Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The C Street clubhouse: the place for self-absorbed "Christian" pols on the make to do it all -- to fellowship, pray, talk about Jesus, and eat


If Jenny Sanford had been a more traditionally subservient "barefoot and obedient" Christian wife, might her scumbag husband have gotten away with his "Argentine adventure"? True, he was getting idiotically indiscreet, and now he seems to have turned into a babbling buffoon, but maybe that's 'cause he got caught?

"We'd fellowship, we'd pray, we'd talk about Jesus, and we'd eat. In the headiness of Washington, D.C., it's trying to make sure you keep your head screwed on straight."
his previously unknown connection with the Family,
which he stressed ended two years ago

"Recently, an unscrupulous author has implied that I am involved in meetings or am even a resident at what is called the C Street House located in Washington, D.C. To be clear, I have never lived at the C Street House nor have I participated in any regular Bible studies or so-called counseling sessions there. Over the past decade, I have attended a few luncheons at the house involving ambassadors and other members of Congress. While there, I had conversations with those in attendance. Other than these few visits at the house, I have had no membership or involvement in meetings at the house."
-- Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt, in a statement issued to KWCH Wichita, whose reporter Kim Wilhelm did a report on the Family Sunday

"Their idea is to identify politicians who are in positions of power, placed there not so much by voters but by God. The Family helps polish them up -- become more sophisticated leaders so they can better serve this ‘vision of the kingdom' as they put it. So they can do good things, they can do bad things, it doesn't matter. They're chosen for power. And the Family believes it's their job to help them stay in power."
-- Jeff Sharlet, in KWCH Wichita's report on the Family

by Ken

All of that, plus . . . it's Christian!

When last we visited the now-famous house on C Street that houses the kook Christian power cult called the Family, I believe it was former Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering's turn at the GOP Adultery Flogging Post. (These days you really have to book ahead.) Our Chip, you'll recall, who left Congress in 2007, ostensibly to spend more time with his actual family, meaning wife Leisha and their five sons, turns out to have been having yet another of these tediously humiliating affairs, this one apparently conducted at least in part within the sacred walls of the Family's C Street clubhouse. And they are sacred, because --


To its best knowledge, the building is in fact a church. Expansive as the IRS traditionally is in interpreting what constitutes a church, given our country's traditional -- not to mention constitutional -- commitment to separation of church and state, in the face of all that we've learned about the Family and the C Street clubhouse, somebody at the IRS could think that at least a few questions might be in order.

Ironically, the type of pol drawn to the Family tends to be publicly, dare I say righteously, scornful of the whole concept of separation of church and state. The Family itself doesn't even pay lip service to the idea.

An interesting wrinkle in the case of Chip Pickering, you'll recall, is that, as Max Blumenthal reported for The Daily Beast, Leisha Pickering's divorce filing revealed that her guy "recorded details of his exploits in a secret diary, including the dates and locations of his adulterous encounters." What's more, Chip's sex diary "reveals the identities of several men who enabled his adulterous trysts and helped him cover his tracks."


According to Max Blumenthal: "Thanks to heavily politicized local courts and an aggressive damage-control campaign waged by Pickering and his powerful Republican allies, the diary, which is said to contain the answers to these questions, is locked away in a courtroom in Mississippi. And if Pickering has his way, it will stay there indefinitely." Sorry!

Now don't forget about that diary. (Like as if you're thinking about anything else! Except maybe wondering if there's also video.) We're going to come back to it. And while you're remembering, note -- in the "Crazy Pete" Hoekstra quote at the top of this post -- the Crazyman's emphasis on the fact that his association with the Family ended two years ago. It's just possible that these two details could be connected!

Anyway, since our last visit, so much has happened on the C Street front that it's hard to take it all in. To be honest, I've kind of tuned out. We've already learned plenty about the heady mixture of Bible-thumping and power-mongering concocted by Family patriarch Doug Coe and his chip-off-the-old-block son David. In the time since our giddy discovery of the embarrassing and rather alarming links between the Family and the marital follies of putative presidential pretenders Nevada Sen. John Ensign and South Carolina Gov. (and, importantly, former U.S. Rep.) Mark Sanford, it's all had kind of a same-old, same-old ring.

Perhaps the most interesting development has been what we might call "The Flight from the Family," which is to say the growing number of Family-style pols who have suddenly become shy about celebrating their Christianity, something they were once prepared to do anytime they found themselves within range of a camera. Now they either refuse to comment on reputed ties to the Family or deny them outright, sort of. "Outright" denial seems a bit of a reach for them, and so we're getting a fascinating assortment of indignant denials of involvement beyond certain carefully delimited points. Which brings us to the Kansas and Michigan connections.


