"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, February 24, 2008

The New Right Within the GOP

By the late 1970s, the New Right was becoming a very powerful force in American conservative community. The New Right still did not dominate the Republican National Committee in 1979, and its leaders complained about the way the RNC distributed money among candidates. Beginning in 1977, Bill Brock led the RNC in modernizing its operations and developing a much larger donor base by appealing to New Right cultural concerns. In 1980, the New Right held 40 of 435 House Seats and ten seats in the Senate. In the Reagan years, there were sharp clashes between the New Right and other Republicans, but the New Right was gaining ground. In 1995, the Speaker of the House was a member of the New Right, and a year later Republican leaders in both Houses were from the New Right. Other Republicans were learning that New Right rhetoric raised money, attracted volunteer workers, and brought in votes. In 1978, they backed a Democrat over George W. Bush in a Texas House race because they thought Bush was a “blue-stocking” Republican like his father, and many of them sat out the 1992 presidential election because George H.W. Bush broke a promise not to raise taxes. He had done sin in return for a Democratic promise to limit spending because a massive debt was threatening the nation’s economic health.
In the 1990s, the New Right was the core of the Republican party and dominated its caucuses in Congress. Other Republicans also learned that the New Right punished other Republicans who appeared too moderate or too willing to do business with Democrats. Moderates came to be defined as those who adhered to traditional Republican fiscal restraint and who were uneasy with the extremism of the cultural conservatives. Their critics called them RINOS, Republicans in Name Only because they did not walk in lock step with their much more numerous conservative colleagues. In time, some of they were called “gypsy moths.”

By the count of Representative Mike Castle, president of the Republican Main Street Coalition, there were still 45 House Republican moderates, of a total of 229, in 2003. His count might be correct, but most of the 45 have been intimidated into moving right. In the House, they have been stripped of committee chairmanships for insufficient loyalty or for not raising enough money for the party. Some of them have faced costly primary fights with well-financed conservatives. While they usually managed to survive, the message was clear to them and other moderates.
As they retire in frustration or die, they are replaced by hard-liners. In the 2006 by-elections, the voters removed one moderate Republican senator and a number of House moderates in part because their presence had helped the GOP control both houses.

There was a time when the Republican Party was an uneasy coalition of moderates like Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania and Gerald Ford of Michigan. The moderates are now shrinking in size and frequently afraid to vote their convictions, and the party is run by hyperconservatives from George W. Bush on down to the leadership in both houses of Congress. . Over time, the Right defeated a number of moderates and liberals in primaries; among them: Clifford Case of New Jersey, Tom Kuchel of California, and Jacob Javits of New York. In 2004, the New Right, funded by t he Club for Growth almost defeated Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Subsequently, Specter found it necessary to make a number of promises to the Right in order to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Specter’s close call with political extinction probably convinced the remaining Republican moderates in Congress that they must follow the New Right leadership or lose their seats.

In challenging these moderates and liberals, the New Right had the advantage of superior financial resources, but their greatest asset was a Republican electorate that had been moving to the right for some time. Senator Specter had great difficulties in Allegheny County, once a stronghold of moderate Republicanism but now reflecting more and more the views of Senator Rick Santorum. Ironically, Santorum and a number of moderate Republicans were defeated in the 2006 reaction against the unsuccessful war in Iraq. It seems the moderates were defeated because they were helping the GOP control Congress. Some suggest the election showed that the party must move toward the center, but the fact is that there are not many moderate Republicans in Washington to help the party set a new course.

Of course, although not all Republicans are from the New Right, it does tend to dominate Republican primaries and the party’s leadership in Congress. By the late 1990s, they had been around so long that they were often called ideological conservatives rather than the New Right. Most other Republicans are what can be called pragmatic conservatives. They avoid the harsh rhetoric of the ideologues and abandon New Right positions when necessary. Nevertheless, the New Right controls the party’s core, and that enables the New Right to dominate the GOP. This political worldview offered fairly simple explanations of and solutions to problems and was an ideology that appealed to the true believer and those who needed to face the world with an arsenal of certainties. It was an outlook that inspired and sustained passion. On the other hand, the liberalism that grew out of the progressive era and the New Deal was a form of pragmatism and rationalism that was animated by commitments to justice and compassion. This pragmatic outlook had no place for absolutes and placed a premium on demonstrably useful ideas. Liberal pragmatists believed that a science of governance could be developed and that government could be employed to improve the lives of citizens. However, it rarely was the source of passion.

