"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.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Republicans and Wedge Issues

The Republican core was largely the product of the cultural wars that raged in the 1970s and 1980s and enabled the New Right to seize control of the party. The wedge issues worked most powerfully in the South due to its deep evangelical heritage and cultural and economic conservatism. The exploitation of emotional cultural issues eventually produced among many in the New Right an inability to distinguish between empirical fact and ideas they thought were based on their moral values. By 2005, a vast majority of them thought creationism should be taught along side the Darwinian evolution hypothesis, and they saw no problem with the George W. Bush administration’s tendency simply to wipe out scientific evidence that could challenge its views on environmental policy. The same phenomenon occurred in relation to evidence of serious and widespread torture of Iraqi prisoners. The New Right had a way of seeing this as little different from fraternity pranks or a Skull and Bone’s initiation. The right-wing populist mindset became impervious to evidence, reasonable persuasion, or calm discourse.

By skillfully exploiting fear of feminism, gun control, abortion, and the godless classroom, Republican Senator Orin Hatch once called the Democrats the “party of homosexuals,” and House Republicans called Representative Barney Frank “Barney Fag.” A great asset, too, in attracting male voters was the party’s ability to portray itself as more reliable than Democrats on the issue of self-defense. Employing cultural issues and a populist message, Republicans were able to whittle away at Democratic support and substantially expand their own base. Efforts to exploit opposition to the civil rights movement further enlarged the core and added so many other potential Republican voters that almost all the Southern states could be depended upon in to vote Republican in presidential elections. Adroit use of these wedge issues and the question of national defense made it possible over time to convert many blue collar males, which placed the GOP well on the road to becoming the nation’s normal governing party.

Populist rhetoric against an arrogant cultural elite provides an ideal framework to attract the support of people who are far more concerned with one cultural issue any than any other. The populist attack upon elitism demonstrates how the concerns of these voters converge with other emphases of the New Right. These voters can have a great impact in an era of low turnouts, most notably voters who oppose abortion and gun control. In the late seventies, the right-to life movement allied with the New Right in an effort to block the Equal Rights Amendment, which they saw as a Trojan horse for abortion rights and an attack on family values Outside the South. Opposition to abortion was the most important of these questions and was to remain a potent issue for decades. In the 1970s, many Roman Catholics strongly opposed abortion, which had been made legal by the Roe v. Wade Decision (1973) and this created a problem for the Democratic party, which was the traditional home of most Catholics. Nevertheless, the party affirmed its support for the decision in 1976, and the Republicans moved quickly in the opposite direction. This debate was instrumental in moving a substantial number of Catholics into the Republican column. Roman Catholics who had long voted in large numbers for Democrats often felt a bitterness toward the party that had turned on them, dismissing their strong concerns about abortion and making support of abortion almost a litmus test for party loyalty.

The Republican Party’s pro-life stance also made it very attractive to white Protestant fundamentalists and Evangelicals, some of whom had previously avoided politics. There is an identifiable evangelical vote, but there is not a Catholic vote in the same sense. Over time, the shift in Catholic voting was dramatic. Clinton and Gore won a majority of white Catholic voters, but there was a 17% swing toward Bush by 2004. Bill Clinton’s veto of a ban on late term, partial birth abortions was a signal that the Democratic Party had taken an extremist and exclusionary position on this matter. Some years later, in February 2006, 53 Catholic Democrats in the House released a statement of principles that seemed to condone a extremist position on abortion. In a broader sense the Democrats consistently played into Republican claims that they were hostile to religion. Clearly, some older, traditional Catholics are guided by the abortion issue in their voting. However, most Catholics vote as part of their other roles, as union members, veterans, suburbanites, or whatever. Over time, as they have prospered and moved to the suburbs, larger numbers of Catholics have voted Republican, as have prosperous Protestants. According to pollster Steve Wagner, “Catholics may be the most maddening electoral group in American politics.”

