It should be obvious to anyone who reads this space on a regular basis that as a Christian, I’d have liked many times to have told Falwell to get off my side because he was making it look bad. But as a Democrat, I often wondered why Republicans didn’t think the same thing.
After all, he was making their party, a party of less intrusive governance and sensible spending and limited social programs, the party of hucksters who relied on fraudulent messages from God to tell them what to do. He was making their party the party of backward-thinking buffoonery, of paranoid visions of homosexuality around every corner.
He brought in a lot of votes while he did so, but in the long run, was it worth it? When the word “conservative” was so tarnished by the 2000 presidential election that candidate George W. Bush had to append “compassionate” to it in order to make it palatable to anyone with a smidgen of sense? When even now Republican primary candidates are expected to genuflect at the altar of Falwell’s movement by speaking at his “university” and mouthing praises of his work lest his followers howl?
Is it worth it, the temporary electoral successes he helped to foster, if association with the means used to achieve those ends requires sensible Republicans to say, “Sure, I’m a conservative, but I’m not one of THOSE conservatives?”
Maybe it is. After all, the modern Republican Party fell all over itself to eulogize and honor Falwell after his death, and the mainstream press, for the most part, focused on his influence rather than strictly on his actions in ambivalent stories. Certainly, before he died, Falwell was enjoying the four-year ritual kissing-up that accompanies the coming of the Republican presidential primary. No one was jumping over anybody else to distance himself from the so-called moral “majority.”