Texas Values


“This country is going so far to the right that you won’t recognise it”- John Mitchell (1970), US Attorney General under Richard Nixon and the only Attorney General to serve a prison sentence.




In 1988, when he was campaigning to become President of the United States, George Bush senior visited the twin towns of Midland and Odessa in his home state of Texas. Several hundred people, including a troupe of cheerleaders and two marching bands from local high schools, waited at the airport for the then- Vice President’s Air Force 2 to land, drinking free Coke, eating hot dogs and waving little American flags supplied by Bush’s advance staff. One observer described the scene as like an American small town circa the 1950s, helped by the almost total absence of blacks and Hispanics among the well-wishers.

Bush’s short stump speech that morning didn’t mention any of the major political or economic issues facing the country, from the Administration’s covert war in Nicaragua to the oil price slump that had devastated Midland and Odessa and was even then bringing about the near-collapse of the Texas banking system. Instead he said simply, “I believe I am on the side of the American people and the state of Texas in terms of values.” As examples of those values, Bush cited prayer in schools, the right to own guns and being tough on criminals. He was not going to be “deterred” by “liberals” like his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Bush said.

From the airport, Bush travelled fifteen miles up the freeway to Midland where he gave a second, longer speech to local oilmen at the Petroleum Club. He began by reminding them that he was one of them- Bush had lived in Odessa for a year and in Midland for ten years at the start of his career- before returning to his theme of values. “My values have not changed a bit since I was your neighbour in the fifties. My values are values like everyone here that I can think of: faith, family and freedom, love of country and hope for the future. Texas values. Some people call it just plain common sense.”

The journalist H.G. Bissinger was living in Odessa at the time, researching ‘Friday Night Lights’, his classic account of high school football in Texas. Pondering Bush’s visit, Bissinger concluded, ”Dukakis forces in Texas had thought they could win the state on the basis of the economy. They thought that the issues of gun control and the Pledge of Allegiance were emotional fads that would quickly die out…they patiently waited for the campaign to get back to the greater good of forging practical solutions to massive problems, but that shift never took place.” Instead, the Odessans Bissinger mixed with developed an hysterical caricature of Dukakis as a would-be “ ‘homo’ president”, pro-homosexuals, pro-abortion, for whom they felt an “almost irrational fear- fear that Dukakis would shut down the military, fear that he would take away the rights of people to protect themselves against violent intruders, fear that he would ruin the economy, fear that the only people who would benefit from his administration would be the poor while they, the hardworking guts of the country, got sold down the river.”[1]

            What the Dukakis forces learned so painfully in Texas in 1988, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern had already learned nationally in 1968 and 1972 and Al Gore was to learn all over again in 2000, facing a second Bush family campaign. The values Republican candidates espoused- values the Bushes branded with the name of their home state- had become buzz words, a shorthand that a majority of Americans instantly understood and to which they responded. When George Bush junior became President in 2000 (and again in 2004), it was the culmination of thirty years of political advance by American conservatives.[2]. But that only made the political situation that Bissinger witnessed even harder to understand. An axiom of post-war politics (in the Western democracies at any rate) had been that people voted with their pocketbooks. Why would workers, self-employed people, blue-collar and petit bourgeois “little men”, throw their support behind a Republican Party openly committed to the interests of the rich and powerful- and get tax cuts for the wealthy, the rollback of environmental and worker protection, anti-union regulation, corporate welfare, decades of stagnant incomes and rising social inequality in return? And why would they do so repeatedly, pushing the American political centre of gravity farther and farther to the right? It’s no wonder that one liberal writer who tried to address the question gave his book the despairing title, What’s Wrong With America?[3]

            Had he called his book ‘What’s Wrong With Texas?’ nobody, at least until recently, would have been surprised. To many of their fellow countrymen, and probably to all Texans themselves, Texas is different from the other 51 states. For most of the post-war period,  Americans saw Texas as a kind of caricature of the most extrovert, most confident and also the most paranoid American traits. According to Texans’ own mythology, everything in Texas is bigger, taller, better, more extreme or simply more. “Texas values” were the values of oil millionaires, cheerleaders, ruthlessly efficient football teams and urban cowboys- the soap opera values of “Dallas”, entertaining to watch but hardly representative of anything. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas in 1960, many Americans reviled Texas as a backwater of guns and political extremists. Less than fifty years later, George Bush junior became President and “Texas values” seemed to have become the values of mainstream America (and vice versa) 

Texas has always been two states in one- a Southern state, part of the old Confederacy, as well as a Western one. The state was also home to some of the harshest strains of American conservatism. As they embarked on their fatal trip to Dallas, JFK told Jacqueline Kennedy, “we’re heading into nut country today”. In the turbulent period after the assassination, many Americans found it bitterly ironic that Kennedy’s successor should be a Texan, Lyndon Johnson. LBJ seemed like the generic Texas pol with his ten-gallon hat and his crude, demagogic manner- only his liberal politics broke the stereotype. Behind a façade of  “Remember The Alamo” and frontier freedoms, Texas was the state where “oillionaires” and cattle barons with their flamboyant lifestyles and ultra-conservative politics presided over a mass of poor whites, and even poorer blacks and Hispanics in a semi-feudal society, underpinned by one of the most overcrowded, brutal and badly managed prison systems in the country.

By 2000, forty years after Kennedy’s death, Texas remained one of the three states with the greatest polarization of wealth (the other two were Louisiana and New York). 15%, or 3.1 million Texans, lived below the official US poverty line of 15,260 dollars a year for a family of three. Texas regularly ranked the last of 50 states in inequality among children and last or near to last in environmental pollution. Texans paid low state taxes- Texas was 49th in state taxes- but got little in return- it was the 50th in per capita state spending. The taxes Texas did levy tended to be regressive ones like sales tax rather than progressive taxes like income tax. The Texas state legislature only met in session for 140 days every second year, a system originally devised by white supremacists after the end of Reconstruction.

During the 1990s, in “the largest public works project in modern Texas history”, Texas  tripled its prison beds from 40,000 to 150,000. By the end of the decade, 1 in 3 black Texan men between the ages of 20 and 29 were in jail, on probation or on parole at any given time. In the 2000 elections, 500,000 or 3.54% of the adult population of the state were disenfranchised as felons, either in jail, on probation or on parole. The sprawling prison system both as a destination and employer of last resort represented a Texas that “ as the 21st century opened probably left more issues unregulated- uncorrected, unameliorated, unassuaged- than any other state.”[4]

            In other ways, though, Texas changed profoundly in the last half of the 20th century. Once a vast, underpopulated expanse, from barren plains in the West to cotton country in the South- East, studded with a few air-conditioned cities built on boom-and-bust oil wealth (it was said the only thing Texans were happy for their government to spend money on was highway-building), the state underwent a population explosion. In 1900, there were 3 million Texans: by 2000, there were over 23 million. From 1950 to 2000, Texas was in the top ten fastest-growing states in population.[5]. This was part of the rise of the Sunbelt (the axis of states stretching across the American South and West from Florida to California) and it represented an historic shift in people and economic power, from 1900 when 62% of Americans lived in the Northeast or Midwest to 2000 when 58% lived in the South and West. At the height of the process, between 1970 and 1990, the eleven states of the Old Confederacy grew their populations by an astonishing 40 per cent. Equally important for its social and political implications, the flight to the sun also meant a move to the suburbs. The 1990 US census was the first to show more Americans living in suburbs than in either rural areas or in cities.

The rise of the Sunbelt overlaid, and did much to obscure, a previous trend- or counter-trend. This was the move of Southerners out of the South in what has been called one of the greatest internal movements of population in the 20th century- a century with no lack of displaced peoples. The Southern exodus actually consisted of two separate migrations. In their own Great Migration, 3.4 million mainly rural Southern blacks moved to the cities of the north and east, transforming America’s racial and political map in the processs (the total includes one large cohort, mainly from Louisiana and Texas, who went west to California during the Second World War to work in the new defence plants). The American Dilemma over race, as Gunnar Myrdal called it in his famous study, had effectively been confined to the South: now it became a national problem.

While African-Americans’ Great Migration is relatively well-known, it’s only half the story. Twice as many white Southerners as blacks left the South between 1918 and 1970 (7.3 million), mostly from the Border States and the upper South. This far less familiar white Southern diaspora tracked more widely than the black, tending to the north and the west rather than the north-east, and not only to the cities. Among its many consequences were to spread southern racial attitudes and the southern style of Protestant evangelical religion popularly known as fundamentalism. By the late 1930s, 77% of churches in South Gate, a blue-collar suburb of Los Angeles settled by Southern and Southwestern migrants, were evangelical, most of them run by radical fundamentalist Pentecostal or Holiness sects.[6]

In 1970, the Rise of the Sunbelt and the Great Migration met and crossed. For the first time, the outflow from the South was exceeded by the combination of deaths and return migrants. 1970 therefore becomes a convenient date to set for the origin of the so-called New South. The impact of the civil rights movement and the dismantling of segregation, so furiously resisted by white southerners, ended up triggering a boom that finally lifted the Old South out of its post-Civil War status as a poverty-ridden social and economic backwater. With new wealth and population came increased political clout. But by then, Southern politics had undergone a revolution. Bitter at successive Democratic administrations’ support for black civil rights, which reached its peak under LBJ, the Democratic Solid South crumbled as white Southerners switched their political allegiance wholesale from the Democrats to the Republicans in “clearly the most dramatic change in postwar American politics”. [7]

The breakup of the Solid South accounts for much of the radical change in American politics over the last half century, from a Democratic majority and a liberal consensus to a 50-50 nation whose political tone is set by the radical Right. Does it account for all?  The 1960s backlash against black civil rights, and then against the disorder and social changes associated with “The Sixties” as a whole, took place in the North as well as in the South. In the crucial elections at the end of the 1960s, a white “silent majority” switched almost overnight from Democratic to Republican voters, creating a potential “emerging Republican majority”. For the last 50 years, right-wing Republicans have tried to realise that majority or, to put it another way, to institutionalise the backlash. The basis for their attempt has been to appeal to voters’ “values”, as George Bush senior did in 1988. In recent years, among the media and political commentators, “values” has come to mean the moral and cultural issues specific to the Religious Right, but it was not until 2004 that Republican strategist Karl Rove targeted values in this sense in his national campaign (and then only as a secondary theme)[8]. For the most part, “values” was shorthand for a rich, complex ideology of what it means to be an American, a right-wing nationalism that developed since the 1930s and whose appeal is likely to outlast the recent Republican ascendancy.

That’s what the Republicans thought they were doing at any rate (and what the Democrats thought the Republicans were doing). Is it what actually happened? Some experts have challenged this account on the grounds that there is no such group as white working-class conservatives- the subsequent description for members of the 1960s “silent majority” or “the backlash”. According to these critics, white working-class voters remain as committed to the Democrats today as they were in the early 1950s; and the Republican gains have come equally from the middle and upper-classes (around 3 to 4% from each over the last 30 years). To these critics, the change in the South is the only real change in modern American politics. While the debate introduces important qualifications to any simplistic account of a working class majority tricked into voting against their interests by appeals to “values” issues like abortion, gay marriage, guns and God, it doesn’t alter the need to account for the radical shift to the right in America between the 1960s (let alone the 1950s) and the present. While the South is central to such an account, it’s not the whole story.[9]

As the South turned Republican, the Republican Party became “southernised”. Between 1990 and 1996, Southern Republicans in the House of Representatives increased from 10 to 82 or from 6 to 36% of their delegation.[10] In 1994, when Republicans finally gained control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 1953-4 (for various reasons Republican progress in House and Senate races was much slower than in Presidential elections) Strom Thurmond (S. Carolina, ex-Democrat and segregationist) was president pro tem of the Senate, Trent Lott (Mississippi) was Senate Majority Leader, Newt Gingrich (Georgia) was House Speaker, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay (both from Texas) were House majority leader and whip- a line-up that could fit  beside the “Dixie Demagogues”, the reactionary Southern Democrats who dominated Congress in the 1930s. Only the party labels had changed and the racial attitudes somewhat moderated.[11]

The years that saw the Republicans “Southernise” were also the years when the Party moved sharply to the right, though these developments were not necessarily cause and effect.  According to one conservative index, the average score for House Republicans, based on their voting records, was 63% in 1972 but 91% in 2002.[12]  These were also years when the country as a whole seemed to grow more conservative. Through the 1950s and 1960s, commentators had assumed that liberalism was the consensus of American politics, with most Americans living in The Vital Center, the title of a book by liberalism’s house intellectual, Arthur Schlesinger jr.. Leading scholars like Louis Hartz and Richard Hofstadter went so far as to claim that liberalism and the American political tradition were synonymous. To be American in mid-century and after meant to be liberal, period. “Almost everyone now so describes himself”, crowed J.K. Galbraith in 1964, then at the height of a career that would end with his becoming known as the Grand Old Man of American liberalism or The Last Liberal. Yet by the early 2000s, the position had all but reversed itself. Only 19% of Americans identified themselves as liberals while 49% called themselves conservatives.[13] Moreover, the conservatism they voted for was not the pro-business Northeastern conservatism of the old Republican Party, nor even the more-or-less amiable social and patriotic California conservatism of Ronald Reagan, but a hard-edged, Texas-style conservatism personified by the second George Bush. It seemed as if the nut country had become the Heartland.

            These three trends- the South turning Republican; the “southernisation of the Republican Party”; and the Republicans and the nation as a whole moving rightwards-and the interaction among them make up the political infrastructure that underpinned the rise of America’s New Right. Sometimes they interacted in ways that do indeed show straightforward cause and effect. When Richard Nixon adopted a “Southern strategy” for his 1968 Presidential race, for instance, he had to adjust his appeal rightwards in order to attract Southern voters (he succeeded so well that his opponent Hubert Humphrey mocked Nixon as a “perfumed, deodorized” version of the Southern third party race candidate George Wallace)[14]. Later, this Southern strategy’s success in delivering Republican Presidential majorities pulled the whole centre of gravity of American national politics in a more conservative direction.[15]

More often, though, the interaction was subtle and complex. In unravelling it we need to account for why the US should have moved ever farther right with each decade, from Nixon to Reagan to the two President Bushes until America ended up with a Radical Right whose aggressive nationalism disturbed foreign observers and whose domestic obsessions were wonderfully captured in a posting Thomas Frank found on the Kansas Conservative Listserv in 2003: “Your Christian children in public schools are deliberately subjected nearly daily to the leftist pro-homosexual, pro-evolution, pro-abortion propaganda of the leftist socialist NEA.”[16]





            The career of the George Herbert Walker Bush- George Bush senior- paralleled this sea change in Republican Party politics and in American politics in general. The elder Bush’s successes and his failures were due almost entirely to the degree to which he accommodated himself to those changes, or proved unable to do so. In 1948, recently graduated from Yale after serving in the war as a navy pilot, Bush loaded his wife and infant son into the family’s red Studebaker and lit out for the territory of the Texas Panhandle. The legend of Bush senior abandoning his wealthy, privileged roots in the Northeast, and the lush pastures of country clubs and Wall Street boardrooms, to strike out on his own as an oilman in arid, hardscrabble West Texas has been subjected to much revisionism in recent years, until it looks less like a modern version of The Way West and more like a corporate relocation. There was an oil boom in Texas’ Permian Basin at the time (the region turned out to be the most important oil resource in US history). Bush senior was only one among an influx of well-connected young Ivy Leaguers. He travelled as an employee of Dresser Industries, an oil supply firm where his father sat on the board. Since most Texas oil was ultimately owned by the big oil companies or Wall Street investment firms, young Ivy Leaguers like George Bush acted like an officer class on secondment. Bush settled in the Basin’s business center, Midland, after spending a year in Midland’s “ugly twin” town of Odessa. “The grunts of the oil business flocked to Odessa to work and service the fields, the majors and colonels and generals came to Midland.”[17]

            In his later, public life, Bush re-imagined his years in Midland-Odessa as his own version of Abe Lincoln’s log cabin. Midland became a typical American small town while Bush became an all-American self-made man:

            “..we moved to West Texas forty years ago…the war was over and we wanted to get out and make it on our own. Those were exciting days. We lived in a little shotgun house, one room for the three of us, worked in the oil business, and then started on my own.

            “And in time we had six children; moved from the shotgun to a duplex apartment to a house, and lived the dream- high school football on Friday nights…”[18]

            The reality was somewhat different. Midland-Odessa were conservative Republican enclaves in a then-solid Democratic state. Midland and Ector counties (which includes Odessa)  voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1950, including for Goldwater in 1964, when he lost in a landslide to Texas favourite son, Lyndon Johnson. Midland had streets named after Harvard and Princeton, supported its own Polo Club and acquired an increasing number of millionaires while remaining strictly segregated in the classic Southern manner: minorities and the poor on one side of the railroad tracks, middle-class and wealthy whites on the other.

For its white inhabitants, Midland in the 1950s had many of the positive traits of small town life anywhere: people didn’t lock their doors; they knew their neighbours; boys like George Bush junior roamed freely on their bicycles. Midland’s population was only 25,000 and its size and remoteness meant it was all but untouched by the giant, impersonal bureaucracies, both public and private, that have developed to administer complex modern societies. Nostalgia for small-town life, which is closer in time to the contemporary American experience than it is to the experience of most Europeans- America’s sheer size and isolation preserved many small towns into the 1970s and 1980s- is nostalgia for life lived on a human scale, while idealised to omit its darker side, the racism, snobbery, corruption, and scapegoating that go on beneath the surface. Such nostalgia plays a significant element in the appeal of the New Right, which has been described as caught between the politics of nostalgia and the politics of rage that what you’re nostalgic for no longer exists (of course, it never did in any real sense).

In 1968, when the New Right was just starting to appear on the political horizon and George Wallace had demonstrated his appeal to white backlash voters, the journalist and author Pete Hamill set out to judge the mood of the nation. Hamill concluded that the nostalgia-rage axis had produced a wholesale denial of the modern world as it appeared through the prism of the 1960s. The Americans Hamill met hungered to turn the clock back not just to 1950 but to 1910 “when you lived in the same house all of your life and knew everybody you would ever care to know on the street where you were born.”[19]

By 1983, when Forbes magazine’s list of 400 richest Americans included six individuals from Midland with over 200 million dollars each, Midland’s population was still under 100,000. 3.2 million square feet of office space was under construction in Midland at that time and plans had been announced for a 54-storey office tower and a 40-storey luxury hotel in line with Midland’s nickname as the “tall city” As it turned out, the early 1980s were the tail end of another Texas oil boom, created by OPEC’s price hike in the 1970s. When that boom bust, the grandiose plans of Midland’s developers went down with it, as did the banks that had backed them. First National Bank of Midland became the second largest bank failure in US history.[20]

             George H. W. Bush himself was long gone from Midland by then, first to Houston and then to Washington, which his critics claimed was always his true home. Bush had made a relatively modest fortune in oil business terms- his declared wealth was around 1 million dollars when he entered Congress in 1966 from a Republican safe seat in the Houston suburbs. Like his father, Prescott Bush, a Wall Street banker and Senator from Conneticut, George Bush’s real interest was politics. In the late 1950s, and particularly after he moved to Houston in 1959, he became one of a new generation of Republicans active in the South and Southwest. This was the generation who spotted the first cracks appearing in the still-Solid Democratic South, following President Eisenhower’s surprisingly strong showings among Southern white voters. A broad effort got under way to revive Southern Republicanism, effectively moribund since the Civil War. Ad hoc groups like Bush’s group in Harris County worked at the grassroots while the national Republican Party launched a Southern organising drive called ‘Operation Dixie’. For the time being, the success of these initiatives was limited: South Carolina became a conservative Republican outpost; in 1960, Texas elected John Tower the first Republican Senator in the South since Reconstruction. But the effort made it clear to anyone watching that Southern Republicanism would have its own flavour. It would not follow the noblesse oblige tradition of a North-Eastern grandee like Prescott Bush, who stood for the staunch defence of private wealth moderated by an ethic of public service. Southern Republicanism would deal in harsher notes, it would be more right-wing and it would have to accommodate supporters who had darker tendencies. In the Southwest, many of the new Republicans belonged to the John Birch Society, which believed that President Eisenhower was a conscious Communist agent. In the South proper, all of them were segregationists (as were their opponents, the Southern Democrats).

            As he would do throughout his political career, George Bush senior rose by taking on the colour of his surroundings. A leader of Harris County Republicans, he finessed the antagonism between the energetic new recruits, who were Birchers, and the country-club style of existing members by inviting the Birchers to his home, calling criticism of them “reverse McCarthyism” and banning words like “crazies” and “nuts” from internal Party dialogue. In his first campaign as a candidate, running against the famously liberal Democratic Senator Chuck Yarborough in 1964, Bush abandoned everything his father stood for and aligned himself with the national campaign under Barry Goldwater, opposing Medicare, attacking the nuclear test ban treaty and condemning civil rights legislation. Yarborough had no trouble painting Bush as a privileged Yankee carpetbagger and defeating him. After he lost, Bush said he regretted taking right-wing positions, that he didn’t believe in them himself but had been persuaded to adopt them as a way of getting elected.

Yet in 1988, when we met him once again on the stump in Texas, by now running for President, Bush was in the middle of a campaign described by a recent biographer as “a more skilful rerun of (the) 1964 campaign, filled with coded appeals to race and insinuations about his opponent’s patriotism.”[21] Both the Republican Party and the country had swung to the right in the intervening years. Bush won the election and neither he, nor anybody else, saw any need to apologise. Indeed, later critics of his Presidency came from the opposite end of the politicalspectrum, from among conservatives who accused Bush of reverting to his more moderate Eastern political roots on issues like raising taxes and ending the Gulf War with Saddam Hussein still in power.[22]




Birch Society paranoia and Southern racism both left their mark on the US Right as it developed through the 1960s and 1970s. Neither could provide it with a formula for national success. That had to come from elsewhere. One much-publicised (and self-publicised) source was the coterie of writers and propagandists gathered around William Buckley jr and the National Review. Buckley had founded the magazine in New York in1955 as a forum for ideological and intellectual conservatism. A second source, less celebrated but in the end more influential, was the grassroots conservatism of the Southwest and South. When George Bush senior’s cohort of young Ivy Leaguers arrived in Midland, they carried the traditional, financial conservatism of Wall Street and Eastern business in their veins (sound money, tax cuts, balanced budgets, anti-business regulation, and anti-union). In West Texas, they encountered a native rural and small town conservatism. By uniting the two strands, they laid the groundwork for a radical New Right[23].

            What did this Southwest popular conservatism consist of? The journalist H.G.Bissinger found it, virtually unchanged, when he went to live in Odessa in 1988. A hardscrabble blue-collar town of oilfield and oil supply workers, Odessa regularly appeared in lists of the worst place to live in America. The well-known Texas journalist and provocateuse Molly Ivins called it an “armpit” A few years before Bissinger arrived, the town had the highest murder rate per capita in the US (in 1982).. Had Odessa been in Europe, say in the north of England, you would expect it to be a hotbed of left-wing working-class militancy, but in Texas, its people were hard right. “There were a few who found its conservatism maddening and dangerous,” Bissinger discovered, “and many more who found it the essence of what America should be, an America built on strength and the spirit of individualism, not an America built on handouts and food stamps.”[24]

Although the oil business was mired in a serious slump by the early 1980s- the bust after the 1970s boom- Odessans had paid 5.6 million dollars to build a brand-new state-of-the-art stadium for a high school football team. The same school annually spent more on medical supplies for its athletic programme than on teaching materials for the English department. Bissinger became convinced that the cargo cult of high school football that he went to Odessa to study existed because the team embodied the local conservatism- as well as revealing its underlying incoherence. The players were the town’s pride and symbol. They “kept Odessa on their shoulders” by being “living proof of all the perceived values of white working-class America- desire, self-sacrifice, pushing yourself beyond the expected limits.”[25] It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that this sacrifice, made annually by a group of teenage boys, was horribly futile and self-destructive, leaving most of them without a worthwhile education, often with significant physical injuries, and facing a dead-end future, all in pursuit of a cruel dream of playing professionally which was only ever available to the rare, exceptional talent. The real beneficiaries were Odessa’s adults, including the boys’ own parents, who created and sustained the cult. Texas high school football was indeed a metaphor for the conservative movement, but in the opposite sense to the one George Bush sr. meant when he spoke at Odessa airport that day and linked it to “Texas values” or plain “common sense”.

