defeat of McCain and Palin has left the Republicans as more a sect than a party, corralled in a few Southern states. This is not good for the conservative movement, nor for democracy in America. So what went wrong for the GOP?
On November 4, two thirds of voters under 30 voted for Obama. That’s the future. A large majority of voters with college educations voted for Obama. That represents the best informed segment of the electorate. So, how did everything go wrong for the Republicans?
A good place to begin would be Barry Goldwater, and his ironic role in history. In 1964 he voted against Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, believing on principle that it violated states’ rights. The only states Goldwater carried that year were six in the South. Johnson understood that the Civil Rights Act would cost the Democrats the support of the South for a long time.
But the South is the section in which fundamentalist religion is most heavily concentrated. And Goldwater, a western individualist leaning libertarian, loathed fundamentalism. He later said that “Real Christians should line up to kick Jerry Falwell in the ass.” Goldwater also supported Roe vs. Wade.
Goldwater opened the door to the Southern Strategy for the Republican Party, but Nixon and Reagan largely gave only token support to Southern prejudices. Reagan’s first Supreme Court nominee was Sandra Day O’Connor, whose record indicated that she would not oppose Roe.
George W. Bush was another matter. Karl Rove understood that we are in the midst of what historians call the “third evangelical awakening.” Bush exploited this opportunity, as in his third televised debate in 2000, when asked what thinker had most influenced him. Bush replied, “Jesus Christ. Because he made me a better man.” No one opposes Bush being a better man; but the evangelicals understood the signal. In 2000 Bush carried 70 percent of the white evangelical vote.
And he rewarded this faction: stem cells, “strict constructionist” judges (oppose Roe), religious reasons for invading Iraq (outlined in a speech in Irvine, California), faith-base initiatives (“abstinence only”), and even blocking funds for family planning in Africa!
Needless to say, much of this moves against overwhelming forces in history. Diana Trilling said that the long gestating women’s revolution has been the most profound revolution in history. Women’s equality, for example, has moved slowly ahead since agitation began in the middle of the nineteenth century. Women didn’t get the vote until 1920 (19th Amendment). Former male slaves got the (constitutional) right to vote in 1869 (15th Amendment.)
The availability of abortion is connected with women’s equality. Planned Parenthood vs. Casey: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the country.” Half the undergraduates on most campuses today are women. Men don’t have their plans de-railed by an unwanted pregnancy.