(Weekly Column)

santabadEarlier this week, extremists within the Republican Party proposed a 10-point checklist of principles that GOP candidates would have to sign if they expect to receive Party support. Like a deranged “Social Issues Santa”, the enforcers of doctrine are descending in their sleighs to slay Republicans who are naughty and not considered nice.

According to their puritanical plan, Republicans would be required to sign 7 of 10 radical resolutions, such as, “opposing Obama’ socialist agenda.” By far the most reckless part of this pledge is the demand that Republicans agree to, “Support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troops surges.” I wonder what such pandering politicians might say to families if these wars took a turn for the worse: “I’m sorry your son died on the battlefield, but I had six campaign pledges and needed a seventh to get a windfall of dough from the Republican Party.”

Ironically, the Republican governors gathered last week and ran away from such extremism. According to The New York Times, “There was little talk of the divisive social and political issues that Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove embraced as a way to attract independent and moderate Democratic voters and build a lasting Republican majority.”

The right wing chest thumping seen in the GOP checklist was echoed in a manifesto signed by 145 religious activists and clerics called the Manhattan Declaration. This document basically said that religious people were above the law and did not have to obey it if they deemed it unholy. Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council, hailed the radical manifesto by calling it a “line in the sand” and vowing that the malcontents “will not be moved.”

Of course, growing up on the lovely beaches of Florida and Hawaii, I’ve learned that there is nothing more temporary than a line in the sand. These arrogant preachers are badly overreaching and will be surprised to find that their sinister sandcastle will succumb to history’ high tide.

The Catholic Church, in particular, is entering politically perilous territory it will soon regret. For most of American history, many voters were concerned that Catholic politicians were beholden to Rome. John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic President, won by assuring people that he was independent of the Vatican.

This week, however, Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin scolded another member of the famous clan, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), and told him he was unworthy of taking part in communion because of his pro-choice views.

Amazingly, Tobin told NBC News, “To receive a sacrament you have to be in union with the church.” To voters, this can be interpreted as: “Bow to Rome or go home.”

If the Church continues to push these boundaries, it will become toxic. It will force office holders into making a decision between voting with the Vatican, or risking nasty public spats, like the Tobin-Kennedy spectacle. In an era where people are quite fickle with faith, aspiring Catholic politicians may find it easier to avoid this dilemma and switch religions. In the future, the only remaining Catholic politicians may be hardliners, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

In fact, this backlash is already underway. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine criticized the Archdiocese of Washington this week for threatening to end contracts to feed Washington, DC’ homeless if the city allows gay couples the freedom to marry.

“I’m Catholic and I think it’s wrong,” Kaine said. “If you look at the church through history, the church will stand in tough situations and continue to do good. I think the strategy of threatening to hold back, it just doesn’t seem like the church I’ve come up in.”

Kaine was seconded by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also is Catholic.

“I don’t understand how they can possibly do this,” O’Malley said. “I have a hard time believing that the nuns and priests who taught me about the Corporal Works of Mercy would agree that this is an appropriate response for the church.”

Inside their adoring mega-churches and towering Cathedrals, these conservative clerics are powerful demigods. Such adoration blinds them to the sobering reality that millions of people view them as power hungry demagogues. The Religious Right is still one of the strongest special interest groups in America, but they keep forgetting that they represent an immoral minority, not the Moral Majority they once fancied themselves to be.

Raging with dictatorial ultimatums and mutinous manifestos, these extremists are too far-gone to realize they have gone too far. As the “Social Issues Santas” shimmy down the chimney to deliver their dogma, it is unclear if they are simply blowing smoke or gift-wrapping future elections for the Democratic Party.