By Adele M. Stan
The Media Consortium
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At the annual Washington gathering of the Christian right sponsored by the political arm of the Family Research Council, the Republican Party's top emissaries have come in past years to bow before some 2000 right-wing foot-soldiers and the leaders who command them. However, this year's Value Voter Summit, a bit light on GOP dignitaries, made less news in its speaker line-up than it did for the sale of a particular brand of breakfast food: Obama Waffles.
In the far corner of the exhibit hall at the Values Voter Summit two gonzo entrepreneurs hawked a product they described as "political satire": a box of waffle mix emblazoned with a cartoon image of a bug-eyed, toothy, dark-lipped Barack Obama eyeing a plate of waffles.
A pat of butter on the waffles is stamped "2008". On the top flap, the Obama carton appears in a turban, next to an arrow printed with the text: "Point box toward Mecca for tastier waffles." The box of mix is a crude send-up of Aunt Jemima's Pancake Mix, which once featured stereotyped image of a round-faced, turbaned black woman as its trademark.
Although FRC Action claimed in a statement to have demanded that the exhibitors dismantle their display "when the content of the materials was brought to the attention of FRC Action senior officials" on Saturday, the truth is that by the time Obama Waffles creators W. Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss began breaking down their display, the conference was winding down and most exhibitors in the hall had already pulled out of Dodge.
I made my way through a row of unstaffed and abandoned booths on Saturday afternoon, arriving just as Whitlock was packing up unsold product. Although, according to the FRC Action statement, Whitlock and DeMoss had already received the equivalent of cease-and-desist orders from conference organizers, Whitlock, dressed in a cook's apron and hat, was happy to take my $10 and fork over a box.
Taking FRC Action at the word of its executive director, David Nammo, a trusting reader may accept that the organization's leaders were unaware of what Whitlock and DeMoss were hawking for two and a half days before the exhibit was shut down. But Whitlock and DeMoss are hardly strangers to leaders of the religious right, and links to racists (and, indeed, the use of dog-whistle references for racists) are hardly new for Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a spin-off of James Dobson's Focus on the Family empire.
According to a general letter of reference written by DeMoss on behalf of Whitlock posted by nisperos, a savvy reader at the Denver Post's Web site), the two men met when both met while working at Focus on the Family, which Whitlock's resume dates at "1991 - 1992", when he served as a producer on Dobson's "Focus on the Family" daily radio program.
The two worked together again, some years later, at FamilyLife Publishers, an endeavor of the Campus Crusade for Christ -- one of the very first religious-right organizations. Whitlock's résumé shows him having worked for FamilyLIfe from 1992 - 2004. During that time he served one year on the event team putting together the religious right's Congress on the Urban Family, which perhaps explains where the author developed an apparent affection for hip-hop music, as evidenced by the bonus "recipe rap" that appears on the side of the Obama's Waffles box:
Barry's Bling Bling Waffle Ring
Yo, B-rock here droppin' waffle knowledge
Spellin' it out, 'cause a graduated college
Some say I waffle so fast, Barry's causin' whiplash
Just doin' my part, made wafflin' a fine art
For a waffle wit style, like Chicago's Magnificent Mile
Spray whipped crem around the edge
Shake it first like Sister Sledge
The say wit me, I can be as waffly as I wanna be!
(That goes out to my Ludacris posse)
DeMoss, Whitlock's partner in the OW venture, also has some friends in high places, having served as the co-author of four books with Tim LaHaye, best known at the multi-million-selling author of the Left Behind series of novels. With LaHaye, DeMoss penned four novels targeted at young adults that include a cautionary tale about an evil abortion doctor that centers on a teen gone missing, his absence noticed only after days after he has vanished because his household is headed by a single mom who spends long hours at work.
LaHaye, DeMoss' co-author, is one of the top leaders of the religious right, having co-founded the Council for National Policy, the super-secret umbrella groups that reportedly vetted GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on the eve of the Republican National Convention. LaHaye's wife, Beverly, is the founder of the influential Concerned Women for America, which was an early proponent of "gay recovery" therapy designed to make heterosexuals out of LGBT people.
It is perhaps not surprising that material as racist as that peddled by Whitlock and DeMoss at the Values Voter Summit failed to set off alarm bells among Family Research Council and FRC Action leaders until reporters began inquiring about the Obama Waffles stand. FRC President Tony Perkins spoke as recently as 2001 before the Council of Conservative Citizens, a well-documented white supremacist group, and directed the 1996 Louisiana congressional campaign of former Congressman Woody Jenkins from the campaign lists of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Perkins paid Duke $82,000 for the lists. Jenkins served as the first executive director of the Council for National Policy, 1982-1985, and again in 1987.
More recently, while reporting for Church & State magazine, I saw Perkins address a crowd of hard-core Christian right believers in 2007 at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church of the late Rev. D. James Kennedy. In his speech before those assembled in the church sanctuary at the "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference, Perkins blew the white supremacist dog whistle known as the biblical story of Phineas. (In this instance, Perkins used the Phineas story to make the case against Muslims, urging the assembled Christians to "take action" in the way of Phineas.) "I am here advocating for Christian citizenship," Perkins said.
Lest any of the assembled miss the point, Perkins offered up the story of Phineas, grandson of Moses' brother Aaron, from Numbers 25. Phineas was rewarded by God with an "everlasting priesthood" for killing an Israelite and his Midian lover because God had forbidden the mixing of the men of Israel with the women of that tribe.
"We read that Phineas arose and he took action?," Perkins said.
"Not only is prayer required?," Perkins continued. "I warn you that if you begin to pray for our nation that, at some point in time, you're gonna be prayin? and you?re gonna feel a tap on your shoulder and hear, 'Son, daughter, I?ve heard your prayer; now I want you to do something about it.'"
Just in case his message should be misconstrued, however, Perkins offered this caveat: "Now, let me be clear, in case the media's here," he said, "I'm not advocating you go home and get a pitchfork out of your storage shed and run into your neighbor?s house." Phineas, the Bible tells us, used a javelin."
So maybe the FRC people, as their statement suggests, did simply get sloppy and miss the fact that a product to which they say they object for its "coarseness and bias" sat, essentially, on the shelves of the conference store, for a couple of days. Maybe the co-author of one of the religious right's top honchos went unnoticed by FRC folks, mistaken for just another yahoo hawking an amateur attempt at humor. Maybe the leaders of the Values Voter Summit have a race problem anyway.