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Kruse beginss: "In recent weeks Mitt Romney has become the poster child for unchecked capitalism, a role he seems to embrace with relish. Concerns about economic equality, he told Matt Lauer of NBC, were really about class warfare."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally, 01/18/12. (photo: Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally, 01/18/12. (photo: Getty Images)

For God So Loved the One Percent ...

By Kevin M. Kruse, The New York Times

18 January 12


n recent weeks Mitt Romney has become the poster child for unchecked capitalism, a role he seems to embrace with relish. Concerns about economic equality, he told Matt Lauer of NBC, were really about class warfare.

"When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent," he said, "you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God."

Mr. Romney was on to something, though perhaps not what he intended.

The concept of "one nation under God" has a noble lineage, originating in Abraham Lincoln’s hope at Gettysburg that "this nation, under God, shall not perish from the earth." After Lincoln, however, the phrase disappeared from political discourse for decades. But it re-emerged in the mid-20th century, under a much different guise: corporate leaders and conservative clergymen deployed it to discredit Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

During the Great Depression, the prestige of big business sank along with stock prices. Corporate leaders worked frantically to restore their public image and simultaneously roll back the "creeping socialism" of the welfare state. Notably, the American Liberty League, financed by corporations like DuPont and General Motors, made an aggressive case for capitalism. Most, however, dismissed its efforts as self-interested propaganda. (A Democratic Party official joked that the organization should have been called "the American Cellophane League" because "first, it’s a DuPont product and, second, you can see right through it.")

Realizing that they needed to rely on others, these businessmen took a new tack: using generous financing to enlist sympathetic clergymen as their champions. After all, according to one tycoon, polls showed that, "of all the groups in America, ministers had more to do with molding public opinion" than any other.

The Rev. James W. Fifield, pastor of the elite First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, led the way in championing a new union of faith and free enterprise. "The blessings of capitalism come from God," he wrote. "A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty."

Christianity, in Mr. Fifield’s interpretation, closely resembled capitalism, as both were systems in which individuals rose or fell on their own. The welfare state, meanwhile, violated most of the Ten Commandments. It made a "false idol" of the federal government, encouraged Americans to covet their neighbors’ possessions, stole from the wealthy and, ultimately, bore false witness by promising what it could never deliver.

Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, Mr. Fifield and his allies advanced a new blend of conservative religion, economics and politics that one observer aptly anointed "Christian libertarianism." Mr. Fifield distilled his ideology into a simple but powerful phrase - "freedom under God." With ample support from corporate patrons and business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce, his gospel of godly capitalism soon spread across the country through personal lectures, weekly radio broadcasts and a monthly magazine.

In 1951, the campaign culminated in a huge Fourth of July celebration of the theme. Former President Herbert C. Hoover and Gen. Douglas MacArthur headlined an organizing committee of conservative all-stars, including celebrities like Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, but largely comprising business titans like Conrad Hilton, J. C. Penney, Harvey Firestone Jr. and J. Howard Pew.

In an extensive public relations campaign, they encouraged communities to commemorate Independence Day with "freedom under God" ceremonies, using full-page newspaper ads trumpeting the connection between faith and free enterprise. They also held a nationwide sermon contest on the theme, with clergymen competing for cash. Countless local events were promoted by a national "Freedom Under God" radio program, produced with the help of the filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, hosted by Jimmy Stewart and broadcast on CBS.

Ultimately, these organizers believed that they had made a lasting impression. "The very words 'freedom under God’ have added to the vocabulary of freedom a new term," they boasted. Soon the entire nation would think of itself as "under God." Indeed, in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over the first presidential prayer breakfast on a "government under God" theme and worked to promote public religiosity in a variety of ways. In 1954, as this "under-God consciousness" swept the nation, Congress formally added the phrase to the Pledge of Allegiance.

In the end, Mr. Romney is correct to claim that complaints about economic inequality are inconsistent with the concept of "one nation under God." But that’s only because the "1 percent" of an earlier era intended it that way.

