There’s been a storm recently over the rather bizarre choice of the Board of the Secular Coalition of America to appoint as their Executive Director one Edwina Rogers, whose experience consists mostly of being a lobbyist and Republican Party activist. The appointment was viewed with suspicion by, well, basically everyone in the atheist blogosphere; a history of twenty years of working with and for the modern Republican Party, with its anti-secular, anti-science, anti-minority and generally anti-reason policies didn’t sit well with the rank and file.
The three interviews she’s given since (one by Hemant Mehta, a harder hitting one by Greta Christina, and an Ask-Me-Anything on Reddit) haven’t helped at all; the general perception (which I share) is that she tried the exact kind of mendacious and logically fallacious spin-doctoring that atheists hate most. In fact, I’d say that the attempt to paper over the flaws is what has really doomed her chances. Matt Dillahunty expressed the general misgivings well, and Ashley Miller gave a great example of the kind of communications that might have mitigated the damage.
The following is just my own musing on the subject.
There is one way in which the Republican Party is like the atheist movement (i.e. the activist, outspoken, politically aware atheists who make up the core of the people the SCA and its member organizations represent); there is a small but important libertarian (lower case!) component to both groups, ornery independent types who mostly just want to be left alone, and a much larger component that has markedly different values and priorities.
The larger part of the Republican Party are the so-called social conservatives (though it would be more accurate to call them reactionary radicals) in thrall to the Religious Right, obsessed with “restoring” a largely mythical America of the past, utterly dominated by white Christian nuclear families with Dads at the head, women in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant, and children who are chaste, respectful, heterosexual and want nothing more than to follow in their parents’ footsteps. To this end they have demonstrated incredibly strong propensities for disingenuous deception (including quite astonishing levels of outright lying) and obstruction of the functions of government, with little or no regard for the actual human consequences of their actions.
The larger part of the atheist movement are far more activist, increasingly organized in groups like those represented under the SCA’s umbrella, and tend to be left-leaning (at least by American standards). In addition to being militant about their own rights as secular citizens, we also tend to be so about the rights of other minorities and disempowered populations – gays and transexuals, women, immigrants, racial minorities, people living in poverty. We tend to favor science and we like our government to pursue evidence-based policies across the board. The Democratic Party is, of the two available in practice, now the only one which makes any attempt to steer policy according to what actually works, as opposed to what ideology says should work. Sometimes, anyway.
The two minor sections, libertarian Republicans and individualist freethinkers, are not incompatible at all. The two major sections, the religious right and the liberal atheists, could not be much more incompatible.
Edwina Rogers may be able to make some inroads into that smaller part of the Republican Party, where some of those individualist atheists do hang their hats politically, but those atheist are not the ones deeply vested in the SCA, and those libertarian Republicans are not the people now in charge of the GOP.
For all the verbal love given to small government by the Tea Party crowd, they have not behaved that way in office. For a decade now, encompassing the entire time of the Tea Party movement, the GOP’s primary goals have been to been get rid of women’s reproductive rights in the form of access to abortion (and even contraception, FFS!), as well as women’s rights to legal redress for workplace pay and benefit discrimination and women’s rights in domestic violence cases, ensure gays don’t get any new legal protections and roll back the ones they have already managed to get, set up the most draconian possible anti-immigration policies including state laws that rival the repressive laws used in totalitarian dictatorships, roll back laws protecting racial minorities from workplace discrimination, and wholesale disenfranchisement through carefully crafted voter ID laws (justified as preventing voter fraud of ttypes which they can’t produce any examples of) of the poor and elderly and students.
So Ms. Rogers’ disingenuous appeals that not everyone in the GOP is anti-secular, anti-gay, anti-woman, yadda yadda yadda, are just that: disingenuous. Her long support of that party probably doesn’t matter much to the individualst, non-group-oriented secularists out there, but then those aren’t the ones she is to be representing as Executive Director of the SCA either, more or less by definition: the SCA is the group of atheist groups, non-grouping atheists don’t join it.
I’m already seeing the SCA itself lose support over this choice, though its member organizations seem to still be well regarded so far. The nebulous possibility of an upside through reaching out to Republicans seems very limited to me, for the reasons I’ve laid out above. I hope the SCA board reconsiders this choice, using her as a lobbyist perhaps but letting the face of the organization be that of someone a majority of the active members can relate to.