            Some of the locals Bissinger met called these same values “pioneer” or “frontier” values. Others saw them as the core of the American Dream. Regional (and national) accents aside, they are mainstream bourgeois values, the essence of the 19th century bourgeois creed. Work hard, live right- which usually means postponing gratification- and you will prosper.  The American Dream is merely the basic bourgeois creed plus the addition- the fact- of America itself- and therefore it becomes the form taken by American nationalism. All these terms (there are others such as “plain folk Americanism” or simply “Americanism”) refer to the same set of bedrock assumptions. As Richard Hofstadter said of his fellow Americans,  “it is our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one”[26]    

For most of its history, America’s extraordinary material abundance provided a guarantee that transformed the creed from an exhortation and a homily into proven truth- or “plain common sense” in George Bush senior’s formulation. The real secret of the American Dream was that the only dreamers were foreigners, dreaming of how to get to America.  Once they arrived, millions of immigrants found that America operated as an incredibly rapid social and economic escalator. Starting out as the ragged products of Central and East European shtetels or dirt-poor Mexican villages they became doctors and lawyers and college presidents in a couple of generations. Europe had nothing to match success on this scale and at this speed. Capitalism’s central illusion- that anyone can become a millionaire- may be (almost) as false in United States as anywhere else but it comes closer to being true there than elsewhere. Even if you never made millions, the rewards of work were more visible (as well as simply more) for Americans than for their counterparts in the Old World, the difference between getting by and real affluence. The measure of that difference was of the greatest political importance. If you worked hard and lived right in America you would prosper, guaranteed, and your children would prosper even more in their turn. “And in time we had six children; moved from the shotgun to a duplex apartment to a house, and lived the dream…”

So long as the Dream remained alive, those who didn’t make it had only themselves to blame. Because Americans overwhelmingly see themselves as bourgeois or middle-class, rather than as working-class, their political and social attitudes are situated more on the Right than the Left. In European terms, they are more conservative than socialist. Put them under pressure, say by deflating the Dream, and they are more likely to develop a mass movement of the radical or revolutionary right than of the left.

More likely, but not inevitable. When the Dream died during the  Great Depression, Americans turned left instead of right, voting for FDR and the New Deal. Moreover, there are important regional and local differences in the American Dream itself. Until the 1960s, the South dreamed of “rising again” behind an insular, Jim Crow culture of defeat. Texas, on the other hand, is historically not long removed from the Wild West that Eric Hobsbawm called “a dream of poor whites who hoped to replace the private enterprise of the bourgeois world by gambling, gold and guns”. Since then, oil has succeeded gold as the principal gambling medium, but the guns haven’t changed. 

Gambling, oil and guns- and God as well. Texas is part of America’s Bible Belt.  Bissinger in his time in Odessa counted 62 Southern Baptist, 19 Church of Christ, 12 Assembly of God, 11 Methodist, 5 Pentecostal and 7 Catholic churches.[27]  Most of the churches were evangelical: many were fundamentalist. Their ethic of personal salvation and personal responsibility was hostile to all welfare and to government in general. Their pastors preached that the church was the only collective institution people needed: they shouldn’t get involved in politics, let alone in rival, secular commitments like labor unions Later on, churches like these joined the reactionary mobilization called the Religious Right.

As H.G. Bissinger dug beneath Odessans’ self-image- the image that George Bush reflected back to them so faithfully in his “living the dream” speech- he found a town riven with class, racial and other conflicts and a conservatism that defined itself more by what it hated than what it loved. One of the few Odessans Bissinger met who was prepared to criticise his hometown described Odessa’s “Texas values” in terms that were very different from Bush senior’s sunny boosterism. “Even now it was still hard for Tony to get used to many of the popular values of the place- the love for Reagan, the rise of the religious right with what he felt to be its thinly disguised hatred for blacks and Hispanics and homosexuals, the hue and cry in favour of the death penalty, the way people had no tolerance for others who were less fortunate.”[28]

In the harsh physical and economic environment of the Texas Panhandle, the rhetoric of Americanism ceased to conjure with hopes and dreams and could turn mean and resentful. Someone like Lana Barnett, head of the Chamber of Commerce in a small Panhandle ranching town called Tulia, made clear the connection between this darker, hyper-individualist version of the American creed and radical right-wing politics. Giving a visitor her views on sick people and on people accused of crimes, Barnett said: “if you can’t afford insurance, you don’t go to the doctor. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you go without.”[29]



If Odessa represents modern oil-producing Texas, Tulia, 200 miles north ( in Texas terms, virtually next door), clings to the state’s traditional farming and cattle-ranching economy. Thanks to two journalists, we have rich, detailed book-length portraits of both these West Texas towns as they were in the 1980s and 1990s respectively.[30] Isolated settlements dwarfed by the immensity of the plains with their blazing summers and bitterly cold winters, their perennial dust and wind, both towns were suffering from slumps at the time they were written about, and for similar underlying reasons: the oil was running out in the Permian basin and the water had long since run out in the Panhandle, due to over-exploitation.[31]

H.G. Bissinger went to Odessa to investigate high school football. Nate Blakesleee from ‘Texas Monthly’ went to Tulia to report on a sensational cocaine trial. Both men ended up convinced that the key to their stories was race. Only 5% of Odessa’s population was black when Bissinger lived there for a year in the 1980s, but he found that race was the town’s central organising issue. The word “nigger” was in constant, universal use among white Odessans. Odessa managed to put off desegregating its schools until 1982, almost 20 years after the Lyndon Johnson’s landmark Civil Rights Act (1964), when a federal court finally imposed desegregation over bitter local protests. Nevertheless, the town continued to operate a de facto apartheid whereby, as one white resident told Bissinger, “we don’t have to deal with blacks here. We don’t have any contact with them except on the Permian football team.”

Since that high school football team, named the Mojos, was Odessa’s pride and joy and the exemplar of white grassroots “values”, and since black athletes had come to dominate the team, some serious ironies were put into play, involving highly selective colour-blindness. When blacks played football “these boys are not niggers…they are Mojos” to the overwhelmingly white fans. Blacks themselves understood the rules: “We know that we’re equal as athletes. But once we get off the field we’re not equal.” Even the map for the hated (by whites) school desegregation plan led to heated arguments between the two existing white high schools over which would get the most black football players. “Gerrymandering over football”, one local parent called it.

Football aside, the view white Odessans took of their black fellow citizens was that the blacks were the ones who refused to play the game in the economic and social fields. Blacks were feckless, “uncivilised”, welshers and welfare recipients, traitors to the Dream. “The majority of people over there (on Odessa’s black Southside), they don’t better themselves, they’re busy with their food stamps”[32] was a typical comment that Bissinger heard from whites.

White attitudes were much the same in Tulia, where Nate Blakeslee spent five years on and off reporting from 1999 to 2004, hearing “a curious dissonance in the rhetoric of many whites, who insisted in one breath that they had been miscast as racists and in the next listed a litany of reasons why the black community was deservedly despised by the good people of Tulia. ‘They’ve grown up doing nothing but cheating and stealing and that’s all they know’ said Delbert Devin, the Democratic Party chair for Swisher County. ”[33]

Tulia’s small size- 5,000 people including 350 blacks- meant it couldn’t arrange the rigid social apartheid found in Odessa, but Tulia too maintained separation of the races long after the civil rights era had come and gone. In Odessa, the focus was the schools. In Tulia, whose schools were peacefully integrated back in the 1950s, it was housing, with blacks effectively excluded from the white side of town until well into the 1980s.

For white inhabitants of  both Tulia and Odessa, it wasn’t so much the exclusion of blacks that caused the problem-  they were comfortable with that- as the ragged and incomplete end to segregation and their partial inclusion. In Odessa, whites had to deal with blacks as high school students and above all as high school athletes, the main contact blacks had with white society. In Tulia, interracial sex became increasingly common among young black men and white girls in the 1990s, so much so that a black Tulian told Blakeslee, “They lost control of their daughters is what happened.” Perhaps unsurprisingly under these disparate circumstances, the white backlash in Odessa amounted to a hardening of the town’s de facto apartheid in the wake of the long and bitter struggle over school desegregation[34] ,while in Tulia things got a lot more serious for some local blacks.

In July 1999, after an 18-month investigation by a (white) undercover officer, police arrested 47 Tulians for dealing drugs. 38 of the 47, who ranged in age from 16 to 60, were black, amounting to 20% of all black adults in Tulia. Had the allegations been true, tiny rural Tulia would have been the drugs capital of America. No drugs were found on any of the people arrested or in any of their houses. All the cases turned on the unsupervised, uncorroborated word of the undercover narcotics cop, whose written reports of the “buys” he had supposedly made were perfunctory and lacking the usual audio or video evidence, or the evidence from a second officer as a witness. None of that seemed to matter to local juries, who started to convict the defendants by rote, or to the judges who handed down sentences of 10, 20, 45, 90, even in one case 361 years.[35] The Tulia bust became first a national, and then an international scandal (BBC’s ‘Panorama’ did a segment on the case).  Four years later Tom Coleman, the drugs squad officer, was convicted of perjury and all the defendants pardoned, released from jail or otherwise exonerated, and given compensation.

Blakeslee’s exhaustive account of the Tulia bust situates it in the context of the War on Drugs, which functioned as a political bridge between the Cold War and the War on Terror, as well as constituting a racially inflected form of social control after the turbulence and disorder of the civil rights era and the 1960s youth revolt. With its huge amounts of federal government money, hastily improvised law enforcement, ever-longer sentences and atmosphere of moral panic, the War on Drugs created (and still creates since, like the War on Terror, it is an endless war) numerous scandals.[36] The drugs war is also the main reason for the massive rise in numbers of Americans imprisoned from around 100 per 100,000 in the early 1980s to 750 per 100,000 in mid-2006 (while the inmate population climbed from around 380,000 in the mid-1970s to 2,245,189 in 2006). Many convicts are small-time addicts or habitual drug users, in jail for petty drug offences. Once identified, they enter a vicious spiral where they’re constantly rearrested, they’re always on probation, which then gets revoked, and so on. Most of them are poor and most are black. In 2006, 11% of black males aged  25 to 29 were incarcerated. National rates per 100,000 of the population were 170 for whites, 287 for Hispanics and Latinos and 815 for blacks. Add on ex-cons, and nearly one black man in five has been in jail and one in three has been convicted of a felony (helped by the ramping up of charges so that more offences, especially drug offences, now count as felonies).[37]

An unexpected side effect of the War on Drugs surfaced during the 2000 Bush-Gore Presidential election, when it became clear that a big bloc of voters in the key state of Florida had been disenfranchised because they were felons or ex-felons. Many American states have laws to this effect, which lay on the books without anybody paying much attention until the rise in jail numbers suddenly made them an issue. Though the details differ- only two states disenfranchise ex-felons in perpetuity- it’s estimated that nationally 5.3 million Americans or 1 in 41 voting age adults have lost their right to vote at any given time due to a felony conviction. Just under 50% of the disenfranchised are African-Americans. The more black people a state contains, the more likely it is to ban felons and ex-felons from voting. To put it another way, the average state disenfranchises 2.4 per cent of its voting- age population but 8.4 per cent of voting- age blacks. The figures probably underestimate the true picture, since getting back your right to vote can be a cumbersome bureaucratic procedure (again, the system is different in different states) and it’s safe to assume that many ex-felons don’t go through it. In Texas, which in 2004 disenfranchised 523,000 felons in jail, on probation or on parole, amounting to 3.29% of the adult population, even the conservative state legislature has recognised the problem, passing two bills that mandated the state to inform or assist ex-felons to re-register as voters. Republican Governor Rick Perry vetoed both of them.[38]

It’s become fashionable to suggest race is no longer important in America. Prejudices have cooled with the passing of the generations, both in the New South and in the conservative movement in general, where racial issues like busing and (to some extent) welfare have given way to economic, national security and “cultural” (or religious) issues like abortion or homosexual marriage. George Bush junior seemed genuinely at ease with diversity and won praise for his Administration’s minority appointments.[39] In 2008,  Barack Obama became the first black American to be a serious candidate for President. But Bissinger and Blakeslee’s experiences challenge any such view. Both men came away from their researches convinced that race was, and remains, a central factor in American life. Blakeslee explicitly connected the attitudes he encountered in Tulia to the 1960s backlash against the civil rights movement:

“….there are very few histories of the civil rights movement written from the perspective of someone who opposed it. The sort of unspoken conclusion, I guess, is that the photos of cops unleashing dogs on black men and angry white teens shouting at black students trying to enrol in schools speak for themselves. But those angry teenagers didn’t disappear when the fight over integration was over: they’re still there only now they’re working at the school or the lunch counter or the bank. Or they’re sitting on juries. They have learned for the most part not to talk about race- at least not in ways that will get them in trouble. But that doesn’t mean they don’t think about it, every day.”[40]

As political categories, “race” and “racism” don’t exist in isolation from other social divisions, of class, of region, of gender, of religion, even of generations. Classic Southern racism had an important class function, manipulated by Southern owners to keep poor whites in their place, distracted by an illusory racial superiority.[41] . Some people have viewed the conservative movement as having this same underlying structure, with a wealthy corporate elite manipulating various racial, cultural and “traditional values” issues to keep lower middle-class and working-class Americans voting against their own interests.[42] Writing about the original white backlash, the historian James T. Patterson described it as reflecting a “polarization along class, generational and racial lines. The backlash represented considerably more than white racism, which polls suggested was less intense than in the past”[43] -even in the 1960s. In the same way, the rise of the Religious Right and fundamentalist belief in the South and West should be seen not so much an alternative as a successor to- and substitute for- segregation. Overall, it seems fair to say that racism has played the same role in America’s conservative movement that anti-Semitism played in the mass movements of the political right in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries[44].






America’s New, increasingly Radical Right developed out of a union of Northeastern fiscal and Southwestern folk conservatism, bound together by nationalism chiefly expressed (at least until the collapse of the Soviet Union) as anticommunism. Conservative leaders from Goldwater to Reagan marshalled this set of beliefs behind a single political idea- opposition to “big” government, or to government per se, except for law enforcement and the military.

Fear and distrust of government has deep roots in US history, dating back to the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. In its modern incarnation, though, it was basically a reaction to the tremendous growth of the Federal government during the New Deal. Before the 1930s, as Calvin Coolidge famously remarked, few Americans would have noticed if the US Government had gone out of existence.  By the end of the Second World War, no one could have made such a statement. But generalisations like this miss the important nuances. Two striking (and overlapping) variations on anti-government ideology had to do with race in the South and with resources in the West.

Locked into an insular culture of defeat, the South opposed Federal authority traditionally and consistently for over a century, from Civil War and Reconstruction to civil rights and desegregation. To Southerners, the government meant the Northern enemy plain and simple. Not only had the Union defeated and occupied the South, US central government continued to threaten the Jim Crow system that had replaced slavery, and the low-wage, non-union economic order that lay behind it. 

Things were different in the West where central government was the benefactor (which didn’t make it any more popular). The Federal Government has been crucial to the West’s development throughout its history, from fighting the wars that annexed the Western territories in the first place to financing the infrastructure for these vast, empty spaces down to, during and after World War Two, supplying the capital to develop the modern metropolitan and industrial West. In the 19th century, federal land grants sweetened railway building and turned the whole of the West into a giant real estate speculation, giving the Western character its gung-ho boosterism. Massive irrigation projects followed to make often-barren lands productive and habitable (dam-building on an heroic scale, funded by the US taxpayer, continued until the 1970s). Central government also paid for the interstate highways that replaced the railroads as the main technology knitting together the West’s great distances.

But the development that really changed the Far West was the creation of a huge US defence industry during and after World War Two- the “military-industrial complex” in President Eisenhower’s famous phrase. Between 1945 and 1965, 62% of the US national budget of $776 billion went on defence expenditure, much of it in Western states, especially California, which became the headquarters of the US aircraft industry. By the late 1950s, one quarter of all Department of Defence personnel, both military and civilian; one third of all military prime contract awards; and two thirds of all missile contract awards went to the Far West, which at the time represented one-sixth of the population.[45] At the peak in 1963, one third of all non-agricultural workers in California depended for their jobs on defence spending, while Utah had a small but thriving missile industry and Texas had the headquarters of NASA and America’s main nuclear weapons plant. In the 1980s, the same thing happened all over again when the Reagan administration launched a massive military build-up: by 1987, 12 of the top 20 states by per capita federal spending were Western states.[46]

Meanwhile, the old ranching and farmingWest remained as reliant on public money as the new industrial West. The West is a leading recipient of US government agricultural subsidies, whose true extent urban Americans often don’t realise. According to Nate Blakeslee, in 1999 Swisher County (including Tulia) received 28.7 million dollars in various farm programs, and not a single local farm (or farmer) could have survived without them. The subsidies “dwarfed..the total tax dollars invested in poverty programmes in Swisher County.” Nevertheless, respectable Tulians considered the subsidies to be their right while they viewed welfare, food stamps and the like as illegitimate handouts to the idle and the work-shy.[47]

In short, the West has always depended on outsiders and always resented its dependence. 19th century resentment against Eastern-owned banks and railroads transferred itself after 1945 into resentment towards central government. The West had a right-wing philosophy before there was a Right to adopt one. Westerners find it easy to ignore the subsidies but impossible to forget the government rules and regulations- and the very visible Federal bureaucracy- that accompanied the torrent of Federal money. A lot of Western land is still public land, owned by the US government, including great tracts preserved as wilderness in national parks. Since most Western states are commodity- producing states, whether agriculture (cattle ranching, cotton and wheat) or minerals, ranchers and mining interests have to lease public land on which to operate. Although the terms are generally very favourable (critics say much too favourable), the big ranching and mining companies resent having to pay anything at all, being forced to abide by federal environmental regulations, and being barred from exploiting large tracts. Individual ranchers and farmers come into sometimes violent conflict with the hated federal agents, such as National Park Rangers. One of the enduring undercurrents of Western politics is the insistence that the Federal Government has no right to tell Westerners what to do with “their” land. The government should relinquish control of the land to the states, which in practise means to state legislatures dominated by business lobbyists, who would promptly turn it over to private interests. 

As a result, “states’ rights” had a different meaning in the West as opposed to the South. In the South, the phrase meant, leave us alone to do as we please with “our” negroes; in the West, it meant leave us alone to do as we please with “our” land”. But in the decades after the civil rights revolution overturned the old Southern order, the two regions moved closer together in their approach to the daily, bread-and-butter issues- “pork” as Americans call them- of US politics. After all, the first and most famous of all the great federal infrastructure projects was in the South, not the West: the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) created by the New Deal. As wages rose in California and the Pacific Coast, and labor unions developed along with them, defence manufacturing dollars leeched first to the Rocky Mountain States, and later to the South itself. By 1992, when Newt Ginrich was railing against the evils of the Federal Government,  Ginrich’s suburban Atlanta district, Cobb County, ranked third among all US suburban counties in the amount of federal money it received. Cobb County residents got more federal aid per capita than infamously liberal New Yorkers and the county’s economy was based on a Lockheed defence plant.[48] 

Although these facts, amounting to a generalised dependence by the South and the West on Washington far in excess of that of the North and East, are widely known, they were- and are- routinely forgotten and denied by conservative leaders, not least because they undercut the West’s image of pioneering self-reliance (along with the self-image of conservatives, derived from the same source). Barry Goldwater, for one, never tired of remarking that “individual initiative..made the desert bloom” though he must have known that the exact opposite was true in his own state Arizona [49]. Goldwater himself spent much of his Senate career lobbying for the Central Arizona Project, a classic irrigation project to divert the Colorado River. Finally signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1968,, it cost the American taxpayer $3.6 billion (the original estimate was $1.3 billion) supposedly to secure the futures of hardy, pioneering Arizona farmers. In reality, the CAP enabled an unsustainable real estate boom that has converted the Arizona desert into an endless suburb, making Arizona into the “New California” (or “the end of the funnel of white flight”)[50].

Denial on this scale goes beyond hypocrisy. It suggests that the real nature of the American New Right is very different from its public face. Although conservatives advertise themselves as answering the ills of modernity, which they claim is driven by “big government”, they actually pursue a typical special interest agenda on behalf of the rich and powerful. When the two priorities conflict, philosophical opposition to government gets quietly forgotten- as indeed it must be since big government is an inextricable part of modern society, including the ways that private business gets done and wealth is maintained and created.

By “limited government”, American conservatives turn out to mean government that provides infrastructure projects and all manner of corporate subsidies, supports a vast defence establishment, and legislates against labor while eschewing income redistribution, business and environmental regulation or welfare for the poor -and pays for these activities via a tax structure that is anti-progressive (ie taxes like sales tax whose burden falls disproportionately on the middle-class and poor rather than the wealthy). By “individual freedom”, they mean freedom for businessmen and capital owners to deploy their economic and social power at will, control their own communities and run their businesses free from government regulation (though not from government favours) while denying anyone else the ability to challenge them ie by forming and operating labor unions.

Unsurprisingly, given the Right’s actual aims, the Federal government has scarcely reduced in size, nor did the US budget shrink, during two long periods of conservative ascendancy under Ronald Reagan and George Bush junior (on the contrary, the Federal Budget rose into the stratosphere during both administrations due to their common policies of tax cuts for corporations and the rich together with military build-ups and wars). Rather than being conservative in the traditional sense of conserving what exists, the US New Right is a radical, even revolutionary, movement that constantly stunts and aborts its own radicalism due to its conflicting agendas and the basic impossibility of realising its stated aims- except in foreign policy, where it has been free from domestic constraints only to run headlong into the limits of American power in the post-Cold War world.

First, though, the New Right had to come to power within America itself. That meant overcoming “the problem that (has) bedevilled the American right since Goldwater…how to win electoral support for a domestic programme that was transparently against the economic interests of the great mass of the population and a foreign policy that appeared both reckless and redundant?”[51] The conundrum with which we began- why would people vote against their interests?-  thus became the political obstacle for the Right, an obstacle conservatives wrestled with for years in different ways and at different levels of the political process.

Their first hurdle was to establish themselves as a respectable political grouping as opposed to marginal extremists beyond the pale of America’s liberal consensus. Self-described “mainstream conservatives” (they were anything but mainstream at the time: the self-description was itself a claim to political respectability) looked for ways to separate themselves from the conspiracy theorists and the McCarthyite blacklisters. Having assembled an ideology from elements such as the economic conservatism of the Northeast and the business class, the South’s reactionary race-based capitalism, Western resource politics, Southwestern rural and small town grassroots conservatism, and hard-line anticommunism, the New Right needed a philosophy and it needed a leader. It found the first by making opposition to “big government” (later shortened to a hatred of “liberalism” in general) into the conservative rallying cry. It found the second in that most reluctant and petulant of political prophets, Barry Goldwater.





I was in New York in 1964, when Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson for the Presidency. President Kennedy had been assassinated the year before, in what were then still mysterious circumstances that suggested the recrudescence of primitive forces in America, at odds with the modern nation Kennedy had symbolised. Now came another shock out of the West. Fairly or unfairly, Goldwater looked like the candidate of those selfsame forces from “the nut country”.[52] “When, in all our history, has anyone with ideas so bizarre, so archaic, so self-confounding, so remote from the basic American consensus, ever got so far?” Richard Hofstadter wrote at the time in the New York Review of Books[53]. The educated upper-middle-class New Yorkers I knew reacted to Goldwater with a blend of astonishment, fear and revulsion. They were appalled by Goldwater’s policies (in so far as he had clear policies), which seemed to combine stepped-up military aggression abroad with cutting back government at home to a minimal 19th century version. They were frightened by Goldwater’s attitudes. Only two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, at a time when nuclear holocaust was fresh in everybody’s mind, his famous speech sounded like a threat: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice: moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” And they were horrified by the behaviour of Goldwater’s supporters, known as the “Goldwaterites”, when they howled down their man’s rival, the liberal Nelson Rockefeller, at that year’s Republican Convention.[54]

As a politician, Goldwater, like his natural successor Ronald Reagan, was essentially a salesman. Time Magazine called him “GOP salesman supreme”[55]. A long-time Senator, he had little interest in the nuts and bolts work of legislating, used his safe Senate seat as a base to barnstorm the country on the Republican dinner-speaking circuit, and was the opposite of an intellectual, readily agreeing with critics who called him a lightweight. At the same time, his rugged good looks and Western outdoorsman manner gave him considerable political sex appeal. He posed for photographs on his horse, waving his Stetson, and had fans among young women as smart, and as different, as Joan Didion and Hillary Clinton.

By the time he ran for President, Goldwater (again like Reagan) was an older man who had arrived at his conservatism through one of its original vectors. There were three of these. In reverse historical order, the first was the high-pressured anticommunism associated with the early years of the Cold War. This was the milieu in which Ronald Reagan had converted from New Deal liberal to proto-conservative (Reagan was also influenced by his extreme rightwing in-laws by his second wife, Nancy Davis). A second vector delivered people who had turned against Franklin Roosevelt over his foreign policy (i.e. over US participation in the 2nd World War). They joined the isolationist group ‘America First’ in the 1930s and supported the anticommunist and quasi-isolationist Senator Taft in the immediate post-war period. Dean Clarence Manion, an extreme right-wing academic and radio host who became Goldwater’s first national champion, and the Buckley family, whose offspring included William Buckley jr., were all America First-ers.

The third vector, also the most populous, had been created by the New Deal itself and the bitter opposition it aroused among America’s business class, most of whose members had simply never conceived of  government “interfering” (as they saw it) in their affairs, let alone been confronted by labor unions operating with a measure of government sympathy, if not outright government backing. While the big corporations adjusted to the new conditions after a while, many local and provincial businessmen never did. Goldwater, whose family owned a chain of Arizona department stores, was typical of his class.

