On a night when the network evening news shows led their broadcasts off with tales of a grim day on Wall Street, increases in the price of oil and the continued turmoil in Pakistan, televangelist Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani should have been buried. Instead this political news received almost equal billing with the news from Wall Street and Islamabad. But while the media expressed surprise at Robertson’s endorsement, the news should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Robertson’s public life.
It does seem surreal that Robertson is commanding headlines again. After seemingly agreeing with Jerry Falwell that God punished American immorality by allowing the 9/11 attacks to occur, Robertson has come off as increasingly erratic. Minor media scandals concerning Robertson would ebb and flow into public attention on the endless procession of cable news shows. For example, Robertson has been condemned for supporting Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia and not revealing his considerable investments in gold mines in that African nation. The media would mock the supposedly pious opponent of gambling as a hypocrite for owning a racehorse. Even on abortion, Robertson, who had once been one of the leading defenders of unborn life on the public stage, has come under fire after he made comments expressing support of China’s forced “one child” policy. On the lighter side, Robertson’s claim to have leg pressed 2,000 lbs thanks to an energy drink was rightfully ridiculed. Having been proven wrong about a meteor destroying Orlando as punishment for supporting homosexuality, Robertson has continued to make prophecies of impending doom such as a major terrorist attack on the United States in 2007 and tsunamis crushing the Pacific Northwest in 2006. Even his own web site seems to serve as something of an obituary page as his most recent press releases concern the passing of colleagues.
Despite the televangelist being increasingly marginalized and ridiculed, Robertson’s endorsement did make a splash. The media played up Robertson’s well known opposition to homosexuality and abortion and how he might provide political cover for other social conservatives looking to support Giuliani who has been a vocal supporter of abortion rights, gay marriage, and a variety of other policies which lean much more Rockefeller than Reagan.
The question begs to be asked: Why did a social conservative like Pat Robertson endorse Rudy Giuliani? Robertson answered this himself, insisting that he could support the New Yorker’s campaign because “the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists.” Why Robertson feels the mayor has a better grasp of these issues than John McCain with his years on the Senate Armed Services Committee or Duncan Hunter who chaired the House Armed Services Committee remains a mystery. Like a number of leading Beltway conservatives, Robertson insists that Giuliani will appoint strict constructionist judges—despite the mayor’s past record and stated views on abortion as a “constitutional right.” In short, like so many of his colleagues on the political stage, Robertson is letting us know that he is supporting Giuliani due to his character; an odd position for a man of God to be taking in support of a man whose family life is a shambles.
Robertson appears to be failing once again in keeping his kingdoms straight, but then he often seems to walk closer with Caesar than with Christ. Despite all his attacks on the godless cretins who inhabit the Beltway, Robertson is very familiar with Washington and its ways. His father, A. Willis Robertson, represented Virginia in both the U.S. House and Senate for almost 35 years. Besides his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination back in 1988, Robertson has remained extremely politically active, having established such political groups as the Christian Coalition and the American Center for Law and Justice (whose well-paid chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, has “has built a financial empire that generates millions of dollars a year and supports a lavish lifestyle—complete with multiple homes, chauffeur-driven cars, and a private jet,” according to Law.com). Robertson has also taken a great interest in international affairs, including support for Greater Israel. Indeed, yet another minor media storm broke out when Robertson claimed that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was divine retribution for giving land to the Palestinians. While Robertson has since backtracked a bit from his initial enthusiasm for the Iraqi invasion as a godly operation, the televangelist will certainly feel at home with the likes of Norman Podheretz and the other neocons in the Giuliani camp.
Perhaps Robertson’s experience at the racetrack as well as in politics may be coming into play. The dirty secret of American political history is the importance of patronage in campaigns and elections. While not the dominant issue that it was in the spoils system era, political machines, such as the Daley operation in Chicago and John Bailey’s in Connecticut, continued to thrive well into the 21st Century. Patronage remains an important issue in today’s politics. Pat Robertson has been a master of playing the patronage game. As the founder and guiding figure at Regent University, Robertson has overseen the development of a new generation of Republican activists and office holders. Kay Coles James, the former dean of the Regent school of government, headed President Bush’s Office of Personnel Management and oversaw the inclusion of over 150 Regent graduates into the Bush administration. Despite the constant ridicule he is exposed to in the media, Robertson remains an influential figure in the corridors of power and will be for sometime to come. Even more than his television and ministerial empires, the legions of Regent students remain Robertson’s chief legacy to American politics.
With Mitt Romney stalled and Fred Thompson flopping badly, Robertson has apparently taken a look at the rest of the field and decided that politics trump principles. Abandoning his long opposition to abortion and the homosexual agenda, Robertson has failed to hear the words of Psalm 146; “Put not your trust in princes.” Social conservatives who placed their trust in Pat Robertson due to his defense of life and marriage have learned that lesson only too well. Conservatives who continue to look to Pat Robertson for guidance and leadership do so at the peril of their most cherished beliefs and ideals.
Over a century and a half ago, after reading Daniel Webster’s famed “Seventh of March” speech in favor of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem condemning Webster’s political opportunism. Whatever one thinks of Whittier and the “Godlike Daniel,” the words of “Ichabod” seem relevant to Pat Robertson today:
So fallen! so lost! the light withdrawn
Which once he wore!
The glory from his gray hairs gone
Revile him not, the Tempter hath
A snare for all;
And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath,
Befit his fall!
Oh, dumb be passion’s stormy rage,
When he who might
Have lighted up and led his age,
Falls back in night.
Scorn! would the angels laugh, to mark
A bright soul driven,
Fiend-goaded, down the endless dark,
From hope and heaven!
Let not the land once proud of him
Insult him now,
Nor brand with deeper shame his dim,
But let its humbled sons, instead,
From sea to lake,
A long lament, as for the dead,
In sadness make.
Of all we loved and honored, naught
Save power remains;
A fallen angel’s pride of thought,
Still strong in chains.
All else is gone; from those great eyes
The soul has fled:
When faith is lost, when honor dies,
The man is dead!
Then, pay the reverence of old days
To his dead fame;
Walk backward, with averted gaze,
And hide the shame!
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