By 1980, a new conservative coalition was taking shape, which was heavily dependent upon the New Right. The New Right reacts strongly against what it considers the breakdown of American morality and culture and blames liberals for these developments. Other elements in the new Republican coalition included Neo Conservatives, the emerging Republican South, libertarians and other traditional Republicans Changing social and cultural conditions made it possible for the New Right to emerge and for Republicans to expand their mass constituency. To some degree, economic conditions in the late Twentieth Century also prompted some to turn to Republican economic policy, The coming of the information age and knowledge economy placed a high value on radical individualism and helped to devalue social solidarity. The decline of community has been greatly accelerated by economic forces such as globalization and the business community’s continual trimming of benefits and jobs to become more competitive. Often economic forces that led people to seek political outlooks that seem to promote individualism and to de-emphasize social responsibilities meshed with social and cultural forces that prompted them to accept conservative religious views.
Factors Behind the Rise of the New Right
Many believed that their families were threatened by a moral breakdown in society. They saw many more single parent households, sexual promiscuity, drugs, abortion on demand, and a sex-saturated media, to name only a few problems. In the early seventies, many white Evangelicals did not see abortion as a major problem, and many wanted it legalized. But they had reversed themselves on this question by 1980. They sensed that spiritual values were in decline, and they felt a hunger for meaning and spirituality. They found clear answers and meaning in the rapidly growing conservative Protestant communities, and there they moved into the Republican base. For some, Republicanism answered the twin crises of their age, the threats to the family and deep economic anxiety. Others could not accept Republican economic doctrine but saw the party as offering the only hope for protecting the family against moral chaos. Democrats, on the other hand, refused to address spiritual values and were even more disinclined to speak of God. It was ironic that ordinary working people sought to cure the spiritual and emotional deadness they experienced by supporting politicians whose economic agenda meant more emphasis on materialism, ruthlessness in the marketplace, consumerism, and” me-firstism,” all of which were root causes of the nation’s essential spiritual problems. These policies guaranteed that private lives would become more meaningless and empty.
The triumph of secular values and the decay of traditional morality alarmed many, particularly white Protestant Evangelicals and fundamentalists as well as their conservative counterparts within the Roman Catholic Church. Conservative Protestants Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and fundamentalists were deeply concerned that the nation was moving away from values rooted in Christianity. White Fundamentalists and Evangelicals were uncomfortable with cultural pluralism and believed they were losing the position of cultural and political power that they had historically enjoyed, especially in the South. Evangelical Protestants had not played an important role in the revival of conservatism that began in the 1950s, but they became major players in the 1970s when they became concerned about sex education, the end of prayer in the public schools, liberalized pornography laws, and threats to the tax exemptions of segregated Christian schools. Near the end of the decade, they came to oppose Roe v. Wade, and concluded that it along with these other issues would seriously undercut the morality of Protestant families.
Opposition to desegregation was also a major factor that drew them into the political area. The Republicans recognized their concerns and, quickly fashioned a message to attract them, and went to great lengths to offer them the legitimacy they craved. Evangelical leaders wanted to play a larger role in setting national policy and many of them thought the separation of church and state was “a lie of the left.” Even when they came to play major roles in national politics, it was necessary to claim to be “outsiders” in order to keep their followers enraged about an alleged liberal establishment. Historian Scott Appleby thought that playing “bad winners” would not play for long, but his predication seemed to be wrong. It would soon become clear that the conservative Protestant Churches had functioned as first-rate schools of democracy, where people learned networking, organizing, and proselytizing skills that would prove to be extremely effective in the secular area, whether it was electing members of local school boards or turning out voters for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
The term “Religious Right” has many weaknesses as a generic term because there were such sharp differences between conservative Catholics, conservative Jews, and conservative Protestants. For whatever reason, all of these groups are less inclined to affirm a common humanity of all peoples than to think in terms “ Us v. the evil Other.” This outlook fit perfectly with the mindset continually offered by the Republican information machine. There was mutual dislike among the groups, and the Evangelicals were even on record as teaching that Catholicism was the greatest single threat to American democracy. Over time, there was more and more reason to use the term without apology. They managed to put their differences aside as they became convinced that they were facing a very dangerous common enemy.
The conservative Catholics seemed to become more like their evangelical allies and less like other Catholics in that they seemed to simply turn their backs on the Vatican’s teachings about peace, justice, and a preferential concern for the poor. Conservative Jews seemed to let concerns for the welfare of Israel and cultural concerns trump their historic concern for underdogs in American society. The Religious Right became convinced that Democrats and liberals supported policies that led to moral decay and the dominance of secular humanism. Peggy Noonan, a leading Republican intellectual, saw undesirable cultural developments as proof that “the problems of our country derive more from a spiritual crisis than from anything else.” Research indicates religious institutions have far more influence upon voting behavior than television or newspapers.
In conservative Christian congregations, people forged very close ties and came to share the same cultural and political values. Religious and cultural conservatives allied with the Republican Party, which offered them some symbolic victories in their battles against abortion, homosexual rights, and thoroughly secularized public schools. These cultural warriors formed the New Right, which eventually became the dominant force within the Republican coalition, a rise that was fueled by the economic and cultural grievances of the middle class.
The prescriptions of neoliberalism were designed to meet their economic complaints. Despite out-sourcing of jobs and massive lay-offs in industries known for paying good wages, many feel they are doing quite well and believe that Republican economic policies will preserve their prosperity. In 2005, that the average household income for people between the ages of 26 and 59 was around $63,000. Polls show that these people were satisfied with their lot and did not seem to believe that their places in the middle class were threatened. As late as 2005, 40% of Americans believed it was not difficult to climb the economic ladder. Given this outlook, cultural arguments were likely to weigh heavily with them. Republican strategist Kevin Phillips said in 2006 that these developments had transformed the Republican Party into “the first religious party in U.S. history,” one that uniquely merged theocracy with plutocracy.
Republicans developed a cultural agenda that attracted large numbers of adherents, many of whom hailed from the South. Traditional Republicans--the so-called Country Club Republicans-- were initially put off by the near fanaticism of the New Right. Traditional, country club Republicans have demonstrated time and again that advocacy of tax cuts is what they most expect from the party. Over time, the traditional Republicans may have thought they would change the New Right, but what occurred was the partial conversion of the traditional Republicans to the cultural crusade of their allies. It was partly a matter of the old saying about being in for pence meant being in for a pound. Success is also a powerful recruiting tool, and aspiring Republican politicians came to realize in order to be victorious, they needed to win the full support of the New Right. A political “tribe” that is more inclined than not to vote with the Republicans are the so-called “White-bread Protestants,” they attend mainline churches and are more less moderates on cultural matters. Decades ago, they were certain Republican voters. In 2004, 60% of them supported George W. Bush. Some have speculated that excessive concessions to the Hard Right could drive some of them away. But for the moment, the appeal of the national defense issue is likely to keep the vast majority of them in the Republican fold.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!