Whatever forces formed their views, all these early conservatives had to wait for events to offer them their political opportunity. When that time finally came with the white backlash against black civil rights and 1960s disorder, Reagan proved adept at exploiting the new populist resentments while Goldwater all but ignored them, thus defining the difference between the two men’s fortunes. Even in the throes of his national Presidential campaign, Goldwater remained an old-fashioned de haute en bas reactionary, most at home in the (then) gentlemanly atmosphere of the Senate, glad-handing among his fellow country club Republicans, or engaged in the Western US version of “huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’”. Not only was he uncomfortable with mass politics, he was equally uncomfortable his own activists, the right-wing true believers and ideological conservatives who turned him into a guru with a ghostwritten book, ‘The Conscience of  A Conservative’, then formed the Draft Goldwater Committee in 1961 to take over the Republican Party with Goldwater as their Presidential candidate. One such prominent activist, frustrated by Goldwater’s moods, ultimately judged that “at heart Goldwater was, and remains, a perfectly orthodox, budget-balancing, mainline Republican whose heart beats in near-perfect accord with Jerry Ford’s”- which was an exaggeration but not by all that much.[56] In his later years, Goldwater complained that he hadn’t led the conservative movement: they had used him: and he attacked the new “social conservatives” on the Religious Right for “doing a disservice to the church and disservice to politics” by mixing the two.[57]

 LBJ won by a landslide in 1964, the Right was put back in its box, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. My New York friends shared the general assumption that the New Right or the Far Right or the Radical Right or the “Right-wing crazies”- all names in use at the time- had been seen off by a basically centrist democracy. Their rump could brood in Houston oilmen’s clubs or pace the forecourts of their Los Angeles car dealerships or fulminate in Southern statehouses, where politics was fatally tied to race like a ball and chain, but the Right was essentially powerless, permanently unable “to amass sufficient white working-class support to realise its straightforwardly anti-working-class project”[58], as  Robert Brenner put the problem. 75% of white working-class votes went to the Democrats in 1964, up from 58% in 1960 when Kennedy narrowly beat Nixon and back to the levels of 1948, when Truman assumed the legacy of FDR and the New Deal.

Yet a mere four years later, Nixon was President and the Democrats’ share of white working-class voters had dropped down to 45%. It fell again to 38% in 1972- the election that marked the end of America’s New Left- when the Democratic candidate was George McGovern. By then, the conservatives had begun their 30-year long march through the institutions of the Republican Party and through the country as a whole, a rise that culminated in the presidency of George Bush junior, who “brought the agenda of Barry Goldwater, considered extremist in its time, into the US mainstream.”[59]

Before examining how and why this happened, it’s important to keep the extent of the change in perspective. In their initial triumphalism after 2000, conservatives were fond of talking about “two Americas” divided into red and blue states. Red states were the real, heartland, conservative Republican America. The shrinking count of blue states, confined to the coasts, were the home of a liberal, effete and unAmerican elite. In their telling, the old division between a consensus country and marginal extremists remained but the protagonists were reversed, with conservatives colonising the centre and the liberals cast as the extremists. The problem was, the maps conservatives produced to prove their point showed nothing of the sort: they were maps of election results not of some essentialist difference.[60] The true state of political America at the beginning of the 21st century didn’t show a Right Nation but a “50-50 nation”, with the division between Republicans and Democrats running throughout the country and Presidential elections decided by small numbers of votes- most notably in 2000 itself when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College (and thus the Presidency) in Florida by a handful of votes whose fate finally had to be decided in the Supreme Court. The same pattern held for American politics as a whole. In the national popular vote for the House of Representatives in 2000, Republicans won 48%: in 2006, when the Democrats regained control of the House in a swing against the Iraq War, Republicans still won 46%. Asked to describe their party label, in 2000 39% of voters called themselves Democrats and 35% Republicans; in the 2006 mid-terms, 38% said they were Democrats and 36% Republicans (the remaining 26% were independents).[61]

According to some observers, a 50-50 nation means a permanent state of political mobilization, leading to a heated partisan atmosphere on both sides. Even as the two main parties achieved a kind of parity in their appeal, each became more purist in its membership- the Democrats more liberal and the Republicans more conservative. Others say the paradoxical result of two parties each striving to win the small extra margin of votes that will give them victory has created a “political system with a spectrum of opinion so narrow it deters half the electorate from voting”[62]   There is a spectre haunting American politics, the spectre of low voter turnout, historically around 55-60% of the eligible voting population, and 10-20% below most developed democracies.[63] Since the average non-voter is less educated, less affluent, and more likely to be urban, younger and a member of a minority group than the average voter, it can be argued that non-voting is a disadvantage for the Democrats.

Nevertheless, when all the caveats have been entered, the figures do represent a structural upheaval in American politics. We are dealing with a move to parity rather than outright Republican dominance, but it remains true that there has been a major shift in American politics. Between 1952 and 1980 on average 45% of voters in Presidential races were Democrats to 29% Republicans. The enduring Democratic advantage, which actually dates farther back to Franklin Roosevelt and the 1930s, had shrunk to a dead heat by the early 2000s. The 1960s and then the 1980s were the crucial decades in that process. Reagan’s Presidency spanning the 1980s was when the statistical balance tipped towards the Republicans. By 1988, when Reagan gave way to George Bush senior, Democrats still remained in the overall majority but only by a few percentage points; and they were no longer a majority among white voters.[64] But the damage had begun twenty years earlier, in the 1960s, during those dramatic years when so many things were put in question in America. It was then that FDR’s New Deal Democratic coalition started to disintegrate as two of its main props, Southern whites and Northern white working-class voters, turned to the right under the impact of civil rights, youth revolt and deep-seated, turbulent social change.

The most important electoral change was in the South with the realignment of white southern voters from Democrats to Republicans. “The disappearance of enormous Democratic surpluses from the South- surpluses that were a steady feature of elections for President and Congress for more than a century- has reshaped national politics.”[65] If the Great Depression re-established the Democratic Party in the North after the Civil War, the 1960s and the white backlash, primarily though not exclusively against black civil rights, re-established the Republican Party in the South (also since the Civil War). That re-balancing took place on territory favourable not to traditional, business or socially reactionary conservatives but to a new, populist, radical Right, and Goldwater played a part in it. Through his alliance with Strom Thurmond and South Carolina, Goldwater established the practical base for a Republican Southern Strategy that was to prove crucial in the future. Goldwater also demonstrated a specifically conservative Republicanism’s potential in the South in the states he did win. There were only six of these, one of which was his home state, Arizona, but the others were all in the Deep South, solidly Democratic up to that point. Eisenhower and Nixon (in 1960) had won Southern voters for their traditional, moderate-liberal Republican Party, but they were mostly in the Upper South. Of the 507 Southern counties Goldwater carried, 233 had never voted Republican before.[66]. For those who had eyes to see, one-party Democratic rule over the South was approaching an abrupt and undignified end.[67]

Running for President as the candidate of one of the two major parties made Goldwater the most important right-wing political figure since Taft. Goldwater took McCarthy’s attacks on “elites”, sanitised them, and made them into the New Right’s signature note, its opposition to “big government” and the liberal domination of US politics. The Radical Right’s mantra, the song all its disparate constituencies can be relied upon to join in singing, was Goldwater’s creation (though not of course his invention. Its roots go back to Burke). More important than the man himself, though, were the group of conservative activists who all but forced him to run for President and who captured control of the Republican Party from the Northeastern liberals in his name. The 1964 national campaign energised the activists, gave them invaluable experience and added to their numbers. After the election, the Right remained the main force in the Party as well as custodian of the all-important lists of names of Goldwater campaign contributors and conservative supporters. On the basis of those lists, they began to build a fully-fledged, organised conservative movement with its own think tanks, fundraising, publications, subsidised scholars, radio and TV talk shows, political action committees and the like.[68]

In retrospect, Goldwater’s crushing defeat marked only the end of the beginning for the Radical Right. Since then, five out of the last eight Presidents of the United States have been Republicans. Most of them were conservatives. Even recent Democratic Presidents have governed as if they were. From Barry Goldwater to George Bush junior forms a single political arc, but scarcely less striking is the arc from LBJ to Clinton, who “represented a conventional centre-right agenda, akin—as Clinton himself once put it—to an ‘Eisenhower Republican’ stance updated to the post-Cold War epoch…… defined by across-the-board reductions in government spending, virtually unqualified enthusiasm for free trade, deregulation of financial markets, and only tepid, inconsistent efforts to regulate labour markets.”[69]

Nor has America’s political sea-change been limited to Presidential politics. The Democratic Party that recaptured Congress in 2006 no longer resembled the party of FDR or even of LBJ: like the British Labour Party after Margaret Thatcher, it was a party that had remade itself in its opponents’ image,. Among the 233 House Democrats, 60 belonged to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council and 44 were ultra-conservative Blue Dog Democrats, many from the South, who take right-wing positions on issues like abortion and gun control and favour a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget.[70] In effect, the Democratic Party recreated its old character, with a minority conservative bloc of Southern Democrats ready to stymie any move towards social reform, while over the same period most Southern voters switched to the Republicans, giving conservatism its “emerging Republican majority”.[71] American politics had become conservative twice over, and it is to this development we now need to turn.





Although the shift to the Right first showed itself in the 1960s, its roots lie thirty years earlier, in the Great Depression and the New Deal. Attesting to its central importance in modern American history, libraries have been written about the New Deal without anyone being able certainly to define what it was. We tend to forget that contemporaries had the same difficulty The New Deal was always contested territory, its nature and direction fought over throughout its relatively brief existence by liberals, ultra-liberals, moderates, conservatives, union men and businessmen, bureaucrats and journalists.

In fact, the only thing everyone could agree on about the New Deal was that it was indeed New- a new phenomenon in American life. America was late in registering the full impact of industrialisation as Americans were in making the move from a traditional rural society to a modern industrial one. The sheer size of the continent meant that these processes which form the basis of modernity were far from complete even by the 1930s. The experiences that ushered in the modern world in Europe before and after 1900, then stamped it with the trauma of the Great War, had their American counterparts in the Great Depression and the New Deal. All at once, Americans found themselves confronted with the attributes of a modern political economy, from organised left-wing activity in industrial unions to a centralised bureaucratic state, springing into existence fully-formed in the midst of a Depression that hit the US (and Germany) much harder than it did other countries. Not only those businessmen who felt their erstwhile freedom of action subject to a pincer movement by newly militant unions and a newly activist government balked at the scale of change. Many other ordinary Americans were ill at ease in a world characterised by ever-more impersonal system and ever-larger organisations. They hungered for a half-imaginary older world of individual freedom and moral accountability to which the new world seemed to bear little relation.[72]

It’s no accident, then, that American conservatives often describe their aims as rolling back or repealing the New Deal.  The New Deal remains a hated benchmark because it was not merely a series of individual reforms but led to the creation of a modern central government in the USA that then began to get involved, as modern governments do, in many aspects of economic and social life. Conservatives could plausibly argue that government on this scale was something the country’s Founding Fathers had never envisaged- indeed, that they’d explicitly rejected. But surely times had changed between 1776 and 1936? Across the world, the Great Slump “was a catastrophe which destroyed all hope of restoring the economy, and the society, of the long nineteenth century,” let alone the eighteenth. “The period 1929-33 was a canyon which henceforth made a return to 1913 not merely impossible but unthinkable.”[73] So the matter had been understood in Europe anyway, where the Slump first slammed the door, then tore up all the furniture and fixtures and fittings in the house and barricaded it in the name of Fascism, Nazism, the Second World War and the Holocaust. America escaped three out of the four and, though the US fought in the war, it was the only combatant nation to emerge with its own territory unscathed and actually to prosper from the conflict. It’s no wonder that many Americans, especially among the propertied and business classes, refused to accept that 19th century bourgeois society was over or that 19th century laisser-faire capitalism was no longer a viable philosophy under modern conditions.

First, though, they had to survive the Great Depression. The Depression was the second major economic crisis in the US since the Civil War. The first, in the late 19th century, had affected agriculture most severely and led to Populism. But by the 1930s, the US had developed an industrialised modern capitalist economy (indeed it was the largest such economy in the world, making it the Slump’s epicentre). Armed with the rag-bag of experiments known as the New Deal, Roosevelt set out to save capitalism from itself as well as from its revolutionary alternatives on both the left and the right. While these were only too visible in 1930s Europe, they were present, in embryo anyway, in the United States as well.  “I am fighting Communism, Huey Longism, Coughlinism and Townsendism”, Roosevelt said[74] .

  If the issues at stake were clear, both to Roosevelt himself and to many of his contemporaries, his policies have led to endless debate about their nature and the thinking behind them. Did the New Deal ever have a coherent philosophy? How radical was FDR personally?   Roosevelt claimed that “social justice, no longer a distant ideal, has become a definite goal” and spoke of the need for “(t)he intervention of that organised control we call government”.[75] He saw that 20th century capitalism no longer depended on individual entrepreneurs and small businessmen but on giant corporations whose tremendous, organised power dominated the economy and dwarfed the individual and his human needs. Only a countervailing public power could stand against them. This was an old theme of American radicals, with their trust-busting, anti-monopoly principles, but brought up to date and transformed into a case for modern, interventionist government. Roosevelt’s attempts to act on it, driven by his famous vision of “one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished” made him into “a traitor to his class”, a hate figure to wealthy Americans whose vituperative attacks anticipated the Right’s outpouring of hate against Clinton in the 1990s. Roosevelt fought back. Accepting the Democratic nomination for a second term in 1936, he made a stirring speech railing against the “economic tyranny” that threatens freedom, and arguing that economic inequality negates political equality. But by re-phrasing the radical critique of capital in specifically American language about democracy and freedom, he was challenging one of “Americanism’s” core principles, then as now.

Roosevelt won his second term by a landslide. Like Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 victory, it marked the summit rather than the renewal of his reforming impulse.[76] Conservative opposition had coalesced in Congress (as well as on the US Supreme Court) where FDR’s opponents didn’t so much vote down New Deal legislation as do nothing about it at all. Not for the first  (or the last) time, the American political system skewed more conservative than the American people.[77]  Roosevelt’s very success in creating a new Democratic majority by appealing to industrial workers in Northeastern cities only deepened the split within his own party, since the old Democratic power base was in the rural South. In 1937, after the President summoned Congress into special session to try to break the deadlock, the alliance between Southern Democrats and Republicans appeared in fully articulated form- the first time since the Civil War that Southern politicians had been willing to co-operate with the hated Republicans, and the first act in a cross-party alliance that anticipated the modern US Right, that constituted a Right avant la lettre.

Congressional conservatives issued their bipartisan Conservative Manifesto. Its 10 points called for low taxes and a balanced budget, championed private property and states’ rights against the federal government, attacked unions and strikes, and denounced the creation of a welfare class. David Kennedy calls the Manifesto “a kind of founding charter for modern American conservatism. It was among the first systematic expressions of an antigovernment political philosophy that had deep roots in American political culture but only an inchoate expression before the New Deal”. “(T)he crystallisation of this new conservative ideology, as much as the New Deal (itself), was among the enduring legacies of the 1930s.”[78].

Outside the political class too, the New Deal produced new alliances and new oppositions. On the one hand, was Roosevelt’s coalition. On the other hand, a split opened in American life between businessmen and government. While big business adjusted, small and medium businessmen never came to terms with the New Deal or with the powerful central government that was its legacy. Because the New Deal saved the system (though it didn’t end the Slump: the war did that) once prosperity returned it became possible to claim the New Deal and all the government apparatus it had brought forth could simply be eradicated as a kind of temporary, alien intrusion. It took a while for anyone to listen to such claims, since the first people to make them were the very “business-as-usual” people who had been discredited by the Slump. One way to look at the history of the New Right, from its inception to the second Bush’s Presidency, is as a continuing search for ways to make that claim credible, by men like Ronald Reagan and  Barry Goldwater, who wrote in the first of his two autobiographies, “I think the foundations of my political philosophy were rooted in my resentment against the New Deal.”. [79]

Beyond the general reaction that all change provokes, let alone change on the tremendous scale of  1932-7, two specific factors contributed to bringing the New Deal to an end,. One of these factors was the South; the other was the sit-down strikes. As the most backward, the most conservative, the poorest and the most isolated region in the country, the South was also among the worst-affected by the Depression. In their desperation, Southern Democratic politicians (which meant virtually all politicians in the still-solid South) at first supported Roosevelt. But as soon as they realised his New Deal meant government intervention rather than, or along with, government handouts that they could control, they turned against it. They retreated to the South’s default position since the Civil War of opposing every action by national government. The South judged all such actions (correctly, in its own terms) as threats to its white supremacist society, which required Southern isolation and associated backwardness and poverty to keep it frozen in place.

After 1936, this conflict escalated. FDR’s plan to liberalise the Supreme Court- considered by the South a bastion of states’ rights-was followed by an antilynching bill supported by New Deal liberals (though not by Roosevelt himself, who viewed it as politically unrealistic). The South panicked. By 1937, Southern conservative reaction in Congress brought the New Deal to a near-standstill. In turn, Roosevelt called the South “the nation’s number one economic problem” and colluded with the small group of Southern liberals to produce a Report on Economic Conditions in the South.

 Roosevelt decided that only by changing the South, politically and economically, could he continue with reform. Both sides saw wages as the key issue. If the South’s historically low wages could be raised, Roosevelt believed, it would force Southern industry, which mainly consisted of antiquated textile mills, to modernise and join the rest of modern industrial America. But that was exactly what the Southern leaders didn’t want. To them, low wages were their only competitive advantage, the factor that enabled the South to survive in its separateness. Low wages and non-union industrial labour combined with near-starvation sharecropping in agriculture comprised the economic basis of white supremacy. It was no accident that the last-ever piece of New Deal legislation was 1938’s Fair Labor Standards Act, mandating a minimum wage, and fiercely opposed by Southern interests.

 Roosevelt himself went on the road for the 1938 midterm elections to campaign for liberal candidates against the Southern conservatives in his own party- his last-ditch bid to break the political logjam. The result was a humiliating defeat. Incumbent Southern Democrats, the Dixie Demagogues, swept back into office. Republicans made big gains in the House, the Senate and among state Governors. The attempt to create a New Deal majority in the Democratic Party and in the country as a whole- an attempt in which the South was both the crucial battleground and the main obstacle- had failed. Worse yet, it had backfired, all but ending the New Deal.

            Labor was also involved in the second factor leading to the demise of the New Deal, albeit in a different way. This had to do with the rise of the unions. Under the New Deal, for a brief period in US history, the state was either neutral or pro-union rather than actively opposed to organised labor. Various political initiatives, notably the 1935 Wagner Act that guaranteed workers the right to organize and required employees to bargain with legitimate union representatives, “helped initiate a historic organizing drive that rearranged the balance of power between capital and labor.”[80] A new generation of union organizers targeted unskilled workers in the giant industries like steel and autos, reaching the immigrant masses that had been ignored, or rather deliberately excluded, by the American Federation of Labor’s (AFL) concentration on native-born skilled craftsmen. The drive soon led to the new “industrial unions” splitting off to form their own organisation, the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) under the radical leaders John L. Lewis (United Mine Workers), David Dubinsky (International Ladies Garment Works Union) and Sidney Hillman (Amalgamated Clothing Workers). Their favourite weapon was the “sit-down strike” –occupying factories-  which they and others like Walter Reuther (United Auto Workers) wielded to such effect that they succeeded in organising Big Steel and the major car companies. As a result of these efforts, overall union membership rose from 3 million in 1933 to 8 million, or 23% of the non-agricultural workforce, by 1940 (at its postwar peak in 1945, the figure reached 35.5%).

            Though Roosevelt personally distrusted big unions almost as much as he distrusted big business, in retrospect they constituted the vital extra-parliamentary element in the New Deal. After most New Deal experiments faded into history, there remained a basic social security system and mass industrial unions in the US. Between them, these two institutions were responsible for much of the stability and prosperity enjoyed by ordinary Americans during the so-called “Golden Age” in the 1950s, when the unions and the major corporations developed a compact that delivered steadily rising wages, job security and all-important “benefits” such as health insurance.

In a broader sense too, strong unions sustained a radical pressure on the system. Given the absence of a European-style Labour Party, political radicalism lacks any formal expression in American politics, making extra-parliamentary economic radicalism all the more important. This the US labor movement provided, for all its increasing institutional conservatism and the abuses and corruption that developed in some unions.[81] The long-term decline of the unions from the 1950s on is one of the reasons why, when the American economy soured again post-1973, the US working-class turned right instead of left, finding a new home in a highly organized conservative “movement culture” that aped and mirrored the old culture of the left and the labor unions, but at the opposite end of the political spectrum.[82]

            Even during its years of triumph, labor had shown some weaknesses. After New Orleans crushed a major CIO organizing drive in 1939 with extreme violence, the South remained a low-wage non-union region: only one Southern worker in 10 belonged to a union by 1940 (as opposed to almost 1 in 4 nationally). The wave of strikes and disruption that accompanied the unionization of major industries alienated many Americans, especially the “sit-down” element, which seemed to some to verge on a revolutionary tactic (the Supreme Court banned it in 1939). The CIO’s decision to use organizers who were Communists was a tactical boon (they were the best and most experienced at their job) but made it vulnerable to conservative attacks.

The New Deal’s opponents, strengthened by the results of the 1938 midterm elections but still stymied by FDR’s personal popularity, seized on these vulnerabilities. The Southerners had already detached themselves from the administration; gathering behind Vice President John Nance Garner, an old-time Texan demagogue nicknamed “Mustang Jack”. Now they went on to the offensive. Roosevelt had sought to use the dire condition of Southern labour as a wedge to prise open the South. The conservatives turned the tables, using the rise of Northern organised labour as a hammer to beat on the New Deal. The man who picked up the hammer was Congressman Martin Dies, another Texan, a cruder and more blustering figure than Garner, undistinguished except for his sheer aggression.

 In 1936, a Senate Civil Liberties Committee chaired by the progressive Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette jr. had held hearings exposing the brutal union-busting war many big employers waged against their workers, employing everything from espionage to private armies of goons like Ford’s notorious “Service Department”. LaFollette’s committee became a vital adjunct to the CIO organising drive. The Committee went beyond simply publicising management abuses: it sent its own observers out in marked cars to accompany union organisers and see fair play. LaFollette even tried to take on that most impenetrable of economic absolutism’s, California agribusiness. Now Dies got his House colleagues to support a Committee that would function as the mirror image and obverse of La Follette’s. The new House Un-American Activities Committee was supposed to investigate threats to the American system from both left and right, from Fascism as well as from Communism. But after a perfunctory session on Nazi influence Dies trained his new Committee on its real target: linking union strikers to Communism and both in turn to the New Deal.

Dies’ wild claim that “not less than two thousand outright Communists and Party-liners still (hold) jobs in the government in Washington” was a pre-echo of McCarthy. The events of the late 1930s repeated themselves all over again in 1946-7, a single development interrupted by the war. The main differences the second time around were that the Cold War increased hysteria against the Left and McCarthy proved a more successful demagogue than Dies. Once again, a rash of disruptive strikes led to Red-baiting, only this time the Red scare was more intense and longer-lasting, and the balance of power in Congress had moved farther to the right. One result was the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act (1947). The new Act banned closed shops and secondary boycotts and made organising the South more difficult by allowing states to bring in “right to work” laws. Most of the South became “right to work” states, although the failure of the CIO/AFL’s postwar organising drive, Operation Dixie, was due less to new laws than to the racial split between black and white Southern workers, ruthlessly manipulated by Southern employers and states. The high tide of American unionism broke against the South, then started its long, slow withdrawal.

Martin Dies was not the first to link organised labour with bolshevism- that had been done during the first Red Scare in 1919-20. He wasn’t even original in claiming that the Reds had infiltrated US politics. But he was the first systematically to identify Communism with liberalism and with government itself.  Thanks to Dies’ UnAmerican Activities Committee, “…(T)he campaign by conservatives to link liberalism with communism- which became devastatingly effective in the late 1940s and early 1950s- was already becoming a factor in national politics” in the second half of the 1930s.[83] Bitterly opposed to unions, convinced like other Southerners that cheap nonunion labour was his region’s main resource, Dies incorporated the twin strands of Southern and anti-labour reaction into a single agenda, anticommunism, which would see the Right safely through the ensuing liberal decades. In doing so, he speeded the process whereby Southern reaction mutated into a radical nationalism, the Klan into Joe McCarthy, negroes into Communists, and liberals into spies and traitors.

Whether or not the New Deal consciously altered its aims in later years, abandoning structural reform of laisser-faire capitalism for a Keynesian emphasis on economic growth- the problem of production for the problem of consumption- as some commentators argue, or whether opposition simply closed the window of opportunity for reform, there’s no doubt that the character of liberalism changed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. When liberalism re-emerged after the war, a certain note had gone out of American politics, one that had sounded among progressives and reformers since the 19th century- a critique of capitalism combined with a determination fundamentally to alter the shape of modern industrial society. Postwar liberalism was rights-based liberalism. Still set on achieving social justice, it now viewed that aim through the prism of identity and law rather than class and economics. This new liberalism made its peace with capitalism, relyingon private enterprise to supply the prosperity and economic growth that were the liberals’ (re-)considered answer to social conflicts. The prosperity of the 1950s Golden Age did indeed ease those conflicts but it also obscured them, causing liberals to underestimate their depth and to overestimate the chances of solving them.

