A Call for a Tactical Retreat by the Religious Right in the GOP
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Aug 21, 2006 at 10:39:00 PM EST
Back in 1976, conservatives faced a dillemma.  Gerald Ford was narrowly nominated as the GOP candidate for president, after having been appointed as vice-president and then assuming the presidency, after the resignation of Richard Nixon.  Ford was not conservative enough for movement conservatives. So, led by conservative direct mail entrepreneur Richard Viguerie, top movement leaders Howard Phillips, William Rusher, Paul Weyrich and Lee Edwards, among others, sought to join forces with the American Independent Party, of former Alabama Governor George Wallace. When  AIP wouldn't have them,  movement conservatives mostly sat-out the 1976 presidential election.  They decided four years of Jimmy Carter would be better than eight years of Gerald Ford. They began to create the organizaitons of what was then known as the "New Right," (part of which now clearly defines elements of the religious right), and to prepare for Reagan's next run for president.

Richard Viguerie has proposed that conservatives do something similar now.

According to publicity materials for his new book, Conservatives Betrayed, (which I have not yet read), Viguerie declares that conservatives should become a more independent political force. He does not think they should bolt the GOP, but...
This is the first book that deals with the disappointment and even anger that most conservatives have with President Bush and the GOP-led Congress on major public policy issues. In this conservative manifesto, Viguerie applies conservative principles to 21st Century problems and issues. He also presents a detailed strategy for conservatives to take back control of the Republican Party and govern America.

With President Bush's low approval numbers, the unrest among grassroots conservatives, and the potential for GOP losses in the 2006 and 2008 elections, this book is a roadmap for conservatives as they begin to rebuild the conservative movement, recapture the Republican Party, and move even the Democrats to the right. In Conservatives Betrayed, Mr. Viguerie proposes bold action for conservatives to take back the Republican Party from Big Government Republicans, including:

Withhold financial support from Republican committees and most Republican incumbents.

Withhold support from all 2008 presidential candidates.

No longer call yourself a "Republican" but rather a Reagan conservative or Reagan Republican.

Work for wholesale change in Republican leadership at all levels of government.

And think and act as a third force (not third party) independent of the Republican Party. While not advocating GOP defeat, Mr. Viguerie says conservatives should not fear the loss of Congress in 2006, since our best gains usually come after a defeat:  

-- 1976: Gerald Ford's loss made possible Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980.

-- 1992: George H.W. Bush's loss made possible the Republican congressional victories in 1994.

In the late 1980s, Howard Phillips felt that the Reagan administration was not conservative enough. He went on to found what is now called the Constitution Party by cobbling together remnants of earlier rightist third parties. Much of the core of this group were Christian Reconstructionists, (a catalytic, theocratic movement) notably seminal thinker R.J Rushdoony, George Grant, Joseph Morecraft, Rus Walton of the Plymouth Rock Foundation, and many others.  Reconstructionist writer John Lofton clung to GOP longer, but served as the press secretary for the 2004 Constitution Party presidential candidate, Michael Anthony Peroutka.  (Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, had flirted with running for the 2004 Constitution Party presidential nomination before opting to plan a run for the GOP nomination for governor of Alabama instead. Moore was handlily defeated in the primary and is now a columnist with the religious right's own internet news operation, World Net Daily.   Howard Phillips and the Constitution Party were stalwart backers of Moore throughout the ten commandments controversies.

Although Viguerie is calling for the movement to pull back from the GOP for now, he seems to be arguing that conservatives need to reorganize and become a stronger force in the GOP rather than bolt to the CP.

Similarly, Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, argues, according to an article in Agape Press -- the news agency of Don Wildmon's American Family Association,  that Bush and the GOP have been "liberal" with regard to the size of government and foreign policy, but that


"George W. Bush has made more progress than any of his predecessors combined" in the area of social issues, says Weyrich, who is considered one of the conservative movement's "more vigorous thinkers."

So how do disgruntled conservatives voice their frustrations with the GOP, short of bolting the party? Weyrich suggests instead of making a donation to the Republican Party, that individuals send a check to a conservative organization -- then forward a copy to the GOP. He believes that will get the message across.

