Fox, you simply could not be more predictable! »« AMA with Edwina Rogers

Thoughts on the SCA’s new Executive Director

For those who aren’t aware, the Secular Coalition for America represents 11 member groups and it serves as the lobbyists for the secular community. I’ve been a vocal supporter of the SCA (and many of their member organizations) for years.SCA logo

A few days ago, they announced their new Executive Director and the secular community got very excited. Unfortunately, most of this excitement was rather negative. You see, the new Executive Director is Edwina Rogers, a republican lobbyist with a history that reads more like someone we’d be working against, than with.

I wanted to wait a few days before commenting on this announcement, in order to do some research, wait for more information and really think things through. In the past few days I’ve seen both unfair, reactionary criticism as well as many valid concerns and, after listening to Greta Christina’s interviews with Edwina and Roy Speckhardt (he was on the SCA board that hired her), I can stay silent no more.

Let me start by pointing out that I’m still supporting the SCA’s goals and I’ll continue to support the member organizations. I’m strongly opposed to those who have called for people to stop supporting the member organizations. Please don’t do that.

I can’t stress this enough. Even if your objections to this appointment are strong and sound, it’s not the fault of the member organizations and we need people to work together toward solutions. The students who benefit from the SSA, had no part in this and the same is true for people who benefit from all of the other member organizations – withdrawing support is the wrong way to react to this situation.

I want the secular community, as a whole, to succeed. I love that we have a lobbyist and I’m not so partisan that I’m opposed to having a republican lobbyist. In fact, I think there’s a strong case to be made that a republican lobbyist might be exactly what we need. I’m not even opposed to having a “hired-gun” lobbyist whose personal views aren’t known. I think that many in the secular community would agree, as long as we have good reason to be confident in the choice.

That said; I’m going to be an honest friend to the SCA and give them my frank opinion:

The SCA screwed this up, in a major way.

I don’t mean that they necessarily screwed up by hiring Edwina Rogers, though I do think that may be the case, I mean that they screwed up the introduction of their new director to the community.

What the community needs is someone we can rally behind, someone who inspires people to participate in the process, someone who we have confidence in, and someone who is a passionate representative of the issues we value. It’s possible that Edwina could have been that person, with the right introduction, but it’s going to be virtually impossible for her to achieve that, after having been unceremoniously dumped in the laps of people who don’t know her and don’t trust her. Quite frankly, what I’ve seen and heard from her doesn’t fill me with confidence in either Edwina or the SCA.

The announcement of a new SCA Executive Director should have been met with enthusiasm, instead it was met with suspicion, discomfort, and a string of both fair and unfair attacks that have left much of the secular community divided and bewildered. (Crommunist posted his thoughts with links to the thoughts of others at FTB, including PZ, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, Jen McCreight and more… )

Edwina is a non-theist who is pro-choice, favors marriage equality, supports church-state separation and when asked why she’s been working for and donating money to republicans who stand in opposition to these values, her answer is, well…a little hard to pin down, and harder to believe once you know what it is. She was extremely evasive during the interview with Greta (though Roy doesn’t seem to think so…which I consider to be symptomatic of the bigger problem).

Every time Greta tried to address a conflict between the values that Edwina shares with us and the position that republicans take, Edwina simply pointed out that this conflict isn’t from every single republican, and may not represent a majority.

That’s political bullshit. No one is saying that all Republicans are the same, that all Democrats are the same or that all atheists or secularists are the same. We’re all aware that there are atheist republicans. The point was that the Republican Party – as a party – stands in opposition to values that are important to much of the secular community. It’s right there in their platform, repeatedly.

(From the 2008 Republican Party Platform: “At its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life. Women deserve better than abortion.” –  “Because our children’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman.” – “…and ever grateful to Almighty God…“)

I find it absolutely unbelievable that a lobbyist with 20 years of experience could be oblivious to this, and that means that her tap-dancing responses were intentionally deceptive.

This evasiveness makes it appear that Edwina is a hired-gun lobbyist who is willing to set aside her personal views and lobby in support of people who directly oppose them – so was she doing that when lobbying for republicans or is she doing it now? Either way, there’s a credibility issue and considering that attempts to get her to answer questions on this subject have been met with tap-dancing, sophistry and claims that strain credulity, I’m unable to fully trust her.

My problem with Edwina isn’t that she is a Republican or even that she donated to Rick Perry (though this does speak to her character, as does her dismissing this issue by noting that Perry used to be a democrat) – my problem with her is that she doesn’t seem to see why those facts cause people in the secular community to be suspicious. She doesn’t seem to have the first inkling that professing secular values while donating to one of the most bat-shit crazy, anti-secularism governors on the planet might give people pause.

She’s going to be lobbying on behalf of church-state separation issues and apparently doesn’t know how to spot them, or never previously cared about them.