By mid-century, when John F. Kennedy became President, America seemed well on the way to becoming “the best. bright hope of the world” in its own eyes as much as anyone else’s. Hence the desolation many Americans felt when Kennedy was assassinated, followed by their shock and incomprehension when deep-seated racial, class, regional and gender divisions exploded in the 1960s. The swing to the right had its origins in that backlash before going on to gather greater strength and urgency in the 1970s, as prosperity itself lost some of its dynamism.

Much good came out of the postwar brand of liberalism, notably its staunch support for black civil rights. But, as Alan Brinkley writes, “the effort to expand the notion of individual and group rights- and the related efforts to move race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality to the center of political life- ultimately produced a series of divisive cultural battles that most liberals had not anticipated and few welcomed…in the end it was not as easy as many liberals once expected to create a just and prosperous society without worrying about the problems of production and the structure of the economy.”[84]

            The change in the character of liberalism; a hugely expanded Federal government; domestic anticommunism; Southern racial politics; the emergence of a conservative political agenda- all these elements were involved in the rise of the New Right after 1960. All of them were already in existence by the late 1930s. As the Depression began to lift and America edged reluctantly towards war, however, they lay dormant, awaiting the next crisis of the system to jump-start them into life.





            That crisis, when it came, was severe and widespread enough to make shorthand out of a whole decade. Just as “The Thirties” means Depression and the run-up to war in both America and Europe, so “The Sixties” stands for youth revolt and the crisis of the postwar social order. In Europe, there was generational conflict over manners and morals, resistance to the way universities were run, sympathy for Third World Marxism and protests against the Vietnam War. But in America, the years of turmoil began with, and continued to be marked by, a struggle over race.

In 1964, as Lyndon Johnson signed his Civil Rights Act, he remarked to an aide, “I think we delivered the South to the Republican Party for your lifetime and mine.” LBJ never said a truer word. The Democrats’ share of white working-class votes was 75% in 1964: it plummeted to 45% in 1968 when Nixon narrowly beat Humphrey; then to 38% in 1972 with McGovern. In 1964, Barry Goldwater won only six states, including his home state, Arizona. The other five were all in the Deep South.[85] Four years later, a young Republican strategist named Kevin Phillips told Garry Wills, “when white southerners move, they move fast.”[86].  Southern white voters switched parties between 1964 and 1972 via the vector of a third party, created by Alabama’s Governor George Wallace (until he was shot and crippled during the 1972 campaign, effectively ending his national career).

Wallace’s “racial politics” represented the last stand of the old-style Southern demagogues. At the same time, they pointed forwards to a new populist conservatism in which racial fears would be subsumed into a broader reaction. Results in Texas, a fringe state between South and West, were paradigmatic of the way the shift in power unfolded. In 1964, the Johnson Humphrey ticket beat Goldwater almost two to one in popular votes. In 1968, with Wallace splitting the vote, Nixon squeaked past Humphrey by just over 1,000 while Wallace polled nearly 600,00. In 1972, Nixon crushed McGovern 2 to 1.[87]

            Major political reversals like this don’t happen overnight. The Democrats’ problem with the South dated back to 1948, when Truman agreed to a liberal civil rights plank at the Democratic Convention, prompting a group of Southern Democrats known as the “Dixiecrats” to walked out and stage a Third Party run with Strom Thurmond, then Governor of South Carolina, as their candidate. By 1960, when Theodore H. White reported the Nixon/Kennedy race for his ‘The Making of the President’, he wrote: “The problem of civil rights in America- which is another way of speaking of the relations of Negro Americans with white Americans- poses, for political strategists, the sharpest choices in national planning.”[88]

            Apart from demonstrating that “rights” talk was still novel enough in those days to need explaining to his readers, White’s famous book consciously set out to puff the American Presidency, to hymn its drama and importance in orotund prose. The Bob Woodward of his day, White was too good a journalist wholly to believe his own celebration of America and its political class. What strikes a reader half a century later is White’s secondary, subconscious theme, the way he returns again and again to worry about “the relations of Negro Americans with white Americans” against the background of what he calls “the greatest geographic migration in American life since the settlers took their covered wagons west- the movement of the Negro from the South to the North and West and (in both South and North) from the farm to the city.”[89].

White wrote presciently,

            “The prospect for the Republican high command is thus tantalising in the extreme. If they adopt a civil rights program only moderately more restrained than the Democrats’ the South can be theirs for the asking; and with the South, if it comes permanently to Republican loyalties, could come such solid addition of electoral strength as would make Republicans again, as they were for half a century, the majority party of the nation and the semipermanent stewards of the national executive power. Furthermore, since the Northern Negro now votes habitually for the Democrats, by overwhelming margins (of 3 to 1 to 8 to 1), why seek to outbid the Democrats where they cannot be outbid? So argue conservative Republicans, and their philosophy can be summarised as one of trade: let us give the Northern Negro to the Democrats and we shall take the Old South for ourselves.” [90]

             This eventually became known as “Nixon’s Southern Strategy”, but it had its origins in the 1950s, when Eisenhower won 50% and more of the Southern white vote in 1952 and 1956. Numbers like those made the Republican Party look seriously at the South for the first time since the Civil War. In 1957, the Republicans created a new Southern division headed by I. Lee Potter,   Virginia Republican State Chairman, and from 1958 onwards, Potter presided over a Republican ‘Operation Dixie’ to recruit and campaign in the South. Potter’s enthusiastic ally was Barry Goldwater, then Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Operation Dixie, which had most success in South Carolina, “became closely tied to the new conservatism that Goldwater promoted.”[91]

None of which made any difference in 1960, when nobody- except a few South Carolinans- thought of Goldwater in Presidential terms. The Republican Party remained firmly in the hands of established leaders like Rockefeller and Nixon. Operation Dixie itself had gained a dubious reputation, accused of racism. According to Theodore White, Nixon toyed with a Southern strategy that year and might have won with it, but in the end he was unable to “(make) up his mind which he wanted, the Northern Negro or the Southern white vote.”[92]  Nixon’s personal indecision was no doubt real and characteristic of the man, but it had a broader context that White doesn’t discuss. Among Republican leaders, it was an article of faith that theirs was a national party, above exploiting sectional or racial divisions.

 In the wake of Nixon’s 1960 defeat, the so-called Southern strategy re-emerged even more firmly identified with the conservatives, for whom it was an integral part of their plan to take control of the Party. Clifton White showed maps of the Southern strategy to the Draft Goldwater Committee in 1962 and William Rusher outlined the strategy in an influential article in the National Review the following year. Later in 1963, Nelson Rockefeller, the  de facto Republicans since Nixon’s 1960 defeat, became alarmed at the inroads the “Goldwaterites” were making. In his July 14th Bastille Day statement, Rockefeller specifically coupled an attack on the conservatives- “the unprincipled extremism of the radical right”- with a denunciation of their “sinister” Southern strategy that would “write off the Negro and other minority groups, and the big cities, and that (would have the Republican Party) direct(s) its appeal primarily to the electoral votes of the South, plus the West, and a scattering of other states.”[93]

Goldwater’s 1964 campaign never really got off the ground sufficiently to have a  strategy, though Strom Thurmond’s conversion to “Goldwater Republicanism”, as Thurmond always insisted on describing it, was an important step on the road to future Republican success in the South. But the politician with the clearest Southern Strategy in 1964 was a Democrat, George Wallace. Reprising the Dixiecrat rebellion of the late 1940s, Wallace began his career as a crude, bullying segregationist whose inaugural address as Governor of Alabama in 1963  featured the line “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” But Wallace turned out to be a formidable politician- far more formidable than ancien regime segregationists like Thurmond. Once he started to address national audiences, Wallace was careful to avoid outright racist language in his speeches and to broaden his appeal with populist themes. Observing his climactic (and last) national campaign in 1972, Hunter S. Thompson judged “George Wallace is one of the worst charlatans in politics but there is no denying his talent for converting frustration into energy.”[94]

            The frustrations Wallace tapped had deep roots in American class, racial and other divisions, now out in the open among Wallace’s white working-class and lower-middle-class followers who felt threatened first by the civil rights movement, then by other rebellious elements of The Sixties. Denouncing hippies, leftists, Communists, feminists, welfare mothers and civil rights activists but also the “liberals, intellectuals and long hairs” who supposedly ran the country, Wallace did much to whip personal frustrations into political backlash and to shape a populist conservatism for the common man. Here was the visceral note Goldwater was missing.[95] Wallace was like Goldwater untethered, not to say foaming at the mouth: he had the gift of translating Goldwater’s abstract doctrines about shrinking government and “Socialism through Welfareism” into an emotional vocabulary of resentments. Facing his first northern crowds in 1964, Wallace discovered that race as a subtext or coded reference played as well in the north as in the south- the Great black Migration had turned working-class whites across the north into de facto Southerners. Wallace was also an economic populist, rhetorically at any rate, in the manner of earlier 1930s demagogues like Huey Long and Father Coughlin.[96] The populist sections in his speeches were enough for the conservative magazine National Review to condemn Wallace’s “Country and Western Marxism”. They needn’t have worried. While it was true that, as an essentially pre-industrial, agrarian creed, Populism had been associated more with the left than with the right, economic radicalism had become an orphan ideology in modern America. Wallace united it with race and directed it more against elites and government- against the liberals themselves- than against capitalists and employers. By doing so, he pushed American Populism another stage on its long journey rightwards.

            Wallace was the harbinger of more than just the movement of Southern white voters from the Democratic to the Republican Party. He was the first politician to sense and address a new constituency in America that has been called by many names: the white backlash, the silent majority, the alienated voter, the forgotten American. Wallace understood how race lay at the heart of this constituency’s concerns, but that race wasn’t the whole story: it was as much a symbol or a scapegoat for their wider discontents. The activities of the civil rights agitators and the antiwar demonstrators, rioting minorities, protesting students and turned- on dropped-out hippies enraged people already squeezed in their economic and social lives and unhappy at the speed with which modern technological-industrial society was shredding traditional ways and traditional roles. Wallace was more of a racist than he tried to make out after he was shot, when he became keen to rewrite his legacy, but he was also a brilliantly instinctive demagogue who understood his supporters probably better than they did themselves. As he told one of them, “I started off talking about schools and highways and prisons and taxes, and I couldn’t make them listen. Then I began talking about niggers- and they stomped the floor.”[97]

The speed and breadth of Wallace’s appeal shocked mainstream politicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Senator McGovern was one of many who reflected on that appeal in the wake of McGovern’s own defeat in the 1972 election- indeed, it was Wallace, or rather the forces he evoked, who ambushed the McGovern campaign. “What I regard as a much more serious defection (from the Democrats) is the massive movement of people to Wallace that we saw taking place in the primaries,” McGovern told Hunter Thompson. “I don’t think anybody really knows what was at the base of that movement.”[98]

            Such a statement strikes us as extraordinary today (and an indication as to why McGovern lost), when everybody has heard of the backlash. It was much more understandable in 1972 when the New Left, Black Power, the Weathermen, rock n’roll and the counterculture were making all the noise and the headlines, as “The Sixties” hit the wall of the existing social structure, and the silent majority were, well, silent- except at Wallace rallies. For anyone who lived through those times- including McGovern and his campaign staff- America seemed more likely to turn to the radical Left than the radical Right. At the root of Democrats for Wallace was a backlash against that very eventuality, the same backlash Goldwater had lectured to but that Wallace responded to and shared instinctively. Taken together, Goldwater’s and Wallace’s careers showed the power that could accrue to anyone able to combine their two messages, weld traditional business conservatism together with a populist appeal, or as the current jargon has it, unite “economic conservatives” and “social conservatives”. In other words someone who could express on a national political level what had been going on within the developing conservative movement. There was a politician who knew how to do that, one who only had recently stepped on to the national stage- Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan has become such a hero to the right it’s easy to forget that they neither knew nor entirely trusted him in the beginning. Conservatives don’t think much of Hollywood, or Hollywood actors, and though Reagan had given thousands of speeches for General Electric with a generally pro-free market message, in the early 1960s he was an unknown quantity where most politicians and political activists were concerned. The corporate speaking circuit and the political speaking circuit were separate circuits that didn’t cross over. Reagan raised his profile with an acclaimed speech supporting Goldwater in 1964. Two years later, he showed what a smoother spokesman, unburdened either by Wallace’s segregationist past or Goldwater’s extremist image, could do with the conservative message when he won the California Governorship.  Still, Republicans felt they needed a more sophisticated and experienced national politician in order to develop the backlash into a fully articulated politics of resentment.

They turned to Richard Nixon, who might have been born for the job. Although he wasn’t one of them in terms of wealth and status, emotionally speaking Nixon could match any blue-collar Wallace-ite for harbouring lifelong resentments against his enemies, real or imagined. After being all but counted out when he lost to JFK, then again when he ran  and lost for Governor of California, Nixon came back from the political dead to win two Presidential races in 1968 and 1972. Both elections were held amid the maelstrom of  Sixties America. The Vietnam War was at its height, opposed by a massive domestic anti-war movement. Rioting blacks burned America’s cities on what seemed like annual basis during every “long, hot summer”. Hippie peace and love had given way to a pervasive violence, both among some of the youthful revolutionary groups, and on the part of increasingly panicked and repressive authorities. Assassins murdered first Martin Luther King then Bobby Kennedy (both in 1968). Norman Mailer called 1968 “a year when the Republic hovered on the edge of revolution, nihilism….”, when disorder penetrated to the heart of  public life and Mayor Daley’s Chicago police rioted at the Democratic Convention, staging a classic confrontation between the old America and the new[99].

            Both in 1968, and more explicitly in 1972, Nixon ran as the candidate of the South and of the backlash against “The Sixties”. His appeal to the former was coded and racial: his appeal to the latter was rousing and economic. During the 1968 Republican Convention, the Miami Herald secretly taped a private meeting between Nixon and the Southern delegation, once again led by South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond.[100] Nixon promised the Southerners a veto over his Vice Presidential choice (no Northern liberal, in other words), criticised the activist Earl Warren Supreme Court, opposed school busing and LBJ’s recent “open-housing” bill- two initiatives at the cutting edge of civil rights after black voting rights had been won- and stated that “the first civil right of every American is to be free of domestic violence”- a swipe at black rioting and disorder in the cities. Later, accepting the nomination, Nixon gave a speech that, as Garry Wills demonstrated, copied Goldwater’s theme of “The Forgotten American” down to the phrase itself (in subsequent speeches Nixon would switch to calling them “the silent majority”).[101]

The forgotten Americans were “the non-shouters, the non-demonstrators..they work and they save and they pay their taxes” and believe in the American Dream. They want law and order at home and national greatness, a source for patriotic pride, abroad. A couple of weeks after the Convention, in his Labor Day message, Nixon fleshed out the forgotten Americans’ economic woes: “..in a time when the national focus is concentrated on the unemployed, the impoverished and the dispossessed the working Americans have become the forgotten Americans …..Government in recent years has broken faith with the American workingman…new taxes and rising prices have more than wiped out all the pay rises he has won since 1965.”[102] Nothing about the role of the corporations or private economic power in creating this situation: economic inequalities were down to the government spending regular folks hard-earned taxes on the undeserving poor. Like the blacks who were rioting in their cities, demanding to live in their neighbourhoods and forcing their children to be bused across town to mixed-race schools, the assault on the pocket books of decent, hardworking white Americans was the fault of government and its controlling liberal elite.

             Norman Mailer, who attended the 1968 Republican Convention, saw it as a drama of the WASP retaking power, “looking for a leader to bring America back to them, their lost America” after enduring years of uprising by previously subservient groups like blacks, young people, women, and the left. Four years later, Hunter Thompson described the 1972 Miami Convention as “looking and sounding like a replay of the Goldwater convention in San Francisco (in 1964).”[103] By combining Goldwater and Wallace, race and economics, then wrapping his political package in the resentful language of the backlash, Nixon forged a new Republican majority. After the trauma of Watergate, many conservatives preferred to give the credit to Ronald Reagan for engineering what they hoped would be an enduring re-alignment in US politics, comparable to FDR’s New Deal Democratic coalition, but it was Nixon’s achievement in the first place. His Southern strategy proved as successful in the North as in the South He was the first Republican candidate to win a majority of Catholic votes, identified with northern ethnics- the white working-class descended from the last waves of European immigrants. By appealing to white southerners and northern ethnics alike, Nixon won over precisely the two groups FDR had put together for the Democrats in the 1930s. Traditional Republican rural and small town voters in the Republican heartlands of the Midwest and the Farm Belt added their reliable conservative voting bloc. As for the Far West, the overwhelmingly white Western electorate, its growing middle-class living in  suburbs and metropolitan areas, allied with religious fundamentalists and influenced by the region’s bitterly anti-government business and ranching class, had been moving from Democratic to Republican since the 1950s. The trend only increased under the impact of rapid social change and the various minority demands and disorders associated with The Sixties. Western voters, especially in California, were in the forefront of the backlash.

The 1968 Presidential election showed the New Right’s future constituency at the very moment of its formation. Race and economics were intertwined in Nixon’s appeal to its various constituencies. Race was the elephant in the room that no one was supposed to discuss, so Nixon’s men spoke about it in code in debates over busing, welfare or open housing, and then over crime and affirmative action. Reflecting in the immediate aftermath of his 1972 defeat,  George McGovern said, “I suspect that race was a lot more of a factor than we were aware of during the campaign. There were all kinds of ways… of tapping that prejudice. The busing issue was the most pronounced one, but also the attacking on the welfare program and the way (Nixon) handled that issue. I think he was orchestrating a lot of things that were designed to tap the Wallace voters, and he got most of them.”[104]





            What was the backlash? According to James Patterson, “the backlash represented considerably more than white racism which polls suggested was less intense than in the past.”[105].

Though racism may indeed have lessened, this didn’t mean that race wasn’t central the backlash: as Christopher Lasch has argued, the two are not necessarily the same thing (though they clearly overlap). Among the many ways to catalogue the labyrinthine social and political changes known as The Sixties, one way would be to emphasise their racial thread and its impact on whites as civil rights protests moved north; a separatist black power movement emerged; welfare claims shot up (from around 1 million to 3.5 million between 1965 and 1975); blacks began competing with whites for jobs in white lower-middle-class fiefdoms such as the labor unions and local government; the War on Poverty created conflicts between black leaders and white elected officials; black riots made for “long, hot summers” when major cities burned; and illegitimacy and crime rose exponentially in the northern black ghettoes. All this followed historic advances in black civil rights- the Watts riot took place only six days after LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act- in a syndrome that historians and sociologists might be able to explain but which struck many ordinary whites as shocking and incomprehensible. (Whites were not the only ones. When Martin Luther King took his campaign north to Chicago, shortly before his death, he is said to have been shocked by the depth of black poverty he found there and the resulting deep-seated nihilism and despair).

Above all, both middle-class  and blue-collar whites dreaded the ghettos’ spread and contagion. Among the various issues that arose in the wake of civil rights, busing aroused the most passion and crime caused the most anxiety among whites. “Busing transformed the politics of city after city both in the North and the South…no other issue brought home so visibly to whites the image of the federal government as intruder and oppressor.”[106]  Seeing their kids bused to integrate ghetto schools they regarded as blackboard jungles gave Northern whites a taste of the way Southern whites had felt when federal marshals escorted black kids into their schools. Yet without busing, school desegregation remained a pipedream.

Race as a political issue then was not solely reducible to racism: it involved some legitimate fears. Between 1960 and 1980, FBI figures for violent crimes rose from 288,000 to 1,345,000 (reported crimes only). Starting in 1973, the Department of Justice began to survey victims of violent crime. In 1974, 62% of robbery victims, 30% of aggravated assault victims and 30% of rape victims said their attackers were black (where the attackers’ race could be identified). At the time, blacks made up 11% of the US population.[107] Statistics like these have an impact on everyday life. While ghetto blacks themselves were the principal victims of black crime, even affluent metropolitan whites, insulated from most 1960s disorder, no longer felt safe walking in their own neighbourhoods and looked on in dismay as their cities seemed to spin out of control. These were the years when white anxieties expressed themselves in bitter jokes like “a liberal is a conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet.”

In the end, both race and racism were to remain features of the American scene, with blacks developing their own counter-racism in the Nation of Islam and in some of the other Black Power factions. Surveys have shown consistent white support for black equality since the 1960s. Socially and politically too white racism continued to decline. But those same surveys also showed whites consistently rejecting the kinds of government measures that black leaders and liberal politicians believed were necessary to make equality into a reality- so-called “reverse discrimination”. This was the contradiction that broke apart the old New Deal Democratic coalition in the late 1960s and 1970s, and it has remained a significant element in the Right’s appeal to white voters to this day.

Before the backlash, then, came the turmoil. Street crime, busing, welfare, illegitimacy and family breakdown formed one clump of racially inflected issues in the 1960s. But another, equally legitimate way to view the period would be through issues associated with other “minorities” such as young people and women, including drugs, “long-haired hippies”, anti-Vietnam war protests, demands by Native Americans and Mexican-Americans for a more inclusive role in society, sexual liberation, feminism, abortion and so on. Some of these issues the US had in common with other countries in the Sixties, but only America had Vietnam. LBJ’s unswerving support for civil rights may have crippled the Democratic Party but it was Vietnam that destroyed his Presidency. After the war escalated in 1965, it became profoundly disruptive and damaging to US society (not to mention the Vietnamese).[108] The war provoked a confrontational mood among supporters and protesters alike and gave the backlash an ugly edge.  “Acid, Amnesty, Appeasement- Vote McGovern” read the notorious campaign buttons distributed by McGovern’s opponents in 1972- two of the three ‘As’ were about the war.

            It’s become fashionable to dismiss The Sixties as smoke and mirrors- revolution as lifestyle rather than as serious politics- but that is to judge its radicals on their own terms, and to miss the point of a decade which polarized America, exploding divisions of race, class, generation and region and disintegrating the fiction that the US was a consensus country. What had felt like consensus in the 1950s turned out to have been mere conformism, just as dissidents like the Beats had said it was at the time. The Sixties threw American society into a different kind of melting pot from the kind that featured in its national myth, one with less predictable and less comfortable consequences. An historian who was attempting to describe the cultural and political ferment in Europe before the First World War coined the phrase “the brothel in the head”, meaning it was a time before the categories were sorted out, when a single individual might be a theosophist, a follower of Freud, an anarchist, and a vegetarian-New Lifer, as well as practising free love and smoking hashish.[109]  The Sixties were a similar period, except that the brothel was in the streets. The same person might protest against the war, agitate for welfare rights, be an artist, read Marcuse, study Eastern religion- and practise free love and smoke hashish. ‘The Fire Next Time’ James Baldwin had written in 1963 but within only a couple of years of Baldwin’s essay being published, it seemed to many Americans that time had come and America was burning down around them.

The backlash was both a product of these fears and freshly opened social divisions and a protest against them, a demand for the return of order, authority, hierarchy, along with the traditional morals that had underpinned the social order, among a hitherto silent majority of Americans who “increasingly…used the word ‘squeeze’ to capture their plight. From the bottom, they felt squeezed by blacks and other minorities who were demanding special rights and privileges. From the top, they felt pressed by the more affluent and powerful, including their supervisors at work.”[110]

             This was the classic position occupied by the “little men”, the “middle strata”, the petty bourgeoisie and lower-middle-class who were foot soldiers in the new political movements of the right that appeared in Europe around the end of the 19th century. Arising out of the crisis of bourgeois liberalism, such radical movements- and their socialist and left-revolutionary counterparts among the working-class- represented the entry of the urbanised and industrialised masses into democratic politics.

 Major differences between the United States’ political economy and Europe’s explain why, 75 years later, the same phenomenon appeared in America (or re-appeared after some inconclusive examples in the 1930s like Father Coughlin’s Social Justice movement);  as well as why, once it constituted itself in the late 1960s, it did so as a movement on the political right and not the left.[111] The European movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had accompanied the entry of the masses into political life. They belong to the early history of European popular democracy and were in part defensive movements against the threat their members felt from the workers below them, organised in the socialist and communist movements.

By that time, the US had been a democracy for a century or more, although its own “masses” had only just arrived in the last great waves of European immigrants, who had yet to assimilate into modern industrial society. As they did so, they took on Americans’ traditional class- consciousness, or rather lack thereof. They saw themselves as bourgeois- or at least aspiring bourgeois- rather than as working-class or belonging to “the people” in a European sense of the term. While self-identification with the bourgeoisie didn’t prevent class antagonisms arising, it did affect how they were expressed, channelling them to the right rather than the left.[112] After mass immigration ended- and before it re-started in recent years, albeit at a lower level, with large-scale Hispanic immigration- the extreme social and geographical mobility of American life made many Americans immigrants within the US, like the tidal waves of black and white migrants from the South between 1920 and 1970. In California, the cockpit of the New Right, new- style conservatism had roots among these newcomers, internal migrants who had come in search of a better life and painfully, with great effort, built up something they now felt they had to protect, that was under attack.

