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