The Politics of Virginia

“Traveling through Virginia, the oldest, largest, and wealthiest of the American colonies and the single most powerful influence on the early United States, is a nonstop history lesson.” ~Rough Guides

After provisional capitals in Annapolis, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, Trenton (New Jersey), and York (Pennsylvania), the US, through the Residence Act (1790), created a permanent capital, on the banks of the Potomac River. Both Maryland and Virginia contributed land to form the District of Columbia (DC); the city was named for Washington. Because the state petitioned for it, Virginia’s land was later returned by act of Congress (1846). So, on a map, when you look for the District, what you see is a little square cut out of the State of Maryland.

Over the years the north side of the Potomac has been politically sleepy. Neither Maryland nor Delaware has produced a President. Pennsylvania had one: James Buchanan. New Jersey had one: Grover Cleveland. Excepting New York, that’s it for the Middle Atlantic states north of the Potomac. On the national scene, not much happens politically above the north shore. Except for that little square (the District), of course.

South of the Potomac is a different story. Virginia is a very political place. Actually, a dangerously political place.

President George Washington was born in Westmoreland County; northwest of his birthplace, Washington’s home Mount Vernon sits high on a hill overlooking the Potomac. Washington is buried on the plantation. The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail runs between Theodore Roosevelt Island (opposite Georgetown) and Washington’s home. One can imagine that despite the country’s relationship with Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the swampy land that became the District was chosen because it was closer to the persons who were really running the country: the Virginians.

Also born in Westmoreland County (at Stratford Hall) was General Robert E Lee, who later became an in-law of Washington and bearer of the Washington legacy; Lee’s home used to be Arlington House, another home perched high on a hill overlooking the Potomac, now part of Arlington Cemetery. Lee forfeited the house when he failed to appear in person, during the war, to pay the property tax, and the government greedily seized the property and started planting the dead before Lee had opportunity to redeem the situation. Though, I’m told, the family was later compensated for their loss.

The George Washington Masonic Memorial is a proud centerpiece in Alexandria, along with the Torpedo Factory Art Center, which, during World War I, actually manufactured munitions. Alexandria also boasts George Washington’s Townhouse, which he built himself (1769) in case he couldn’t make it home for the night, and Robert E Lee’s Boyhood Home. Lee’s dad, Henry (“Light Horse Harry”) Lee III, was once governor of Virginia. The Lees of Virginia also included brothers Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both members of the Continental Congress and signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Of course, much of the Civil War (1861-65), for which Robert E Lee is famous in his own right, was fought in Virginia. After the war Lee was named president of Washington College, Lexington, a rural town west of the Blue Ridge at the junction of what is now I-64 and I-81. After Lee’s death, it was renamed Washington and Lee University in honor of these two favorite sons. Lee is buried under Lee Chapel. Adjacent is Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where General Stonewall Jackson taught philosophy and artillery; not far away, Jackson’s home.

About thirty miles north of Lexington, via I-81, is Staunton, birthplace of another President and home to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. Wilson had a home in Washington, DC; it is the District’s only Presidential home. He, with his wife, is buried at the National Cathedral, Washington, DC, and across the aisle, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Farther north, in Fairfax County, is Gunston Hall, also on the Potomac, 18th-century home of George Mason, US patriot and “father of the Bill of Rights.” A statue of him was erected in DC near the Jefferson Memorial.

But the heart of Virginia politics probably lies closer to the heart of Virginia itself: Charlottesville. Charlottesville, east of the Blue Ridge, is home to the University of Virginia, the brainchild of President Thomas Jefferson, who was a member of the Continental Congress and wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, considered a Renaissance man, a man of letters with a knack for architecture and invention, lived at nearby Monticello.

Up the road from Jefferson a way, in Barboursville, President Zachary Taylor was born. A bit farther, along Route 20, in Orange, on his dad’s estate, Montpelier, lived President James Madison, “father of the Constitution.” Both Jefferson and Madison are buried on the grounds of their respective plantations. Down the road from Jefferson, at Ash Lawn-Highland, lived a closer neighbor, President James Monroe, “father of the Monroe Doctrine.” Monroe, like Washington and Lee, was also born in Westmoreland County. These two younger neighbors, Madison and Monroe, were Jefferson’s protégés: he taught them everything they knew. They did his bidding. One of Jefferson’s Virginia relatives was John Marshall, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

About an hour south of Charlottesville is Lynchburg; nearby is Bedford County, where Thomas Jefferson had another farm, Poplar Forest. Bedford County is also the birthplace of Booker T Washington and home of the National D-Day Memorial. South of Lynchburg is Red Hill Plantation, home of Patrick Henry, five-term governor, who stood up in the Virginia House of Burgesses and said, “I know not what course others may take; but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” East of Lynchburg is Appomattox Court House, where Confederate General Robert E Lee and Union General Ulysses S Grant ended the Civil War.