Civil rights and Vietnam represent the two sides of the American consensus, the liberalism that the New Deal and its successors erected on the shoulders of the old Populism, and which The Sixties pushed to its limits. Civil rights developed out of liberalism’s mild social and economic populism; Vietnam was the nadir of its commitment to American nationalism. Liberalism found itself pulled, stretched between a domestic policy going left and a foreign policy moving right until the tension between them could only be resolved by the political system as a whole making a choice to move in one direction or the other. This was the deep structure of US politics during the critical period 1968-72, when all the surface sturm und drang suggested the system had to move to the left but the underlying reality was a rightwards leap. For the “forgotten American s” coalescing into the silent majority in those years, civil rights advocates, war protesters and loose-living student revolutionaries had colonised the left while the defence of their neighbourhoods against blacks and liberal do-gooders and of America against international Communism pushed them to the right.




The turn-of-the-century European right-wing movements were typically nationalist and racist, nationalism mingling with and reflected the racism widespread in 19th century Europe Among the members of these movements, “Patriotism compensated for social inferiority,” wrote Eric Hosbawm. “Such nationalism lent itself exceptionally well to expressing the collective resentments of people who could not explain their discontents precisely. It was the foreigners fault”.[113].

All the same elements were present in the backlash, only rearranged and reframed in American terms. Given America’s geographical isolation and the fact that it incorporates many different races and ethnicities, American nationalism and racism have been directed internally as often as, or more often than, they have been externally. American racism has focused on African-Americans but at times also on other ethnic minorities like the Chinese or Mexican-Americans. American nationalism typically targets enemies within, those “unAmericans” who follow  (or are thought to follow) foreign ideologies such as Communism.

As a result, many commentators have seen McCarthyism (1950-1954) as being an antecedent movement to the backlash and the rise of the Radical Right. To Anatol Lieven, for example, “McCarthyism was in some ways a precursor of the alliance between the White South and culturally conservative Northern and Midwestern White ethnic groups which at the start of the twenty first century forms a key foundation of the Republican Party, and of which nationalism is a vital element.”[114] But McCarthyism also harked back to a dark side of American history, to the periodic outbursts that scapegoate dissident, outsider or minority groups as stand-ins for complex social problems.

Historians still haven’t decided whether or not a popular movement called McCarthyism ever existed- as opposed to a struggle within America’s political elite, after members of both parties discovered anticommunism as a way of destroying opponents in the late 1930s and used it with cynical irresponsibility thereafter (as one of the worst offenders, Richard Nixon earned the undying enmity of a generation of liberals).  McCarthyism certainly did double duty for conservative politicians. On the one hand, it was part of the elite’s strategy to domesticate discontent through hyper-nationalism. On the other hand it’s evidence of a split in the political class, with a right-wing attacking a progressive wing entrenched in, and therefore identified with, government itself.

However, McCarthy’s contemporaries had no doubt there was something called “McCarthyism” and that it was a popular, right-wing movement different from anything America had seen before. To them, it was synonymous with the “New American Right”, the title of a 1955 book of essays edited by the sociologist Daniel Bell and with a keynote contribution by Richard Hofstadter.  Hofstadter called the New Right “pseudo-conservatism” and traced it to “status anxiety” shared by people on the way up and down the social escalator. Status anxiety was particularly acute in the US,  Hofstadter argued, since America had no settled social hierarchy and people’s aspirations were whipped up to fever pitch by the national ideology- “our democratic ethos and our rags to riches mythology.”[115]

Dismissing McCarthyism as a form of status anxiety enabled Hofstadter’s generation to conserve their notion of America as a centrist “consensus society”- unlike Europe, which had torn itself apart in two World Wars. To the consensus historians, McCarthyism could be anything you wanted, but the one thing it couldn’t be was an example of class conflict on the European model. Yet Hofstadter took his concepts of “pseudo-conservatism” and “status anxiety” from Theodor Adorno’s ‘The Authoritarian Personality’, a work that came out of (the European) Adorno’s need to understand the popular appeal of Fascism. Though such stepped-down sociological labels as “pseudo-conservatism” and “status anxiety” have some explanatory power, applying them to America’s New Right was reductive, stripping the movement of its full, historical substance. Whether in Europe or the US the right-wing response to modernity-and that response’s political expression- has been a major feature of the modern world, as important as the left-wing response which had its ultimate expression in revolutionary socialism.

According to ‘The New American Right’s’ contributors, status anxiety was supposed to operate in times of prosperity like the 1920s and the 1950s. As with their idea of America as a consensus society, this was proved wrong after the 1960s. The real comparison for the New American Right is with Europe in the 1930s, where hard times led to an increased right-wing mobilization, though the philosophy of the Right differed on each continent. Far from developing a state religion like Fascism, America’s New Right worships a religion whose creed is anti-state and anti-government.

Which brings us back to McCarthy who has a claim to be the first person to invent a right-wing class politics for America. The job would be done better later and by others- notably George Wallace- but it was McCarthy who first attacked the whole of liberal and financial elite, Harvard professors, silk-stocking diplomats, the “bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths” that he singled out in his famous 1950 Wheeling, Virginia speech.. McCarthy took scapegoating and re-focused it away from the poor immigrants and Catholics who had been the scapegoats in the past and who became McCarthy’s keenest followers. Now it was the common man who was the authentic American, and immigrants could prove it with their enthusiastic patriotism, while the country’s establishment were a bunch of potential or actual traitors. This was not a new idea as such: members of right-wing groups like the Klan had been saying similar things since the 1930s. But it was McCarthy who brought that note into national politics and who gave it- for large numbers of his listeners-a new credibility[116]. By wrapping popular resentments in a virulent nationalism, expressed as anti-communism, McCarthy’s visceral appeal gained traction in the same way as the European right earlier in the century,

            Whether or not  “McCarthyism” ever amounted to a popular political movement, it certainly contained many popular, or populist, elements. After McCarthy self-destructed on national television in 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, it took the Right a while to rediscover and redeploy those same elements. In the meantime, anticommunism provided a vector through which members of the political and business class along with some intellectuals found their way on to the Right in an age when liberalism was still the dominant American tradition. In the early Cold War years anticommunism took on a political importance and an almost hysterical edge in America that it never had in Europe. Men like John Ashbrook and Clarence Manion flung around words like “slavery”, “national survival” and “national suicide” at will. Even the cooler rhetoric of mainstream politicians like John F. Kennedy was pitched on a strenuous level of moral crisis and decisive world-historical conflict. Many on the New Right believed that domestic Communist subversion was softening up a morally degenerate America so that the international Communist conspiracy could defeat it.[117]  Beliefs of this sort were held both among the would-be respectable, rational Right and its paranoid, conspiracy-theory fringe, whose best-known representatives were the John Birch Society. Although early conservative leaders like William Buckley and Goldwater himself made frequent, Jesuitical attempts to separate themselves from the likes of the Birchers, they were careful never to disown them outright, nor could they have done so, since the rational and the paranoid Right were not two distinct groups but a single movement with an overlapping membership, 90% of whose convictions were held in common.[118] 

The Sixties switched many Americans’ attention away from right wing extremism to extremism among the New Left. But the problem of the ultra-conservative “crazies” was only solved when the Right’s success made them irrelevant. With someone like Ronald Reagan in the White House, offering a career path while articulating many-though not all-of the same positions, why would you bother joining a fringe grouping of conspiracy nuts? As a result, in the 1980s, the real, hardcore paranoids moved outside politics entirely into the militia and survivalist movements. However, the influence of extremists on the Right remained and may actually have increased in later decades, only changed its label. Obscured by their focus on issues like abortion and religion in schools, many of the leaders of the new Religious Right held bizarrely paranoid beliefs about international- not to say supernatural- affairs and the wider world[119].

 McCarthyism, then, was like the first foot in the door of liberal “consensus”America, opening up a country riven with conflicts of every kind- just as you might expect from a vast continent incorporating people of different ethnicities, races and historical backgrounds, at different stages of education and settlement, with great inequalities of wealth, all of them thrown together in a melting pot of the constant, whirlwind social change under unrelenting pressure from a stern Protestant culture and a laisser-faire economic regime that made each individual wholly responsible for his or her success or failure in life. If the creation of a genuine multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy is modern America’s greatest achievement, McCarthy demonstrated that the other side of the coin is its fragility,- and thus the need to maintain a rigid conformity and consensus under an agreed ideology of Americanism. Allow any exception, and it might all blow apart. This is why America is so vindictive towards anyone who steps outside the social order, be they criminals or dissidents; why America is given to scapegoating and periodically searching for “enemies within; and why American patriotism is so edgy and America so intolerant of criticism, especially from foreigners ( it’s also a reason why American politics can be so vituperative, because all parties compete for ownership of a common ideological centre).

McCarthy’s “attack of the primitives” as Dean Acheson, Truman’s urbane and Anglophile Secretary of State, called “Tailgunner Joe” and his followers, had its later echoes on the Right, in the behaviour of the Goldwaterites at the 1964 Republican Convention, the Republican rent-a-mobs during the 2000 Florida recounts and the accusations of treason made against liberals by right-wing pundits after 9/11.[120] The Right has maintained an equivocal relationship with McCarthy’s memory: to many, he’s the leader who never was, the leader who may have gone astray but belongs in the conservative pantheon. In this sense, Goldwater was a more acceptable Joe McCarthy: then Reagan was a more acceptable Goldwater. Both McCarthy and Goldwater were too eccentric and extreme personalities (although in different ways) to win high office and both appeared at times of general prosperity, when the majority of Americans were uninterested in rocking the political boat.[121] But their short-lived movements had an impact. McCarthy made a kind of trial run at putting together for putting together a right-wing popular movement based on anticommunism, patriotism and an attack on liberal Washington, expressed in the accents of class and regional resentment. At the very least, his example, and the response he raised, did much to block off the possibility that, in some future time of crisis, discontent might surface the way it had in the 1930s in America, as a movement from the left.

In Europe, fear of modernity, conditions in the new industrial cities and the constant change and disruption caused by capitalism all played their parts in the right-wing movements that arose out of the crisis of classical liberalism, as did chauvinism, xenophobia, an aggravated nationalism and anti-Semitism. Once launched, such the right-wing movements languished in the political margins. It took thirty years, a world war, a slump and the threat of social revolution to transform those movements into important players and, in some countries, into power in rthe 1930s. Something of the same pattern reproduced itself in the American New Right after 1945. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the backlash delivered a majority to the Republicans, but even then there was no consistent swing to the right. By running a Southern “conservative with a small ‘c’” candidate of their own (Jimmy Carter), the Democrats regained the Presidency in 1976. Only as the 1970s progressed and it became clear that the economy had undergone a fundamental change did the political landscape change with it. 1973 and the OPEC oil shock marked the end of the postwar boom- mass capitalism’s golden age- and the start of the long downturn, when first corporate profits, and then middle and working-class incomes, were squeezed in a process that continues to this day. Race triggered the original backlash among the white working- and middle-classes. Economics prolonged it, producing a mass mobilization behind the policies of a no longer New but ever more Radical Right.





Conservatives never liked Richard Nixon[122]. They recognised that Nixon was not so much a conservative as a partisan whose most important party was a party of one- Richard Nixon. Once in power, Nixon’s main right-wing policies, both of which were politically motivated, were his strong “law and order” stance and the efforts his Administration made to frustrate and delay court-ordered school desegregation. In other words, his “hot-button” issues for the Right remained rooted in the upheavals of The Sixties (Nixon had been President for a year already when Woodstock took place) and in the electoral debt he owed the South. Otherwise the Nixon administration operated well within the dominant liberal consensus in domestic policy (helped by a Congress still controlled by liberal Democrats). The highlight of Nixonian foreign policy, masterminded by the thuggishly Machiavellian Henry Kissinger, was opening up a dialogue with China that was anathema to conservatives.

 Nixon’s crushing second victory in 1972 ended the New Left’s hopes of becoming a force in mainstream US politics. Of the two new movements thrown into prominence by the divisive Sixties, only the New Right now remained with a chance at future power. But the immediate outlook turned bleak for them. Having dispatched most of his enemies at the polls, Nixon himself promptly self-destructed with Watergate. In 1976, over 50% of white working-class voters returned to the Democratic Party to reject Gerald Ford- a decent man but an old-fashioned Republican- and elect Jimmy Carter while Democratic candidates secured their largest congressional majorities since the Second World War. Now that The Sixties were well and truly over, it looked as though American politics might revert to its customary shape, albeit with the dominant liberalism chastened and reduced from the great expectations LBJ had placed in his “Great Society”.

There were two reasons to doubt this scenario. One was the South, which might be tempted back to the Democratic camp by one of their own, like Carter, but whose politics was now a better fit for the Republicans than the Democrats. The other was economics as the West’s economic high summer ended abruptly and unexpectedly. Caught off balance by the 1973 OPEC oil shock (and a second instalment in 1979), Western capitalism on the postwar social democratic model developed serious problems. A new word, “stagflation”, described the new situation, where rampant inflation combined with stagnant economic growth.[123]

Coming on top of the social upheavals of The Sixties, this crisis in economic liberalism had some of the same effects as the crisis in the 19th century liberal order that led to ‘The Strange Death of Liberal England’. Radical right-wing regimes came to power in both the UK and the US- Margaret Thatcher in the UK in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in the US in 1980. Where social democratic capitalism had emphasised full employment; stable financial markets regulated to curb such markets’ notorious proneness to speculative bubbles and crashes; and relatively equitable distribution of economic rewards across society via rapid wage growth and the welfare state, these new regimes called themselves “neoliberal”.  Presented as a return to classical liberalism with its theory of “free markets” and minimal government, neoliberalism was (and still is) primarily a political cathphrase for a politics of the right. Neoliberalism under Thatcher and Reagan and their successors meant a selective deregulation of markets to favour business and the financial markets and to disadvantage employees and unions (which often faced new regulation). It also involved cuts in public spending and changes to tax structures, again highly selective (for example, in America cuts in government spending hit social programs and spending on the poor but not defence or war, while tax cuts benefited the affluent rather than the middle classes or below). A key aim of neoliberalism was to shift the balance of economic power away from employees and workers and towards business and capitalists; in so doing it reopened  great inequalities of wealth. The result was that by the early 21st century, America (and to a lesser extent other advanced Western societies) had reverted to looking much as they had in the 1920s, before the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression, the New Deal and post-war social democracy.

 Eric Hobsbawm has described the years after 1973 as the Crisis Decades succeeding the Golden Age, characterised by “depression and a massively restructured economy designed to expel human labour.”[124] In the U.S.,1.4 million semiskilled blue collar manufacturing jobs vanished in the 1980s, followed by a so-called “white collar recession” late in the decade[125]. Many people found new jobs, but they were often at lower wages, non-union, with fewer benefits, and on short-term contracts. The jobs were no longer in manufacturing but in the proliferating service industries whose lower strata acquired a bitter nickname in these decades-McJobs.

Median family income, which had doubled between 1947 and 1973 in the US, rose only 7% during  the 1970s to the 1990s despite a huge influx of women into the workplace: families now needed two wage packets to maintain their lifestyles. If “the engine of (post-war social mobility) was productivity growth” then “(during) the 1970s stagflation, median compensation of full-time workers began to lag behind productivity growth, a trend that accelerated after 1980.” Productivity rose 71% from 1980-2005,  but weekly compensation for full-time workers (wages plus benefits) only 19%. At the lower end of the scale, an astonishing 25% of all employed workers in the US earned wages below a poverty level defined as $17,029 p.a. or $8.19 an hour- a group that Robert Brenner dubbed “the reserve army of the employed” (since their existence, together with the actual unemployed, acts as a pressure to keep wages down)[126].

While conservatives claim the reason for these developments is technological change and a widening “skills gap” among workers, economists Frank Levy and Peter Termin have shown the real reason was a changed political and economic climate, shifting power to capitalists and owners and against workers, in particular against the unions. Through the long downturn, a combination of depressed incomes for most people and escalating income inequality for the few slowly strangled what Levy and Termin call the American “dream of income mobility-the rags to riches story that made the US an exceptional place to live and work [127].”

The corporate assault on wages was followed by an assault on benefits. In 1980, 39% of Americans had defined-benefit pensions: it’s now down to 21% with more and more pension plans shifted over to the vagaries of the stock market. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans getting health insurance through their employers has also fallen, from 65% to 59.7% from 2001 to 2006 alone.

 When apparent recovery came to the US economy in the 1990s, it was because of an artificially created bubble in the US stock market, followed by a similar bubble in the housing market; a huge run-up in household debt; and low prices for consumer goods due to globalization and free trade shifting production to the Third World.  Median family income in America rose sharply but briefly at the end of the Nineties boom (1997-9) but fell again by almost 3% in the 2000s.  Behind the scenes, manufacturing jobs, the silent majority’s main hope of an adequate wage, fell by a fifth between 1995 and 2005.

Wealth inequality has soared in the past three decades in the US. In 1947, the top 5% of families earned 17.5% of all US income. That figure actually declined in the levelling 1960s, but by 1996, it was up to 20.3% and rising –22.3% in 2006 (while the three bottom quintiles of earners all lost share)[128]. By 2006, the bottom 20% had 3.4% of household income: the top 20% had 50.5%. In 1965, the average CEO in a major company earned 26 times the average worker’s wages in 1965: in 2005 he, or occasionally she, earned 262 times the average worker. Even as wealth and poverty reached Gilded Age extremes at either end of the social scale, the rich as a class, assessed by a much looser definition, still only amounted to a tiny percentage of the population: incomes over 1 million dollars totalled around 303,000 in 2005, or less than one quarter of 1% of all US taxpayers.

The New York Times calculated that by 2007 0.01% of US families had commandeered 5% of the national income. 15,000 families had incomes over 9.5 million dollars a year each, making the beginning of the 21st century a new Gilded Age indeed.  At the same time, 36.5 million or 12.3% of Americans lived in poverty by the parsimonious standards of the Federal Government ($20,614 per year for a family of four) and 47 million Americans had no health insurance. Uninsured rates were highest in the South and West and lowest in the North and industrial Midwest. Texas was the state with the most uninsured at 24.1%.[129]

The rampant rise in inequality and the squeeze on the middle class and the poor was the result of political choices not of so-called “market forces” or economic necessity.[130]. One of the most striking snapshots of the trends in America’s political economy post-1970s can be had by drawing a graph of productivity against real (inflation-adjusted) wages. The productivity line rises steeply, the wages line bumps along the bottom and even declines.[131] The reasons for the gap are first and foremost political reasons: an economy that isn’t run to produce full employment; declining membership and bargaining power among labor unions; neoliberal-style globalisation; offshore outsourcing and the casualisation of labor; a low Federal minimum wage; and the shredding of social democratic norms concerning wealth and executive pay, among others. As US Treasury Secretary-designate Robert Rubin told Bill Clinton when Clinton hired him in 1992, the rich “are running the economy and make the decisions about the economy.”[132]

Once the long downturn set in, workers and their unions, who had become used to having a kind of “gentlemen’s’ agreement” with business during the Golden Age-now ripped up- found they were unable to defend their incomes against the corporations. They turned on the government instead. “Bracket creep” meant that a median-income family paying c.12% in tax in 1953 paid c. 23% by 1976 (plus sharp increases in the regressive social security tax)[133]. This was the background to 1978’s Proposition 13 campaign among suburban Californians where real estate values had risen steeply, pushing property taxes up along with them. One of the first victories by the nascent conservative movement, the California tax revolt was a bridge between the politics of the backlash and the rise of the right in both its form and its content.

The form that the tax revolt took was a highly organised grassroots campaign that overwhelmed the state’s political establishment. The content included a strong strain of racism. Proposition 13’s leaders- an idiosyncratic gadfly named Howard Jarvis and Richard Viguerie, a conservative direct mail expert later involved in founding the Moral Majority- successfully identified “government” with programmes for the poor like welfare and public housing[134] All those taxes were being paid by law-abiding white suburbanites, then supposedly spent by government liberals on the inner-city black and brown ghettoes with their welfare mothers, illegal immigrants, gangbangers and drug dealers- the very social ills whites had fled to the suburbs to escape. Jarvis and Viguerie did their work so well that in the end blacks themselves and public employees (increasingly the same people) were the only two major demographic groups in California opposed to Prop. 13.

Proposition 13 made the extreme right’s antigovernment tax-cutting agenda a reality in American politics for the first time. 18 states quickly followed California’s lead, whipped up by Republican politicians who realised they had found a popular cause that capitalised on but transcended the backlash, a cause that could be depicted as positive rather than negative, and that could form the basis for an enduring cross-class, conservative alliance between the silent majority and the business and wealth elites. The man they chose to carry the tax-cutting message into Presidential politics was a 69-year-old former actor and ex-Governor of California on his third, and what would surely have been his last, attempt to gain the Republican nomination, Ronald Reagan.





Reagan had been a favourite of the hard right since 1964. Amid the wreckage of Goldwater’s landslide loss, they could at least look back on a speech Reagan made in support of Goldwater, which had excited listeners more than any of the candidate’s own utterances. “The speech”, as it became known, wasn’t enough to overcome Party regulars’ suspicions of Reagan. After 1964 they weren’t ready to nominate another declared right-winger, even when Watergate presented Republicans with a new crisis. But it was enough to prompt a small group of right-wing Southern California businessmen to select and groom Reagan as “the acceptable face of Goldwater”, a leader who could put across Goldwater’s themes without scaring the voters[135].

Reagan soon showed he could do much more than that. He articulated Goldwater’s Western business- roundtable anti-statism in the accents of Wallace’s Southern populism, and then gave it his own genial, showbiz spin. Where Goldwater had talked in abstractions, Reagan, despite his easygoing “aw shucks” manner, fingered enemies- striking Chicano farm workers, radical Berkeley students, black rioters, criminals, welfare recipients and the like. Reagan’s shock victory in 1966 in California, a famously liberal state whose public services, like its higher education system were considered a showcase for activist government, demonstrated how deeply and how rapidly the social conflicts of “the Sixties” had altered the political landscape. When Reagan attacked “big government”, he was no longer making a Goldwater point in political philosophy but evoking the picture of an arrogant “liberal elite”, intent on forcing racial, cultural and social change on the beleaguered white majority. At the same time, Reagan stripped Wallace’s rhetoric of its harsher, more resentful accents. The difference between a Wallace rally and a Reagan rally was the difference between a bare-knuckle boxing match and a slick Hollywood-style entertainment.

Once Reagan had learned to conceal some of his own eccentricities, the result was political gold. He might have got the nomination in 1968 except that Republicans thought Nixon a safer choice. Only after the Nixonian saga had played itself out to the bitter end did Reagan get his chance. He became the Republican candidate and went on to win in 1980- the first election in which the newly formed Religious Right was a factor- by wrapping the right’s racial and economic agendas in the flag, offering voters a broad, patriotic message about restoring America’s greatness and bringing back the Golden Age. Though Reagan kept his own racial politics well-coded, they were never in any doubt. He had opposed the two main pieces of civil rights legislation under Lyndon Johnson- the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Act- and he launched his own presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, notorious for the murders of three civil rights activists[136].

The ‘Reagan Revolution’, as it became known, was more of a restoration with Bourbon overtones (much remarked at the time) intended to restore the moneyed elite to the social status they had enjoyed prior to the 1930s, before Roosevelt characterised them as the agents of “organised money” and “economic royalists”. Features of the Reagan years like the taste for lavish, formal White House entertainments and Nancy Reagan’s penchant for luxury goods were trivial but indicative. Ever the salesman, Reagan took the conservative movement to the next stage by being its first national leader to master the new, socially conservative rhetoric about “values” (the term came from the Religious Right) while acting to advance the elite’s economically conservative pro- business agenda. Appealing to the backlash with its volatile politics of nostalgia and resentment in equal measure, he stressed nostalgia, with his sunnily  declaration that “It’s morning in America again”. At the same time, Reagan was always careful to strike darker notes, harping on an enemies list of liberals, radicals, welfare dependents, environmentalists, and criminals. “Reagan played on the desire for order, continuity, responsibility and discipline but his program contained nothing that would satisfy that desire. On the contrary, his program aimed to promote economic growth and unregulated business enterprise, the very forces that have undermined tradition…….what he really cared about was the revival of the unregulated capitalism of the twenties: the repeal of the New Deal.”[137]

Reagan was the first avowed New Right conservative to become President of the United States. He was also the leader who turned the Republican Party, already dominated by conservative activists, into a modern mass party of the right and got rid of its vestigial image as a party for the privileged and the blue-bloods. This was a conscious act on Reagan’s part and belies those critics who continue to view him as essentially a figurehead. In a 1977 speech at a Washington dinner, Reagan prophesied, “the New Republican Party I envision will not, and cannot, be limited to the country club-Big Business image that for reasons both fair and unfair it is burdened with today. It is going to have room for the man and woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat and for the millions of Americans who may never have thought of joining our party before.”[138] Where Nixon had appealed to the backlash to get himself elected, and Ford had virtually ignored it, Reagan embraced it, welcomed its members into ranks of the Republican Party and made them feel at home.

