What's Wrong With the Religious Right?
Once upon a time, I actually paid attention to the shenanigans of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, otherwise known as the Democrats and Republicans. I wasted my time with "thoughtful" publications such as National Review and Human Events--yes, I honestly took such pabulum seriously. In 1992, I handed out literature for George Bush (to my credit, I had voted for Pat Buchanan in the Michigan primary). By 1994, I was ecstatic at the thought of a GOP takeover of Congress. I foolishly assumed it would lead to an era of good government, responsible policy making, and, of course, a rebirth of freedom (OK, maybe I wasn't THAT stupid).
By the early 1990's, I already knew something was amiss in the GOP and the "conservative movement." As an economics student, I'd stumbled across Mises, Rothbard and the Austrian cohort. My brother had given me an issue of Chronicles magazine pronouncing the death of the movement, and I noticed Pat Buchanan's increasing disenchantment with the nefarious neocons.
In 1991, Tom Fleming and Murray Rothbard were engines behind the creation of the John Randolph Committee, a nascent attempt to create a new fusionism, melding together paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians. This was an era when hard-edged ideologues on the right were determined to shelve disputes over first principles and build a coalition to challenge the establishment. If Fleming assumed that 80% of what the state did was problematic and Rothbard assumed the number was closer to 95%, couldn't they agree to move the ball down the field and save discussions about defining state sovereignty for another occasion?
In any case, the paleo movement coalesced around Pat Buchanan in 1992 when he ran in the GOP primaries against the elder Bush. In my naivete, I assumed Pat would find widespread support from conservatives. After all, I reasoned, Poppy had raised taxes, signed dreadful "civil rights" legislation, and presided over a huge increase of the regulatory state.
But instead of hopping on board, most "conservatives" attacked Pat. The prissy George Will, the gluttonous, but virtuous, Bill Bennett, and the monstrous Charles Krauthammer all accused Pat of being Mussolini's progeny. Jack Kemp and other establishment conservatives piled on, led by NR old man Bill Buckley, who laid the ludicrous charge of anti-Semitism at Pat's feet (this actually occurred around the time of the first Gulf War, and NR did ultimately issue a "tactical" endorsement of Pat.)
Well, we all remember that Pat inflicted some damage on old man Bush in the early primaries and ultimately was given a spot on the docket at the GOP convention in Houston where he delivered a stem-winder of a speech.
By 1994, a slew of young Republican congressmen were streaming into Washington bringing conservative ideas with them. Bill Clinton had overreached with his socialist health care plan and gun-grabbing schemes, and like the elder Bush had raised taxes, too. Newt Gingrich and company were going to forever scale-back the state and restore a constitutional balance between the regime in Washington and the various outposts of the empire, i.e., the states. Even immigration reform was on the agenda as Californians, led by Pete Wilson, stood up and said "Enough!" to the invasion of their state from the south.
By 1996, though congressional Republicans had been handed their hats by Bill Clinton, another Buchanan campaign was in the offing. This time, Pat got started early, raising money and putting together a staff of excellent young operatives. The conservative alternative to Pat was Phil Gramm, who raised prodigious amounts of money and had the support of "movement" conservatives interested in thwarting the mushy establishmentarian Bob Dole and preventing him from becoming the GOP standard-bearer. In the early primaries and caucuses, Buchanan proved himself formidable. He won the Alaska caucuses and in Louisiana's race, he faced Gramm man-to-man and won handily, driving the senator from the race.
The contest next moved to Iowa, adjacent to senator Dole's home state of Kansas. By this time, magazine magnate (and beneficiary of Daddy's money) Steve Forbes had entered the fray, giving "economic conservatives" a horse in the race. A few weeks out, newspapers were publishing polls indicating that 28 percent of Iowans were for Dole, 26 percent for Forbes, and 12 percent for Buchanan. But with Pat's victory in Louisiana, the tide was heading in his direction. On election night, exit polls indicated that Dole had beaten back the challenge by a single percentage point. There were also indications that some funny business existed in the counting of ballots in Iowa, but with Dole's narrow victory, the contest moved to New Hampshire.