During the 2002 presidential campaign, 27% of the respondents to a Los Angeles Times poll said the they were more inclined to vote for George W. Bush because he was pro-life, but only 18% said they were more likely to vote for Gore because he was pro-choice. Opposition to abortion symbolized a host of cultural concerns and, therefore, proved to be a much more important wedge issue than the pro-life stand. While some would expect that opposition to abortion would be declining by then, other polling data showed that it was actually increasing somewhat, even among young people. The continued potency of the abortion question made it an increasingly important conservative litmus test, even though it had become a matter of settled law and something beyond the ability of district and appeals court judges to change .For those who understood this, the Roe v Wade had become only a debate about whether it was good law. In late 2003, George W. Bush signed into law a ban on partial birth abortions, but because it did not contain language that sufficiently protected the health of the mother, a federal judge promptly struck it down. It was an easy vote for Republicans, as they did not want a fight with either their pro-choice or pro-life constituents. Judie Brown, leader of the American Life League, noted that it was a “free vote” and “the least they could possibly get away with in order to receive the pro-life vote.”

In 2004, the Republicans emphasized the abortion question and liberal support of stem cell research. The Bush campaign continually raised the matters of stem cell research, abortion, and gay marriage with Catholic and evangelical voters in materials and efforts specifically directed at these groups. The strategy worked, with a substantial increase in evangelical and Catholic turnouts. However, these questions were not featured in advertisements targeted at general audiences because the appeal to the Christian Right could alienate other voters. The emergence of the gay marriage issue gave him the perfect tool to exploit cultural animosities. The decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage reignited the cultural wars and provided Bush with a powerful issue to energize his political base. Soon the mayor of San Francisco, a conservative Catholic Democrat, was permitting gay couples to be married, and the California Supreme Court refused to stop him. The president entered the fray by calling for the ratification of a constitutional amendment forbidding the states to legalize same-sex marriage. Bush said same sex marriage was a threat to the sacrament of marriage. In time it became apparent that homosexual marriage as a wedge issue was not getting much traction because voters were concerned with larger matters.

While John Kerry was traveling the high road, the GOP was busy fanning the fears of conservative Christians. Karl Rove calculated that 4,000,000 conservative Christians Pictures of Bush and had not voted in 2000, and he was determined to motivate them to turn out in 2000. his cabinet at prayer were circulated at Christian businessmen’s fellowship meetings. Ralph Reed was sent to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to enlist support in registering and motivating voters. Republican operatives collected church directories from sympathetic ministers and priests. Conservative Catholic priests and ministers preached against gay marriage, stem cell research, and abortion, doing all but giving Bush an outright endorsement. One pro-Bush priest even disinvested another priest from speaking in his church because the man opposed the invasion of Iraq as had the pope The pitch frequently heard in Catholic Churches was that it was impossible to imagine a good Catholic voting for a pro-choice candidate. In Missouri, priests circulated St. Louis Archbishop Raymond L. Burke’s contention that it was a sin to vote for pro-choice candidates. The common refrain in the conservative Protestant churches was that Bush “has proven that he will do what is right, and he will look to God first.” Congregations were told to vote biblical values, “the way the word of God tells you to vote.” Dean Hudson, an RNC official, managed to get some conservative Catholic bishops to announce that they would deny John Kerry communion in their dioceses. Hudson later resigned after the National Catholic Reporter revealed that he lost a professorship at Fordham due to sexual involvement with a female student.

Republican exploitation of cultural issues was to be the main factor that was to bring them to power in Washington. By identifying with feminism, gay rights, and the most militant elements in the civil rights movement, Democrats provided the New Right with issues that enabled it to win the support of much of Middle America. Since the 1980s, blue-collar workers have faced job insecurity, job loss, and a threatened and declining standard of living. Despite all of this, a large number of them have continued focus on cultural issues and have gladly given their support to the party of Ronald Reagan. A 1993 Gallup poll found that almost half white males believed that feminism has made their lives harder. They saw feminism as essentially anti-male. Harry Stein, once ethics editor for Esquire argued that feminism has made men so tame and sensitive that the so-called Sensitive Man” had become “basically a woman with a penis.” Sometimes feminists seemed to characterize any criticism of them as sexist, and their criticism of men often seemed so general that Garrison Keillor remarked, “Years ago, manhood was an opportunity for achievement, and now it is a problem to be overcome.”

Rush Limbaugh told his millions of listeners “Feminism was established so that unattractive women could have easier access to the mainstream of society.” The popular talk show host added that feminists want to establish that “any expression of interest by a man in a woman is harassment.” The feminists’ concern for homosexual rights, he explained, sprung from fondness for their own kind rather than egalitarianism. Angry men accepted his analysis and borrowed his word for feminists, “feminazis.”