Farther east, along US 460, is the state capital, Richmond, which was also the capital of the Confederacy, with surrounding Civil Wars battlefields and historic sites. Both Lynchburg and Richmond lie on the rocky James River, which flows from the hills of the Alleghenies east to the Potomac and the Chesapeake. Along the James River are famous plantations. Sherwood Forest Plantation was the home of President John Tyler. Berkeley Plantation, “Virginia’s most historic plantation,” was the birthplace of President William Henry Harrison, a scion of Southern aristocracy. Harrison studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney College, then began the study of medicine in Richmond. South of Richmond is Hollywood Cemetery, where both President James Monroe and President John Tyler are buried, along with General JEB Stuart, General George Pickett, and President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy.

Still farther east, where the James River and the Potomac empty into the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, lies the megalopolis of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and Historic Triangle (Jamestown, Yorktown, Williamsburg). Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement (1607) in the US. (The oldest city, St Augustine, Florida, was Spanish.) Colonial Williamsburg was founded (1632) as the high ground between the James River and the York River. Its College of William and Mary (1693), second-oldest institution of higher learning in the US, was the alma mater of Presidents Jefferson, Monroe, and Tyler. At Yorktown the French saved us (1781), resulting in a British defeat and, ultimately, peace negotiations for ending the American War of Independence …. Though started in Massachusetts and South Carolina, respectively, both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were decided in Virginia.

Interesting. But that was yesteryear. What about today?

South of the District, from inside the Beltway, headed east along the George Washington Parkway (GWP), are CIA Headquarters, Arlington, and the Pentagon. US Marines have bases at the Pentagon, Henderson Hall, and, outside the Beltway, south along I-95, Quantico. The US Air Force has bases at the Pentagon and Langley (Hampton); US Army bases at Fort Belvoir (Fairfax), Fort Eustis (Newport News), Fort Lee (Bergen), Fort Monroe (Hampton), Fort Myer (Arlington), and Fort Story (Virginia Beach); US Navy bases at Arlington Navy Annex, Chesapeake NSGA, Dahlgren NSF, Dam Neck Annex, Little Creek NAB, Norfolk NS, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Oceana NAS, Pentagon USN, Wallops Island, and Yorktown NWS. The Radford Army Ammunition Plant manufactures artillery for the military; the Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown, stores them for shipment. To wit, the US has a strong military presence in Virginia …. But that’s government.

In the civic sector, impacting American politics today are two Virginia-based televangelism empires, that of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and other quasi-religious-political organizations. These Virginians still have the idea that they can run the nation. Heady and arrogant, they feel empowered by the past and entitled by their proximity to DC.

Jerry Falwell, descended from atheists, drunkards, and bootleggers, established his empire in his hometown, Lynchburg, an hour south of Charlottesville, not far from Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. Unlike his forebears, Jerry became a “Christian” and a responsible citizen. However, though his empire consisted mostly of church, Thomas Road Baptist (TRBC), schools, Liberty Academy and Liberty University, and telecast, The Old-Time Gospel Hour, Falwell was outspoken on anything and everything that would get his name in the news. Falwell founded the Moral Majority (1979), which became a large political lobbying group in the Reagan era, and became more involved in politics than a ministry should. It is one thing to speak out on issues (abortion, creationism, education, family values, homosexuality, and prophecy) because the Bible addresses these things; it is another to try to manipulate the electoral process and the mind of the electorate with extrabiblical things like The Clinton Chronicles. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Whether or not I believe The Clinton Chronicles is irrelevant: the film is clearly outside the purview of the pulpit. And TRBC is a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning donations are tax-deductible.

Though Falwell Sr has passed on, the Falwell empire has not. Son Jonathan pastors the church; son Jerry Jr presides over the university. Thanks to its massive online program, Liberty University drinks in more Federal money than NPR or PBS. As a matter of fact, Liberty University is Virginia’s number-one recipient of Federal money: receiving close to $500 million a year (cf NPR $3 million). Yet in the recent student protest against Mitt Romney‘s appearance as Commencement speaker, Falwell pulled the plug on Liberty’s “bread and butter,” its online students. That’s how “Christian” Falwell Jr is.

Mark DeMoss, son of Arthur DeMoss, for whom the Arthur S DeMoss Learning Center, Liberty University, is named, used to work for televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. He is one of their henchmen, also president of the DeMoss Group, some of whose clients are, or have been, the American Center for Law and Justice, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Ministries, Liberty University, Prison Fellowship Ministries, Promise Keepers, and Regent University—the Religious Right. It was DeMoss who helped with the 1990s Sun Myung Moon $73 million secret buyout covertly channeled through the Christian Heritage Foundation, Forest, Virginia. Neither Falwell nor DeMoss, happy to be rid of the debt purchased at pennies on the dollar, shed tears for “thousands of small religious investors who had invested in church construction bonds through a Texas company [who] were the big losers” (Robert Parry).

Currently, DeMoss serves on the board of directors of Liberty University and is also Evangelical liaison for the Mormon Romney. Romney is not yet the GOP Presidential nominee, but some persons—Reinhold Reince Priebus, Mark DeMoss, and Jerry Falwell Jr—have assumed he will be, and catering to that assumption, have been promoting him, regardless of what he believes or practices. Or even what his record is, as he has waffled on so many issues. Much of which would be exploited if he were the GOP nominee. What’s Romney’s real asset? Money. He’s filthy rich and in bed with bankers. What will Liberty University Admin sell its soul for? Money. Hence, the obvious chemistry.

