaressing to me as a Christian, and to most of my Christian friends, some of whom are much more fundamentalist than me (I?).

He did have his University, though, I s'pose. Not sure what they get up to or how much influence he had there (a lot, I'd reckon).

11:40 PM  
Blogger kcatmull said...

but why did John McCain make that pilgrimage to see Falwell just last year, though, and call him a great American? McCain apparently thought Falwell was still a significant and influential figure in his party, enough to make that visit even though it irritated a lot of his (McCain's) moderate supporters. McCain's not everyone's favorite but he isn't part of a tiny right-wing fringe.

I am NOT arguing that Falwell wasn't a useful bogeyman for the left, you guys are right, he totally was, since a lot of lefties were pretty mad at him; I'm just saying he had not been abandoned by the GOP by any means, as far as I can tell.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Mike LaRoche said...

John McCain will do or say anything to be president, and given the large number of candidates seeking the GOP nomination, perhaps he thought that wooing a few Falwell supporters could put him over the top.

Looking at the big picture, the GOP made sure to do what it had to do to keep Falwell in the party coalition, but GOP leaders had no intention of allowing Falwell to dictate the party platform or have the party push an aggressive social agenda solely on his behalf.

10:15 PM  

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