The SCA knew about her past and knew that hiring her was going to be controversial. So what did they do? They gave the secular community a new lobbyist who has never been active in the secular community, doesn’t seem to know much about us, doesn’t know how to talk to us and doesn’t seem to have a very realistic view of the Republican Party – or at least doesn’t want to honestly address that subject –  and they didn’t do much of anything to make this situation work out in a positive way. They pretty much crossed their fingers and hoped that everyone would just sing ‘Kumbaya’ in support. Even in yesterday’s interview with Roy Speckhardt, he pretty much said that he hopes everyone just falls in line and that he doesn’t have to deal with a situation where people don’t accept her.

I would have thought that someone would have taken a moment to consider how this announcement might be received and then tried to figure out what they could do to make it as successful as possible. I would have thought that they would have taken some steps to help make it easier for people to be enthusiastic about the new Executive Director of the umbrella organization that represents us all.

It would have been smart to have her say something like “For years, I worked for people who directly opposed many of the things that I value most. My priorities have changed and I can’t continue to do that – I want to spend my time working to promote the secular values that I hold dear.” So, did this not happen because no one thought of it, or because it’s not true?

I think the answer is clear: it’s not true. She’s had no change of heart; she’s had a change of employment. She doesn’t see any significant problem with the Republican Party, just little problems that provide opportunities to educate.

It would have been smart to come out of the gate with some new policy initiative for people to get excited about, something that would help ease some of the concerns that people have. So, did no one think of this, or is there just no plan?

Having coalitions up and running in all 50 states by the end of the year is an ambitious goal, but it’s not new and I’m doubtful about how they plan to achieve this when the hiring of the very person who should be inspiring the formation of these groups has been, well, uninspiring.

It would have been smart to get feedback from some of the community leaders before hiring her, but it definitely would have been smart to get feedback from the community leaders about how best to introduce her to the community.

Yes, there was a conference call (which I was unable to attend) but that was too little and too late.

There are a lot of other smart things that could have happened – and it’s curious that none of them did. The SCA board has a lot of smart people on it, so why was this situation handled in a way that borders on gross incompetence? Why does this entire situation feel so, icky? Why does it feel like she was set up to fail?

It’s entirely possible that the SCA has done a brilliant job of selecting our new lobbyist – but they’ve done a horrible job of convincing anyone of this. If the decision-making process to hire her was anything like the decision-making process surrounding her debut, that’s a problem. The most enthusiastic response I’ve seen is, ‘give her time’. I agree that we should give her time (I’m not sure that we have a choice). Let’s see what she can do for us. I hope it’s not too late. I hope that we ultimately find out that she’s great…but I’m not holding my breath.

I tried to be very positive and supportive about this decision, but I simply cannot. I’ve heard her speak and listened to her think on her feet when faced with mildly troubling questions – she does not do well. She definitely knows how to give political, seemingly diplomatic answers, but she doesn’t say much of value. She doesn’t say things that resonate or inspire and she doesn’t come off as honest, passionate or knowledgeable.

It’s been suggested that she must give answers like this, in order to be effective. It’s been suggested that she can’t come out of the gate pissing off the very connections that she was hired to make use of. That may be a valid argument, but it doesn’t do a thing to energize the community.

I won’t pretend to know much about lobbying, and I especially don’t know much about lobbying republicans, so it’s possible that she may be my best representative…but after hearing her speak, I really find myself wishing that she wasn’t speaking on my behalf. She doesn’t know us, because she hasn’t been a part of us. She doesn’t seem to understand us and she doesn’t know how to talk to the secular community – which makes me doubt her ability to speak on behalf of that community.

That’s something she may learn, with time, but surely something could have been done to make this process easier.

The bottom line:

I want to wave the flag for every secular group and cheer on the leaders and representatives of every secular group. I understand that it’s unlikely that I’ll always be able to do that – but I should always be able to do that for the umbrella organization that represents all of us. I should always be able to point to the SCA and especially the Executive Director of the SCA as some of the best representatives of the secular community.

Right now, I can’t do that. I still support the mission of the SCA. I’ll still work toward that mission. I’ll still work alongside the SCA. I’ll even work alongside Edwina, if the opportunity presents itself…but this situation has been botched. I don’t know what needs to be done to repair the damage, but I hope that we can – and soon.

Comments

  1. Greg says

    I find myself agreeing with you 100%. Thanks for expressing exactly what I am thinking and feeling.

  2. karmakin says

    I have a bit of a different concern, although I share most of the same ones as everybody else, but it goes back to my days perusing through DailyKos (which always had a lot of focus on organization). The SCA, like most/all other non-belief based groups, I would fairly describe as progressive in most ways. They…we’re, part of the progressive movement, generally speaking. This isn’t always the case, but it’s often enough the case, especially on social issues, that there’s a strong enough connection.

