New book on Republicans adds to U.S. “culture war” debate

July 2, 2008

Grand New PartyA new book on the U.S. Republican Party sets out an agenda that its authors argue will help weld working class voters — who have bounced between political allegiances over the decades — to the party as the foundation for the next conservative majority.

Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, by Ross Douthat, a senior editor at The Atlantic, and Reihan Salam, an associate editor at the same magazine, is already making some waves.

What readers of this blog may find most interesting is some of its comments on religious conservatives, a key Republican Party base, and its contribution to the growing debate about America’s “culture wars.”

The authors take square aim at Thomas Frank’s 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, an influential work that has become widely regarded as the leading liberal critique of the Republican Party’s blue-collar strategy.

In a nutshell, a big part of the Frank thesis is that social issues such as abortion are useful distractions from stagnating wages and job lay-offs which lead blue collar workers to vote against their economic interests, ie, for the Republican Party.

“… the ‘social issues’, from abortion and marriage law to the death penalty and immigration, are not just red herrings distracting the working class from their economic struggles, as liberals have insisted for the better part of forty years,” Douthat and Salam write.

What’s The Matter With Kansas?“Rather, they’re at the root of working class insecurity. Safe streets, successful marriages, cultural solidarity, and vibrant religious and civic institutions make working-class Americans more likely to be wealthy, healthy, and upwardly mobile,” they write.

On the 2006 congressional elections, in which the Democratic Party wrested control from the Republicans, they argue that a two-pronged strategy was employed.

On the one hand, the authors say Democratic candidates reached out to religious voters in the Midwest and the South. On the other, there was a stream of books, essays and blogs “warning of the looming theocratic” menace posed by the Republicans and their conservative Christian backers.

This they argue helped to galvanise part of the Democratic base “and delivered the party its largest majority ever among the faithless.”

Against this backdrop, one wonders how the 2008 presidential election will play out? There is no doubt that Barack Obama is aiming for the votes of the faithful, a topic that we and others have written about.

But can the secular left and mildly religious liberals warn of a right-wing theocracy when the presumptive Republican candidate, John McCain, is regarded with suspicion by the “Religious Right,” whose leaders he once branded as “agents of intolerance?”

What do you think?

3 comments

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But can the secular left and mildly religious liberals warn of a right-wing theocracy when the presumptive Republican candidate, John McCain, is regarded with suspicion by the “Religious Right,” whose leaders he once branded as “agents of intolerance?”

Short answer: Yes. As long as McCain accepts endorsements from the likes of Rev. Hagee, he’s fairly open to such criticism.

Posted by JML | Report as abusive

Yes, it can certainly be argued that the institutions mentioned above (marriage, safety, etc) contribute to upward mobility, but I think the authors are looking at Frank’s message half heartedly. These different institutions do contribute as they say, but Frank’s point is that the GOP is convincing voters to vote on those issues, rather than economic issues. Correct me if I am wrong, but if I’m not making enough money to feed my family, and can’t afford health care, I don’t really see how a rock solid set of marriage and abortion laws are going to shore up what I don’t have via my own hard work.

Posted by Turpis | Report as abusive

So you want your government to solve your problems…

perhaps have less kids, perhaps move closer to your job, perhaps get a new job, perhaps stop moving into a new home every 10 years, perhaps don’t finance everything you “own”,
perhaps don’t buy that ipod you “need” or that designer jacket you “must” have.

When you start being responsible for your own affairs and still can’t afford to feed your family or pay for health care, then you can whine…

I think you’d be surprised how non-hardworking you really are. And to think, there are millions just like you, expecting the government to solve your problem.

Just a little secret…you are continuing to allow illegal immigrants into your country at an alarming rate. Your infrastructure can not handle these people. The kicker is that they are working harder and for less money than you and they aren’t paying taxes…so they aren’t replacing the infrastructure they are using and people like you are losing your job to competition both domestic and abroad and asking for handouts or aid from the government…Seems crazy…Unless you demand a different approach to immigration, the jobs will go to those who work for less, the taxes that you once paid will stop flowing to the government and any aid you expect because you just can’t seem to make ends meet will never come. I am alarmed at the ignorance.

There is no such thing as perpetual prosperity. Downturns must happen when the infrastructure available reaches a peak. You see this in any overcrowded populace on every scale of every income and education level. Not enough food, not enough road, not enough space, not enough jobs, etc….These are inevitable.

Fix your own problems and the government will only be necessary to determine policy and organize. They will not ever have to overstep their constitutional bounds and fund projects independently. Like I always say, if you can’t go to bed feeling good about what you did today, then find out why and fix it. If you can sleep at night without a second thought about what you did today, you are a lazy fool. Even the hardest working people are always learning, always bettering themselves…Even they are human. You will never destroy the human weakness for corruption, but you can curb the spread of such ideals by working hard and having some responsibility for yourself, your decisions and actions, and your family. You must have a vested interest in the continuance of the so called american dream, and in understanding the ‘dream’, you must realize that the deam is in fact an unachievable goal, for if you ever achieved such a lofty goal, you would be failing yourself and those around you.

Posted by Karlthomas | Report as abusive