Many of the cultural warriors are “angry white men” who think they are under siege by women and minorities. Since the 1970s, their jobs had become less secure, and many saw a decline in real wages. They could blame some of this on affirmative action, which benefited minorities and blacks, and men saw the average wages of women rise sharply as females assumed more managerial positions. In that year, a Virginia jury acquitted Lorena Bobbitt of committing a crime, even though she cut off her husband’s penis. The verdict seemed to say that this was a man who got what he deserved, and it reminded men that women were having greater success in litigation. In the 1994 congressional elections, 64% of white men voted Republican. There was a strong perception that the Democratic Party had become the “welfare party,” a label that did not endear it to many in blue collar America.

A recent study demonstrates that adherence to conservative Protestantism explained a large part of Protestant opposition to homosexuality, but affiliation with the Republican party was also a significant explanatory variable. In opposing homosexuality, Republicans are doing more than appealing to the biases of conservative Christians. People who dislike homosexuality are more likely to be Republicans, regardless of their religious persuasions. Homophobia has marked the New Right and seems particularly intense for religiously conservative men who feel that contemporary society threatens their manhood. Libertarians and other Republicans who do not share the New Rights loathing of homosexuals have usually found it necessary to avoid this aspect of the New Right’s cultural crusade. Even conservative women often worry that their men are being “castrated” or feminized. Some go so far as to claim that homosexuality is the root cause of American cultural decline. Among conservative Christians there is a tendency to overcompensate for Christ’s tendency to show mercy and tenderness by emphasizing that he cast out demons, rebuked the sinful, and never showed fear. They want a virile, militant Christianity, and see gun control as another effort to emasculate “real” men.
In 1992, the Christian Action Network spent $2,000,000 on advertisements criticizing Clinton’s positions. Almost all of the ads focused on Clinton’s willingness to defend the rights of gays and lesbians. Because the advertisements did not urge voters to cast ballots against Clinton, these expenditures were not reported to the Federal Election Commission. They were considered an educational activity of a religious group. In 1994 the Federal Election Commission took he matter to court, but lost its case and had to pay the CAN’s legal fees.

As late as 2003, the Republican-dominated Virginia House of Delegates showed extraordinary interest in lesbianism. It carefully scrutinized the unpopular decisions of two judges in cases involving lesbian relationships before granting them new terms on the bench. After seven hours of grilling, it refused to reappoint an African-American judge who was accused of propositioning a female court administrator. There were endless questions about her sexual proclivities but very little interest in her performance as a judge. Robert F. McDowell, the committee chairman, offered the opinion that anyone who had been involved in anal or oral sex should not be a judge. At the same time, the second Bush administration selected Tommy G. Thacker for the Commission on HIV and AIDs. Thacker had talked about a “gay plague” and called homosexuality a “death style.” He recommended “reparative therapy”, which supposedly ends homosexual behavior through religious observance. He had operated the radio station at his alma mater, Bob Jones’s University, and returned there in 2001 to speak about the “sin of homosexuality.” Thacker withdrew his name from nomination after there was uproar in the press about his views.

To balance symbolic gifts to the Religious Right, the Justice Department, at the same time, granted $500,000 compensation to a woman whose lesbian partner had been killed in the attack of September 11, 2003. Playing to conservatives’ hang-ups about culture and unconventional sex would become an important method for recruiting support for neoliberal economic policies. In describing what he calls “the Great Backlash,” Thomas Frank observed, “Because some artist decides to shock the hicks by dunking Jesus in urine, the entire planet must make itself along the lines preferred by the Republican Party, U.S.A.” Though this was obviously an overstatement, there is no disputing the powerful appeal of cultural arguments. Franks rightly noted that “Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends,” and that it is very doubtful whether those economic policies benefit the great majority of people whose voting is guided by cultural anger. He noted that free market capitalism had dome massive harm to Kansas, his home state, but that Kansans are inclined to call for the end of federal farm programs, the privatization of utilities, and the end of progressive taxation. As he saw it, cultural anger has led them to work hard at nailing their state to the cross of gold William Jennings Bryan spoke of in 1896.
Yet, by 2003, there were signs that the far right was losing its battle against homosexuals. Even the children of the Christian Right often accepted the growing ethos of moral freedom and asserted that other individuals had a perfect right to decide what sexual lifestyle was morally good for them. The ethos of moral freedom was fueled in part by long-standing assimilationist forces and by laissez-faire individualism, which had become very pronounced in the postmodern era. In June 2003, six Supreme Court justices, in an opinion written by Republican Anthony Kennedy, struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law.

