White Evangelists v. The Rest of Us

A version of this article appeared originally via The Next Great Generation.

At the ’92 Republican National Committee Convention, Pat Buchanan offered his support for then President George H.W. Bush’s reelection. His rousing oration came to be known as the “culture war speech.” It was one where the seasoned politico referred to the opposing party’s convention that year as a “giant masquerade ball” and “the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history.” He also spent a good deal of his speech reminding Americans that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and that candidate Clinton was in favor of “unrestricted abortion on demand.” Critics of Buchanan’s tone and the RNC convention dubbed it “the Hate-fest in Houston.” Whatever was in the atmosphere seems to be back and with greater zeal in the form of new, more conservative leadership.

The political climate of that election year was hostile. Reaganomics had driven the country into recession, famously inspiring a reminder to stay on message in the Clinton campaign office that read, “It’s the economy stupid.” Of the Clinton and Gore platform, Buchanan drove the large crowd to its feet saying, “That’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.” Slap “you betcha” and a wink at the end and he might be able to dust that bad boy off just in time for 2012.

There are some that call the inflamed rhetoric of the Pat Buchanan[s] and Glen Beck[s] of the world nothing more than politics as usual. Others see it as a sign of unresolved national conflict: a culture war.

In a 2004 New York Times article, Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin analyzed the year’s political climate as Sen. John Kerry took on conservative president George W. Bush for the nation’s highest office.

“It's a cliché, but the 60's was a domestic civil war, and a lot of the issues have never been resolved about whether the war was right or not,” he said. “Those issues were as much cultural as they were anything else, and culture wars tend to go on and on and on, especially when the people involved in starting them are still alive.''For many Americans, more than an office was at stake and results reflected the battle for the soul of the country.

According to an analysis of the 2004 election by the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of White Evangelical Christians voted for Bush. He fared less favorably among non-White Christians, young people, and religiously unaffiliated Americans. So while George W. Bush and his policies may have only appealed particularly to a minority of voters, they are a vocal and active bunch and they want their country back, namely from people who don’t look or think as they do.

For a look closer into what attitudes gird the issues that surround our current national debate, consider a contender for the presidency in 2012. Mike Huckabee recently won out a Winthrop University poll for popularity among other potential Republican candidates. A brief overview of Huckabee: he is the host of a FOX News television, a former southern governor and pastor, and author of books “A Simple Christmas” and “Do the Right Thing.” Most recently, the Huck came under fire for birther-like comments, which he later retracted, that the president grew up in Kenya. In an interview to clarify, he added,

“And I have said many times publicly, that I do think he has a different worldview and I think it's, in part, molded out of a very different experience. Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.” If you didn’t learn to tie a knot as a kid, consider yourself marginalized.

Perhaps the best example of the battle lines of the current front on the culture war are found in the contentious legislation of our times like the controversial healthcare bill passed by President Barack Obama and the current fight over the budget. Both sets of legislation correlate to the country’s fiscal stability but unlike much more expensive pursuits like war, they have at their root liberal social ideas. They’re the kind of things that might get you called a socialist or compared to Hitler if you’re not careful.

The current political debate that separates this country could legitimately be guided by concerns of the direction of the country and our economic stability and in keeping maybe we’ll see proposals to cut military spending ($703 billion funding foreign operations, including an unpopular war.) But just maybe this is really about the domestic civil war of the 1960’s going unsettled. Perhaps the social revolution of Steinem, Chavez and King is just lingering like a bad cold or Cold War within our borders. One where it’s a zero-sum game between those Bush voters and the rest of us. It could be that when conservatives talk about taking the country back, the virtue of the Founding Fathers and valuing our original constitution, what they mean is restoring the good ol' days when only some American really counted, or voted, or had access and opportunity.

Whatever the case, we’ll certainly see what Americans really care about when the election season gears up and candidates have formulized their messages based on opinion polls, when it really counts. Whether “it’s the economy, stupid” as Bill Clinton was once reminded or the nut and bolts of government, I’m sure Pat Buchanan and the like will be at the ready with a speech to remind us just how much we should hate each other. You betcha!