    (Please note, that I actually think that we’re overwhelmingly progressive economically as well. That there are rationally better answers than others and as such we tend to adopt them)

    But Rogers own views isn’t the problem. Not really. At least not in the context of the job itself. The problem is the JOB. In short, in the progressive movement there are relatively few spots for people to make a living as well as advancing their skills in terms of this sort of leadership, at least as compared to the conservative movement, which has significantly more structures for this sort of thing.

    As such, I disagree with it, because it’s a wasted opportunity to promote from within, to allow someone who might not have had the chance to focus exclusively on secular issues, as well as giving them the skill sand experience to be more effective as a secular/progressive leader in the future.

  3. says

    Matt, very well said. You captured my own sentiments, though I am much less hopeful that this can be rescued. This is a very critical time in the movement, on the heals of an election that could put even more theocrats in office. This is not the time to be having serious internal doubts about our leadership’s competency and commitment to secular values.

  4. jamessweet says

    I frankly think the door has closed with the Greta Christina interview. It was a disaster… Before that, the majority of voices seemed to be saying, “I dunno about this, but let’s give her a chance.” Now, the majority seems to have turned decidedly against.

    And no surprise: As you say, she doesn’t seem to know how to talk to the secular community. When addressing a Fox News audience, maybe the “right” thing to do is to issue denial after denial, to never give an inch. But when addressing this community, you simply cannot tell a lie that is debunked by five minutes of Googling. You just can’t do that.

  5. says

    As Washington noted: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force.” As such, politics isn’t about a commitment to principles, values, or reason. It’s about scrambling for access to a giant gun that you can point at people you don’t like. A gun that’s already in the hands of others who don’t like you. There is nothing good to be gained from begging people who worship the use of force to be “reasonable” with those who don’t.

    Therefore, as someone who accepts the reasonable conclusion of atheism, I wish the “atheist community” would repudiate its commitment to the use of force.

    Funny game. The only way to win, is not to play.

  6. Vall says

    I think many atheists have pretty good bullshit detectors, and mine has been pegged at max since reading these posts and comments.

    I feel bad for the 11 member groups, but screw the SCA. Spin and dishonesty should not be core values, this isn’t the Republican party. If Roy Speckhardt thought ER wasn’t evasive in the interview with Greta, I’m not sure I trust his judgement.

    And Matt, aren’t you always stressing the importance of truth? Beliefs inform your actions, and apparently this new hire over at the SCA believes the GOP isn’t anti-everything but old, rich, white guys.

    My own suggestion is the 11 groups find a new umbrella. Donate directly to the member groups.

  7. Michaelyn says

    Thank you for such a fair, thought out criticism of this situation. I fully agree. I love the SCA; I do not love this choice or how it has been handled.

  8. OirishM says

    Hm, well this is the first I’ve heard of this and sorry to wade in…

    But something that often bothers me about the modern secularist/atheist movement is that it seems to be broadly left-wing more than right-wing. Is it even possible for there to be such a thing as an outspokenly Republican secularist given their expression of certain sentiments through core statements like the Party Platform?

    If atheism simply does tend to support the left then so be it, I guess. I feel though that the main issue here is not necessarily Rogers’ allegiance but whether or not she is correct about these anti-secularist stances not being wholly representative of the Republican party. Is one Party Platform statement enough to show that?

    (Although I would argue with the recent spate of incredibly daft bills about “personhood” and gay marriage that the Republican party has indeed taken a turn for the worse. Maybe if Rogers came along a few years ago I’d be less skeptical, but appointing her now is really awful timing).

  9. Ishmael says

    Sorry — Kinda like AARP supporting Bushie pharma policies or the ACLU supporting Citizens United. My money and support can go elsewhere for a long time . . .

  10. Ed L says

    Nobody expects The Atheist Republican Lobbyist! Her chief weapon is bullshit, and self deception. Her two chief weapons are bullshit, self deception, and an almost fanatical loyalty to the Republican Party. Her three, yes three, weapons are bullshit, self deception, an almost fanatical loyalty to the Republican Party, and complete ignorance of the meaning of secularism. No, four, four weapons; her four weapons are…

  11. The Secular One says

    Matt, are you confusing the SCA (the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group), a group that hired a Republican of dubious values, with the SSA (the Secular Student Alliance, an organization of student groups on college and high school campuses across the nation)? You can not support the SCA and still easily support the SSA.

    Just give your money to the SSA instead of the SCA. Done and done. They are different groups. If the SCA ceased to exist, the SSA would be just fine.

    That being said, I think you are wrong in telling people to not withdraw support from the SCA. We all have limited funds. Right now, with the SCA’s decision-making skills in obvious disrepair, our money is better spent elsewhere. If you feel that way, donate to the Secular Student Alliance. Or the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Or American Atheists. They can all use some cash, I bet.

    If the SCA wants to represent us, they need to actually represent us, not just expect our money while they do things we, as a community, think are really bad ideas.

