The New York Times reports that Rick Perry's new TV spot, which seeks to attract religious conservatives in Iowa by attacking gays in the military, was a source of contention among his top advisers. The ad, which Mike Riggs noted on Wednesday, is pretty loathsome, but Perry's response to the Obama administration's promotion of gay rights in other countries may be even worse.
First the ad, which shows a casually dressed Perry standing in a meadow beside a stream as uplifting music plays in the background. "I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian," he says, "but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school." Perry packs an impressive amount of dishonesty and illogic into that one sentence.
Why would Christians, who represent four-fifths of the U.S. population, be reluctant to reveal their religion? Surely it takes no courage to do so, especially for a politician courting evangelical voters. Having opened with a reference to his faith, Perry immediately says it's not really relevant, since even people who are not all that religious should be able to see why it's wrong to let homosexuals serve in the military, at least as long as Christmas and prayer are banned from the nation's schools (in the same way, I guess, that it's wrong to let Muslims build a mosque in Manhattan as long as Christians are forbidden to build churches in Riyadh). That last part is not only a non sequitur; it's a nontruth. As the father of three Jewish girls who have attended public schools, I can assure you that Christmas is alive and well within their walls. And while the Supreme Court's reading of the First Amendment bars public school teachers from leading kids in officially endorsed prayers, there is no rule that prevents students from praying on their own or in independently organized groups. If Christians were barred from public schools, or admitted on the condition that they conceal their religion and immediately expelled should it ever be disclosed, Perry's analogy would make a little more sense.
On Tuesday, Perry issued a statement about gay rights that on the face of it seems more defensible:
Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn't get any more out of touch with America’s values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights.
This administration's war on traditional American values must stop.
I have proposed a foreign aid budget that starts at zero. From that zero baseline, we will consider aid requests based solely on America's national security interests. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money.
But there is a troubling trend here beyond the national security nonsense inherent in this silly idea. This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.
President Obama has again mistaken America's tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles. I will not make that mistake.
If it were up to me, the foreign aid budget would start at zero and stay there. But whether or not it is a justifiable use of taxpayers' money, Obama's initiative is not about "promoting a lifestyle" or "promoting special rights for gays"—unless you think life and liberty are special rights. Here is how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the program's goals:
I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.
I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time....
It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.
Does Perry disagree? The administration's avowed goal is not "special rights" but equal rights—precisely the "tolerance for different lifestyles" that even Perry seems to support. One can acknowledge human rights violations in other countries without endorsing the Obama administration's response to them. Instead Perry dismisses concerns about these horrendous abuses as frivolous.