For many First Things readers, Gary Bauer is a name from the past. The former president of the Family Research Council resigned his leadership of the organization while campaigning for the presidency several years ago. Since that time, he has continued to have some currency among movement types on the conservative side, but has not enjoyed the kind of high profile he had in his FRC days.
Having witnessed his performance today at the Values Voter Summit hosted by Family Research Council and several other conservative organizations, I can’t help but feel that America has been missing a fantastic public speaker and master of political rhetoric. Bauer’s strength is that he finds themes that resonate because they are are rooted in experience and pounds them home relentlessly.
This afternoon, with a phalanx of MSMers gathering material for the liberal evening shows on MSNBC and the harder left blogging away for web sites like Mother Jones, Bauer spoke directly to the Christian conservative’s complaint with the media.
He was most forceful when addressing the continuing refrain by many in the mainstream media and on the left that the president has come under forceful criticism, not because of genuine opposition to his policies, but instead due to the inability of racists to accept the legitimacy of a black man as the duly elected American leader. Bauer noted that when Obama was inaugurated, he had an approval rating of 75 percent. Yet, today, his approval rating is in the neighborhood of 50 percent. If racism is the explanation, Bauer wondered aloud, are we to believe that the quarter of the electorate that seems to have abandoned President Obama just discovered that he is black? When put that way, the contention of the left and many media talking heads is clearly risible.
As Bauer made his argument, it was obvious that he was speaking directly to the reporters present. He went further by asking the crowd the question (and this is from memory so it may not be exact), “If a party were to run a candidate who was black, Asian, or hispanic and who was pro-life, in favor of free markets, traditional morality, and strong national defense, would you support that candidate?” The crowd erupted in massive, enthusiastic applause. Bauer joked with the crowd and the reporters present, “I can’t wait to run home and see that positive reaction from the crowd toward racial diversity played on CBS, NBC, and ABC!” Of course, the enthusiastic reaction in favor of a candidate of color who is also a conservative doesn’t fit the press narrative and the audience reaction would never be played on the news. Bauer knew that. The crowd knew that. And so did the press.
I don’t want to replay his entire speech, but this was Gary Bauer at his absolute best succeeding by speaking from the heart about an experience he knows well, which is dealing with a hostile/skeptical media year after year. As I watched some of the young reporters do their work, sometimes interviewing the pros and other times interviewing star struck event attendees, I thought about how intimidating they can be. There they stand, holding a microphone in your face, looking skeptical, bored, angry, and/or incredulous and working hard to trip you up. I’ve been through that kind of interview. It is the meat and potatoes of any religious conservative willing to deal with it. The president basically has no idea what that is like and neither do most politicians of the left.
Gary Bauer used his time in the spotlight today to speak the truth of the matter and to challenge the media to prove him wrong. They won’t because they don’t want to.