    The interviews and Q&A sessions with Edwina Rogers show that she is simply not appropriate for the position. If she were an honest conservative/Republican, that would be fine. But if she can not honestly address the nature of her own party, how can she build bridges with them? If she says they are not pro-life, how will they respect her? Sounds more like she’d just burn bridges with them with what she’s already said.

  12. The Secular One says

    Addendum:

    Yes, the SSA is one of the many groups that are part of the SCA, but as I said, you can just support the SSA directly instead.

  13. sqlrob says

    Let me start by pointing out that I’m still supporting the SCA’s goals and I’ll continue to support the member organizations. I’m strongly opposed to those who have called for people to stop supporting the member organizations. Please don’t do that.

    There’s a problem with this, namely one of transparency. How much control does SCA have over the member organizations, and how much goes back to SCA from the member organizations?

  14. says

    Aren’t new group leaders usually announced fairly openly and broadly, with the intention of gaining them quick acceptance?

    Especially with someone who a) isn’t known in the movement, and b) was likely to be a controversial choice, you’d expect the SCA to frame her hiring rather than just tossing out the news and expecting everyone to be pleased about it.

    In GC’s interview with Speckhardt, he doesn’t even seem to have thought about the fact that people might be wary about a Republican, and he seems to think that they could hire her and then she could spend a couple weeks / months getting to know the community, major figures, building acceptance, etc.

    Honestly, if she was the person they needed, SHE should have been able to tell them how badly that would go. They needed to control the message from the get-go, and they dropped the ball so thoroughly that it’s causing people to question not only Rogers, but the entire SCA board as well.

  15. says

    What are you talking about?

    “Matt, are you confusing the SCA (the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group), a group that hired a Republican of dubious values, with the SSA (the Secular Student Alliance, an organization of student groups on college and high school campuses across the nation)?”

    No. I’m aware that they’re different groups, I work with both and I linked to both groups in this very article.

    Are YOU aware that the SSA is one of the member organizations that the SCA represents?

    “I think you are wrong in telling people to not withdraw support from the SCA.”

    That’s not what I wrote. Feel free to stop supporting the SCA if you think this mistake warrants it. I completely understand.

    Here’s what I wrote: “I’m strongly opposed to those who have called for people to stop supporting the member organizations. ”

    I’m not telling people to continue supporting the SCA, I’m asking them not to STOP supporting the member organizations that the SCA reprents: organizations like the SSA, American Atheist….

    Either I wrote this very badly, or you read it very badly.

  16. says

    “Honestly, if she was the person they needed, SHE should have been able to tell them how badly that would go.”

    Great point. The person who is right for this job would have been adept at not only making their own introductions but guiding the organization on the best way to do it.

  17. says

    Well, I think the simple reason you’re seeing the vast majority of the godless/secular community leaning left is that secularists tend to support such notions as equality, nondiscrimination, church/state separation, education, science, helping the less fortunate, free speech, sexual autonomy for women, and peace, and these simply are values that the right is not behind in the 21st century. As a left-leaner myself, I’m perfectly down with many of the core values of Eisenhower conservatism. But moderates simply are not allowed in the Republican party these days. Even Lincoln would be shown the door. They’ve really gone ass-over-teakettle toward the wildest extremes of proto-fascism.

  18. The Secular One says

    I probably read it badly. I am home ill today, after all. I didn’t notice the “pull support of the MEMBER organizations” part. I thought it was just pulling support of SCA people were talking about.

    Yeah, pulling support of groups that had nothing to do with it is a pretty bad idea.

    As I said in my addendum, I am aware that the SSA is part of the SCA. I’m a member of both actually.

    So, yeah, I misread it. My bad. Carry on.

  19. Robert B. says

    But when addressing this community, you simply cannot tell a lie that is debunked by five minutes of Googling. You just can’t do that.

    This. Epic this.

  20. Kazim says

    Forget Lincoln, I think it’s quite likely that Nixon would be called a socialist, and possibly even Ronald Reagan. (The real Reagan, I mean, not the ghost of Saint Ronnie in Fantasyland.)

  21. Jen Peeples says

    As Washington noted: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force.”

    Washington didn’t say that. The quote’s as bogus as the idea that government is “force.”

  22. says

    A lobbyist’s role is to twist arms, make deals, arrange backroom legislative compromises, deliver voters, and outright bribe politicians with campaign pledges.

    Integrity and ideology are not an issue. It could be that Ms Rogers could sway a substantial bloc within the Republican Party that are sick and tired of being pushed around by the Moral Majority crowd that infested the GOP and became the swing vote in the 90′s. They have wrought the comical Bachmann and Santorum cartoons, and certainly tanked their presidential aspirations.

    However, I’m unconvinced she has the chops after listening to the Greta interview. And I’m doubtful there is enough room to maneuver in the current GOP zombieland. It’s doubtful that Rogers, or anyone can deliver enough secular votes to Republican politicians because they’re generally viewed as mideval bat-shit crazy to most secular humanists.

