During George W. Bush’s presidency, many liberal and secular Americans came to regard religious conservatives not merely as their political opponents, but as a kind of existential threat. The religious right, they decided, wasn’t a normal political movement. Rather, it was an essentially illiberal force, bent on gradually replacing our secular republic with what Kevin Phillips’s 2006 best seller dubbed an “American Theocracy.”
These anxieties dissipated once the Republican majority imploded. In the Obama era, debates over the economy and health care crowded out arguments about sex education and embryo destruction, and liberals found a new set of right-wing extremists to worry about: Tea Party activists, birth certificate obsessives, the Koch brothers.
But with the rise of first Michele Bachmann and then Rick Perry in the presidential polls, and the belated liberal realization that many Tea Partiers are also evangelical Christians, the fear of theocracy has suddenly returned. Beginning with Ryan Lizza’s profile of Bachmann in The New Yorker, a spate of recent articles have linked the Republican presidential candidates to scary-sounding political theologies like “Dominionism” and “Christian Reconstructionism,” and used these links to suggest that Christian extremism is once more on the march.