These were the so-called “Reagan Democrats”- primarily white working-class men- and the result was to complete the realignment of the two main US political parties that had begun almost fifteen years earlier. In 1980, when Reagan defeated Jimmy Carfter, the Democrats were still a majority in all main sectors of the electorate, among whites as well as among blacks and other minorities. But beginning with symbolic neatness in the middle of the Reagan years, from the 1984 Presidential election (Reagan vs. Mondale) on, more white voters identified as Republicans than Democrats. By 1988, when Reagan gave way to Bush, although Democrats still remained ahead of Republicans in the overall electorate, the century-old gap between the parties had narrowed to a handful of percentage points.[139]

Reagan’s amiable semi-detached character led some observers, including some hard-core conservatives, to conclude that his conservatism was more symbolic than substantial. In fact, he governed as far to the right as the system, and his own fractious coalition, allowed. Almost his first act in government was to crush union power by firing and replacing America’s 10,000 air traffic controllers. Then he gutted the powerful National Labor Relations Board, whose head was traditionally an impartial figure, by appointing an ex- consultant to corporations who specialised in defeating unions. Between 1979 and 1985, the percentage of private sector wage and salaried workers in unions fell from 23% to 16%, a crucial factor in enabling capital’s assault on middle-class living standards[140].

Even as he undermined working people economically, Reagan divided them racially. Where the Democrats had used the US Justice Department to push civil rights, Reagan, following Nixon, reversed its course. Nixon had instructed his Justice Department to do the absolute minimum the law required. Reagan went a step farther, crippling Justice’s Civil Rights Division, cutting the budgets of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and neutering the radical Legal Services Corporation, which provided tax-funded lawyers to the poor and was hated by conservatives because of its provocative class-action suits, like the one against the big California growers over their ill- treatment of  field workers .

 Under Reagan, Justice encouraged local school boards to resist busing and sent lawyers to argue against employment cases involving quotas or racial preferences. Here, as elsewhere, the Right in office was aggressively political, pushing politics into areas of the federal government that had come to be considered as administrative or bipartisan or only mildly political (for their part, conservatives saw themselves reclaiming a state saturated with liberal activism). Reagan’s people also “engaged in the most systematic philosophical screening of judicial candidates in the nation’s history, surpassing Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.”[141] By the end of his two terms, Reagan had appointed 291 of 571 District Court judges, 78 of 156 Appeals Court judges and 3 Supreme Court judges, giving the Court a 5-4 conservative majority and remoulding the federal judiciary- one of the powerhouses of the civil rights movement- on a conservative basis.

Reagan presided over a massive arms build-up, reduced funds for social programmes like Aid for Families with Dependent Children and food stamps, cut spending on minorities- the budget for American Indian programmes, which many Native Americans depended on, was cut by a third in a single year (1981)- introduced tax cuts for the rich and allowed the minimum wage to fall in value. Reagan’s 1981 tax cut was the first serious postwar restructuring of the US tax system and the foundation for the conservative attack on the liberal state. Between 1980 and 1990, average family after-tax income in the US rose by 15.7%, but the average conceals the true state of affairs: income rose 87.1% for the top 1% of Americans but actually fell for the bottom 30% (while showing below 2%- to- below 7% increases in the middle 40%)[142]. Equally significant, the Reagan Administration began the process of slashing the share of the tax burden carried by business. In the mid 1960s (1960-1965) taxes had accounted for 52% of US corporate manufacturing profits: 30 years later this was down to just under 24% with the biggest cuts made in the early 1980s under Reagan.[143]

Behind The Gipper’s ringing declarations of  Morning in America, the 1980s were actually a decade of continuing conflict over many of the issues that had surfaced in The Sixties. The backlash peaked in the 1980s, rather than the 1970s, with predictable political consequences. 1984 was the first year more  white southerners called themselves Republicans than called themselves Democrats.[144] In the Reagan years, the white working- and middle-class seeking to roll back civil rights programmes and free-market business conservatives wanting to cut taxes and free themselves from government regulation sealed their cross-class alliance against the background of a long, slow economic downturn. As overtly racial issues began to shrink in significance- in large part because Nixon and Reagan combined to put an end to the civil rights revolution- other so-called “social conservative” issues took their place, like abortion and homosexual rights, although race remained the subtext of some of the most inflammatory of these, such as violent crime. The 1980s were also a decade of resurgent American nationalism, as usual filtered through anticommunism. Reagan attacked Soviet Russia’s “Evil Empire” in his speeches, invaded Grenada and Panama, and conducted supposedly covert but widely publicised wars in Afghanistan and Central America, culminating in the Iran-Contra affair.

 For the silent majority, Reagan had been their first (and last) chance to vote conservative in the serious hope that it might better them economically. When the opposite turned out to be the case, what would, or could, conservatives do then to keep their majority on board?

The Right’s own strategy “was to look to the South, both as model and electoral base, to construct an anti-statist individualist ideology founded on white supremacy, defence of the patriarchal family and Protestant fundamentalism…. identifying the liberal state as a central threat to the racial status quo and “traditional family values” (and providing conservatives) with the wherewithal to contend for power on a brazenly pro-business programme.”[145] This they duly did but it’s not clear that the resulting ideology convinced anybody much except themselves, despite being trumpeted by an enormously wealthy and powerful conservative media, several of whose flagship corporations, like Fox News, were owned by Rupert Murdoch[146]. The Right unleashed the so-called “culture wars” and monopolised the national conversation during the 1990s and the early 2000s until it seemed as if their point of view was the only legitimate one, but it wasn’t clear how many Americans agreed with them- or were even interested in this attempt to recreate the very visceral emotions of the 1960s white backlash in terms of a more abstract (and to liberal critics, largely imaginary) threat to something called “traditional family values” in the 21st century. Indeed, in what was by far the most dramatic test of the “values” argument- the Monica Lewinsky affair and the attempt to impeach President Clinton in the late 1990s- most Americans remained firm supporters of the President and had no difficulty distinguishing between the job he was doing as President, which they approved of, and his private life, about which they had mixed feelings.

So why did the Right keep winning during these years? One answer is that they didn’t necessarily- or rather, that it is too soon to say. It’s true that in the 28 years after Reagan’s 1980 victory Republicans held the Presidency for 20 years to the Democrats 8. But if a Democrat wins in 2008 and serves the two terms that are common for modern Presidents, the final 36 years would be divided 20 years Republican and 16 Democratic- a much more even figure. Moreover, the Republicans achieved both the Presidency and control of Congress, the real test for any “permanent Republican majority”, only for a few years in the early 2000s before their Congressional majority crumbled. Little has been heard of the “permanent Republican majority” since then.

The other answer is that the South’s switch from solidly Democratic to equally reliable Republican following civil rights accounts for almost the whole of the subsequent Republican successes. As we’ve seen, it didn’t make the Republicans a majority, but it did put them on an equal footing where neither of the two main parties has a clear majority, let alone a permanent one. Every Presidential election since 1976 could have gone either way and the results were therefore governed by individual factors. In 1976, Watergate and a candidate from the South, Jimmy Carter, swung the election to the Democrats. In 1992, an economic recession doomed George Bush senior facing an energetic, hugely gifted politician, also a Southerner, Bill Clinton. In 2000, George Bush junior won- if he won at all- only by running under false colours as a “compassionate conservative”, which many voters took to mean he was more like Bill Clinton than was Clinton’s own successor Al Gore.

The most interesting contests were in 1980 and 2004. The first was the conservative Republican breakthrough with Ronald Reagan. The second entrenched the truly radical right-wing administration of George Bush junior. Received wisdom in America is that domestic issues decide elections not foreign policy. Yet an indispensable part of Reagan’s appeal in 1980 was his pledge to restore American “greatness” after humiliating reversals like the Iran hostage crisis, when Iranian revolutionaries imprisoned a group of Americans; and almost the whole of Bush’s 2004 campaign was a fear campaign articulated around the War on Terror. Here was that part of the “values” argument that did matter to US voters- nationalism. As their economic situation stagnated, or even worsened in the long downturn, many Americans became more sensitive to nationalist and patriotic appeals, an area where the Republicans, like right-wing parties everywhere, had the natural advantage.






The ideology conservatives constructed during and after the Reagan years may not have convinced a majority of Americans, but it did convince conservatives, and this was its real importance. Not only did the right secure their dominance of the Republican Party, they moved the Party gradually farther and farther towards a radical right agenda. It was as if the New Left had taken over the Democratic Party after the 1960s in reality, rather than in the fantasies of their conservative opponents, and starting with a harder liberalism had gradually reshaped the Democrats into a revolutionary party.

What “revolution” meant to the far left, “values” became to the right- shorthand for a political ideology. After Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’, California’s Proposition 13 and subsequent, nationwide tax revolt and Reaganite Republicanism, developing that ideology was the next step in the rise of the New Right. Like all such constructions, it took from existing sources but the intellectual heritage of conservatism played little part in it, at least during the early years. In fact, in its initial appearance on the public stage, conservative ideology was identified with one of the most avowedly anti-intellectual elements in American life, the Religious Right- the political face of Fundamentalism then sweeping the South and Southwest. 

If Protestant evangelicalism is America’s principal religious style, fundamentalists form the evangelical hard core. Fundamentalism had some liberal, progressive features in the 19th century, before it reversed course and turned reactionary around 1900, when Northern churches accepted the modern world and moved towards religious- as well as social and political-liberalism[147].  Southern churches split off to remain “fundamentalist”. By the 1920s and the Scopes trial over the teaching of evolution (dramatised in the well-known play Inherit The Wind), fundamentalism had become a rural, backwoods faith, largely confined to the South. At the same time, the great waves of white Southern migrants began to carry it around the country, particularly into California and the Far West.

After World War One and the Scopes verdict, fundamentalists underwent a general politicization when they added “Bolshevism” to the list of conspiracies they saw the modern world as mounting against them. But they were not politically active themselves. They reacted as they had always done, by withdrawing still farther from social and political involvement to concentrate on private religious experience[148]. As late as 1965, Jerry Falwell proclaimed that the church should stick to preaching and keep out of politics[149].

Eventually fundamentalists abandoned this stance and the Religious Right came into being, with Falwell himself as its founder and first leader. It’s easy to make too much of the change. Even when fundamentalism was supposedly apolitical, its weight was always thrown on the political right. Preachers told their fundamentalist flocks not to join any organisations outside their churches: they meant first and foremost labor unions or any other collective scheme to improve their worldly lot. Still, there is a difference between passive and active politics. Up until the late 1960s, it seemed unlikely that evangelical religion, as practised in America’s ‘Bible Belt’, would ever produce an effective political force, although some preachers grew rich and famous by adapting their huckster style to television, where they fitted naturally alongside the advertising pitchmen and chat-show hosts. But the TV evangelists had a habit of burning out in lurid scandals; while survivors like Falwell and Pat Roberston were given to making wildly vindictive and irrational statements that would rule most regular politicians out of court.

The rapid increase in numbers among Fundamentalist denominations after 1960 gave them obvious political clout, were they to find a way to exercise it. Between 1960 and 2000, the biggest Fundamentalist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, grew from 10 million to 17 million members, at a time when Americans as a whole were becoming more secular with weekly churchgoers dropping from 38 to 25 per cent (1960-2000) and the numbers who never attended church rising from 11 to 33 per cent (1972-2000). These figures strongly suggest that fundamentalism’s appeal is essentially sociopolitical, a form of class conflict and a reaction to rapid social, cultural and economic change, rather than a spiritual “awakening”. [150]

The big increase in Fundamentalist numbers took place after the civil rights movement. In effect, fundamentalism replaced racism as a substitute for class solidarity among southern and south-western whites, once overt racism became politically unacceptable. “Southern workers” Robert Brenner claims, “(are) politically atomised, individualized in the extreme, and therefore unusually open-not to say historically prepared- to embrace non-class forms of solidarity: race, the patriarchal family, nationalism-cum-militarism and Protestant fundamentalism, now linked to Zionist expansionism.”[151]

Additional campaigns for “rights” among women and homosexuals, along with even more unpopular groups like prisoners and the mentally retarded, combined with tremendous social changes in everything from conditions of work and household income (now dependent on women working) to the status of youth and commercialised mass culture. All increased the pressure on Americans holding on to “traditional values”. Fundamentalism became a way of expressing the loss of white male supremacy, now chased down to its last redoubt in the family, even when there was no obvious racial threat- for example in the all-white middle-class suburbs that mushroomed throughout the south and west in the 1980s and 1990s. Hence the Religious Right’s emphasis on apparently fringe issues like abortion and gay marriage. As a recent survey of the state of the Religious Right put it, “protecting the unborn became the rallying cry of a (new) movement to uphold the traditional family.”[152] According to Christopher Lasch “(Abortion) is not just a medical issue or even a woman’s issue….it is first and foremost a class issue.” Many lower-class women were as outraged by social change as their menfolk, with women dividing over abortion in particular along class lines.[153]

Opposition to Roe vs Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion, has become so much their signature issue that many Fundamentalists claim it was the reason the Religious Right came into existence in the first place. In fact, abortion was almost entirely a Catholic concern in the years immediately following Roe vs. Wade. Getting Fundamentalists to pay attention to abortion and to the spread of so-called “secular humanism”, of which legalised abortion is supposedly an example, was almost entirely the work of one man, Francis Schaeffer. In 1979 Schaeffer produced and circulated an inflammatory series of anti-abortion films called ‘Whatever Happened To The Human Race?’, assisted by Dr. C. Everett Coop (later Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General).[154]

Political fundamentalism in the form of the Religious Right appeared as if out of nowehere at the end of the 1970s. The first Religious Right organisation was the Moral Majority, founded in 1979 by none other than Jerry Falwell . After that, the Religious Right settled into a pattern where a single organisation, or group of organisations, associated with a particular leader, dominates for a time until it runs out of energy and momentum, when a new group replaces it. Thus, after registering 2.5 million new voters through the 1980s, the Moral Majority began to lose its drive. In 1989, a young political organiser named Ralph Reed formed the Christian Coalition on behalf of Falwell’s colleague and rival, Pat Robertson. After the Christian Coalition in turn started to decline in the late 1990s (Reed left in 1997), various groups associated with James Dobson and Gary Bauer such as Colorado’s Focus on the Family and its Washington offshoot the Family Research Council came to the fore.

The usual story told about Fundamentalism runs as follows: Americans have become more religious. They’ve turned increasingly to “born again” beliefs, developing a Religious Right which helped to build the conservative movement in the 1980s and 1990s before pushing it too far into culture wars over abortion and gay marriage and arguments over symbolic issues like school prayer or insults to the flag. But the story is a fiction. As already noted, Americans as a whole are less religious rather than more. Fundamentalism’s strength remains confined to its traditional heartlands in the Bible Belt. The issue that lay behind the founding of the Moral Majority and moved Fundamentalists to take a political role was not a cultural or spiritual crisis but a concrete, financial one, whose background was the civil rights struggle. School desegregation prompted many Southern whites to desert the public school system and put their children into all-white private schools, colloquially known as “segregation academies”. Many of the private schools that sprang up across the South were “Christian schools”, run by the Fundamentalist churches.

In the 1970s, following a lawsuit brought by a group of black families in Mississippi, the US Internal Revenue Service embarked on a long- and in the end largely futile- struggle to strip  religious schools that discriminated against blacks of their tax-exempt status, which would have destroyed their economic basis. In 1978, the struggle reached one of its periodic high points, when the IRS published new guidelines proposing to cancel the tax exemption of church-related schools with lower than 20% minority enrolment; and that couldn’t show good faith efforts to recruit black students and teachers. Faced with this mortal threat to their schools, Fundamentalists moved into politics with the National Christian Action Coalition, generating 120,000 letters of protest and, in 1979, persuading Congressional conservatives to cut off funding for the IRS to implement the new guidelines. When the Moral Majority formed that same year, it took over the structure and staff of the Christian schools movement lock stock and barrel, with NCAC director Robert Billings sr. becoming the Moral Majority’s first executive director[155].

Whether or not the original Southern Christian schools were racist “segregation academies” remains a hotly debated point. Fundamentalists claim that secularisation rather than race was the problem, with Christian parents reacting against, for example, the 1962/3 Supreme Court decisions banning prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. Most observers who’ve studied the subject agree that race was not the only, or even in every instance the most important, motivation for setting up a Christian school, but when all the caveats have been allowed, race remains the key factor. There were plenty of religious schools in America prior to the 1960s, but these were old-line Catholic and Lutheran schools. The Fundamentalist schools appeared in the wake of civil rights, and their spread across the South closely tracked school desegregation as it moved through communities.[156] Nowadays the Christian schools movement is nationwide. An estimated 1 million children attend Christian schools. To this day, almost all of them are white.[157]

Like all Fundamentalisms, then, the American sort is a social movement disguised as a religious one, just as its calls for a return to “family values” or “traditional values” are actually demands for the reinstatement of the old social hierarchy[158]. In this sense, the Religious Right acted as a bell weather for the backlash, not just against civil rights but against the social changes and upheavals represented by “The Sixties”- and more broadly against a modern scientific-technological world that had no space or time for the fundamentalists, who were overwhelmingly drawn from the lower social classes, where the economic terms of trade had turned against them[159].

Recently, the Fundamentalist wave of the 1980s and 1990s seems to be abating, like previous religious revivals in American history. Leaders of a new, younger generation after Falwell and Robertson have broadened their political concerns to include social justice issues like peace, poverty and health alongside the classic “moral values” issues like abortion and gay marriage. The mighty Southern Baptist Convention is distancing itself from being seen as “the Republican Party at prayer” to a more apolitical, purely religious profile. The Iraq War split Fundamentalist support for Bush. Above all, the Fundamentalist rank and file seem to be moderating their views. According to John Green of the Pew Research  Center, the leading expert on religion and politics in the US, the change reflects their socio-economic development,

“The social issues arguments (i.e “values” and “cultural issues”) are the first manifestations of a rural outlook transposed into a more urban or similar setting,” Green told the New York Times. “Now having been there for a while that kind of hard-edged politics no longer appeals to them. They still care about abortion and gay marriage but they are also interested in other more middle-class arguments.[160]

.Still, claims that the evangelical movement has passed its peak or that evangelicals are once again retreating from political involvement are partly beside the point, because the Religious Right overlaps and interacts with radically right-wing attitudes in general. A recent summary of conservative judicial aims for the US Supreme Court runs as follows:

“Reverse Roe v. Wade and allow states to ban abortions. Expand executive power. End racial preferences intended to assist African-Americans. Speed executions. Welcome religion into the public sphere.”[161]

While the first and the last are explicitly fundamentalist in origin, it’s not hard to see the whole list as reflecting a hunger for an old, traditional, patriarchal and hierarchical form of society, a hunger shared by many supporters of the New Right, whether or not they describe themselves as “Christian conservatives”.

Rather than a separate Religious Right working in and on a conservative movement, the two are better viewed as different faces or aspects of a single movement. In the mid-1960s, long before the Religious Right constituted itself, Richard Hofstadter noted this symbiosis between fundamentalism and the political extreme right: though not all fundamentalists were right-wing, a surprisingly high proportion of the right-wing were fundamentalists. “Not only is the entire right-wing movement infused at the mass level with the fundamentalist style of mind,” Hofstadter concluded, “but the place in its ranks of fundamentalist preachers, ex-preachers and sons of preachers is so prominent as to underline the mutual congeniality of thought.”[162] . Statistical evidence of the symbiosis between the fundamentalism and the Sixties backlash came in 1968 when Nixon won 80% of evangelical and fundamentalist voters (Nixon was also the first Republican to win a majority of Catholic votes).[163]

Silent majority whites voted for right-wing Republicans whose policies only made their situation worse, which made them even more radically conservative, forcing them farther and farther right into a cultural politics of irrelevance. As time went on, and conservatives failed to deliver on their promises of economic betterment for the majority and a return to America’s ‘Golden Age’, the more the movement came to express itself in the language, and around the issues, associated with Fundamentalism. In his 1964 Presidential campaign, Barry Goldwater- later a critic of the Religious Right- had linked moral decay in America, symbolised by the disorders of the 1960s, to religion, or rather the lack thereof due to the Federal Government “ban(ning) Almighty God from our schoolrooms”.[164]  Along with its drive to bring religion “back” into the public sphere, and to downplay or erode the separation of church and state, the Right has been equally consistent in claiming that social problems are basically simple, and can be solved by more rigorous law enforcement and individual moral discipline (based on the Christianity), rather than complex problems that have arisen from the development of mass industrial civilization. In the Right’s view, attempts by economists, sociologists and other rational experts to analyse these problems are not only futile but make things worse instead of better. Nixon, Reagan and especially George W. Bush administrations have all taken this same basic approach. 

By 2000, self-described white evangelicals made up 40% of voters for George W. Bush. Add on the most observant Catholics and the figure rose to 52%. In 2004, the equivalent groupings accounted for 33.2% and 44.4% of Bush voters (Bush won by a larger majority in 2004 than in 2000, diluting the evangelical contribution to his victory). The generally accepted figure is that evangelicals or “born again” Christians make up around a quarter of US voters, and 70% of them vote Republican. Perhaps even more important, white evangelicals are (over) represented in Republican primary elections. In the important first three primary states in 2008, white evangelicals comprised 38% of voters in Iowa and 53% in South Carolina, although only 18% in New Hampshire.[165]

As the 2008 election approached, some commentators argued that the Religious Right was losing its power, they were split over which candidate to back, while evangelicals as a whole were turning away from politics, or, even more surprising, moving towards a more liberal approach to social issues as leaders like Falwell and Robertson gave way to a new generation.[166] But figures like the ones cited above suggest that such conclusions may be premature. Traditionally the two great American political parties, Democrats and Republicans, were “big tents”, broad coalitions of often-conflicting interest groups. From the 1970s on, their activists-liberals among the Democrats; conservatives among the Republicans- have increasingly defined them. The so-called conservative “Reagan Democrats” left the Democratic Party starting in the mid-1970s. But the change was actually more dramatic on the Republican side. After Goldwater’s candidacy in the mid-1960s, moderate and liberal Republicans left or were converted until the Republicans became a party identical to a single faction, the conservative movement. By 2000, Esther Kaplan could write, “the Christian Right is not just another special interest group like the NRA. This is Bush’s base.”[167]

Rather than being one interest group among many competing interest groups, the Religious Right represents one face of a unified movement that commands the Party and agrees on all essentials, making them impervious to criticism or to perceived failures of their policies.

To put it another way, while it may be true the religious are becoming less Right-wing, there is no evidence that the Right are any less Religious, nor that anyone can secure the Republican nomination- and thus become President- without them. It’s in this context that Jerry Falwell made his 2004 statement that “The Republican Party does not have the head count- does not have the head count- to elect a President without the support of the religious right.”[168]



The rise of the Religious Right was only one strand in the emergence of a distinctively Southern Republicanism, Together, the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan and the two Bushes (and of the Southerners Carter and Clinton on the Democratic side) saw the South and South-West assume political power to match their new economic and population power within the Union. But their regional development from isolated, under populated and backward areas into modern (now post-modern) political economies failed to force a comparable development in class terms, as FDR and the New Deal’s Southern liberals once hoped. Largely due to Federal Government intervention and investment since the 1930s, the South and Southwest acquired a dynamic modern industrial sector, but they retained their social structures as low tax, low wage, non- and anti-union states. Today, the five states with the lowest percentage of union members are all still in the South, including Texas at 4.9%.

Southern plantation elites remained fundamentally unreconstructed, (pseudo-) aristocratic, landed, feudal and addicted to gambling forms of capitalism. Ranchers, loggers and mine-owners dominated the Mountain States, with their record of violence and corruption. California, the most liberal of Western states, had an elite formed from railway moguls and land- grant estate-owners augmented by oilmen, bankers and real estate developers. In the South, whites wielded the residues of segregation and the sharecropping system over blacks.

The South began as a Herrenvolk or master-race democracy, running a resource economy supplying commodities to other regions even when those other regions were the cotton mills of Lancashire, before the Civil War. The South-West and West also have a strong commodity base, from ranching and minerals to California’s agribusiness and oil, but their livelier frontier economy seized on land as a commodity in its own right, hustling real estate development to eastern settlers[169]. In the South-West, whites operated a caste system over immigrant labour, mainly Hispanic and frequently illegal.

 None of these regions had much tradition of manufacturing until the Second World War, when it arrived in the form of state capitalism, as the West and later the South became the sites for major defence plants as well as for military bases.

From 1945-2000, but particularly since the 1960s, developments in the Northeast and Middle West have brought the rest of the country closer socially and economically to the South and West. Race triggered anxiety among the northern white majority following the Great Migration of blacks from the south to northern cities, the civil rights movement, black rioting and disorder, and what whites saw as government moves to force integration and to give blacks special privileges. Subsequent “rights revolutions” among other minority groups, especially women and homosexuals was followed by the resumption of large-scale immigration, mainly by poor “browns” (Hispanics) towards the end of the 20th century. All these developments further imperilled the traditional, white male-dominated social order.

Economically, the decline of unions and the corporate assault on wages and conditions, including all forms of job security, started in the 1970s and continues to this day. Industrial manufacturing jobs disappeared from the  Northeastern ‘Rustbelt’, first to the South and West, and later abroad. 

In this situation, the Republican Party saw its chance to regain the political initiative at the cost of its own “Southernisation”. The difference between Nixon’s Presidential run in 1968 and Reagan’s campaign in 1980 was the difference between a candidate who had to woo white Southern voters with coded racial messages, signalling an end to forced desegregation, and a candidate supported and boosted by those same voters, now organised into a pro-active political force, the Religious Right. The Religious Right continued to spread around the country during the 1980s. If its influence in Republican circles has weakened in recent years, it is only because more pressing issues have arisen with greater political utility- notably, fear of terrorism after 9/11[170].