    If the Republicans get trounced in the congress this election, this could change things and Rogers might be able to drive a secular wedge into the wreckage, which would be awesome. I’d love to see the GOP return to respectability and actual conservatism.

    However, I wouldn’t bet on a sweeping Democratic Party victory.

    I think the selection of Ms Rogers is a miscalculation. Secular orgs don’t have the resources for bribes or the lockstep voters to deliver. I don’t see where Rogers’ connections within the Repubs or track record would be an asset.

  23. Robert B. says

    Well, you shouldn’t use words like “wholly representative.” Nothing is “wholly” representative of any group. Apparently 7 in 1000 secularists do not oppose teaching creationism in science classes. Everyone agrees that there are secular Republicans and Republicans who agree in secular values. I even think that Ms. Rogers is probably one of them, sort of. What we should talk about is what’s generally representative, what reflects the goals and actions of the party’s leaders and powerful figures and the people who get the most Republican votes.

    And anyway it’s not just one platform statement. Since that interview I’ve been shown a recent GOP national platform, another one contemporary to Rogers’ work with the party, and a third for a state Republican party someone randomly posted – I think Minnesota? They all said in very clear language what the party’s position was – keep gay marriage illegal, ban abortion. That’s on top of the statements and actions of many specific members, which you pointed out. And Rogers said straight out that the Republican anti-gay, anti-choice stuff was “not written down anywhere.” So, yeah, I would say that Rogers’ statements on this were clearly not correct.

  24. karmakin says

    Let’s leave aside the social issues, which I think are pretty clear, but in terms of economic issues, the major conflict tends to between a demand-centered economy and a supply-centered economy, more or less. I personally think, that if you take a reasonable, truth-based approach to the economy, you’ll end up on the demand-side part of the spectrum. Thusly, you have a majority in this movement that are economically progressive/liberal. Pumping more capital into an already capital-bloated system seems like a really bad idea.

    I’m actually an “extremist” on these matters, as I believe that we’re more of a demand-sided economy right now than most people, but that’s because of the real-world circumstances, and I recognize that said circumstances can change (when the capital-bloated system becomes less bloated, and the need for capital starts outpacing the supply). I think the major roadblock in terms of economics is actually economics itself, in that a lot of the base assumptions that 101 economics relies on were based around an industrial-based economy, and now as this is replaced by a service-based economy, things change.

    TL;DR version:I think it’s natural for this movement to also embrace progressive/liberal economics because it tends to be more truth-based.

  25. Zengaze says

    The horse has already bolted.

    I initially was supportive of the idea of a republican secularist heading up our lobby group. But I made the fatal error of verbalising that support before I did any research, I guess I have to own up to having faith in the sca.

    I wholehearted agree with you that if she’d have announced her new role with even the semblance of distancing herself from her former employers things could have been a whole lot different. I’m not looking for an act of contrition or anything like it, just a recognition of reality, and an explanation of what she agress with in the republican party view of the world, and where they separate in terms of ideology.

    You know lay out it plain. Hey this is me and this is where I stand on these issues, and this is why. Hope we can all work together to secure the common goals of secularism.

    But we all know now how it has went down and there’s no need to rehash………..

    She is not the person the sca should have heading up this movement, and the only way it seems that the board will get that message is if people put their money into organisations that do represent us, so that is where we disagree.

    The canons have silenced the cavalry has charged, the outcome decided, General Lee himself wouldn’t be advocating a fight for stalemate.

  26. otrame says

    Honestly, if she was the person they needed, SHE should have been able to tell them how badly that would go.

    This. This times eleventy.

    I personally feel no need for a “true believer” to represent secular issues in Washington (though I think someone who knows what the fuck “secular” means–not the dictionary definition, the political definition–would be best). A political hack is okay as long as she is a competent political hack. I don’t need to agree with everything she says or does as long as I feel she is representing me in my political concerns as a secularist. We cannot and should not be “led” by a an incompetent who thinks she can pull the same crap with us that she does with Faux News watchers. The very fact that she apparently does think so is excellent evidence that she is not competent.

    And I agree with jamessweet completely:

    When addressing a Fox News audience, maybe the “right” thing to do is to issue denial after denial, to never give an inch. But when addressing this community, you simply cannot tell a lie that is debunked by five minutes of Googling. You just can’t do that.

    SCA really screwed up on this.

  27. Nathan Godwin says

    A short disclaimer that this instinctive recoil IS NOT based on some broad partisan/ideological exclusionary mentality in the secular community, rather quite the opposite – a considered (and for me, a bit reluctant) decision after reviewing the facts, may be beneficial.

    I for one was quite happy (though I’ll admit, puzzled) to see the choice at first. It is usually a great boon to a movement to have supporters from “the other side” (or at least who have no dog in the fight – white civil rights marchers for instance). Rev. Barry Lynn comes immediately to mind. The enemy of my enemy is… a Reverend?

