Monday, September 21, 2009

Stephen Harper the original Tele-Poli-Vangelist

We are about due for the next Conservative fundraising missive. Perhaps, if a major effort is called for, a contribution from the Eminence Grease to lay the ground work with another of his embarrassing editorials. For those of you uncertain as to what I am referring to, I have blogged quite a bit recently on the increasing importance of fundraising as an end for the Conservatives rather than a means. This has led to the distortion of the public policy debate by the introduction of initiatives designed to enhance ongoing contributions from their base rather than deal with real world problems facing the country. The need for a strong fundraising apparatus is apparent when one recognizes that a political party requires a bureaucratic apparatus to survive. The proof of this lies in an examination of the state of the Liberal Party finances from 2006-2008 and the effect it had on their strategy over that time. After a time, however, every bureaucracy gets to the state where, as with a living organism, it seeks ways to survive in its own right. And as it grows it needs ever more food, in the form of donations, to cover the "burn rate".

So if the Conservative Party Of Canada is straying from it's original purpose, what does it most resemble? When the focus on fundraising is combined with the abandonment by the Harper Conservatives of the principles on which the Reform movement was based, parallels can be drawn with television evangelical personalities. This isn't too surprising when one considers the other parallels between the Conservative base and evangelical Christians. As with the televangelists and their churches it appears to an external observer that Harper is only paying lip service to the extreme beliefs of his followers in order to maintain a bank account. Perhaps if Harper were to get his majority he would bring about all of the hateful fantasies of the Theo-Soc-Neo-Econo-Cons but thus far Canadians have been spared that sad fate so we can only review his government based it's minority status. Perhaps with a majority he would lean on other excuses for not bringing about the transformation his followers seek. There are lots of possible scapegoats. The liberal bureaucracy, the liberal courts, the liberal media. Blame anything so long as it keeps the money rolling in. Just as a preacher will blame others for the delay of the Rapture and call for more donations to bring it about.

These parallels include:

1. "Strong Leader" figures with no apparent heirs.
The Conservatives have expended a significant amount of time, Party funds and government money projecting Harper as the epitome of a strong leader. His leadership is not strong enough, however, to tolerate any substantial underlings.

This is similar to televangelists such as Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart and Oral (aka Or else) Roberts. All of these preachers are more identifiable with the public than the churches they lead. The people associated with the church owe their loyalty to the headman and the headman alone. This flows from the next similarity.

2. Leads organization they founded as the epitome of the true faith
Harper is credited with uniting the right. And it is true that the current Conservative Party is a creature of his making. This occurred after he resigned from a position with a right wing party of which he had poor prospects of ever leading. He resigned and went into the wilderness so to speak. When he brought the new party into being, he was seen as a prophet of a new true conservatism that previous leaders could not measure up to.

Each of the televangelists referenced above also formed their own church that projected the virtue of being a true vision of Christianity. They did not rise to their current positions by paying their dues within an established structure.

Whether the organizations preach religious or political dogma, these organizations are based on an extremely conservative viewpoint. The identification of identifiable groups (homosexuals, liberals, news media) are key to the growth of the organization.
Whether it is Harper, Falwell, Roberts, Haggard or Swaggart these men are leading an organization they can take the majority of the credit for.

3. The failings of the Leader are not the fault of the faith
Every one of these leaders has fallen off their self-established pedestal. Falwell was investigated by the SEC for bond irregularities. Oral Roberts was accused of having a West Coast home and country club membership purchased for him with church funds. Jimmy Swaggart has been caught not once, but twice, with prostitutes. Not to be out done, Ted Haggard was caught with a male prostitute and metampetamine drugs.

Paradoxically, these personal failings did not cause a collapse in the support of these men. Nor did the persistent failings of the leaders of the evangelical faith cause the followers to question the tenets of their belief.

Stephen Harper has been found guilty of an even worse transgression (in the eyes of the Reform base). He has been accused and convicted of implementing Keynesian policies solely in order to save his office. The inability of the Hayek/ Freidman economic model to relate to the economy and politics in the real world has been demonstrated time and again. As with Marxism, a model based on the panacea of a single mechanism is doomed to fail. But failure does not raise doubt in the minds of the followers of these dogmas. They still believe in the fantasy and believe that their leaders were ambushed by external circumstances. In Harper's case it was the "Global Economic Uncertainty". But for that, he would have brought about a Conservative Heaven. (However hellish that would be).

4. The need for an apparatus to process the donations
Consider this passage from an online article on televangelists (MEIB):
A major part of each religious broadcast organization therefore is its fund-raising section. Fund raising consumes a large part of each organization's regular budget. In 1979, 35 percent of the Rex Humbard organization's budget, or $10.5 million, was spent on the building of audience loyalty and the solicitation of its financial support. (4) For the program "The Old Time Gospel Hour," the figure was $10.99 million or 23.7 percent of the organization's budget. (5)

Such large amounts of money are needed for several reasons. One is simply to meet the costs of processing the large number of individual donations which comprise the backbone of the broadcastes' support. Jerry Falwell's organization in 1976-77, for example, received nearly 80 percent of its $22.2-million income from 762,000 individual contributions. (6) Any organization that does not develop the capability to handle such volume is effectively cutting off the source of its own lifeblood. Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1976-77 used about 60 people daily to sort through the day's mail of around 10,000 envelopes. The Oral Roberts organization is reported to have a similar mailroom, capable of handling 20,000 pieces of mail each day. (7) Each contribution and letter must be accurately recorded and classified for subsequent computerization and recall when the financial planners are calling out lists of names for future mail appeals.

This bulk mail is not only the lifeblood of the broadcasters but it also becomes a type of barometer of the broadcaster's performance in relation to his audience. When faced with the reality of meeting expenses of $1 million each week or else beginning the downward spiral of reducing the syndication of one's program, a broadcaster becomes very sensitive to the audience feedback provided by one's mailroom. The daily report on both income and issues from the mailroom becomes an important item in each broadcaster's daily briefing. Evangelical broadcaster, Tom Bisset, describes some of the pressures under which a broadcaster works:

If a broadcaster touches a "hot" subject even accidentally, he will know about it in a week or even days. Mail, the broadcasters' lifeline, is a built-in polling device that records audience preferences with Gallup-like accuracy. So, unless broadcasters have iron-clad formats, their programs begin to focus on those issues and emphases that bring in the mail -- and the money. The necessity of paying for air-time also prompts broadcasters to follow the money.

A "Strong Man" at the head of an organization he created. Failing at it's stated aims. But backed by a well organized process to fleece money from the suckers. Sound like our Prime Minister.

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penlan said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

So you think you know all about the famous pretribulation rapture belief of evangelicalism? You might enjoy going to Googleland and typing in "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty." Mandy