The Family Research Council (FRC), a “Christian” think tank in DC, promotes “faith, family and freedom in public policy and public opinion.” Its CEO is Tony Perkins, a USMC vet, former policeman, former reporter, former member of the Louisiana legislature, former Republican candidate for US Senate (2002), host of a regular national radio program, Washington Watch Weekly, and a graduate of Liberty University, where he also received an honorary doctorate (2006). Despite the fact that it is proudly political, FRC is a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning donations are tax-deductible.

American Values is another DC-based organization supposedly fighting for family values and the restoration of Conservative American principles. Its CEO is Gary Bauer, graduate of Georgetown Law School, former Under Secretary of Education (1981-1989), former chief domestic policy adviser to Reagan, former president of the Family Research Council, former senior vice president at James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, and founder of the Campaign for Working Families (1996), one of the largest Conservative PAC groups. Bauer lives in Virginia and works in DC. Despite the fact that it is proudly political, American Values is another 501(c)(3) organization, meaning donations are tax-deductible.

Pat Robertson comes by his political aspirations honestly: his dad, US Senator Absalom Willis Robertson (D-VA), was reared in Lynchburg, was admitted to the bar in Richmond, worked in DC, and was buried in Lexington, near Stonewall Jackson. Son, Pat, was born to privilege, attended prep school at McCallie, college at Washington and Lee University, and law school at Yale. Pat started the nation’s first “Christian” television station (1960), at Portsmouth, and built it into the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Its face was the 700 ClubPat also founded Regent University (1977), which sports a beautiful campus. Where Liberty is casual to sloppy, Regent, by comparison, is heads-up and manicured. Students who have attended both schools will quickly tell you they prefer Regent to Liberty—I’m not sure why—yet Liberty drinks in more money. Among his other accomplishments: Pat ran for President (1988) and lost, founded the Christian Coalition of America (1989), a Conservative political organization, and the American Center for Law and Justice (1990). Unfortunately, Robertson is about as honest as Falwell and, like Falwell, is also outspoken on anything and everything that will get his name in the news.

The Christian Coalition of America (CCA) is a 501(c)(4) organization, which means it may participate in political campaigns and elections and lobby for legislation. Donations are non-tax-deductible for income tax purposes, and donors may remain anonymous. Robertson handpicked chum Ralph Reed as CCA’s premier executive director (1989-97). Reed, a political junkie, built CCA into the GOP’s most powerful interest group by abandoning the rhetoric of Falwell’s Moral Majority and replacing it with James Dobson’s family values. While employed with CCA at a hefty salary, Reed was also moonlighting as a consultant for some of the same Religious Right groups DeMoss represented. Between his CCA salary and his consulting, Reed was drinking in millions of dollars for himself. When Reed stepped down (1997), CCA was ranked by Fortune magazine among the Top Ten most powerful political organizations in America. Though vocally pro-Religious Right, Reed was more politician than Christian: for tactical purposes he wanted to water down the GOP platform, which some saw as compromise. Anything to win. After leaving CCA, Reed served as president of the Georgia Republican Party (2001-03) and ran for public office as lieutenant governor of Georgia, a race he lost. In 2000, CCA moved its headquarters from Chesapeake, Virginia, to an office near Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. Its current CEO is Roberta Combs, the only woman ever to sit on the board of directors.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is another 501(c)(3) organization: donations are tax-deductible. Such organizations are prohibited from engaging in political activity; but we can assume Emperor Pat Robertson has his finger on everything in his empire because we can see, from the 700 Club, that Robertson is politically active. ACLJ’s main office is the fourth floor of Regent University, Virginia Beach, with regional offices in Atlanta, Mobile, Phoenix, Nashville, Louisville, and Greater DC. Chief Counsel for ACLJ, Jay Sekulow, is a Messianic Jew, who lives in DC, not far from the US Supreme Court, and has an office at Robertson’s Alexandria annex.

Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, with a chapter in Virginia, is another “Christian” group supporting Conservative family values and the traditional American way of life. Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning donations are tax-deductible.  Her Eagle Forum is, I assume, a 501(c)(4) organization, because donations are non-tax-deductible. Eagle Forum may participate in political campaigns and elections and lobby for legislation, which it does through Eagle Forum PAC. When she appears on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson, evidently she is wearing her Eagle Forum 501(c)(4) hat, which allows political participation. The differentiation of tax-deductible and non-tax-deductible organizations under a single umbrella shows how some leaders avoid legal torts.

There is no doubt that the Religious Right is using the moral majority to obtain power and money. To stay in power and wield influence, they will stop at nothing. Elected officials with the most to offer financially will be their candidates of choice. Enter Romney, Mormon high priest, flanked by bankers, pumping millions of dollars. Should Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Credit Suisse be allowed to choose GOP nominee? If the Religious Right, ruling from Virginia, have their way.

Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit


About Christseekerk

Minister, Editor, Writer, Senior Citizen, Grown Children, Grandchildren. Interests travel, writing, reading, walking, golf.
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