    Matt spent quite a bit of time in this post forestalling any claims of “see, you’re just as biased as us.. If Sean Faircloth was a Republican y’all’d toss his ass under the bus, too!!” but quite a lot of time means quite a lot of reading, and is easily missed by its intended audience. So… anyone who speaks Ooga-Boogese and would like to write up a short “it’s NOT because you’re not a Democrat…” disclaimer that can preface future such entries, that’d be great!

    Hey, that could be Edwina’s first act as Executive Director!

  28. says

    It sounds to me like a slippery slope on the way toward political legitimacy in Washingtom. I am reminded of the labor movement in the 60s and 70s, when the AFL was so eager to gain public support (following the Cold War and years of red-baiting) that it ended up facilitating all sorts of oppressive American empire projects around the world. Is the SCA so eager to become mainstream that its willing to hire a GOP lobbyist? Sadly, politics is about making concessions and compromises. I think the secularist vision for America is absolutely necessary, and should not be diluted through political wheeling and dealing. Sounds to me like Edwina Rogers is the wrong leader for this organization. Of course it needs a representative in Washington, but not one which might compromise its own mission. It would be better to continue with grass roots organizing and community outreach than to compromise its core values for access to political power.

  29. 'Tis Himself says

    Twenty or thirty years ago, Obama would have been considered a moderate, Rockefeller Republican. Nowadays he’s denounced by many Republicans as a “socialist.”

  30. says

    How should SCA move forward from here? Should they try to re-introduce her? Should they issue a apology for the botched interview? should they hire a deputy director from the community that can help her get up to speed and reassure the community?

  31. notafraidoftheskybully says

    While I agree with the substance of this post (the SCA could have handled the situation better) I find that there are a number of things that bother me.

    The first is that Edwina’s donation to support Rick Perry’s campaign is cause for concern. As Matt admits, he doesn’t know anything about lobbying. I’m guessing a lot of people here are the same way. Our current political culture is such that politicians have to raise enourmous sums of money in order to be re-elected. One strategy to raise this money is to engage in a ‘pay-to-play’ culture, where you only allow access to people who contribute to you. This is the essence of lobbying: Give money, get access. This American Life did an entire program on this subject. Listening to that will give you a good idea of just how common a donation like this is in lobbying circles.

    The second is that the SCA should somehow have consulted with/notified the movement before making the decision. I can’t think of a worse way to run a hiring process. Greta asked repeatedly in her interview with Roy if he could tell her who the other candidates were. I don’t know about you, but if every place I submitted a job application to went and posted that information publicly, I’d be mortified. Beyond the hiring process, I’m not sure how the movement could have been notified before the announcement was made. If the news had somehow been ‘strategically leaked’, would anyone have believed it before the SCA had confirmed it publicly?

    There’s also been the perception (not coming from Matt, but from elsewhere on FTB) that the SCA is somehow bad/evil/wrong for wanting to hire a professional lobbyist or, in the course of its actions, work with the Republican party. The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization. I’m not making that up, that’s from their website. The entire purpose of a c4 is to lobby. So if you have an issue with lobbying or you want to sit on the sidelines of the modern political game, you shouldn’t be giving money to the SCA anyway. Do as Matt suggests, and give to their member organizations. As 501(c)(3)s, they are expressly forbidden from getting into any of that dirty, nasty, lobbying business.

  32. John Morales says

    I don’t know about you, but if every place I submitted a job application to went and posted that information publicly, I’d be mortified.

    I wouldn’t — but then, I have nothing to hide.

    (Honesty and transparency are problematic for some, I realise)

  33. notafraidoftheskybully says

    You mean like hypothetical athiest who would like to be employed by the SCA, but doesn’t want her current employer to know she’s shopping around for jobs?

    Seriously, we all have reasons for basic privacy.

  34. Dalillama says

    Is it even possible for there to be such a thing as an outspokenly Republican secularist given their expression of certain sentiments through core statements like the Party Platform?

    It is not possible to be a Republican secularist, outspoken or otherwise.
    If you are a secularist, someone who favors eliminating religious influences from government and basing policy on facts and reality, the Republican party has nothing to offer. If you claim to favor these things and still vote for and otherwise support Republican politicians, then you are lying when you say you are a secularist. It is that simple. A vote for any politician with an R after their name is, at this point in history, a vote for bigotry, a vote for theocracy, and a vote for faith-based solutions to reality based problems. Republican elected officials routinely vote in lockstep for every bill supporting every regressive theocratic policy position the party takes. No one who supports or identifies with that in any way is in fact a secularist.

  35. says

    I have to agree with Matt and Martin here. If the SCA wants to more effectively represent the members of their member groups, and the rest of the movement in general, it ought to use a left-leaning lobbyist, simply because most of our movement is left-leaning. It’s great that she can probably get in the door to a lot of Republicans’ offices, but is there anyone in our movement who actually expects help from any Republicans? On state/church separation issues? C’mon. The Democrats are weak and under-funded, but at least we can expect SOME support from them. There’s hope with the Dems.