By this time, the conservative movement operating in lock step with the establishment media turned on Pat with ferocity. They hauled out the racist/sexist/homophobe charge and played the anti-Semite card. But none of it worked to dissuade the good people of New Hampshire, who delivered a stunning victory to Buchanan on election night.
The elite moved into panic mode. As the race moved to Arizona and South Carolina, it looked like Buchanan could actually win the race. He was leading in the polls in Arizona, and we know from Bob Woodward's coverage that had Dole finished third in the AZ primaries, he was prepared to exit the race. In AZ, Pat's populism and his stance on immigration were rousing supporters and all the energy was in the Buchanan camp.
On election day, Arizona’s Governor, Fife Symington, called the Buchanan State HQ to congratulate him on his victory. Just moments after the polls closed, Sen. John McCain, who initially backed Phil Gramm, then switched his support to Bob Dole just before the Arizona primary, sent a FAX to the media extending to the Buchanan Brigade "congratulations for winning a plurality of support from Arizona Republicans." But after a night of ballot counting, Buchanan was suddenly in third place, behind Forbes and Dole. What happened exactly? Well, we're not really sure, though there is evidence that the election was stolen from Buchanan and that McCain and Symington just didn't get the memo.
As the race moved to South Carolina, things were heating up. At 73, Dole looked like a dead man walking, but Ralph Reed and the "Christian right" would come running to his rescue. Concerned that Buchanan was too "extreme" and a likely loser in the general election, Reed and the Christian Coalition began to agitate on behalf of Dole. (By the way, during the 1992 primaries Pat Robertson claimed that God told him he should endorse Bush the Elder over Buchanan. God also whispered in Brother Pat's ear that Bush would win the general election in a landslide, but I guess you can't get 'em all right. Good thing for Robertson Christians don't read Deuteronomy). Reed, Robertson, and governor David Beasley constructed a firewall in South Carolina and ultimately strangled the Buchanan movement as it was slouching forth to be birthed.
By 2000, religious conservatives completely abandoned ship altogether. With Buchanan running on the Reform Party ticket (that's another long post for another day), the Religious Right hopped on the Bush Express after his thoughtful musings about Jesus being his favorite philosopher.
Why spill all this ink reviewing "ancient" political history, and what do those events have to do with the leadership of the Religious Right? The neocon/paleocon civil war of the 1990's provided an opportunity for authentic conservatives to take back their movement from Trotskyite interlopers and castaways from traditional liberalism. Buchanan and his movement represented limited government bound by the Constitution, a foreign policy that put America First, and support for immigration and cultural policies that might have maintained our integrity as a coherent people.
On the other side were imperious neoconservatives, conflating Israeli and American interests, driven to create a Pax Americana at the point of a bayonet. The neocons were aligned with business interests, those who believe in the myth of homo economicus, who sought mass immigration as a means of keeping wages low, and who see tax policy and tort reform as more important than the murder of unborn children.
In this battle of ideas and principles, where did the Christian Coalition along with the Dobson/Falwell/Robertson axis come down? They sided with the Big Business and Big Government faction, i.e., the neocons. They sided with imperialistsic, big-government, warmongers, who care nothing for their issues. In short, in the name of pragmatism and relevance it was the so-called Christian Right, aligned with neoconservatives and the liberal press corps, that swamped what remained of the conservative movement. Evangelical voters were the instrument wielded by the GOP establishment, a rent-a-mob that ultimately destroyed the last remnants of bona fide conservatism and constitutionalism. And what did they get for their efforts? Bob Dole and George W. Bush. I'll confess that Ralph Reed has been well compensated for selling himself to the highest bidder, but I'm wondering if the rest of these fellas would like to renegotiate for thirty pieces of silver.