Echoes of Echo Park

It’s hard to miss. Just down Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park there’s the Angelus Temple – of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel – dedicated on January 1, 1923 – the crowning achievement of the first real celebrity evangelist America produced – Aimee Semple McPherson – a woman of a different time in America.

Let’s go way back. She was a strong supporter of William Jennings Bryan during the 1925 Scopes Trial, as Bryan and McPherson had worked together in the Angelus Temple. And McPherson had said evolution “is the greatest triumph of satanic intelligence in 5,931 years of devilish warfare against the Hosts of Heaven.” The number there is the number of years the earth had actually existed at the time, as the Bible said if you did the careful math, not what geologists claimed. And she was on a mission about this evil Theory of Evolution – “It is poisoning the minds of the children of the nation.”

That seems quaint now, but the same stuff still goes on – it has just been toned down a little. Now the religious right and almost all Republicans talk of forcing all public schools to teach logically implicit Intelligent Design in place of all that evidence-based Darwin stuff. That’s pretty meek, but way back when, as the Scopes “Monkey” Trial was about to begin, Aimee Semple McPherson sent Bryan a telegram saying all ten thousand members of her Angelus temple and her millions of radio church members “send grateful appreciation of your lion-hearted championship of the Bible against evolution, and throw our hats in the ring with you.” And she organized “an all night prayer service, a massive church meeting preceded by a Bible parade through Los Angeles.” Good times. It’s hard to overemphasize how influential she was.

But she was also a widow who remarried twice, and both those marriages ended in divorce. And there was her reported kidnapping (she actually seems to have run off for a month with the engineer of her radio station) and that brief, nasty and torrid affair with Milton Berle (or so he says). And there was her death – an overdose of Seconal, which had not been prescribed for her by anyone. But that was ruled an accidental death, the sort of thing that happens with celebrities out here all the time now. And now she is mostly forgotten, and her odd temple just off Sunset Boulevard sits, quiet, amid the streets where all the Keystone Cops and early Laurel and Hardy silent comedies were filmed. Sometimes you see it in the background. It’s a curiosity. Those times will not return.

But the current crop of Republican candidates do have a touch of the Keystone Cops about them – even with Herman Cain and Rick Perry now gone – and Rick Santorum seems to be channeling Aimee Semple McPherson:

Rick Santorum has garnered quite a bit of attention recently for his animated remarks against pornography, and on two separate Sunday shows the Republican presidential candidate refused to cede an inch, doubling down on his crusade against “hard-core pornography.”

A recently added section on the candidate’s website declares that America is “suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography,” and laments that the “Obama Administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws.” The site goes on to say that the Justice Department “seems to favor pornographers over children and families.”

Asked to defend this odd claim, Santorum argued Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union that the Justice Department is not enforcing pornography laws as rigorously as President George W. Bush’s DOJ did.

That’s from Talking Points Memo, and the folks there did contact his campaign spokesmen and asked for the evidence that this was so. They did not return the calls. And “a Justice Department spokesperson also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.” So this is just a claim that’s out there – like a claim the earth is less than six thousand years old. Make of it what you will, but Santorum is adamant:

“Well you have to look at the proof that’s in the prosecution. Under the Bush administration, pornographers were prosecuted much more rigorously under existing law than they are under the Obama administration,” Santorum said. “My conclusion is they have not put a priority on prosecuting these cases, and in doing so, they are exposing children to a tremendous amount of harm. And that to me says they’re putting the un-enforcement of this law and putting children at risk as a result of that.”

And Santorum made the same argument on ABC’s This Week:

“There are laws against purveying hard-core pornography,” he said. “And that – we have attorney generals in the country – at least under the Bush administration – who did prosecute that. And this administration isn’t. And I simply said I would follow the law, which I know in the case of Barack Obama can be somewhat of a hefty challenge for him.”

And Talking Points Memo adds this:

The sudden emphasis on pornography is a questionable strategy for a candidate whom top Republicans, eager to keep the focus in 2012 on fiscal concerns, worry has a tendency to get sidetracked with culture-war issues that are often a dead end with swing voters. While it animates a segment of social conservatives, battling pornography doesn’t make the list of top concerns for most Americans.

But there’s more here than Santorum on a crusade to enforce the law, as he’s moving into the moral realm:

“Congress in its wisdom understood that hard-core pornography is very damaging,” he said on ABC, “particularly to young people, and that exposure on the Internet can be very damaging, and of course it’s very damaging to a lot of folks.”