    I don’t think she’s good at lobbying, because she’s no good at communicating with the people she wants to represent. It seems only logical that before our movement sends money, energy and support along with our point person to the government, that person needs to be one of us. Or at least that person needs to understand us. Of course, it’d be nice if she proved us all wrong, but please, let’s all breathe regularly about that. lol

  36. Eliott says

    Matt/Darrel… You saved me the time of typing a note…I think your analysis is candid, direct and accurate and exactly mirrors my own thoughts. I listened to both interviews over and over during a 4 hour drive. Edwina obfuscates, ducks, dodges and in general tap dances putting Ginger Rogers to shame. Her answers about Rick Perry, her transition and explanation to Alabama Repulicanism and the explanation of Republican’s position transposition is just beyond the pale. She was absolutely unprepared for Greta…and us. And listening to Roy get defensive with Greta made sense to me. He has to validate his and the boards mishandling of this debacle of a roll out. Greata, shame on you for asking direct questions and demanding honest no bullshit answers. My issue in the broader sense with all this is we got someone to lobby for us that has absolutely no idea what we have gone through or the price we have paid. She has had no skin in the game. I don’t give a shit how knowledgeable and connected a lobbyist she is. I don’t subscribe to the position we need to be monsters to fight one. She said she is going to cross the aisle and “educate” members about our issues. Who the fuck is going to educate her?

  37. tosspotovich says

    Matt, “the very connections she was hired to make use of” will count for nought when Rogers falls foul of the no true republican argument. She’s cast into an untenable position of trying to gain trust among secularists while retaining it with a clearly anti-secular body.

  38. John Morales says

    You mean like hypothetical athiest who would like to be employed by the SCA, but doesn’t want her current employer to know she’s shopping around for jobs?

    No.

    It is you who imagines any meritorious contender for such a position would not wish for such a desire to be known; I imagine such a contender would be proud to wish to represent such an organisation, and did not care who knew about that desire.

    (Honesty, such a bugbear!)

  39. notafraidoftheskybully says

    Fair enough. I’ve failed to prove to you that privacy is important. I take it then that the substance of my post was acceptable to you, since the only thing that is being contended is my personal preferences on the issue of privacy.

  40. Tx Skeptic says

    “She was extremely evasive during the interview with Greta (though Roy doesn’t seem to think so…”

    Not only did Roy not think she was evasive, he seemed disappointed that she wasn’t, disappointed that she was actually trying to answer Greta’s questions instead of being evasive and delivering ‘talking points’.

    Here’s that statement -
    RS: “Again, unfortunately, I don’t take your characterization as accurate that she was being evasive. I listened to her interview, and actually, the first thing I thought of was, “Gosh, you know, I’ve done a lot of media interviews, and if you do media interviews, you learn how to get your talking points across and not worry, necessarily, all the time about the questions being asked. If you want to get your own message across, this is a technique that you’ve got to learn, to get out there and put across your viewpoint. And I felt like she was being very careful and even reiterating over and over and over again, if necessary, to address the questions that you kept asking and re-asking her. And, so I don’t, I don’t think she was being evasive at all, In fact, I think, in some ways, she could have gone on to more talking points, not sticking to the questions that were being asked as much.”

    That may be a valid tactic when talking to a major media outlet like Fox, NBC, NY Times, etc, or when lobbying a congressman, but in the context of the interview, Greta represented more the constituency that Rogers is supposed to be representing, rather than a target audience to be persuaded.

    As to the breakdown between secular republicans vs secular democrats, I think it comes down to one of Matt’s favorite sayings that I think the secular movement seems majorly follows, to paraphrase, we want to believe as many true things, and as few false things as possible. Although the art of politics often includes some amount of misdirection, the conservatives have taken this to new heights where any amount of lying is justified in service of their dogma, to keep the masses in line.

    I used to think I was a republican until I started questioning everything, and it let quite naturally to my deconversion from both religion and the GOP. It’s not that you can’t be a secular republican, you just can’t be one for long without major cognitive dissonance.

    Sort of along those lines, I’m reading Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain, and find it very instructive. There are many insights there that could be very useful to us as a movement in learning how to get our message across. One thing Edwina said that shows she needs to read the book too, was “Well, because they need to be educated, that’s why. And I’m going to go educate them”, but it’s not really about education so much is it about getting people to learn to think more critically and less dogmatically, a much tougher chore I’m sure.

  41. John Horstman says

    I’ve made that exact point, repeatedly. Hell, with the availability of smartphones (does a lobbyist NOT have a smartphone???), she should have been able to get that information DURING THE INTERVIEW, irrespective of where she was, as I did while listening to it.

