Republican Roots

As House Republicans discuss an upcoming vote on a proposal that would ease restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research, former Republican senator, Episcopal minister, and recently resigned U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John C. Danforth, weighs in on stem-cells, religious activism, and the Terri Schiavo topic-of-the-week. That is, of course, “Have the Republicans gone too far?” In a New York Times op-ed, Danforth says yes. But unlike many of the other conservative commentators and politicos starting a post-poll shuffle away from the issue, whose earnest self-assessments and bashful mea culpas are limited to the Schiavo case, Danforth’s taking on the whole Christian conservative beast. Or more of it, anyway, with a call for the Republican party to return to its non-crusading roots that’s prompting lots of giddy speculation on the new Republican moderatism. But while Danforth may not agree with all the extensions of “life” politics, his real beef isn’t with Christian activists, or their attempts to influence politics, but with the Republicans who’ve let them do so to such an extent that the party has been transformed into the movement’s political arm. “While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes,” he writes, “the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another.”