Sunday night KWCH-TV Wichita's Kim Wilhelm did a nearly four-minute report on the Family, drawing on Jeff Sharlet's book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, including excerpts from Jeff's appearances with Rachel Maddow and a phone interview of her own. You have to give both the reporter the station credit. It doesn't seem likely that Wichita folk had heard much about the subject. And as the piece makes clear, there are Kansas connections to the Family. The written version of the report (which is similar to but not a trasncript of the TV version) notes:

The group rents out rooms to members of Congress. Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran's staff confirms he stays at C Street. His office refused to answer questions or comment further. Sharlet's book has no mention of Moran, but it does list Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Todd Tiahrt as members.

Congressman Tiahrt (that's pronounced "Tea-heart," as in "teabag"), as we've already noted up top, could hardly be more vehement in his denial of "membership" or much of any real association with the Family. At the same time, if you were to parse his statement closely, you could find any number of ways in which it could represent careful weaseling, and in the event that documentary evidence should begin turning up, one wonders whether those "few visits" might not grow the way, say, Jack Abramoff's few visits to the White House eventually did.

Our Todd, by the way, is probably most famous for his recent contribution to the House health care debate, shown in the KWCH report, where he made the case against allowing government funding of abortions, which of course his deep religious convictions lead him to oppose, thusly:

If you think of it in human terms, there is a financial incentive that will be put in place, paid for by tax dollars, that will encourage women who are -- single parents, living below the poverty level, to have the opportunity for a free abortion. If you take that scenario and apply it to many of the great minds we have today, who would we have been deprived of? Our president grew up in a similar circumstance. If that financial incentive was in place, is it possible that his mother may have taken advantage of it? Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice, if those circumstances were in place, is it possible that we would be denied his great mind?

Let me just say here that this speech seems to me all-but-irrefutable proof of the non-existence of a god, or at least one with any self-respect, who could hardly fail to respond with a prompt smiting. Working in mysterious ways is all well and good, but surely there are limits.

Now as to the Michigan connection, what most struck Emptywheel's Marcy Wheeler, a veteran watcher of the congressman whom she calls, possibly affectionately, "Crazy Pete" Hoekstra (only she doesn't use quotation marks), was the mere fact that he "preemptively" announced his connection to the Family: "Frankly, I hadn't even realized Crazy Pete was a member of this group, and I could swear I've checked once (he is definitely their 'type.' So it surprises me a bit to see Crazy Pete offering up his ties to the group."

"Crazy Pete," by the way, is probably best remembered for his shockingly inept, dishonest, Bush-abetting performance as a member and then chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Actually, Wikipedia reminds us of what's probably the next-most-distinctive aspect of his nine-terms-and-counting career: that it was made possible in good part by beating up on 13-term GOP powerhouse Guy Vander Jagt for having been in Congress so long. That's why primary insurgent Hoekstra pledged to serve no more than six terms, and already-expansive concept of term limits which Congressman Hoekstra seems to have found intolerably restrictive when it came time to run for term number seven.

"Crazy Pete," as you may have heard, is looking seriously at a race for governor of Michigan. Marcy, while acknowledging that it's pure speculation on her part, speculated in that Sunday post about a possible link between his separation from the Family and the famous Chip Pickering sex diary:

Pickering resigned in August 2007, just under two years ago. If the diary precipitated the divorce, then it may end about two years ago.

So if someone like Crazy Pete knew that his involvement in yet another hypocritical affair might become public, he might be able to say that he ended his relationship with the group two years ago, setting up a very convenient story just in case anything became public between now and when he tried to run for Governor.

I have no idea whether Pickering's diary time bomb is the reason for Crazy Pete's pre-emptive admission of ties with C Street. But the timing does make me want to see Pickering's diary all the more.

Before we leave "Crazy Pete," I think we need to pay some sort of tribute to a man who: (a) has shown us, by using it in a sentence, how to use "fellowship" as a verb, and (b) has so tidily summed up the Family agenda as a bunch of good Christian men getting together to keep their heads screwed on straight by means of the Big Four: fellowshiping, praying, talking about Jesus, and eating. Strangely, there is no mention of having affairs and counseling one another on said affairs while keeping them totally secret from everyone else, including spouses.


Notice how we keep coming back to the sex scandals, which always make for the juiciest, not to mention attention-gettingest, copy. It's been clear ever since the Family got dragged into the spotlight in connection with the Ensign and Sanford high jinks, that Jeff Sharlet, in his capacity as reigning outside expert on the Family (at this point he's become Rachel Maddow's virtual cohost, on a broadcast that might be renamed The Rachel Maddow Show, featuring Jeff Sharlet on the Family), thought and thinks there's something more important than sex scandal to the story. While I wouldn't presume to speak for Jeff, I think what he's trying to call attention to is neatly summed up in the quote he gave KWCH, up top. I think it's worth a replay:

Their idea is to identify politicians who are in positions of power, placed there not so much by voters but by God. The Family helps polish them up -- become more sophisticated leaders so they can better serve this ‘vision of the kingdom' as they put it. So they can do good things, they can do bad things, it doesn't matter. They're chosen for power. And the Family believes it's their job to help them stay in power.

