Reed on His Life and the Christian Right

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, will be leading his conservative group's annual issues conference this weekend. Excerpts from an interview follow.

On his plans for this weekend's meeting:

What I'm going to say is, ''Don't make the mistake of becoming just another special interest group in the Republican Party. Yes, you've become influential. Yes, you've become powerful. Don't now let that become for you that sort of intoxicating potion that allows you to become just like the Chamber of Commerce or the AFL-CIO, only you've got Christian in front of your name, because you have a much more important role to play in our society than that.''

On his group's role in the GOP:

Our movement is now in many ways thoroughly integrated and enmeshed into the machinery of the Republican Party.

On time with his family:

I think [I spend] a remarkably large amount, given what I do.... I get home around 7:30, which I don't think is all that bad. I'm on the road a lot, but ... I work hard at it. It's important to me. And it's not important to me for philosophical or values reasons; frankly, I mean, I love my kids.... I see them in the morning. We have this thing worked out where [my wife] gets to sleep late. I get up about 6:30; the kids usually start getting up about 7, then I fix them breakfast, then I leave, and she spends the day [with them].

On his religious awakening:

I guess I was 22, right after graduating from college.... I thought I was going to come to Washington and change the world and do all these great things, then you really get there and you begin to understand that power and fame and all those things are not really ultimately fulfilling personally. So I had a friend who was a very committed Christian, and I just decided one morning to go to church and I did. And they had an invitation for people to become a Christian that day, and even though I'd grown up in the church, I'd never really made a decision like that. And so I did.

On the role of the Christian Coalition in politics:

After the 1992 elections when George Bush lost, everybody said that we had cost George Bush the election and the Republican Party the election, we were tearing the Republican Party apart and so forth. Two years later you get the first Republican Congress in 40 years. Now after the Republican victory I think everybody's now again saying, look how powerful they are. It's probably neither. I mean, I don't think we are the most powerful organized lobby in the country. I also don't believe that we're a liability to the Republican Party or to anyone else. I think we mobilize a lot of people. We're clearly a linchpin of a governing coalition. We cannot govern by ourselves. We do not have a majority.... We probably have between one-quarter and one-third of the electorate, and it is very well-organized and very well-mobilized and very well-educated.

On the pitfalls of politics:

I think sometimes social movements that get too focused on narrow political victory and lose sight of the larger, central battle, they make a big mistake. The feminists failed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. They've never had a woman elected president or vice president.... But they clearly achieved a great deal in other ways that transcended some of their temporary political defeats. And I think that that needs to be true of our movement as well. You can win a political victory as Clinton and the Democrats did in 1992, [but] it's a very Pyrrhic and empty victory. We found that out in 1980 with Ronald Reagan. So for us, the road to victory doesn't just mean electing a certain person to a certain job ... or even a lot of people [to a lot of jobs.]

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