  42. John Horstman says

    This is precisely why I became so much more worried after the interviews. My initial reaction was something like, “Well, that’s a little weird, but i can see how they might think a Republican would open doors that someone from the outside couldn’t. Let’s wait and see where this goes.” With the interviews, it went somewhere that makes me wonder how Rogers can possibly be effective (she and Speckhardt were both answering Greta’s questions like they were on FOX News, not talking to a bunch of informed, skeptical secularists) and question the judgement of the SCA overall. Was the SCA selection committee impressed by Rogers’s refusal to answer THEIR questions, so they hired her?

  43. Eliott says

    I can understand Roy being defensive… But, the fall out of this hire is already affecting his good common sense. And to try and blame Greta for asking pointed questions and not allowing Edwina off the hook and that whole monolithic view bullshit is not something that made him look good.

  44. Eliott says

    She is in the job and nothing to be done about that now but I really don’t think it matters. The SCA has been mostly irrelevant for some period of time. Turnover and executive time in positions, is a huge indicator of the operation of an organization in general. When people continuously leave as happened here for whtever reason it shows a dysfunction at the highest level, in this case I would site the board. And when there is some member fallout, that also is an indicator. Regardless, if the member organizations that Edwina now represents are comfortable with her, then that speaks to their acceptance of her as someone they believe can do the job and are comfortable with. If not, they should speak out or quit or realign the coalition. After all, we are stuck with Edwina but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a shift in the coalition paradigm.

  45. VolcanoMan says

    The first problem with Edwina Rogers is that she doesn’t appear to stand for anything at all. Her supposed values are as mutable as a Republican presidential candidate between the primaries and the general election.

    Now I am fully prepared to support the hiring of such a lobbyist and executive director – to essentially support a mercenary who is incredibly effective at getting the job done – if that person understands that while she might not have any fixed values, the community she represents does. The secularist community in America is not homogenous; there are differences of opinion between the antitheist branch and the accomodationist branch, between the liberal and libertarian branch, etc. But overall, we all can agree on a surprisingly large selection of issues. We support:

    - Equal rights for all members of society, regardless of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation, and the right of anyone to practice any type of behaviour that does not infringe upon the rights of others.
    - Equal access to a quality education that exposes young Americans not only to scientific and cultural ideas that they may not otherwise learn about, but also to the critical thinking tools with which ideas are best evaluated to determine whether they are likely to be true.
    - The bodily autonomy of any individual, and therefore the right of an individual to choose to end their own life or to end a life that is biologically 100% dependant on them.
    - Ending the immoral and illegal practice of using religion (any religion) to formulate public policy, and barring governmental institutions (federal, state or municipal) from promoting religious ideas or discriminating on the basis of religion.
    - The use of modern scientific understanding of the human brain in the creation of a justice system that works to rehabilitate prisoners while helping the victims of crime move on with their lives.
    - The implementation of a government-funded universal health care system where every American is treated equally regardless of race, class, gender or sexual orientation.

    To effectively lobby for these types of policies, a lobbyist must understand what are the various positions taken by the parties on these policies, and the rationale behind the different opinions that are out there. Thus, the second problem with Edwina Rogers (the main problem): she is apparently completely clueless to the reality of anti-secularist forces in America (most of whom vote Republican).

    A majority of Republicans are against things like gay marriage, and the reason, when you eliminate the post-hoc rationalisations, is “the Bible says homosexuality is a sin”. This is a profoundly anti-secular way of governing; by denying things like this, or by saying things like “Republicans are mostly pro-equality”, Edwina Rogers is either showing that she is ignorant of the recent public policy “conversation” on these issues, or that she is lying about common Republican positions. And using data from 1994 to support contentions, while ignoring the impact things like the Tea Party have had on Republican policy is about as disingenuous as one can be.

    So I am not enthusiastic about this person directing the alliance of atheist and skeptic organisations in America. I think that we can see from the interview with Greta that she is completely unprepared for the type of role she needs to fill. The SCA had better have a back-up plan when this really starts to blow up in their faces (when she starts to actively hurt the causes we care about).

  46. George From NY says

    Volcano,

    I am a Secular, Atheist…Conservative!

    1) I support Roe v Wade, which allows some time-based restrictions on elective pregnancy termination and therefore does not accord with your third plank.

    2) I have no problem with penal codes and justice systems used for punishment as well as rehabilitation and thus might not accord with your fifth plank.

    Also, the matter of universal, publicly-funded healthcare is one on which reasonable secular people can and do disagree. I am for it but I have seen counter-arguments which are substantial and not easily dismissed.

    As with much else, it’s a matter to be settled by study, debate and ratiocination free of supernaturalism and mysticism – not one side or the other declaring theirs the “authentic” secular position.

    I do agree with Matt D. that this woman is a bad choice, for the reasons he covered.

    But I do not think the solution necessitates promulgating some kind of catechism on issues beyond those which are intrinsic and inalienable to Secularism. Such a document would be inescapably, inevitably partisan and thus corrode our movement from within.

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