The price the Republicans paid for the South’s contribution to their triumphs post-1968 was the South’s triumph within the Republican Party, bringing with it a harder-edged Southern brand of conservatism- George Bush senior’s “Texas values”. This was an ideological conservatism but one inherent in and derived from traditional Southern and Southwestern society with its brutal class divisions, its strong strains of militarism and religiosity, its pre-industrial cronyism and its provincial ruling class, who reinvented themselves as populist leaders governing with Fundamentalist certitude.

 As for the other main class interest- the existing great corporations and the Northern and Midwestern business elite that provided the leaders of “old” Republicanism- they adjusted to the new political order without protest. Initially appalled by the New Right’s radicalism that made their own leaders like Nelson Rockefeller its victims, they ended up swallowing their distaste and backing it as a way to realise their interests: tax cuts, a rollback of government regulation, plus various kinds of corporate welfare.

Confronted by a line-up composed of the Southern elites, white southern workers, the national business class, and traditional Republican agrarian and small town voters in the Middle West and West, and suffering a mass defection among white northern workers in the late 1960s, the Democrats faced difficult choices. They could try to mobilise their traditional constituencies-ethnic minorities, union members, workers and the poor underclass- on a more radical basis, reaching across racial and economic lines. But Democratic leaders, along with the entire US media and political classes, blamed such a coalition for the Democrats’ problems in the first place. Pundits wrote and spoke reams about the Democratic Party’s “capture” by “special interests” like minorities and labor unions (now becoming a minority themselves). Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Democrats were haunted, as if by a nightmare, by the 1972 Democratic convention that launched McGovern’s ill-fated Presidential campaign. As McGovern himself admitted, “I thought the convention was great but what came across on television, apparently, to many of these guys was they saw a lot of aggressive women, they saw a lot of militant blacks, they saw long-haired kids, and I think that combination, which helped win the nomination for me, I think it offended a lot of them.”[171]

The Democrats therefore chose their second option, to follow the Republicans to the right, but at what they hoped was a safe distance. From 1980 onwards, Democrats competed with the Republicans for financial backing from the corporate and wealthy elite, and at the polls for votes from the “silent majority”. As a result, the two national parties turned into mirror images of each other. Both tried to win over a small minority of swing voters who were supposed to decide elections- a strategy that reached its nadir (or apex) with George Bush junior’s political manager, Karl Rove. Rove’s innovation was to dispense with the “swing voters” entirely and win by concentrating on motivating more of his own side, committed Republicans, to vote than would committed Democrats. The logic of either of these strategies ensured that the tone of American campaigns grew more reckless and vituperative, as rhetoric became most of what separated the two sides. Meanwhile, behind the scenes (and increasingly in front of them), both parties turned themselves into instruments for business interests and the interests of America’s upper-middle-class and above[172]

For all the partisan invective that characterised American politics in the 1990s, culminating in the attempt to impeach President Clinton and Hillary Clinton’s talk of “a vast right-wing conspiracy”, the balance of the main parties (and of the class forces behind them,) had reached virtual equality by the millennium. The best the Republicans had achieved was parity, although by doing so they also dragged the political centre of gravity a long way to the right Even in the South, where Republicans had supposedly taken over the Solid South local stock and barrel from the Democrats, the Democrats retained a 54% majority in state houses. Republican dreams of a political realignment that would make them the majority party (dating as far back as Kevin Phillips’ 1972 book ‘The Emerging Republican Majority’) seemed less likely to be realised than dealignment, a political science term meaning a situation where old voting patterns have broken down without being replaced by new ones.[173].

Under these circumstances, the 2000 election produced an effective dead heat. George W. Bush’s “victory”, after weeks of bareknuckle political manoeuvring in Florida and a split Supreme Court fiat, looked to many people like a coup- though that hardly made it unique in American political history, which has featured frequent gerrymandering, fraud, electoral irregularities and disputed elections, not to mention outright violence and assassination.[174] Then came 9/11, the War on Terror, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Having been the first Southern conservative to attain the Presidency since before the Civil War, Bush junior went on to win re-election easily in 2004 with a campaign that concentrated on arousing Americans’ fears of terrorism.





Americans, Engels wrote back in 1890, “are born conservatives-just because America is so purely bourgeois, so entirely without a feudal past, and therefore proud of its purely bourgeois organisation.”[175] There were other reasons he could have added. America’s vast scale and abundant resources mean that Americans have been able to pose expansion, abundance and individualism as the alternatives to European-style class consciousness and class struggle- though they were able to do so even more convincingly when the United States remained a largely unsettled wilderness.

This was the basis of the original American Dream, which in turn is the romantic version of Americanism per se. The original concept for Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative, generally considered the New Right’s founding text, was “a pamphlet on Americanism”[176]. To George Bush senior it passed for mere “common sense”. But the Dream hasn’t been able to protect America from conflicts due to race or religion; from the consequences of modern industrial capitalism and a society in constant, rapid circulation among “winners” and “losers”; or from tensions that came-and still come- with mass immigration. Americanism accreted harsher elements over time, whether religious fanaticism, ethnic hatreds or political paranoia, developing a dark side that finds expression in hyper-patriotism, radical nationalism or the scapegoating of enemies within[177]. The question thus became what would happen should the American Dream evaporate, or even stall for a protracted period, and the likely answer was always that the political movements that would emerge in response to such a crisis would come from the right rather than the left.

In the meantime, the crisis of bourgeois liberalism that took place in Europe at the end of the 19th century seemed permanently postponed in the US. There, the process of bourgeois formation out of immigrant masses, and of economic expansion in a still abundant continent, went on almost unabated through the first half of the 20th. American involvement in Europe’s two great wars was either tangential or produced economic benefits to the US. American involvement in the Great Slump had been more central and cruel, but that too ended well. The Depression did throw up right-wing as well as leftist responses but a combination of factors, not the least of them Frankin Roosevelt’s political genius, enabled the country to steer a centrist course. The Depression even generated a long-overdue period of reform that gave the US the bare bones of modern government and of a modern welfare state. FDR may not have saved capitalism, but he saved society, which has no place in liberal economic philosophy but without which no system of social production can operate.

By 1945, America “(stood) at the summit of the world” in Churchill’s famous judgement. The US had over half the entire world’s manufacturing capacity and generated more than half the world’s electricity. Such overwhelming dominance was never going to last but it eroded slowly and the post-war wave of democratic affluence seemed, as John F. Kennedy’s put it, to be a rising tide that lifted all boats. Nobody expected that to end. Nor did they expect affluence itself, as in J.K. Galbraith’s ‘Affluent Society’, to lead to an explosion of social tensions following the demand by previously excluded groups for full membership in America’s democracy.

There was a sense in the Sixties of all the chickens of recent American history coming home to roost- anticommunism in the Vietnam War; segregation and racism in the struggle over civil rights; 1950s conformism in the revolt by young people against corporate capitalist society (‘Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate)  Marx had said that History repeats itself  as farce; but Amrerica in the Sixties looked more like soap opera. If you wanted to see a crisis of bourgeois liberalism played out in theatrical form, there was no better place than in the streets of major American cities caught between black rioters and antiwar demos, Black Panthers and Black Muslims, hippies and Weathermen, SDS and SNCC. It was deadly serious but at the same time tragicomic. The protagonists weren’t Nazi storm troopers or Communist Red-Front Fighters, after all. 1960s America (or ‘Amerika’ as the young radicals spelled it) was not Germany in the 1930s.

It just felt like it to many Americans who looked on the black militants and student radicals with “moral horror” as Garry Wills memorably wrote. They demanded “law and order” not only as “a coded form of racism” but “as the last clause left from our old moral creed”.[178] Morality and Americanism have always been closely related, anchored by their common origins in the various colonial Protestantisms. Freed from their religious roots by the unchurched Emerson, and nurtured by the connection between individualism and democracy noted by De Toqueville, they united in the idea of self-creation- the Promethean self- as the basis of what America was all about. After the Civil War, with the development of industrial capitalism, the self-created man became the self-made man. The moral concept became subsumed in the material measurement. The self became attached to the economic liberalism of competition and “free markets” rather than the Protestant theology of sin and salvation,, but without ever quite losing its moral charge.

Contemplating this peculiarly American version of bourgeois liberalism at the time of its crisis, in the 1960s, Wills noted that “the concept of the self-made man has been the key to American liberalism” but it acquired its power, its edge-and its periodic vindictiveness- from “the fact that religion (had) fastened itself most directly to the economic features of the liberal creed (giving) those features their almost magical importance, (and causing) a sense of betrayal when this economic code was modified.”[179]

To Wills, both modern American conservatism and modern American liberalism stemmed from the same classically liberal tradition.[180] In the 1930s, the Great Depression revealed economic liberalism’s bankruptcy faced with a breakdown in the capitalist system itself. American Liberalism with a capital ‘L’ split into two wings - a “liberal” Democratic and a “conservative” Republican wing. Neither party constituted a left-labour or right-conservative party in the European sense. FDR’s Democrats drew back from structural reform and economic planning, let alone full-blown socialism. Conservative Republicans combined their faith in the “free market” and individualism with strong authoritarian and statist tendencies when it suited them, from defending Southern racism to rooting out Communist enemies within to demanding numerous types of “corporate welfare”. Observing the Nixon campaign in 1968, Garry Wills decided that Nixon himself was a divided man.[181] The split in American liberalism a.k.a. Americanism had become internalised until it ran through individual Americans. Nixon’s political degeneration, according to Wills, showed in the fact that he had no solutions to offer to The Sixties crisis in American society, no answer to the challenges thrown down by the militant blacks and the white New Left- nothing but the backlash and a politics of resentment.

Yet Nixon won the election and the Republic, though it wavered for a while, did not break apart into warring camps. Indeed, the only people who thought it would were the seriously mad, bad and dangerous to know like Charles Manson, who predicted a coming Race War, then murdered to precipitate it. If Nixon did little or nothing to solve America’s problems- he ended up adding to them with Watergate- most Americans had no answers to them either. What Nixon did was to put New Right and the Republicans on the road to solving their own  political problem instead  Nixon’s answer to overthrowing the liberal-Democratic consensus had been George Wallace’s answer first until Nixon picked it up-  flexibility was Nixon’s greatest strength as a politician. That answer was populism.

 Populism was the long-standing competitor to Liberalism as America’s ur-ideology, the Americanism that never quite was.. In fact, American populism is really just another word for nationalism, which, in America means nationalism of the 18th and 19th century revolutionary sort embalmed in the American Constitution, whose more inspirational phrases derive from America’s origins as a revolutionary state. But the American Revolution was a colonial rebellion rather than a social revolution. Its legacy was not a renewed social order flying the banner of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity but enduring opposition to government and the state in the name of an ethic of individual freedom[182]  If you add to that a sparsely settled continental wilderness, rich in resources, and an absence of rigid European-style classes and hierarchies organised under Crown and Church America offers the conditions for a bourgeois revolution without end.

In the pre-industrial agrarian world, bourgeois revolution could indeed be revolutionary.  Populism with a capital ’P’, in the form of an organised Populist Party, was a radical movement when it arose in the late 19th century amid the harsh climate and aching emptiness of the Great Plains. Political Populism was basically a pre-industrial revolt set off by a global agricultural depression in the 1890s, a last-ditch stand by small farmers against encroaching modern capitalism in the form of the big banks and big railroads they felt were to bleeding them economically. It failed- among other reasons, because it had little or nothing to say the industrial masses in the great Northeastern and Midwestern cities, who represented America’s new, dynamic element.

But the Populist spirit didn’t die. On the contrary, it proved a particularly suitable radical style for Americans, given their self-identification as members of the bourgeoisie. Populism is radicalism without class (or revolutionary doctrine). That was its strength as well as its weakness. Push a petit bourgeois to his or her limit, to the point of revolt, and you had a populist. At the same time, the Populist spirit remained in many ways pre- or even anti-modern, another instance of the way American conditions froze and preserved struggles that in Europe had been resolved or superseded by different struggles. True Populists were anti-modern, anti- large-scale bureaucratically organised society- what Max Weber called “the iron cage” of modernity-anti-urban and anti-cosmopolitan. On the one hand they were against the rational, science-based knowledge that makes up modern industrial society’s ego; on the other hand, they opposed the loosening of family and community ties, the moral and sexual freedoms and the stimulation of desire that form its id.

All those “antis” gave left populism its rebellious power while guaranteeing its ultimate political impotence. Eschewing socialist utopias, populism ended up trading in republican nostalgia. Populists were in favour of small towns composed of small businessmen and craftsmen living in a world that either had never existed or was already an anachronism. Thanks to America’s republican mythology, geographical vastness and regionally staggered development, there were enough remnants of such a world to give credence to the populist idyll well into the 20th century- a petit bourgeois dream of the little men made economically viable, morally strenuous, spiritually orthodox, ethnically homogenous and socially equal.

Few populists believed all of these things and not all populists believed in any of them, especially after populism ceased to be a specific western, agrarian radical movement and became a more diffuse description for social and economic protest- a style of politics James Gregory describes as “shirt-sleeved campaigners who talked about the dignity of hard work and plain living and promised deliverance from the forces of power, privilege and moral pollution near and far.”[183]. Left Populism of this sort provided the basis for a radical tradition in America. But it was obvious how the same elements could reinforce a politics of the right, which was indeed what happened.

As nationalism had done in Europe somewhat earlier, American nationalism aka populism embarked on a long journey from left to right of the political spectrum beginning at the time of the First World War. By the mid-1960s, Populism had mutated into suburban conservatism and support for a specifically right-wing populist movement called the New Right.

We are only just starting to reconstruct the stages of this journey in detail, but the general outline is clear. As in Europe between 1900 and the 1930s, elites used key themes to propel this rightward movement including patriotism (in its US form of anticommunism), nativism and racism  (in Europe political Anti-Semitism).  The populism that reappeared after World War One and the Bolshevik Revolution had already moved sharply to the right (as had fundamentalism during the same period. Many populists were fundamentalists and vice versa).[184] As modern democratic wars do, the Great War exacerbated xenophobia and patriotism. In America, the first Red Scare followed hard on the heels of the war’s end, in 1919, a harbinger of things to come. The Red Scare led seamlessly in the 1920s into one of the country’s periodic panic scares over immigration[185].

A huge influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe arrived at the end of the 19th and in the early years of the 20th century. Now people panicked that America was being  swamped by “Italians”. With the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution still contemporary events, the age-old connection between foreigners and subversive elements was easy to re-ignite. Various organisations came forward to oppose radicalism and unAmericanism in the name of patriotic native (ie WASP) Americans, including the American Legion and the Ku Klux Klan, whose second coming in the 1920s stood for more than racial terror.

The Second Klan was an equal opportunity hater: they were anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-Communist, and anti-immigrant as well as anti-black. Some terror accompanied the Klan’s resurgence, notably by a small group of true believers who called themselves the Black Legion, but the leaders of the movement were financial promoters and quasi- con men, in it for the money, and they must have been stunned by their own success. At its brief peak in the middle of the decade, the second Klan had over 2 million followers, in the North as well as the South, mainly whites from the lower and middle-classes. By no means all of them were losers or socially marginal individuals. Klan members harassed local (white) elites on subjects like better schools and enforcing Prohibition, that quintessential piece of right-populist legislation with its mixture of anachronistic idealism and practical futility, the American equivalent of “all power to the Soviets”.

Various reasons have been advanced for the second Klan’s rapid collapse- it was effectively over by 193.  There were major scandals involving some of the leaders. The entire American elite, reaching down to local newspaper editors and local law enforcement, united to campaign against it  (incidentally, a reminder that “un-American” could be used to condemn groups on the right as well as on the left). But the most important factor in damping down what have been called “the native-fundamentalist fires of the 1920s” was surely that the system had already defused their principal complaint[186]. In 1921 Congress passed an Emergency immigration law and in 1924 they made it permanent, imposing  a quota system that put the first curbs on immigration in US history.

In retrospect, the nativist-fundamentalist movements of the 1920s, whose epicentre was in the Western South, look like the original “white backlash”.  Between the mid-19th century and the brink of the First World War, the region had been the heartland of agrarian radicalism from the Farmers Alliance to the Populist Party to the American Socialist Party, which achieved big votes in poor areas of Oklahoma, northern Texas and western Arkansas. A mere ten years later, the same people were devoting their political energies to Prohibition and to organisations like the Klan.

As Depression took hold in the 1930s, in a period dominated by political activity on the left both within the Roosevelt administration and outside it, in the unions or in the Socialist and Communist Parties, populism revealed its political ambivalence under modern conditions. Protest movements mixed elements from both left and right. Demagogic leaders like Louisiana’s Governor Huey Long and Chicago’s “radio priest” Father Coughlin combined themes from both ends of the political spectrum to sustain an economic populism whose faint echoes were still audible in American politics in 2008.[187]

 After Second War, populism gave way to Anticommunism as the dominant expression of American nationalism as America’s role in the world came to the fore, consequent on its new superpower status.. Being an immigrant society, America doesn’t lend itself to straightforward ethnic nationalism: its nationalism requires a programmatic or ideological structure for its expression. The change from Populism to Anticommunism symbolised a change from revolutionary to counter-revolutionary nationalism. Anticommunism fit the requirements for a right-wing American nationalism perfectly: the clue to its real nature was the way alleged Reds and radicals were labelled as “un-American”.

In these decades that saw the formation of a radically right-wing populism, all its  threads- racial, nativist, political and class-based- began to run together. Perhaps the 1930s businessmen who blamed union demands on Communist insurrectionaries or the big city mayors in the 1960s who claimed that black urban rioting was the work of outside malcontent had their counterparts in any country and were only using whatever insults came to hand, but things went much farther than that in America. In the 1930s, appraisers for the Federal Home Owners Loan Corporation- a New Deal agency- working in Los Angeles routinely described blacks, Mexicans and Japanese as “subversive racial elements” and “racial hazards”. In the 1960s, when California split over the Fair Housing laws demanded by civil rights activists, opponents of those laws worried about “Communist infiltration” and wrote letters to the editor accusing “red agitators” of stirring up trouble among the blacks.[188]

The poor were subversive. Blacks and other minorities were poor and therefore subversive. Subversives were foreigners or un-Americans. Radicals posed a racial as well as a political menace. Race and class antagonisms, rather than being subsumed under a radical critique of the system, were increasingly wrapped in the flag, deployed to defend an exclusive nationalism as defined by America’s old- WASP majority. Later, under attack from minorities demanding civil rights, that majority broadened to include the so-called “new” immigrants, so long as they were white and male, or willing to concede male primacy.

.  By 1945, in the wake of a Second World War and facing what many people thought would be the imminent outbreak of a Third, McCarthyism demonstrated that populism by now was situated firmly on the right. Yet this was still a political culture in transition. Workers who believed in “rugged individualism” and rejected anything to do with collective action or radical politics had no hesitation in joining unions when it was to their advantage. Indeed, the decade after the war was the peak time for union membership. Voters, including the overwhelming majority of the white working-class in both north and south, had voted for Franklin Roosevelt’ New Deal in the 1930s and continued to support a liberal Democratic coalition that held solid through Truman and then into the 1950s, despite a mildly Republican war hero sitting in the White House. This was the broadly progressive, centrist America celebrated by Hofstadter and the consensus historians, the American equivalent of 19th century bourgeois Europe with its belief in reason and progress. After Joe McCarthy’s witchhunt self-destructed, conservative ultra-nationalism- like Socialism and Communism on the left- seemed to have been banished to the margins of American political life. Anyone searching for clues to the future direction of right-wing populism or American nationalism or plain folk Americanism or simply “Americanism” would have had to look well below the national level, at developments in white working-class suburbs like South Gate, the Los Angeles community Becky Nicolaides studied in ‘My Blue Heaven, Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles 1920-1965’.




‘Suburbanization’ conjures up a picture of a certain kind of post-1945, cookie-cutter affluence, rows of identical houses occupied by identical young couples who either moved out from the city in search of cleaner air, better schools for their kids and a superior quality of life or, as they did increasingly after the 1960s, fled in a “white flight” from the city’s racial and cultural melting pot (or both at the same time). Suburbanization in America involves all the same images but it also has an extra historical dimension. Blessed with an abundance of land as well as everything else, for many American cities “suburbanization” was identical to the “urbanization” process itself: it was the natural way for a city to grow. The result was that apparent oxymoron, the “working-class suburb”, examples of which spread across the US between the 1920s and Pearl Harbor.

Los Angeles is the quintessential example of a city that spread as an accretion of suburbs. Developers subdivided South Gate, just south of downtown L.A., in the early 1920s. Plots for single family homes were so cheap that people with minimal incomes or virtually no income at all were able to buy them, camp out in tents and build their own home in stages, often over a period of years. Once built, the new homeowners treated their homes and the land around them as centres of production, growing their own vegetables, often keeping a few animals, enabling them to be partly self-sufficient, to keep some degree of independence from the new industrial-wage economy growing up around them.

Traditional Americans saw themselves as independent farmers; as industrialisation took hold and people migrated from the land to the cities and the wage economy, 20th century urban Americans came to see themselves as homeowners first and foremost and other things- working-class, blue-collar, proletarian- a distant second. This was a late development in the Western South where only 30 or 40 years previously people had been rushing on to the land rather than away from it- the great land rushes of the 1880s ands 1890s were the last settlements of the American frontier[189]. Now the traffic was all the other way, though industrialisation had still not developed enough in places like Los Angeles to offer steady, well-paid work. That didn’t come until the late 1930s and 1940s. Until then, workers suffered frequent layoffs and gaps in their wage-earning lives (nor was there any welfare state to sustain them). South Gate suggests one of the keys to a phenomenon we have already noted, where American working-class families see themselves as middle-class: it was because they were middle-class, since they  possessed the core middle-class asset, a home of their own. Nicolaides captures South Gate at the moment of this working-class formation, when a population of mostly internal migrants arrived to build the suburb from the ground up, treating their self-built houses as surrogate farms that gave them not only the same symbolic but also to some extent the same material advantages of independence and self-sufficiency.

South Gate’s residents were not just homeowners: they were white homeowners. The difference was critical both for the future of South Gate and for the rise of the New Right. From the start, South Gate was rigidly segregated in ways typical of US working-class suburbs. Only whites could buy land or houses there, protected by racial covenants that prohibited sales to black people or to other ethnic minority members. In reality, the white population lived next door to blacks anyway in adjoining, increasingly black South Central L.A., but there was an invisible wall between the two communities that excluded even shoppers. Old-time residents recalled the police stopped and turning back blacks that dared to cross Alameda Street- the racial dividing line-to shop in South Gate. South Gate’s local authorities rejected major department stores that wanted to open in the area for fear they would attract black and Mexican shoppers.[190] South Gate’s inhabitants, like Western and Northern working-class whites in general, depended on race for their identity as much as the poorest Southern sharecropper or the most bigoted Southern sheriff. As a result, when they mobilised politically in the 1960s, they did so as white homeowners rather than as an urban proletariat; as conservatives rather than as liberals or radicals; and against blacks and their allies in government not against owners and employers and the political power of capital.

Who were the people who lived in South Gate? Many of them were migrants, part of the massive, unsung migration that transplanted over 15 million white Southerners to the north and the west between 1918 and the 1970s. Migrants from the Upper South and Appalachia gravitated to northern cities like Chicago and Detroit; those from the Southwest went west. Between 1910 and 1930, 400,000 arrived in California followed by another 400,000 in the 1930s. By 1950, 4 million people born in the four Southwestern states were living elsewhere, one third or approximately 1.4 million of them in California.

The locals dubbed the newcomers “Okies”, although in fact they came not just from Oklahoma but from Arkansas, Texas and Missouri as well. The second, 1930s wave of immigrants included desperate, starving victims of the Great Depression on the plains. Books like John Steinbeck’s highly coloured novel, The Grapes of Wrath, and American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion by photographer Dorothea Lange and her husband, the radical sociologist Paul Taylor, stamped the image of these ‘Dust Bowl’ refugees- for what could one call them except refugees? - on the conscience of a nation for whom “refugees” had been a European problem, not something that happened in the abundant New World.[191]

In the famous photographs, ‘Dust Bowl’ Okies stand gaunt and grim-faced, with their tents and their bowls, like begging bowls, infants slung on hips, sometimes posed in front of a rattletrap truck or car, for the most part owning no more than the dust that clings to them. But the image is deceptive when applied to the Southwestern migrants as a whole: it refers mainly to that sub-group who stuck to farming as the only life they knew, by- passing Los Angeles and making their way up into California’s agricultural Central Valley, where they replaced Mexican migrant labour.

What is certainly true is that most of the Southwesterners reached California with few, if any, assets except their culture of right-wing populism, a culture distilled from the failure of the original American Dream as a republic of small, independent farmers[192]. The migrants were among the last dreamers of the original dream, as well as its last victims, and the populism that had been their protest against its failure one or two generations earlier had become increasingly a consolation for that failure and a search for scapegoats. Reinforced by barebones fundamentalism and mitigated by their unique folk music tradition (later known as “country and western” or simply “country” music), in California that culture encountered first, industrialisation and the discipline of factory work for wages, then a demand by African-Americans and other minorities for equality and civil rights. By the mid-1960s, the residents of places like South Gate felt themselves to be in the classic position of “little men” everywhere, squeezed between powerful, demanding owners and employers on the one hand and on the other hand quasi-revolutionary black masses whose demonstrable poverty, alleged anarchy and imagined “moral pollution” represented everything the migrants had worked so hard and suffered so much to rise above.