In Lawrence v. Texas, the court struck down anti-sodomy laws in other states because it also excluded moral disapproval as a basis for social legislation. The court could have found narrower grounds for acting because the Texas law only outlawed sodomy among homosexuals. At first glance, it would appear that the decision demonstrated that the moral majority was losing influence in America. However, the reaction to it indicated that it was revitalized by this decision. Cultural conservatives mounted efforts to head off legalization of gay marriage through state legislation and a constitutional amendment. Even if they did not get all the legislation they wanted, it was believed that the issue would activate far right voters and place Democrats in a bind as efforts to satisfy homosexual constituents could alienate moderates. On the other hand, this issue would increase pressure on George W. Bush to keep his promise to appoint other justices who were as conservative as Antonin Scalila and Clarence Thomas.

Conservative fund-raiser and strategist Paul M. Weyrich, who acknowledged defeat in the cultural wars in 1999, found the reaction reason to reconsider this decision. Father Richard John Neuhaus, a leading Neo Conservative and cultural warrior, said “People really think that on this one they have a winner.” Spearheading the renewed assault on homosexuality, the Traditional Values Coalition, claiming membership of 43,000 churches, questioned federal funding of research on homosexuality, AIDS, and sexual behavior. The organization proclaimed to ”truly represent the body of Christ.” In November the Massachusetts Supreme Court unanimously legalized gay marriage, a move that prompted Congressional Republicans to field a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. The issue was certain to rally conservative Christian voters to the GOP standard in 2004.

For many, the right to bear arms was a mainstay of American life, a fact that led many who were gun collectors or hunters to oppose Democratic efforts at gun control. The Democrats advocacy of gun control seemed to hurt them because so many gun collectors and hunters were one-issue voters. Even worse, they played into the hands of the New Right by letting the issue be used as a symbol of their elitism and opposition to traditional American values. There is a Gun Belt, where hunting culture is particularly strong, and that area more or less coincides with those areas that are resistant to rapid cultural change. The Gun Belt begins in the South, extends up into most of Ohio and Indiana, and is also found in the Mountain States. For a few, guns mean the ability to protect themselves against militant blacks. For a much smaller number, the gun represents the ultimate safeguard against big government. The National Rifle Association is not the only organization that works to fight restrictions on the privilege to keep and bear arms. There is also Gun Owners of America. There are 4,000 gun shows held annually, and in 1999, 28,874 American citizens are killed by gunfire.

Democrats took up the issue in part to help themselves with urban voters who were being told that liberals were soft on crime. To an extent, the gun control issue helped the Democrats with female voters and contributed to the so-called “gender gap.” On the other hand, it proved to be one of the most powerful weapons at the disposal of New Right theorists, who were bent on painting their opponents as enemies of traditional culture and determined to deprive every hunter of his shotgun. Very frequently, the states where the GOP was strongest were those in the Gun Belt. The gun is a traditional symbol of intense individualism and resistance to authority, two very strong American characteristics. These values are particularly strong in areas where long-standing culture seems to be threatened by modernization, industrialization, and cultural pluralism. The gun is also an important symbol of empowerment to men who feel they are being unmanned by secular humanism and the new assertiveness of women. In 1994, Republicans in Congress garnered one third of their votes from gun owners.

In pursuing anti-gun control votes, GOP candidates effectively sought in 1994 the votes of the militias by demanding an investigation of the Justice Department’s conduct toward the Branch Dravidians while opposing investigations of militias. Defending the militias, Steven Stockman defeated 21 term Texas Democrat Jack Brooks in that year. Another victor in 1994, Jack Metcalf of Washington, had spoken to militia conferences. Linda Smith, another Washington Republican elected that year, had close ties to Paul Hall, an anti-Semite and white supremacist.

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

1 comment:

fitasc said...

I am and will continue to be a "One" issue voter until they pry it from my cold dead hands!...

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About Me

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!