This does have echoes of Echo Park – or maybe it’s only cynical feed-the-base-red-meat politics. But if so, Elon Green says this:

My guess is whatever bump Santorum has gotten from the issue, he’s about to enjoy seriously diminishing returns. Reacting to Santorum’s CNN appearance, Republican strategist Ron Christie remarked on Twitter, “I like Rick Santorum. I really do. But discussing how he would get rid of porn as a presidential priority doesn’t seem presidential.”

Even so, I’m vaguely sympathetic. I mean, if you were a Republican candidate for president, would you really want to spend your time talking about an improving economy?

Yeah, in lieu of talking about the improving economy you can talk about the evils of pornography, or the evils of birth control, but Talking Points Memo also reports this:

Republicans need to “get off” the issue of contraception and “fix” the perception that the party has spurned women, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) declared Sunday.

The party’s 2008 standard-bearer, now a Mitt Romney surrogate, was asked by David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press whether he thinks that “there is something of a war on women among Republicans.”

“I think we have to fix that,” McCain said. “I think that there is a perception out there, because of the way that this whole contraception issue played out. We need to get off of that issue, in my view. I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives, and make that clear, and get back on to what the American people really care about: jobs and the economy.”

And there’s this assessment:

The comments reflect deep unease that has settled in the GOP over their push for the Blunt Amendment to roll back the Obama administration’s birth control rule, which McCain and all but one Senate Republican voted for. Democrats struck it down, and after subsequent events that cast the party in a harsh light on the issue of women’s health, Republican leaders in both chambers have since slow-walked the matter.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has expressed a similar lament about the damage the issue has done to the party, and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the sponsor of the controversial amendment, has all but conceded defeat in the upper chamber.

This is not a winning issue and they now know it. And as much as you might disagree with Senator Bomb Everything Everywhere Right Now, on Iran and Syria and earlier Georgia, the idea that it’s best to respect the right of all citizens to make their own choices in their lives, and live with the consequences, is more like the Republican Party of yesteryear, or last month. They’re the ones who want to get rid of most all regulations on business and commerce, and privatize almost everything, shrinking government to next to nothing. But as for women deciding, with their doctors, what is best for their health – and with pornography, which many choose to view and which hasn’t yet caused the end of civilization as we know it and probably never will – well, that’s a different story. There the government should intervene. Government knows best – or they do. McCain cannot live with the inherent contradictions here.

But one thinks of Aimee Semple McPherson too – of all her grand moral pronouncements of how people should live their lives, and what seems to be her faked kidnapping to cover up a month of the old hot-and-heavy with the engineer of her radio station. Maybe you shouldn’t lecture people about the absolute right and absolute wrong and how to live your life, as that’s always trouble:

Lemon Grove resident Michael John Kobulnicky, 50, a leader in the San Diego Tea Party and former regional director of the Southern California Conservative Party, is under arrest for allegedly kidnapping and raping a local woman on Fiesta Island.

“He dragged her out of the car and sexually assaulted her pretty brutally,” San Diego Police Lt. Andra Brown told East County Magazine news partner 10 News in late February, shortly after the February 25 assault occurred.

This is a nasty business, and the San Diego Tea Party and the Southern California Conservative Party are scrambling to say the fellow really wasn’t a big wig in either organization, in spite of the records available. They know that undercuts their claims of absolute righteousness about politics and life. But back in the twenties, before the availability of everything all the time, in real time, you could keep such things under wraps. You cannot do that now. It’s getting harder to be publically self-righteous as each day passes. And this guy should rot in jail. And the self-righteous should just shut up.

But of course this is politics, and with the economy slowly but undeniably improving, and the Republicans taking positions that show they do not want the black vote, or the Hispanic vote, or the urban vote, or most women’s vote, or the gay vote, or the vote of those snobs who went to college, or anyone earning less than a hundred grand a year, or the vote of the young, they do need some votes. And that may explain Rick Santorum, the current hero of the party’s base, going all Aimee Semple McPherson on us. In fact there are indications that the party is moving toward making the race a race against that man who hates Sweet Baby Jesus, Barack Obama. And in fact, that self-styled historian that Glenn Back was always recommending, David Barton, offers this long piece about Obama’s obvious sins against religion, with this key observation:

Perhaps the most accurate description of Obama’s antipathy toward Catholics, Protestants, religious Jews, and the Jewish nation would be to characterize him as anti-Biblical. And then when his hostility toward Biblical people of faith is contrasted with his preferential treatment of Muslims and Muslim nations, it further strengthens the accuracy of the anti-Biblical descriptor.

This is followed by a three or four thousand word laundry list of items that bugged Barton, and one of the many is this:

April 2010 – Christian leader Franklin Graham is disinvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer Event because of complaints from the Muslim community.