"That really gets their attention because, as long as the money keeps coming in, they really don't care what the rest of us think," he states. "But when the money stops and they start getting that kind of a message, then they definitely will pay attention."

Weyrich says this method has proven to be the best way to produce change.


Whether Christian Right purists will follow Vigeuerie's lead and distance themselves from the GOP, remains to be seen. But clearly, this is an opportunity for the Constitution Party.  It is already the third largest political party in the U.S., on the strength of its large membership in California (yes, larger than the Green Party and the Libertarian Party.) Although, in many states, it has a neligible presence. But over time, the party has shown that even in mid-term elections, they often have pockets of strength. This year they have a well known former TV talk show host and anti-abortion activist as their gubernatorial candidate in Oregon.

And in Montana and Utah, the party has fielded a large number of candidates for offices at all levels. The rhetoric is heating up too: Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party's 2004 vice presidential candidate recently compared George Bush to Hitler and Stalin, concluding:

Should we recognize and deal with the threat of "Islamic fascists"? Yes, of course.... At the same time, we should also deal with the fascist tendencies of our own political and commercial leaders. Anyone who insists that Americans give up their liberty in the name of security is guilty of the same evil he purports to protect us from! In other words, fascism by any other name is just as dangerous!

On the other hand, the party is in some turmoil, and conservative GOPers are doing what they can to exploit it.  Two state parties, New York and Ohio, have disaffiliated, apparently because they are upset that the chair and some candidates of the Nevada state party, are out of compliance with the party platform, which is, as they like to say is 100% prolife; or in other words, they claim these leaders advocate "the killing of preborn children (abortion) in cases of rape, incest, life and/or health of the mother and fetal deformity, and said chairman has openly and publicly communicated and published said views..."

Such tensions and comings and goings are endemic to any political party. Indeed, former Operation Rescue leader, Randall Terry, once a Constitution Party candidate for Congress in New York, this year is running in the GOP primary for a state senate seat in Florida.  

But this year, one of the most important leaders of the conservative march to power in the 20th century, is publicly calling for the movement to disengage from the GOP. And that, could signal an historic shift in American political life.




Display:
and Pat Robertson before him, have been famous for petulantly threatening to bolt the GOP or to sit out elections if they don't get their way.  It is a biannual ritual.  

But Viguerie's proposal is different.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Aug 21, 2006 at 11:17:15 PM EST


Call me a cock-eyed optimist but if large groups of conservatives followed this strategy it wouldn't be all bad.  Conservatives - after the culture wars of the early 20th century (especially the Scopes trial) - stayed away from politics.  In that time, many conservatives adapted to and accepted the progressive policies - social security, Medicare, welfare.  As a result, there was a national consensus on a wide array of issues - the change was gradual but steady in the direction of progressive politics.  

It took the Vietnam disaster and consequent social upheaval to re-engage conservatives in national politics.  (IMHO, had Vietnam happened by itself rather than at the same time as the Civil Rights movement, women's movement and gay rights movement, conservatives would most likely have remained uninvolved.  But because they happened together it radicalized large swaths of conservative.  Oh well.)  The effect was synergistic within conservative social and political circles in which conservative anger and feelings of disenfranchisement feed on themselves and keep the movement angry and energized.

Don't misunderstand me - some conservatives are still hell bent on privatizing social security, but a majority of their followers aren't with them on that particular jihad.  If conservatives marginalize themselves by leaving mainstream politics, it will allow progressives to create a new national consensus and move forward.  By and large, the majority of conservative voters will accept those changes if they are implemented in intelligent, effective ways and those voters see a corresponding improvement in their economic security and personal lives.

It feels to me as if the most important component would be progressives not forgetting the lessons of history.  Today's conservative movement is a backlash against the movements of the 60s.  At that time, many liberals felt that they could ignore conservatives and that they had nothing to learn from history.  By failing to productively engage other parts of society in the conversation, liberals had a hand in creating the monster.  In the future, progressives have a duty to never let that happen again.  Remember, a majority of Americans opposed the Vietnam war, but were even more opposed to the antics of anti-war movement.  That dynamic should never be allowed to occur again.  A primary goal for progressive leaders is to be certain we learn that lesson.


by glendenb on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 12:08:39 PM EST



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