Looking for a Candidate to Call Their Own

At the Values Voter Summit, opposition sentiments were clear.
At the Values Voter Summit, opposition sentiments were clear. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Sridhar Pappu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 22, 2007

To travel down the escalators of the Hilton Washington this weekend was to enter a secure sanctuary, a world protected from interlopers and would-be haters, from those who would destroy America's Christian culture. Those who came to the Family Research Council's Washington Briefing 2007: Values Voter Summit descended into a deeply guarded place, a sheltered bubble worthy of the lost city of Atlantis -- if Atlantis had been ruled by Jesus or Ronald Reagan.

Indeed, for three days, it was a huddle of people with "shared values." The 2,000-plus participants banded together, bracing themselves for the constant attacks they expect on their beliefs as Christians. They are fighting on multiple fronts -- fighting the government, fighting pop culture and fighting universities.

"I think people of conservative beliefs, people who take their faith beliefs very seriously, find themselves very isolated," said Alan Sears, CEO and president of the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian-based legal group.

In a session addressing the plight of Christian rights on campus, David French, senior attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, told those assembled: "You will find more political diversity in a suburban mega-church than you will find in an elite university faculty. Now, that has consequences. One of those consequences is professors do not like Christians."

On the subterranean concourse level of the Hilton, it was very easy to feel you were in a different world. Former Reagan administration official and 2000 Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer told those assembled, "You are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid's and Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare."

Across the way, the exhibition hall would probably require the Democratic Party's leadership to order a mass prescription of Ambien as well. There, both Exodus International and PFOX (Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays) supplied literature offering ways out of homosexuality. Centurion Mutual Funds offered a "Biblically responsible" alternative to financial planning. For $499 (plus shipping), you could buy from the Family Research Council a stand called the "Cultural Impact Center." It comes fully stocked with literature like "Partial-Birth Abortion on Trial" and "Dealing with Pornography: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Family and Your Community."

Standing by the Abstinence Clearinghouse Booth, which offered a plethora of items including "Pet your dog, not your date" T-shirts, Kurt Gernaat and his wife, Mary Beth, explained their own sense of struggle.

They live in Holland, Mich. Kurt is the fire chief in Blendon Township. Mary Beth works for a nonprofit. They're youth leaders at their church. They eat dinner with their 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son every night. And they feel outgunned.

"We're being bombarded with music and advertising," Mary Beth said.

"Television is a huge battle," Kurt added. "Even if the show's okay, the commercials are terrible."

Yet this impulse, the desire for a mother to keep her kids away from "Sex in the City" and Sarah Jessica Parker, is not unique to Christians. Right?

Mary Novick said the revulsion at such things comes from natural law. Sitting at a table with fellow College Republicans from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, she explained: "Natural law comes from God and ["Sex in the City" shows a] disregard for the sanctity of love and marriage and human dignity. It's within our nature to be repulsed from that."

Novick is a smartly dressed woman with a pink sweater, pearls and impeccable posture. She is president of the campus chapter of the College Republicans. The six who've traveled with her are friendly, outspoken and polite. They are not the foot soldiers of the Reagan Revolution, but the children of those foot soldiers. And they're troubled by the leaders in the Republican field for president.

Having come of age during the Clinton years, the group was asked: What's so wrong with Hillary?

"Ooooh," 20-year-old journalism major Emily Espinola groaned. "What do you want? She wants to be a dictator. I really think she wants to be a dictator, because she's a socialist. She wants to socialize medicine and she presents it in this beautiful wonderful way but she doesn't talk about the consequences, which are more taxes, bigger government."

"What will end up happening with her health plan is making rationing by wait lists," Novick said. "The elderly or anybody who has any kind of really kind of life-threatening illness will end up being euthanized by wait lists."

"It happens in Canada all the time," Espinola said. "I have friends in Canada who can vouch for it."

Indeed, one finds a devoted group looking for someone to devote themselves to. For the most part they are without a candidate, despite the controversial results of a straw poll in which Mitt Romney narrowly defeated Mike Huckabee.

"I've just turned 18 and this is the first election I can vote in," said Kelly Roggensack, a political science and business marketing major. "I don't want to vote for Rudy Giuliani, whom I don't fully support. It's going to be really upsetting."

"People are less trusting. They want to drill down to see if this is really a conservative candidate," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

Perhaps most prominent of these drillers is James C. Dobson, the conservative stalwart and founder and chairman of Focus on the Family. Recently he suggested he'd side with a smaller party if not satisfied with the nominee's commitment to ending abortion and stemming gay marriage.

Dobson himself addressed the issue during a Saturday night gala honoring him. After the guests were served grilled filet mignon, he told the 1,100 in the audience:

"The media's been telling everybody for months and months and months that the pro-family movement and the pro-life movement are dying.

"Well, to the media's that here, may I say, 'Welcome to the morgue. We ain't dead yet.' "

© 2007 The Washington Post Company