I realize it will be a serious comedown for tabloid-trained news consumers if it turns out that the really important story about the family is nothing sexier than a cult master's clever fusion of religion with power, all built on a bedrock of Christian hypocrisy. That's not all that sexy, is it?

Well, there are those who might disagree, like for example Leisha Pickering and Jenny Sanford. I'm a bit surprised myself tp find that in the end this is where my thoughts are gravitating. Because neither Chip Pickering nor Mark Sanford seems to have chosen the traditionally subservient barefoot-and-obedient Christian wife who exists for no purpose greater than to serve her master. Both Leisha and Jenny appear to be seriously bright women who were at least as responsible for their husbands' career successes as the possibly less-bright men.

Here are those old sweethearts Chip and Leisha Pickering. What a handsome couple, no? It's not hard to understand that Chip would have given up his seat in Congress to spend more time with Leisha and their five boys. 

Of course we don't know what went on behind the scenes with the Pickerings all those years. Leisha doesn't seem to have had any insupportable problem with Chip's ambitions when he was a rising star in God's Own Party. At some point, though, she seems to have become noticeably less enthusiastic about Doug Coe's "you can have it all, hornyboy" Family program. The apparently not-very-discreet affair seems to have exhausted such tolerance as she may once have had.

There are marriages that can handle that, and there are marriages that can't. Mrs. Pickering, however, made the unusual choice, for a good Republican wife, of not going quietly.

Poor Mark Sanford seems to have run into a similar sort of wifely uppitiness. A man of his, er, appetites should probably have had a proper wife of the barefoot-obedient sort, the sort who would know her place. (What was it Jimmy Carter was just saying about male religious leaders who have "overwhelmingly chosen" to "subjugate" rather than "exalt" women?)

To his credit, our Mark doesn't seem ever to have been looking for that sort of mate. Oh, Jenny comes from serious money, which would certainly have helped qualify her as a suitable Christian wife for a good Christian pol under the old standards. But she sure seems like someone who knows how to take care of herself -- and, when it came to it, her children. But when she met Mark, she was a player on Wall Street. They met in the Hamptons, you'll recall, not at a church social. She spent six years as a vice president (mergers and acquisitions) at the investment bank Lazard Freres. When the Sanfords moved south and Mark launched his political career, she seems to have worked at it if anything harder than he did. Until recently she was usually described as his top adviser.

Even after the doody hit the fan, Mark, when asked how he was handling his wife's discovery of his affair,, was still burbling stuff like, "This goes into the personal zone. I'd simply say that Jenny has been absolutely magnanimous and gracious as a wonderful Christian woman in this process."

As a matter of fact, Jenny seems to have been prepared to do whatever it took to save the marriage, if only for the sake of the kids. She "knew" for a long time without revealing anything publicly. She had stumbled across a love letter in Mark's files. It was, we're told, quite a shock. ("I didn't think he had it in him.")

If Mark had had the good Christian sense to marry the kind of woman toads of his sort traditionally did, or turned their wimminfolk into, then when it came to crunch time -- you know, when he "went hiking the Appalachian Trail" -- she might have covered for him. Not Jenny, though, who you'll recall helped fan the flames of intrigue by making it absolutely clear that she had no idea where her the father of their four sons was on Fathers' Day.

She had her reasons. It turns out that lovelorn Mark had actually begged her for permission to, um, pop down to Argentina to, er, visit the sights! Astoundingly, unlike that good Christian wife he should have had, Jenny said no! Or as she tells it, "I said absolutely not. It's one thing to forgive adultery. It's another thing to condone it." We can guess that as the drama unfolded, Jenny, being as far as she is from the model of the barefoot-and-obedient wife, didn't respond at all well to the growing inklings that the Atlanta airport, not the Appalachian Trail, was where Mark had headed.

The portrait of Mark that emerges -- and of Chip too, for that matter -- is of a greedy, self-absorbed young pol who knows how to think big, a horny toad on the make in every sense. For the Family, it would appear, Bible-thumping is optional at the outset. If you've got a horny enough young toad who can sling a little "family values" lingo, we can teach him enough Jesus to hornswoggle all those needy folks out there who crave a proper Christian tongue-lashing.

If it's any consolation to Leisha and Jenny, the guys were bums. I feel bad for them, and for their combined nine boys, who you have to hope don't grow up to be bums like their dads.

"Family values" indeed.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

C Street Clubhouse - Home of the delusional.


Post a Comment

<< Home