August 29, 2009

Conservatism’s Real Social Base

Let me join Dylan Hale in congratulating Keith Preston for his perceptive comments about where the Right has gone since the 1960s. In all of the decades that I?ve written on the subject, the connection drawn by Keith never really occurred to me, that is, between the Sun Belt Republican conservatism of the 1960s and the global democratic gibberish of the present conservative movement. The connective tissue is, of course, the support for military build-up and the production of war materiel. Of purely secondary importance is the purpose for which the evolving military machine is to be used, whether to fight communism in the name of Christian civilization or to occupy Asian countries in order to provide their populations with some state-of-the-art American version of ?democratic values.? John McCain perfectly embodies the type of ?conservatism? to which Keith refers. He is the GOP Senator from the state that elected and reelected Goldwater to the Senate, and like Goldwater, McCain is vocally committed to military build-up and to the deployment of American military force, although, unlike Goldwater, he has generally moved to the left on social issues.

Furthermore, when Kevin Phillips published The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969, he could not have foreseen the degree to which the constituent elements in his ?populist conservatism? would soon be transformed. The blue-collar Catholics in Northern cities, the group to whom Phillips was ethnically related, would go the way of the dinosaur. This older generation of urban Catholic Americans would be replaced by a younger generation of yuppies, whose children I now teach. George Wallace?s populist electorate in 1968, which ran across the Northern and Midwestern rust belt, no longer exists as a significant electoral force. And the Sun Belt population has grayed without becoming more rightwing. This population depends on government programs like Medicare and, as Kevin points out, is disproportionately connected to military bases, arms production, and making the world safe for democracy. Such ?conservatives? voted overwhelmingly to make Joe Lieberman?s bud, John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee last year.

Kevin?s comments also got me to thinking about some of the possible funding for neoconservative seminars, institutions, and speakers emphasizing ?democratic leadership.? The predictable exhortations issuing from these sources in favor of international crusading are now routinely identified with Churchill, Lincoln, and Reagan. Since all such pep talks are designed to justify American intervention abroad, in order to spread a recognizably neoconservative vision of America, possibly military-related industries and lobbies are contributing some of the necessary sponsorship. Those on the right who discourage such crusading are not likely to attract funding from military-related industries. They are also kept off the gravy train of movement conservative speaking engagements and TV appearances and will often be reduced to Soviet-type non-persons. Almost every ?conservative? media personality, from David Frum and Bill Kristol to Rush Limbaugh, Mike Savage, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, Michael Reagan, and Sean Hannity, operate with the same foreign-policy template, even if members of this group are allowed to show rhetorical diversity on some domestic issues. In a word: Kevin?s focus on the continuity of a pro-military constituency on the American Right, or what passes for one, since the 1960s is extremely illuminating.

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