Monday, July 12, 2004
In the latest issue of the American Prospect, James Pinkerton complains about the grip of the religious right on the GOP. He argues persuasively that the alliance between the pro-corporate, libertarian, neoconservative, and christian fundamentalists is inherently unstable, and that the latter is undermining the position of the Republican party. Pinkerton looks towards future GOP characterized by fiscal conservativism, social tolerance, neoliberalism, and a cautious foreign policy.
Funny- that sounds a lot like the Clinton Democrats. Which is of course Pinkerton's problem. He is part of that lost generation of right-wing thinkers who thought that the Reagan era was the beginning of a new ideological realignment in American politics. He figured that the virulent anti-government stuff was just the initial phase of over-enthusiasm, to be replaced in the long term by a new consensus. There was another group on the center-left working on the same stuff, mostly at the DLC. The "third way" and "neoliberal" brand of politics was laying around for either of the parties to pick up. Pinkerton wanted it to be the GOP, but the religious right took over the party and Clinton, Blair and others grabbed the ideas for the left instead. Which leaves Pinkerton writing articles in liberal magazines- a very strange place for a Dan Quayle assistant.
Pinkerton's center-right ideology was stillborn, and probably never had much chance of making it to term. He correctly identifies the source of the problem: the social intolerance and wacky paranoia of the christian right. But what he fails to realize is that the Reagan majority would never have been possible without those voters. Without the social conservatism, what is to attract working class voters to neoliberalism? The erosion of the safety net in favor of entrepreneurial risk? The economic privilege granted to corporations? Or maybe the atomized character of a social and economic life dominated by commercialism? I don't buy it either.
As Thomas Frank in "What's the Matter with Kansas" lays out so brilliantly, the GOP has only emerged as an electoral contender because its alliance with the christian right enabled it to peel off working class rural voters. Without the Culture War, the right would never have been able to break up the New Deal Coalition, and we would all be reflecting on the accomplishments of President Mondale. And if Pinkerton is right and the culture war is fading as a political issue, then Karl Rove has something to keep him up at nights.