(Weekly Column)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the rancid “values” of those leading today’s so-called pro-family movement:

Today, defining our opponents is not so easy, and sometimes vexing, because their values are so vacant and vacuous. Back in the day, a true conservative was defined by how one lived – not necessarily how one voted. But today’s soulless, corporate conservatism has nothing to do with the way one lives and everything to do with lazy political labels and one-size-fits-all prefab positions.

True to form, the ultimate con man, Ralph Reed, is making a strong comeback after living in exile following a disgraceful exit from politics five years ago. Back then, Reed was riding high as the former head of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, the chairman of Georgia’s Republican Party, and a candidate for Georgia’s lieutenant governor.

However, a political consulting firm he founded had ties to sleazy lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and that brought Reed down. For those who do not remember, Reed exploited Christians who he organized — based on moral opposition to gaming — to oppose new Indian casinos. He once called gambling a “cancer” that “is stealing food from the mouths of children.”

What Reed did not tell these poor conservative supporters (suckers), was that he was being paid by other casino-owning Native American tribes who did not want the competition from their tribal rivals. In other words, Reed had no problem profiting handsomely from a business he called a “cancer.” According to e-mails between convicted lobbyist Abramoff Reed Ralph Reed’s Con Artist Comeback and Reed, the good Christian was simply trying to “hump in corporate accounts” to the tune of $4 million in casino money for Reed’s consulting business.

There is a word for such people: Hypocrite.

Five years have passed and the moral reprobate is hoping Christians forget his sordid past — and he seems to be succeeding. Reed, ever the opportunist, says he is now organizing doe-eyed Christians and Tea Party enthusiasts, who he refers to as his “sweet spot.” (What’s up with the creepy sexual terminology like “humping in accounts” and “sweet spot?” What’s next, Ralph’s “money shot?”) The vehicle he has cooked up for his comeback is a new organization he founded, the “Faith and Freedom Coalition.”

Reed considers his new group a 21st-century version of the Christian Coalition — with basically the same agenda, except they now will use Facebook and Twitter.

“Our goal is to build a file of 29 million conservative voters,” according to the New York Times. “We’ll e-mail them, we’ll call them, we’ll knock on their doors and, if necessary, we’ll drive them to the polls.”

The danger of Ralph Reed is that he is one of only three archconservatives who are brilliant strategists – with the others being Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich. However, Rove is too mean and is tied to Bush’s failures, while Gingrich is too undisciplined and mired in personal scandal. Reed is the only GOP puppet master who has the savvy to match his proven skills as a top-notch organizer.

Reed doesn’t have much to work with, given the sorry state of Republican presidential wannabes. But the latest economic numbers provide a glimmer of hope to the GOP’s slate of extremists. The unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent and the average length of unemployment is nine months. Former Federal Reserve economist Morris Davis told the New York Times that as many as a million homes slipped into foreclosure because of a lack of help for the unemployed.

Americans may conclude that tough times call for radical measures, such as electing once-unthinkable candidates like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. But thanks to powerbrokers like Reed, even the alleged moderates in the GOP have raced to the fanatical fringe, as evidenced by their statements at Reed’s “Faith and Freedom Coalition” event held in Washington last week.

The supposed moderate, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, said at the conference that “I do not believe that the Republican Party should focus solely on our economic life to the neglect of our human life.”

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that his top four “common-sense principles” were to turn America toward God, protect the unborn, oppose marriage equality and keep Americans secure. It is time that the media stops portraying Pawlenty as mainstream, because he has sounded like fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann longer than he has sounded like the media’s sanitized version of Tim Pawlenty.

So, what if Reed’s organization can effectively exploit the recession and help elect an extremist (or a former moderate posing as an extremist like Mitt Romney) to the Oval Office? All his blustering base of scolds will have accomplished is the glamorization of a morally compromised kingmaker who has repeatedly turned evangelical Christianity and GOP politics into a national punch line. (Slimy candidates like thrice-married Newt Gingrich pushing the sanctity of marriage further compounds this “family values” folly.)

What a wonderful example these purified “Christians” have set for their children in their righteous quest to create a “godlier” nation.