This Bloomberg News story is emblematic of our time, and what it says about the relationships among the GOP leadership, religious conservatives, gays and lesbians, and Wall Street. And it is critically important for conservative Christians to read it and understand what it means.
The story is about Rep. Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican who chairs a powerful House subcommittee. More:
Garrett’s committee is vital to Wall Street. “The rules of the road for handling money and anything with the SEC go through this committee,” says Marcus Stanley, policy director of the nonprofit Americans for Financial Reform. “There’s a ton of money at stake.” In Washington, the committee is known as the ATM, because banks and hedge funds shower the chairman with contributions. After the Dodd-Frank financial law forced hedge funds to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Garrett, already the recipient of more Wall Street money than almost any other member of the House, got millions more. The banks pay to have a voice, ensure they’re at the table when new rules are discussed, and insinuate themselves into the chairman’s good graces.
Though he’s from New Jersey, Garrett is a staunch religious conservative. And that got him into a behind-the-scenes fight with fellow Congressional Republicans last year:
At a private caucus meeting, he got into a heated dispute with his colleagues by declaring that he’d withhold hundreds of thousands of dollars in National Republican Congressional Committee dues to protest the party’s support for gay candidates. His outburst immediately caused a rift in the caucus. “I was shocked,” says Richard Tisei, a Massachusetts businessman who was one of the candidates Garrett objected to. “The first time I ran, I was nervous my sexuality would be a problem. But everyone was just great. John Boehner, Paul Ryan—they went out of their way to let me know it wasn’t. Eric Cantor pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, I’m the only Jew in the caucus, so I understand better than anyone how important it is to have you down here to broaden and diversify our ranks.’ ”
Garrett’s protests so angered Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee that he declined to invite Garrrett on a Congressional junket to Switzerland — even though he invited top Democrats on the committee. So Garrett is persona non grata to the House GOP leadership — but as Bloomberg reports, Speaker Paul Ryan doesn’t dare remove him, because that kind of thing is what led to John Boehner’s ousting.
Here’s where it gets real interesting:
The political fallout from Garrett’s remarks pales compared with the anguish it’s created in some corners of Wall Street. The financial industry ranks among the biggest donors to the Republican Party. But it has also been a pioneer in advancing gay rights. Garrett’s reelection race presents banks and investors with a fascinating—and excruciating—moral dilemma: Do they follow their financial interests and continue supporting a chairman whose antiregulatory views largely jibe with their own? Or do they honor their professed commitment to LGBT equality by cutting off that support and potentially angering a powerful industry overseer?
The article goes on to explain how Garrett is deeply in Wall Street’s back pocket. On regulatory issues, he gives Wall Street everything it asks for. They could hardly ask for a more compliant member of Congress in that position, sounds like. He gave them everything they asked for, that loyal servant of Mammon. Yet some big finance-industry donors have already said that they’re not going to give money to him anymore, because he has outed himself as someone who opposes LGBTs. More:
If Garrett is subjected to more scrutiny in the upcoming campaign, this issue could pose a serious liability because his objection to gay people isn’t limited to political candidates. Examining his public-disclosure filings, I noticed that he’s a co-founder and former trustee of a private high school, Veritas Christian Academy, in Sussex County, which explicitly forbids “homosexual activity.” The “Code of Conduct” on the Veritas website warns students that any violation will draw an automatic suspension and possible expulsion.
So his affiliation with a private Christian school that adheres to traditional Christian moral teaching about homosexuality is anticipated to be a political liability for Garrett. Note that well.
It is fascinating to observe how the LGBT issue has become such a passion for corporate America, including Wall Street, that finance industry titans are willing to lose one of their best friends in Congress over it — not because Garrett is in a position to harm LGBT interests (it’s clear that the House Republican leadership is far more big-tent on gays than Garrett is), but simply because he is now publicly known as someone who objects to homosexuality. One more quote from the story, a quote from an interview with Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat who is running against Garrett this fall:
“My takeaway from talking to people in the financial community,” Gottheimer says, “is that they don’t think that someone who’s a social extremist can also be a problem solver who can sit at a table and do business with them.” [Emphasis mine — RD] That concern extends beyond Garrett’s district. Last cycle, the Chamber of Commerce, fed up with Tea Party-driven shutdowns and default scares, took the unorthodox step of endorsing six Democrats; five of them won. Gottheimer could be next. “We’re looking for good, probusiness candidates who can win in the fall and focus on governing,” says Scott Reed, the Chamber’s senior political strategist.
A “social extremist.” That’s what they call orthodox Christians in politics now. Mind you, I think it’s quite possible that Garrett’s views on recruiting gay Republicans to run for office are wrong. But that’s not why Wall Street donors are turning on him. They’re turning on him because of the opinions he holds.
There are two ways to look at this, both of which recognize that what Wall Street is doing here makes a powerful statement. One is that business and financial leaders are so principled that they would risk their own financial interests to stand up for a cause they believe in. But the other way to look at it is that Wall Street and big business are so given over to the cause that they will stop at nothing to marginalize and eliminate from public life anyone who objects to it.
