The Religious Right and The Tea Party
As someone who has reported on the right for more than 25 years, I can say that there have always been tensions between those elements of the conservative movement who emphasize economics and those who emphasize social issues. In other words, the mostly secular libertarian and corporate element and the Religious Right. Keeping this coalition together has been the task and the challenge for the political Right for at least a generation.
In the late 1980s, for example, a network of state level think tanks modeled after the Heritage Foundation was established. This was done in tandem with the network of state level policy groups organized by Focus on the Family, and modeled after the Family Research Council, currently headed by Tony Perkins. (See Takin' It To the States: The Rise of State Level Conservative Think Tanks. (PDF) These think tanks and political action groups often overlapped in their emphases, blurring distinctions between economic and social conservatives in ways that have continued and evolved into the present day.
Similarly, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition always emphasized gun rights as well as such traditional conservative economic issues as taxes. This caused many outsiders to wonder what guns and taxes had to do with Christianity. But such reactions demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian Coalition as political expression of the conservative movement and not merely theological conservatism. Progressive thinker Urvashi Vaid recently observed that there is little that is new about what we are seeing. What is often lacking is our own capacity to see it clearly and to respond appropriately, whether as reporters or as political activists and strategists. That the conservative movement is currently leading with economic issues more than social issues is not something new, rather it is a contemporary strategic emphasis.
Chip Berlet and Bruce Wilson have recently posted fresh accounts of the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit which provide brief corrective perspectives about the state of the Religious Right as a broad, viable social/political movement. It is also worth noting as we enter the home stretch of the Fall election season, that for all the noise and arguments about turnout at the Glenn Beck rally and other events, lost is that movement leaders have emphasized electorally related trainings (in case anyone is wondering why tea party aligned candidates are winning low turn-out party primaries), and that the Religious Right is breaking new ground in organizing in cyberspace.
Things are not always as they seem.
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