Belief in absolute ideas remained powerful among conservatives, and the strength of these convictions was capable of fueling great passion and zeal. The arguments of the New Right and the thought of the neoliberals together constitute a powerful de facto ideology that has come to constitute the dominant political and societal worldview in the United States. The so-called New Democrats have only been able to ward off its most destructive applications by accepting many Republican tenets. To survive in politics, Democrats have had to avoid outright denunciations of neo-liberalism and the New Right. In 2006, Democrats regained control of Congress in part by avoiding cultural issues and rarely challenging many economic policies.

Anger and fear intensified belief in these New Right ideas, creating a strongly believed ideology that was impervious to factual information. In time a form of groupthink developed in the conservative subculture that simply filtered out any information that seemed contradictory. Over time, a foreign policy component to the ideology emerged, and again there seemed to be a process at work that simply rejected any information that suggested that any foreign policy initiative that sprang from it could be risky or lead to disaster. For example, even after the occupation of Iraq had become a quagmire in 2003 and 2004, conservatives simply rejected any information that called their course into question. In 2006, many voters found they could no longer overlook the unfolding disaster in Iraq, but their decision to give the Democrats a chance at power did not mean that the time-tested cultural issues of the New Right had lost their potency.

Enlisting in the cultural war gave people a sense of being associated with a noble cause and gave life meaning. The attack of al Qaeda terrorists on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001 provided the Republican Party with a particularly powerful war psychology and an opportunity to capitalize indefinitely on people’s fears . Soon America was involved in a protracted international war on terror against an “axis of evil.” Battles were to be fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the homeland itself was threatened. Supporting this war effort bestowed a great sense of meaning, as every nation has a latent “passionate yearning for a nationalist cause that exalts us, the kind that war alone is able to deliver.” Whoever is leading a nation in such a time is seen as a fearless, effective leader. People in wartime situations desperately want to believe in the existing leadership. The Bush administration did everything possible to expand the heroic image war bestowed upon him, and there was “little that logic or fact or truth” could do to tarnish this image. Those who questioned the leader risked the wrath of many voters. Many had already learned to fear that liberals would destroy traditional American culture. Now they were to learn that only George W. Bush could protect them from physical attack, and that the dreaded liberals might dismantle America’s defenses. It was potent stuff.

As Slovenian cultural theorist and philosopher Slavoj Zizek noted, modern-day ideologists are almost impervious to factual information. “The way ideology works today is much more mysterious ....There’s an active refusal to know.... The key factor is not that people are duped--there’s an active will not to know.” Zizek used the example of the belief of a majority of Americans that the al Qaeda terrorists were allied with Iraq even though the great preponderance of evidence suggested otherwise. People would not abandon that view or the falsehood that Iraqis were behind the 9/11 attack on the United States because they needed reassurance that their faith in the nation’s elected leader was justified and that they were in good hands. A reporter who interviewed delegates to the 2004 Republican National Convention, repeatedly heard that the invasion of Iraq was justified because “ ‘they’--meaning Iraqis” struck us on 9/11. Theirs was a belief system that could not be cracked. He thought it was that of “ the minority of a minority,” but polling data in that year suggested a much larger number held this belief system. The journalist correctly noted, “In this belief system, the arguments of their opponents carry, essentially, no weight whatsoever....”Their belief system precluded even considering information that conflicted with it.

The traditional conservative thinker John Lukacs wrote, "when...temperance is weak, or unenforced, or unpopular, then democracy is nothing else than populism. More precisely: then it is nationalist populism....the fundamental problem of the future." Right-wing populism easily morphed into nationalist populism. Anyone objecting to any policy that claimed to be part of the war on terrorism was likely to have her patriotism questioned. Jim Gibbons, a Republican Congressman from Nebraska, was to say it was "too damn bad we didn’t buy {critics of the Iraq war} tickets to become human shields there. He also said those who complained about corporate contributions to President Bush were "communists.” Such outbursts are relatively rare because they tend to spook independent voters, but his remarks accurately reflect the spirit of nationalist populism. There were many other ways to say the same thing without alarming independents and moderates.

So far the union of right-wing populism and extreme nationalism has not produced fascism, but it has clearly threatened the health of our democratic polity. John Lukacs believes the new populism could almost destroy democracy because it so easily degenerates into the tyranny of the majority. 'Nationalism is a very low and cheap common denominator that unites people,'' Lukacs says. ''It is hatred that unites people. People take satisfaction from the idea that we are good because our enemies are evil. This is a very American syndrome, but it is also universally true of mankind.'' Lukacs was one of the few conservative intellectuals to object to Senator Joseph McCarthy; it is likely that he will have even less company this time around.

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

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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!