Kevin M. Kruse, an associate professor of history at Princeton, is the author of the forthcoming “One Nation Under God: Corporations, Christianity, and the Rise of the Religious Right.” your social media marketing partner


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+42 # Tippitc 2012-01-18 20:47
Anyone who hides behind religion and uses that as an excuse to ignore the poor and homeless in this country is a religion I want NO PART OF!! A nationwide 'sermon contest' with a cash prize - excuse me?! I am sure the winner immediately donated it to charity or at least put it in the collection plate. "One nation under god" - didn't they leave out the part about justice for all?!
+20 # samothrellim 2012-01-19 05:42
and thus, unchecked capitalism has become the opiate of the 1%!
+25 # humanmancalvin 2012-01-19 07:14
Choking in my morning coffee reading this excellent Far-Right history article. The whackos were just revving up the engine in those early days. They have polished their false rhetoric to an art form today, an art form that reeks of greed, hate, intolerance, racism; all in the name of God. Choke.
+12 # mwd870 2012-01-19 08:36
Mitt Romney is digging himself into a pretty big hole with his attitude of entitlement and off-the-cuff comments showing his inability to identify with the 99%.

Btw, they just announced Rick Perry is dropping out of the race. Not sure what this means for Willard Mitt's chances.
+11 # reiverpacific 2012-01-19 10:49
Hoover, Disney, Reagan and co.; there's a rogue's gallery of finks, warmongers and power-seeking-a nd-wielding exploiters of the gullible. Epcot Center was an experiment in a "New World Order" before the term was used popularly by the right and Reagan was a turncoat-fink for McCarthy's Hollywood witch-hunts, who's simplistic statements like "I was poor once so anybody can be rich!" was so appealing to the star-struck hordes who flock to Disney theme parks in hope of somehow filling a cultural vacuum more and more created by stripping the public education of everything fulfilling and enriching.
The stupidest thing of many choice statements Romney has made recently is not so much about his money games but the end-point of one of his streams of drivel "--and I'll build up our military to the point where no other country dare challenge us or attack us!" I mean, what the Hell does he think we have already??!!
His Mormon religion is based on some of the most ridiculous, idiotic historical fairy tales re. Joseph Smith which they send out missionaries to try and convince others of it's reality, unfortunately with some success, especially in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. This should be illegal and taken before an international body to be banned (spirituality should be confined to private lives and choice, not cults and meg-churches).
Shows how totally out of touch these God-botherers are; marketing their soul-less persona to mind-less drones.
+13 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-01-19 11:18
'Jesus looked at him & said: "how hard it is for hose who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"' (Like 18/24). Just another 99% subversive speaking here, I guess....
+5 # psadave 2012-01-19 13:38
One of the main problems progressives have is they are not practiced in the art of propaganda. This shows how it was started and Fox News highlights it with Frank Luntz and his wordsmithing. Newt was one of the first with his list of words to use to denigrate democrats in the 90's. The 99% and OWS have made better use than the democrats, so hopefully they can learn.
+2 # tomo 2012-01-19 20:56
As I try to warm up a new semester of college students to take religion seriously in a class titled World Religions, I continue to run into this God thing. My best students seem keenly aware that whenever a group of people are very confident they've got God on their, they're about to do something God-awful. So they wonder out loud whether God can serve any other purpose than to heat up the terrible tensions that already rack our fragile planet. I hope to teach them that whenever someone--Romney -like--uses the name of God in an effort to draw attention away from obscene and hidden acquisitions, that's just a case of "taking the name of God in vain."
0 # Obwon 2012-02-18 08:56
Unfortunately what you have to deal with is that sane religious talk is passive, while insane religious talk is active, since it's going to use religion to reinforce with religious fare, propaganda about their mission. The passives have no such powerfully emotionally moving agendas, because death and fear are top motivators, while love, peace and kindness are not quite equal to the task. Thus they make religion little more than a "useful trick", to be used and abused. Even while you spend years building up confidence, credibility and faith, they simply purloin your efforts and redirect them to their tasks.

You need to find a way to stop this theft of goodwill/works.

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