Franklin Graham had been saying Islam itself was absolute evil and needed to be defeated, and the request to disinvite him came for the Pentagon itself. They didn’t need that shit. The wars, which would be won by winning over the locals, were hard enough as is. But Barton has his lists. And in Religion Dispatches, Paul Harvey is appalled:

For the anti-Obama agonists, the president’s overtly Christian testifying, praying with Billy Graham, championing of C. S. Lewis, and quoting of the Old Testament in major public speeches simply shield the fact that the enemy always comes clothed in righteousness – and that the Great Deceiver is among us.

David Barton summarizes it most succinctly: “Many of these actions are literally unprecedented – this is the first time they have happened in four centuries of American history. The hostility of President Obama toward Biblical faith and values is without equal from any previous American president.”

Roll over, Thomas Jefferson.

As you may recall, Jefferson produced his own version of the Bible. He took out all the miracles. He said they were nonsense. And Obama is no Jefferson.

And in fact, to return to San Diego, but not the alleged Tea Party Rapist, out here we have a twenty-nine-foot-high cross that sits on a fourteen-foot pedestal – right here on public land. The property was owned by the city, but Congress bought the space and declared it a war memorial a number of years ago. But then the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the display violates the separation of church and state – it had to go. There was a lot of the expected local outrage, and many letters to the editor in the papers, and talk of the secular war on religion in America. And it made the national news, at least on Fox, as it fit in with the annual reporting on the massive and dastardly War on Christmas. Hannity and O’Reilly need something to get them all hot and bothered. And the cross sits there, waiting to be torn down.

But this week, Obama’s very own Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling:

The federal government is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case on the future of the Mount Soledad cross in La Jolla.

In a petition filed Monday with the high court, Justice Department lawyers said that a decision last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the landmark was unconstitutional because it signified government support of a religion on public land, has to be reviewed.

The government argued the appeals court decision improperly nullified an official act of Congress and conflicts with recent Supreme Court decisions on the display of religious symbols on public property.

The details:

The government argued the appeals court’s ruling nullified the intention of the 2006 congressional act that designated the site a war memorial. It also argued that requiring the cross to be removed shows a hostility to religious symbols, which the high court has said is wrong.

The argument is that this cross was “one element in a larger secular memorial to war dead” – and no big deal, even if the ACLU is upset. Chill out, people… But also consider the larger political context – the Obama administration is siding in support of religious stuff, at the same time that Republicans argue the Obama administration is waging a “war” on faith. In fact, Steve Chapman recently explained here that religious people “found Barack Obama and his Justice Department to be staunch allies.” And he too has a long list:

The president’s detractors may continue to portray him as a secular fanatic with, as Rick Santorum claims, an “overt hostility to faith in America.” Before they do, though, they might want to remember the Ten Commandments – especially the one about bearing false witness.

Just consider this:

His commitment is also on display in defending churches against municipal governments that would prefer to do without them. Under federal law, houses of worship are assured equitable treatment in land use decisions. But mayors and community groups often tell churches to go to the devil.

When that happens, they often find themselves at odds with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Last year, it forced the town of Schodack, N.Y., to retreat after it barred an evangelical church from renting space in a commercial area where nonreligious meetings were allowed.

It filed a brief in support of a Hasidic Jewish congregation’s lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, which had forbidden it to hold services in a private home. A federal court ordered the city to back off.

The administration has also intervened in cases where prisoners are denied religious literature. After a South Carolina sheriff prohibited inmates from getting devotional materials and other publications in the mail, the Justice Department sued. In the end, the county agreed to let inmates receive Bibles, Torahs, Korans and related fare.

And this does not seem to be pandering:

In doing all this, the administration isn’t simply doing the politically appealing thing. Anything but. Those who endorse letting faith-based groups have a free hand in hiring are mostly religious conservatives who wouldn’t vote for Obama if he resurrected the dead. The congregations victimized by zoning regulations are too small to matter. Prison inmates generally can’t vote. There is no detectable political gain in anything Obama is doing here.

So, why is Obama doing these things? Perhaps he isn’t hostile to religion at all. But don’t tell anyone. It would ruin the ongoing narrative.

And we do love a good narrative. Aimee Semple McPherson knew that. Rick Santorum knows that. But he should remember what happened to her. She turned into a curiosity. He may too.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Echoes of Echo Park

  1. Ha! I saw Aimee’s Temple yesterday for the first time as I trudged by with in the Marathon. It was a pretty good tour of LA.
    Keep writing!

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