Liz Cheney threw her sister under the bus this week. Mary Cheney is gay, married with two children, and, up until Liz decided political office is infinitely more important to her than family, Mary and her wife had enjoyed the open support of the Cheney family. An ardent conservative, the former vice president surprised many people with his pro-marriage equality stance. In a reversal of sorts, Dick and Lynne have now rallied around Liz Cheney and her new-found opposition to gay marriage. The opportunism and cynicism underlying the betrayal of their daughter and sister are painful matters for the Cheneys to work out. But aside from the discomfort that comes from watching a family dissolve in the national spotlight, a family from the “family values” camp no less, we are left to ask why? She’s trailing badly in the polls. She hasn’t fooled many people into believing she’s from Wyoming instead of Virginia where she grew up and, for all intents and purposes, still lives(does anyone believe that she will stay in Wyoming if she loses the election?). She’s running against a very popular long-time Republican senator and is not making much headway against him. So, again, why? Liz, like so many before her, feels compelled to appeal to the conservative religious wing of the Republican Party.
Who are the religious conservatives? That they wield a lot of influence in politics today is an understatement. And we know what they’re against, who they’re against. But who are they? And how have they come to dominate our entire social, political, economic and cultural landscape, even as the number of Americans who describe themselves as unaffiliated with any religious group is growing? How have religious conservatives amassed so much power that the Cheneys, who have always struck a lot of us as people you shouldn’t mess with (Vice President Cheney shot his friend in the face and the guy who got shot apologized!), will grovel to receive the conservatives’ blessing, even if it means destroying their own family in the process? Perhaps you wonder why we should learn about these primarily fundamentalist groups. Because their influence is being felt in every area from the government shutdown, to the Sequester, to health care, to education, to energy, to the environment, and the list goes on. Everything we have, want, need or do might need to pass muster with ultra-conservative religious believers. We should know something about the people who can bring even a proud, powerful, and sometimes scary family to heel. We should know something about the people who have our entire country in their sights.