Wise Words about the Right
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 09:54:33 PM EST
Dr. Jean Hardisty is the founder president emerita of Political Research Associates (PRA) and remains involved in the organization. She gave an interview on the occasion of the launch of the new organizational web site and blog, Eyes Right (where I will also be contributing).  

Here are a few excerpts from the interview, offering the perspective of a progressive student of the Right; a scholar who chooses her words carefully, wisely, and well.  

PRA studied the Right as a movement, so that individuals and organizations existed in a framework of understanding. This reading of the Right made sense to both scholars and activists (and donors as well). It kept us away from simplistic solutions and too much simple conspiracism, while talking about how a movement does conspire and coordinate.  And it made sense of the sub-movements and sectors that sometimes can contradict each other, but always exist under a coordinated big tent.

There is a lot of coverage of the Right at this point - the Internet has made a huge difference and the public is now much more aware that the Right is a well-organized and well-financed movement. But there are gaps in media coverage and there are gaps in the coverage of those progressive issues under attack.

The greatest is the neglect of the attack on the poor. Welfare Reform is too widely accepted as a success and the effect of the recession (depression) in coverage by the mainstream media takes a back seat to coverage of the effect on the Middle Class.

In the area of attacks on issues, the Right is not hampered by issue silos. It can attack the rights of immigrants and reproductive rights simultaneously or the rights of low-income people and the rights of LGBT people simultaneously. Workers and liberal Christians - they are all the same fodder for the Right's agenda.

What will follow that as the Right's next big theme?  Perhaps a revival of Cold War themes, such as the penetration of an outside enemy (perhaps Islam this time) and the threat of foreign influence.  Or the decline in Americanism - such as "standards," patriotism, moral fiber, and manliness. Many of these themes are encoded racism, which will be a winning theme for the Right for years to come.

It's hard to make predictions like this, and much will depend on how successful the Right is in altering the basic institutions of U.S. governance, such as the Supreme Court and the autonomy of the states. The Supreme Court is already tilted quite substantially to the right, and it in turn is expanding the role of states' rights. Policy at the state level is historically more conservative than that at the national level and an increase in state autonomy bodes ill for the future of progressive issues.




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This article points up the importance of analyzing any movement or community in its totality in addition to looking at the individual components.  How individual groups interact, support, or attempt to suppress or exclude each other, as well as the fluidity of borders among groups (e.g., do core groups of people gather around certain issues on an ad hoc basis, then move on, are there certain "standing" or permanent groups, or a combination of the two) need to be considered in order to know what is really going on over time.

I use a similar approach when I am working with communities regarding environmental issues.  One can learn a lot about how best to work with a community by analyzing past responses to "threats" or "opportunities."  Unfortunately, many clients (in my case) or others simply following issues prefer to look only at specific groups and their activities rather than taking the time to consider how such groups interact.

Any website/journal/blog that helps people grasp the "big picture," including how organizational structures wax and wane and shift over time is to be commended.  Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of the "digital age" is the tendency for casual (and sometimes not so casual) observers to view a lot of "facts," but miss out on overall trends, "community" behaviors, and movements.

by coralsea on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 11:32:47 AM EST

When we founded this site, it was very much with the goal of encouraging thinking, researching, and writing in these kinds of broad frameworks.  It is one of the reasons why we discourage the use of distorting slangy epithets, not to mention the wider problems of labeling and demonization.  

I think that those of us who are interested in understanding movements of which we are not a part, and especially one's that we oppose, or are threatened by -- always need to take a few deep breaths, stay calm and stay serious.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 11:03:22 PM EST
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This is definitely the case with people who have concerns regarding environmental issues.  Often, my clients assume that anyone who has questions or raises concerns is an adversary or some sort of anti-business "communist."  My work involves looking at what groups' or persons' actual concerns are, as well as the context surrounding them (e.g., past problems with other manufacturing facilities, concerns about incidence of various illnesses).  Sometimes the concerns are quite legitimate and need to be addressed.  Other times, they are based on misunderstandings or lack of information.  But if I do my job well, my client understands why they need to work with various groups and that they aren't out to "get" them.  Once they understand where these groups are coming from, they are far more interested in talking with them.

Often, unless one is dealing with people who are totally fixated on an issue, common ground can be reached along with solutions that benefit all parties.

I was recently reading about the protests surrounding the gang rape of the medical student in India, who subsequently died.  Among the observations regarding the protesters was that most were male (this is a whole other story), and that among them, many were men who were concerned about women's safety and women's rights, but that many of the others were men who were concerned about women's safety -- but thought that the best way to address the issue of violence was to push them back into traditional roles.  One group of protesters -- but two very different thoughts on how to address the problem (and largely without input from the folks [women] who are actually effected).   Interesting....  

by coralsea on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 11:03:56 AM EST
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Part of the problem is a lack of funding, which has shut down some of the people I know.  It's very hard to do serious research without an income or funding, and I know at least a couple of serious researchers who have backed away from the fight (for survival as any walkaway can relate) because they couldn't afford it.

There HAS been such serious work, showing the connections between the different groups and how dominionism all ties together (with the political and other aspects), by Leah Burton for instance.

I would also be concerned about getting money from funding agencies, because they often put limits on the research... for instance they might fund researching dominionist churches, but stay away from the uber-rich providing their resources.

Unless something changes greatly for the better, this lack of funding problem may also get worse.  There has been talk of cutting funding for research in general in this country... and social science research (under which the sort of work connected to T2A falls) is one area that is viewed as of little value by the politicians and bureaucrats (because they can't quickly show a profit at the bottom of the ledger).

I'm going to take a wait and see attitude towards this person.  I've observed two things about some of the "big name" pundits that I've read... first, that they sometimes seem to consider dominionism more of an academic exercise and not the dire threat to this country that it is, and second, that they often neglect the religious/ideological in order to look at the financial or political, when they're all tied together.  Nothing exists in a vacuum... and if you ignore one part of the picture you're missing the message from the painter.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 10:10:24 AM EST
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Bob,  Jean Hardisty is the founder and president emerita of Political Research Associates. She and Chip Berlet were the mainstays for many years.  PRA was a sponsor of Sara Diamond's work, and Sara, Chip and I probably had more to do with developing and using the term "dominionism" and related ideas than anyone else.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 01:56:44 PM EST
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I don't remember running into the name before (except maybe mentioned in passing in some article), but that's life.


by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:13:26 PM EST
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