BOOKS & THE CULTURE THE REPUBLICAN RIGHT-THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT-CANNOT WIN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS BECAUSE THEY CANNOT FORMULATE THEIR UNCOMPROMISABLE PRINCIPLES IN A WAY THAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO THE MAJORITY. The history of Republican bleakness is extensive, but can be summarized thus: At its birth the Republican party was the dominant party in America and remained that for seventy years. Founded on a belief in the primacy of the national government, the party was conservative in the traditional sense of the word. It used the power of government to subsidize industry and to regulate it in various degrees. It freed the slaves, enacted civil rights laws \(which remained dormant for almost a hundred the first consumer-protection legislation. But in those days the business cycle was thought to be something like a natural law, which government might influence no more than it could the tides, and except in the e t. coinage of money, no one saw much of a role for government in managing the economyuntil the bottom fell out in 1929. After 1929, the Republicans had no chance, really, on the national scene, until after the Great Depression, FDR, and the end of the Second World War. When the dust settled, some curious things had happened. The meanings of the words “liberal” and “conservative” had traded places, and to a large extent the constituencies of the parties had shifted. The extent of the reshaping of American politics can be judged by this fact: before the Great Depression, in 1925, William Jennings Bryan, great orator, progressive, Democrat, and free-silver advocate, upheld the yahoo position in the Scopes monkey trial, claiming the Bible was to be interpreted literally. And no one in those days saw those positions as especially contradictory. As they crawled out of their foxholes, Republicans found themselves to be of two varieties: the ideologically purewhich I, meant racists, fundamentalists, goldbugs, and libertariansand the people-who want-to-win-elections. In 1948, the people who-want-to-win-elections had first crack. To everyone’s surprise Dewey lost, and the ideological Republicans were certain they would get the next shot in 1952, with their man Robert A. Taft, Jr. It wasn’t in the cards: the people-who-want-to-win elections persuaded Dwight Eisenhower that he was a Republican, and they persuaded the Republican party with the four words that still ring in the ears of the Republican right: “Only Ike can win.” Ike did win, and the Republican right has never forgiven the people-who-want-to-win-elections. In 1964, when perhaps no Republican could have been elected, the right wing finally got its chance. To their credit they nominated one of the most honorable men in American politics, but still led the party to the greatest election disaster up to that time. In 1980, with Ronald Reagan, the Republican right believed it had won at last. Reagan was, of course, the tool of the people-who-want-to-win-elections, but he had the ability to do the symbolic things and say the words that made the right wing feel good, without actually doing much to further their social policies. This ruse was so effective that much of the Republican rightwing rank and file is not yet even dimly aware that it had been had. In terms of hard policy, George Bush was virtually identical to Ronald Reagan, but without Reagan’s ability to cloud the minds of the right. They saw him for what he was, and felt he had to be dispensed with. The could not deny him renomination, but they could administer the blow that told the nation Bush was beatable and which helped Perotand thus Clintonto perceive an opening. le Ronald Reagan is now revered by many of the religious right, he reached office without owing them much of anything. They sup ported Reagan, they voted for him, but they did not have an on-going national organiza tion of any note and they were a rather minor part of the large majority Reagan won in 1980. Instead, it was they who owed himfor he provided a sense of possibility in the Reagan years that encouraged them, often by stealth, to begin to subvert the Re publican organization, precinct by precinct. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majoritylittle more or less than Falwell’s mailing list came to the fore and rather rapidly disinte grated during Reagan’s term. It remained for Pat Robertson to put together a real grassroots organization aimed not merely at persuading the Republican party to adopt positions agreeable to the religious right, Jeff Fisher, Texas Christian Katy Adams Coalition stalwart and GOP Delegate but at taking over the Republican party. How Robertson did that is detailed in Robert Boston’s The Most Dangerous Man In America? Pat Robertson And The Rise Of The Christian Coalition \(Prometheus; This then is how it stands today: the Republican right has been very successful in shifting the whole battlefield of American politics far to the right, and they have gained control of enough of the Republican apparatus to play spoiler. They cannot win presidential elections because they cannot formulate their uncompromisable principles in a way that is acceptable to the majority, yet they cannot realize. this is their problem because they believe they are divinely inspired. To a certain degree, the Republican rightthe religious rightcan maintain its high opinion of itself precisely because it is in no danger of governing and exposing itself and its leaders to the kind of scrutiny to which elected national officials AUGUST 30, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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