Christians had better read the handwriting on the wall here. Remember my telling you that I learned on my trip to Capitol Hill last fall that House and Senate Republicans have no intention of taking up legislation to defend religious liberty? Now you know why. It’s too risky to their campaign donations to be seen by Wall Street and Big Business as the party of “social extremists.” If you think the Republican Party is going to protect our right to be wrong on this issue, you are lying to yourself. And if you believe any of these Republican presidential candidates can be relied on, I think you are going to be sorely disappointed. Even if they wanted to get religious liberty legislation passed, they don’t have the Congressional Republicans on board with them. Bottom line: if you think voting Republican is going to protect us, you’re living in a dream world.
What’s more, Christians desperately need to understand the deeper dynamics at work in the culture. We are headed very quickly toward a culture in which affirming publicly traditional Christian beliefs about homosexuality is a disqualifying bar for holding national office. The Garrett race this fall will be an important one to watch, to see the extent to which his relationship with the private Christian school will become a political liability. If you cannot see the day coming, and coming soon, when candidates’ membership in particular churches will be held against them, unless they distance themselves from the church’s “extremist” teaching, you are blind.
And if you think that it will be possible in the future to work in the financial industry (and others) and be anything but deeply closeted as an orthodox Christian, you are fooling yourself. Entire fields are going to be effectively closed to people who will not publicly affirm the new orthodoxy. People in those fields won’t think they can do business with “social extremists.” We — and certainly our children — are, in many cases, going to have to decide between apostasy or our livelihoods. We had better get ready for that.
I’ve been saying this for a while now, and lots of people have been chiding me for being too apocalyptic. For those with eyes to see, the Law of Merited Impossibility (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”) is vindicated more and more with each passing day.
And by the way, though Marco Rubio says the right things about same-sex marriage and religious liberty — he did so again in the New Hampshire debate over the weekend — note well that Paul Singer, a hedge-fund billionaire and GOP mega-donor who also generously supports gay rights causes (Singer’s son is gay), has become a key figure in raising money for Marco. Who is Paul Singer? The WaPo profiled him in 2013:
A battle within the Republican Party over same-sex marriage is unfolding on two fronts, in public, and behind the scenes. In the latter case, one of the most influential players is a billionaire hedge fund manager largely unknown to those who don’t work in finance or mix with political mega-donors.
That man is Paul E. Singer, who over the years has used his wealth to spur Republicans to support gay marriage laws. Now, Singer is expanding his reach with the creation of an advocacy group which aims to spend millions influencing the legislative debate over same-sex marriage across the country.
You think if it comes down to it, President Rubio is going to cross this guy for the sake of the liberties of church people? You think any Republican would? Or Democrat?
This is the world we live in now.
UPDATE: Carlo writes:
The weakness of Garrett’s position (which is found among many other people) is that (in everything except sexuality) it seems like that he agrees with the moral premises of the financial industry: complete individualism, the cult of money and success, the embrace of a bourgeois idea of happiness etc. So, while I fully agree with you about the totalitarian implications of the current “liberal” world view, I have to say that from a political perspective people like Garrett are functional accomplices of this new totalitarian culture, inasmuch as they basically embrace its premises and just try to add “religion” to it.
Exactly right. Quite a few American Christians are going to have rude wake-up calls over what their walling-off of Christian morality from the market means. This didn’t just happen yesterday.
UPDATE.2: Many of you commenters seem determined to miss the point. Scott Garrett is a Christian social conservative, but also one of Wall Street’s best friends. Even though they could not hope for a more compliant chairman on a key subcommittee overseeing their financial interests, they are turning against him because of his failed attempt to prevent the GOP from recruiting gay candidates. Garrett made himself a pariah among his own party leadership for his stance; there is zero chance that he will have any effect on Republican policy. Yet he outed himself as opposed to the LGBT agenda — and that is enough for Wall Street to turn against him. I don’t feel sorry for Scott Garrett, but I do see this as a sign that Big Business and GOP megadonors will make it impossible for orthodox Christians to run for office. Note the Bloomberg story is saying that Garrett’s affiliation with a Christian private school that holds to Christian orthodoxy on homosexuality is likely to be a vulnerability in this fall’s election. If you cannot see where this is going, you’re dreaming. It’s going to mean the exile of orthodox Christians from the public square.
The Indiana RFRA showdown was the first time Big Business weighed in on a culture war issue; previously, business stayed away from them, thinking getting involved in the culture war was bad for business. Those days are over, on LGBT issues. This means the crack-up of the conservative coalition — the one in which social and religious conservatives were allied to free marketers and libertarians. As long as Big Business stayed out of culture-war issues, the coalition could hold. That’s over with. It’s going to take a while for this to sink in, in part because religious conservatives are so accustomed to thinking the GOP has their (our) backs that we can’t imagine anything different; and in part because Republican politicians still talk the social conservative talk to particular audiences.
But it’s not true. You can face that fact now, Christian, or you can face it later. But you’re going to have to face it. All the Beltway blatherskite of Christianity, Inc., about its supposed influence on the GOP is nonsense designed to separate the fools in flyover country from their money.
Scott Garrett is not a sympathetic figure, true, but that fact should not blind you to what his travails symbolize.