Within such general trends as the rise of the Sunbelt or the “Southernisation” of US life and politics, the Okie migration stands out as one of the most important vectors in modern American politics, an artery that pumped the legacy of agrarian populism into the heart of industrialising, expanding California. Due to this migration, when George Bush senior talked about “Texas values” or “plain common sense” on the campaign trail in Midland-Odessa in 1988, his words would have been understood not only in Texas but also right across the West and Midwest, if not throughout the US. Due to this migration too, when the white backlash against black civil rights developed into a full-blown grassroots movement of the radical right in the 1970s, it did so in California rather than in the South or in any of the other Northern states or cities where blue-collar whites faced off against black demands (for example, Boston, which saw the most famous and most bitter struggle over school busing).

Becky Nicolaides recounts the speed with which the Democratic New Deal coalition disintegrated in South Gate as local politics “racialised” in the mid-1960s[193]. In 1963, proposals to integrate South Gate High School (97% white) and Jordan High in neighbouring Watts (99% black) galvanised both communities. Meetings of the Board of Education in downtown L.A. turned into standing-room-only shouting matches between rival groups of activists while demonstrators marched and counter-marched in the street outside. The turbulent Sixties had arrived in Southern California. In the 1964 Presidential election, South Gate supported LBJ. Four years later, they voted for Nixon, abruptly ending South Gate’s allegiance to the Democratic Party since the 1930s and the New Deal.[194]

In between the two contests the Watts Riots took place in 1965 and Ronald Reagan scored his shock victory over incumbent California Governor Pat Brown in 1966. By the mid-1970s many of the whites in South Gate and surrounding areas had fled farther out to  Orange County or the San Fernando Valley and LA’s southern suburbs were on their way to turning Latino. Far from ending the white backlash, this diaspora generalised it into a platform for right-wing politics. In 1975, Bobbi Fielder formed BUSSTOP to fight school busing in the Valley. In 1978 came Proposition 13 and the California tax revolt that formed a bridge between the backlash and the New Right[195].

Two snapshots from either end of these later decades suffice to show how American politics fractures, time and again, along racial and ethnic fault lines. In December 1963, during the battle over school desegregation in L.A.’s southern suburbs,  the white leaders included a woman named Mary Frisina, who became state chair of the Taxpayers Rebellion of California. During one of her numerous appearances before the Board of Education she couldn’t resist a jibe at the black demonstrators from CORE who were picketing the Board[196]. Whites like herself, Frisina said, were “hard-working people” who couldn’t afford to leave their jobs in order to hang around the School Board week after week. Unlike the black activists, they didn’t have government welfare checks to support them[197].  Mary Frisina’s remark crystallised the moment of backlash, when civil rights activism, big government, taxes and welfare came together in a single syndrome, with white taxpayers’ hard-earned money supposedly going to subsidise  feckless blacks who then used it to threaten white autonomy.

The other snapshot comes from 30 years later, after the Watts Riots and after L.A. erupted in rioting for a second time, in 1992, when the Rodney King beating revealed how little conditions had changed for blacks and other minorities. This time around, not just the black ghetto but the whole vast area of the city inhabited by the underprivileged and the poor, mostly black and brown but also Asian and some poor whites, came out and for a day or two took control of the streets while the LAPD stood by helplessly. Faced with this “rainbow coalition” of rioting poor people with all its political potential, local black leaders raced to the TV studios- in order to deny it. The riots, black leaders said, were a black thing, expressing exclusively black frustrations and demands. All these other people were interlopers, opportunists who had no business being there [198].






An egalitarian impulse separated from class-consciousness is always open to being flipped over into its political opposite. In a nutshell, that’s what happened to populism during its century-long movement from the left to the right. Populism was originally American politics in its egalitarian mode. If we are to be a society of free men, judged by our individual self-creation, it follows we must also be equal, that no man or class or concentration of power can stand above us. Populism was the democratic spirit in action, and it retained something of democracy’s original, revolutionary edge that disturbed De Toqueville; but it was the American Revolution that informed it rather than the Russian or the French

When an organised right-wing came to power, at first under Nixon (and Ford) in the 1970s and then more securely with Ronald Reagan’s eight-year Presidency in the 1980s. conservatives developed a so-called “conservative egalitarianism” as their answer to the liberal emphasis on rights. Like many aspects of the New Right, “conservative egalitarianism” had its roots in the 1960s white backlash, when grassroots leaders raised “white rights” or “majority rights” as a slogan to counter the black civil rights movement. Suddenly, the inequities that populism condemned, instead of stemming from America’s socioeconomic problems, were to be found in the measures government took to correct them. In the defining case of black civil rights, the problems for-and with African-Americans were not due to the inequities left by centuries of segregation and slavery but rather to government programmes intended to address those inequities, like affirmative action or busing, which the right characterised as discriminating against whites. Conservative egalitarianism’s mantra was “equal opportunity”. Although there has never been real equality of opportunity any more than there has ever been a free market, that didn’t prevent it from being a powerful weapon politically, since virtually every government domestic programme, from taxation to welfare, imposes a cost on one person in order to benefit another (or society as a whole)- and can therefore be interpreted as interfering with some individual’s right to “equal opportunity” somewhere.

Conservative egalitarianism took the vocabulary of rights and equality that had been central to US liberalism since the New Deal and stood it on its head, reversing its meaning, and capturing it for the Right. Redirected away from the economic aspects of societal relations, populism’s egalitarian drive found its final resting place in culture wars over disembodied “values”, trading the substance for the symbols of social renewal[199]. The very vagueness of these cultural or social struggles put up a smokescreen, obscuring the fact that Right populism, as Garry Wills intuited back in 1968, had no answers to offer to the problems of modern America. Yet the very contradictions that made it impotent to solve those problems gave conservative populism its potency. This was a populism led by, and shaped for the benefit of, the wealthy elite, taking its philosophy from classical laisser-faire liberalism but deriving its energy from resentments generated by the failure of that same philosophy in a kind of self-generating feedback mechanism The Right elevated and worshipped the American Dream; yet the Right gained political power as that Dream faltered and seemed to be failing. Each failure became a reason to vote and mobilise again and move still farther to the right in a political “perpetuum mobile”.[200] At the same time, the Right has a constant need for enemies to explain the failures. Therefore it tends to stir up social conflicts while pretending to do the opposite. Perhaps that’s why some of its original architects, later in life, regretted their involvement in the rise of the New Right or reconsidered and disavowed the results of their involvement- men like George Wallace, Harry Dent and Kevin Phillips.

Wallace was a Southern demagogue, the “Fighting Judge” who built his public career on his avowedly racist opposition to the civil rights movement then tried to remould his legacy as an economic populist. In audiences and interviews he gave before he died, Wallace re-imagined himself as a champion of the working-man whose real target had been a careless white-liberal elite not blacks seeking their rights[201].

Harry S. Dent and Kevin Phillips are less well known than Wallace. As the New Right developed in the late 1960s, it opened up careers for men who were neither headline politicians nor conservative intellectuals nurtured in think tanks but professional political strategists. Long-term changes in the structure of American politics, mostly due to television,made such men increasingly important. Dent and Phillips, both of whom played important roles behind the scenes in Nixon’s pivotal 1968 campaign were among the first of this new breed of backroom political technicians

Like Wallace, Harry Dent was a Southerner born and bred, a Southern Baptist Fundamentalist, who entered politics in the 1950s as an aide to arch-segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond. Dent and Thurmond’s South Carolina was always a conservative redoubt, even by Southern standards. In 1959, when Goldwater spoke there and electrified his audience by attacking the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs the Board of Education, state Republicans adopted him as a potential presidential candidate. In 1960, South Carolina was one of only two states pledged to Goldwater at the Republican Convention (the other was Goldwater’s home state, Arizona). Four years later, after Goldwater won the Republican nomination, it was Dent who urged Thurmond to change parties and throw his support behind Goldwater.  Thurmond’s defection became a landmark in the break-up of the Solid South..

After Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson, Dent went on to be Chairman of the South Carolina Republicans from 1965-8, consolidating South Carolina into a Republican bridgehead in the South and a Goldwater-style conservative state. In his memoirs, Dent claims he was the one who first explained the “Southern strategy” to Nixon- then doggedly criss-crossing the country on the Republican speaker circuit- and persuaded Nixon to adopt it if he ever again became Republican candidate.[202]

In 1968, Dent got Strom Thurmond to do for Nixon the same thing he’d done for Goldwater. Thurmond delivered the South to Nixon at the Republican nominating convention, blocking a late surge for Reagan. Later, faced with Wallace running strongly in the South in the general election campaign, Dent created a ‘Thurmond Speaks for Nixon-Agnew Committee’ and sent the his ex-boss back on the road. The South was largely responsible for Nixon’s victory in 1968, with Thurmond, through Dent, playing the part of “Richard Nixon’s great Southern vassal.”[203]

Dent’s reward was a job in the Nixon White House as Nixon’s Southern fixer and liason with the GOP, a travelling salesman for the administration concentrating on the South still twisting and turning in the gales of desegregation. Thurmond’s man seamlessly became Nixon’s man. By 1972, and the campaign against McGovern, Dent found himself speaking all over America to local party activists and feeling that “I don’t decide what I’m going to say until I get there. I kind of case the joint. In almost every case they want a hard line. I put a conservative twist on welfare reform and generally translate what the President is doing in conservative terms to meet the demands of conservatives around the country.”[204]

Dent left the White House after the 1972 election, thereby sidestepping Watergate, though like almost everyone close to Nixon he was caught up in the backwash[205]. In 1976, he returned to work for Ford, once again blocking Reagan’s support among Southerners at the Republican Convention. Dent was nothing if not a loyalist, but he also he thought Reagan couldn’t win a general election, that he would turn out to be “the McGovern of the right”. Instead, Ford lost to Carter and Dent went from being the man who could deliver the South to the man who had twice frustrated Ronald Reagan, the politician on whom Republican hopes for the future now rested Like others in his founding generation of conservative politicos, including Barry Goldwater himself, Dent found the country had moved farther to the right than he had imagined..

Dent returned to Columbus SC, wrote his book and ran his own law firm but then, in the late 1970s, he gave it all up. Turning his back on politics and the law alike, he committed himself full-time to his religion. He went from being one of the political architects of the New South to that stereotypical figure of the Old South, the self-appointed lay minister and itinerant preacher. Working with his wife, Dent became involved in Fundamentalist missionary activity in Romania after the fall of Ceausescu (1989). Domestically, Dent’s later alliances were with people like Charles Colson, ex-political bruiser and Watergate felon who found God in jail and whose Prison Ministry is a favourite cause among the hard right.[206] The title of Dent’s last book was ‘Cover Up: the Watergate in All of Us’.

Reading Dent’s political testament, ‘The Prodigal South Returns to Power’ tells us little about Dent’s detailed political manoeuvring (John B. Connally once called him “the original dirty trickster”), and almost nothing about Dent himself, but much about the meaning of populist conservatism to a Southerner in the postwar era. For Dent, the South, Southern socio-economic arrangements, conservatism and the Republican Party were all synonymous, an unproblematic whole. Conservatism was a way of returning the South to power and a victory for the Republicans meant a victory for Southern conservatism. The pivot around which this politics revolved was, as always in the South, race. The conundrum that preoccupied Southerners was how the South could achieve national power on the least worst racial terms, while maintaining as much as possible of Jim Crow segregation. Dent records proudly that “we stopped the southern bandwagon for Governor George Wallace’s 1968 Presidential try and elected a man (i.e. Nixon) destined to handle the sensitive desegregation of the South with the velvet glove approach required to avert bayonets, bullets and bloodshed.”[207]

Nixon “handled” the matter by slowing desegregation to a near- standstill. Dent’s White House files are full of discussions about the impact of Administration policies on Southern politics over issues like busing. The other main theme that emerges from Dent’s book, apart from his Pollyanna account of the postwar South in which Jim Crow appears as a technical political problem and the South’s racially inspired switch from Solid Democratic to reliably Republican as a selfless move that “(made) Southern politics competitive again”, is his attitude to Ronald Reagan. Dent goes backwards and forwards throughout the book saying that Reagan was the candidate of his heart as far back as 1968, yet at the same time Reagan was a “zealot”, suffering from a “lack of reality”, like all extremists. Dent demonstrates modern conservatism’s essential pragmatism: he adored Nixon because Nixon was someone who could win. He supported Ford without enthusiasm because Ford was Nixon’s choice. When Ford lost, it was, according to Dent, because “Gerald Ford-type Eisenhower Republicanism” routinely ignored “working-class and lower-middle-class constituencies” especially in the South[208].

In other words, Ford wasn’t a populist. Analysing Ford’s defeat, Dent quotes his old colleague, Kevin Phillips. In 1968, when both men worked for Nixon, Dent was the quintessential fixer on the ground, while Phillips, ten years younger than Dent, was the brain in the backroom. Dent’s contribution to the Southern strategy involved twisting arms and pressing flesh: Phillips made his contribution poring over polls and voter statistics on John Mitchell’s staff at the Nixon campaign HQ in New York. In 1972, Phillips wrote his book called ‘The Emerging Republican Majority’, essentially an elaboration of the Southern strategy, which predicted the continuing rise of the right. Unlike Dent’s volume, the book became an instant classic and made Phillips’ name. For the next 30 years, Phillips continued to be a prominent political commentator in the US, pouring out books and articles at a great rate.

Phillips proved such an adept chronicler of the conservative populists because at heart he was one of them. Like Dent, Phillips maintains a sanitised view of Nixon and the New Right in general: he claims Nixon was pro-civil rights and this was what made him electable  (unlike Goldwater) and he attributes the New Right’s 1970s successes in general not to racial backlash but to a revolt of small-town, rural and suburban “forgotten Americans” against oppressive “left-liberal” elites. This amounts to little more than conservative propaganda in quasi-academic dress, but something interesting has happened to Phillips over the last three decades. As he has charted the ever-increasing inequality in America and the middle-classes’ continuing economic decline in the long downturn despite- or, worse still, exacerbated by- the Right having been in power for much of the period, Phillips has moved steadily farther leftwards. One of his recent books was a horrified polemic against the Bush family, in Phillips’ view a Southern reactionary elite with dynastic, anti-democratic pretensions- it was as if Phillips couldn’t believe what he was seeing.[209]

Dent, who died in 2007, and Phillips made their careers stem in the era when American conservatism first discovered that its route to victory lay through the South, and that the key to winning power was populism. They were among the founding generation of the Radical Right in office, but the future didn’t belong to them any more than it did to George Wallace, the one potentially major politician the South’s fight against civil rights produced. Instead, it belonged to others among “Nixon’s men”, harder individuals, afficionados of pure power like Dick Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom were juniors in the Nixon administration, escaped Watergate for that reason, then found themselves, as two of the last men unindicted, becoming major figures in Gerald Ford’s government.

 Dent and Phillips were present at the New Right’s political creation, yet both of them ended up, in the one case turning his back on, and in the other turning against, the world they had done so much to make. Their individual histories offer clues to the paradox of populism whose radical levelling, in the end, served to bring back not some new heyday of Jeffersonian republicanism but a second reactionary Gilded Age.





Observing the 1968 Republican Convention, Norman Mailer analysed the contradictions in the then-embryonic New Right with remarkable prescience:

            “Denied the center of power the corporation and the small town had remained ideologically married for decades: only by wielding power could they discover which concepts in conservative philosophy were viable and what parts were mad. One could predict: their budgeting would prove insane, their righteousness would prove insane, their love for order and clear-thinking would be twisted through many a wry neck, the intellectual foundations of their anti-Communism would split into its separate parts. And the small-town faith in free enterprise would run smash into the corporate juggernauts of technology land; their love of polite culture would collide with the mad aesthetics of the new America; their livid passion for military superiority would smash its nose on the impossibility of having such superiority without more government spending; their love of nature would have to take up arms against the despoiling foe, themselves, their own greed, their own big business. Yes, perhaps the Wasp had to come to power…”[210]

            For a long time, those contradictions dissolved in the resentful energies generated by The Sixties backlash. Civil rights raised issues that it took decades to work out- if they ever have been.  Despite two terms of Republican administration (under Nixon and Ford) dedicated to stonewalling and damping down desegregation efforts, the drive for black equality continued to arouse passionate opposition among whites, especially as it became clear that pro-active measures would be needed to make up the historical racial deficit. The struggle over these measures ground on, the battlefield moving from South to North. The great clashes over school busing took place in the mid-1970s, not the mid-1960s. The impact of ‘affirmative action’ programs within the big corporations (and public services?) mainly came in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. White male employees reacted bitterly when they felt that unqualified and sometimes outright incompetent blacks and other minorities (including women) were being hired and promoted over them. These were also the years when violent crime seemed out of control in the cities, much of it attributed, fairly or unfairly, to predators from the black ghettoes.

Even so, it seemed likely that the power of race as a political issue would slowly fade, particularly after the Democrats first moderated their own support for civil rights, then trumped the Republicans’ Southern strategy by nominating a bona fide born-again Southerner, Jimmy Carter, as their Presidential candidate in 1976. A Carter versus Ford contest suggested a system that was returning to its centre after the upheavals of The Sixties, having accepted some of their lessons (partial civil rights; an end to the Vietnam War) and rejected others (the demands of white radicals in the New Left and of Black Power advocates). Instead, Carter’s Presidency turned out to be a brief interregnum in the rise of the Right. What made the difference, what took up the slack, as it were, from race was economics, the end of the Golden Age and the bite of the long downturn. The same silent majority among the white working and lower middle-class who felt under attack from civil rights now found themselves under pressure economically.

During the late 1970s, a series of real and perceived reverses for the US in world affairs aroused an aggrieved nationalism, the sense of diminished American greatness abroad substituting for the reality of their diminished economic status at home in a straightforward manner for many Americans.[211] Reagan’s 1980 victory ushered in a consistent period of conservative ascendancy . Because the Right had no real solutions for the nation’s problems except to step up Nixonian “law and order” programs while cutting taxes and regulation for business and the corporate class, its political effect was to preserve the issues raised by civil rights and the long downturn as if in aspic. Reagan’s military buildup probably acted as “military Keynesianism” to help the economy somewhat, though it’s debatable how much. The Administration had no answer to the global long downturn though its anti-union stance helped US business improve its international position within that downturn. US business began its (relative) recovery in the Reagan years and continued it for the next two decades, largely by repressing wages.

There was little more than psychological cheerleading (“It’s morning in America!”) to benefit ordinary Americans, while the Republicans continued to campaign on all the so-called “hot button” issues involving white fears and economic insecurities. As late as 1988, George Bush senior ran for and won the Presidency with a campaign deliberately designed to replicate the backlash in every detail. His main themes were the death penalty, the ACLU, the flag, “no new taxes”, and above all the case of Willie Horton, a murderer and rapist released from prison in Massachusetts on a weekend furlough programme endorsed by (ex-)Governor Michael Dukakis, Bush’s Democratic opponent. Horton, a black man, absconded on his tenth furlough and invaded a house, where he raped a white woman and assaulted her boyfriend.[212]

            Bush senior’s defeat for a second term in 1992, following a sharp economic recession, gave the Democrats a chance to reinvent themselves. Like Tony Blair’s New Labour in the United Kingdom, Clinton succeeded by accepting his country’s political shift to the right and co-opting his opponents’ policies, but giving them a softer edge. As a result, probably the most gifted natural politician since Franklin Roosevelt turned out to make a disappointing President (arguably, the objective political circumstances gave him little choice). Once in office, Clinton cut US Federal government spending as a percentage of GDP, championed free trade, signed the NAFTA with Mexico, and oversaw deregulation of the financial markets accompanied by a rampant stock market bubble, while making only gestures towards helping workers in the labor market. One disillusioned critic concluded that a“ heightened sense of job insecurity lies at the very foundations of the Clinton administration’s economic legacy.”[213]

It was not a conservative hero but Clinton, their bete noir, who engineered the 1996 welfare reform that finally marked “the end of welfare as we know it”- one of  the New Right’s most cherished aims and the symbolic last act in backlash politics. Both George Bush junior and his influential political advisor Karl Rove absorbed the lessons of Clinton’s broad political appeal. When Bush junior came to fight the 2000 election, he ran a campaign that was the exact opposite of his father’s strategy twelve years earlier. Rather than try to stir up the backlash and exacerbate the racial divide yet again, Bush ran as a moderate, a low-key centrist who was a conservative, yes, but a “compassionate conservative”. Most voters took the phrase at face value to mean “kinder, gentler”, though the Religious Right recognised it for coded language identifying the born-again Bush as one of their own.

            Whether or not the Republicans “stole” the 200 election, the result should never have been in doubt. Ten years of economic boom under a Democratic President finally delivered, in its last few years, significant increases in middle-class incomes. The election was Gore’s to lose, and he lost it. Part of the problem was Gore’s personality: he turned out to be a poor campaigner. More importantly, he made a major mistake by separating himself from Clinton in hopes of avoiding the storm then raging over the President’s moral character. But by cutting himself off from his own political legacy, Gore left himself with nothing to campaign on, further emphasising the personal aspect of the election where he came across as stiff and unappealing compared to George “Dubbya’s” folksy manner.

            Once in office, George W. Bush dropped his rhetoric about being “a uniter not a divider”. Just as his father had repudiated Prescott Bush’s brand of Wall Street Republicanism, so George Bush junior in turn rejected his father’s Washington establishment style of politics. George W’s model was Ronald Reagan. The new Bush administration’s major policies were a straight reprise of early Reaganism: an aggressively nationalist foreign policy combined with a domestic policy of tax cuts for the rich. The new administration hard-line governing style and some of its subsidiary themes (along with key personnel) translated to the national stage the politics Bush junior had developed as Governor of Texas in the late 1990s.

Whereas the New Right had begun in the late 1960s by bringing together economic conservatism and populist backlash, by 2000 both sides of that alliance had evolved in more extreme directions. The New Right had become the Radical Right: Bush’s “base”, as he called it, was the evangelical zealots of the Religious Right together with a Corporate Right that was no longer the old, anti-statist, Western version that had backed the early conservative movement but a swashbuckling crony capitalism developed in the South and West during the post-civil rights era.

 Bush’s domestic policy trinity consisted of tax cuts, heavily angled towards the rich and super-rich; rolling back restraints on business; and privatizing Social Security (the last was defeated in Bush’s second term). Behind the scenes, the Bush people orchestrated a slew of appointments and guidelines to eviscerate the federal bureaucracy’s regulation of business and the environment, blunt its support for civil rights, and militate against the unions. A fourth policy, replacing government welfare programmes with private “faith-based” groups, aroused a lot of controversy but rapidly came close to imploding under its own contradictions (although it persisted in some form throughout Bush’s two terms) [214].

            Packing the Federal bureaucracy with social conservatives was more important to the Religious Right than the “faith-based” initiative. Because of the dramatic events of 9/11, followed by the War on Terror, many aspects of the Bush appointments went largely unnoticed, including its appointments policy. But that policy was part of his Administration’s debt to the Religious Right. Kay Cole James, former dean at the Rev. Pat Robertson’s Regent University and former vice-president of the Family Research Council, became head of the White House Office of Personnel. Under James’ supervision, people like Alma Golden, an abstinence advocate from Texas, was put in charge of family planning; Charles Allen, a pro-life Christian home-schooler became Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services, and Tom Coburn anti-gay former Congressman and ex-board member of the FRC co-chaired the Presidential Advisory Council on AIDS. FRC lobbyist Connie Mackay declared that “the good news is that with president Bush in office a lot of FRC people are in place.”[215]

            Bush also pursued and completed the long conservative campaign to take control of the Supreme Court, appointing two hard-line right-wing justice including the new Chief Justice, John Roberts. The results were so dramatic- eight conservative decisions overturning precedents in a single term- that they led the liberal Justice Stephen Breyer to declare, “It is not often in law that so few have so quickly changed so much.”[216]

But Bush’s foreign policy was what made headlines around the world and preoccupied the administration itself, especially after 9/11.. In his early months in office, Bush cancelled or rejected international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and made it clear he intended to pursue the old Reagan passion for a US missile defence system, though it was clear by then that the scientific basis for such a system- if any existed-  was never going to sustain its original aims. Then came 9/11. Though the trauma of 9/11 in many ways defined Bush’s Presidency, the reality was the opposite way around: the regime fitted 9/11 in to their existing policy priorities with surprising ease. These priorities included war on Iraq and expanding the executive power of the Presidency, both favored projects of Cheyney and Rumsfeld for whom Vietnam and Watergate were the original traumas and a legacy they were determined to reverse[217].

            Those who criticised the Bush administration for their reliance on family loyalists and political cronies to fill appointments, their almost total absence of any serious policy-making apparatus, their congenital lying, and Bush’s own preference for making decisions “in the gut” or “from the heart”, with little thought for the consequences, missed the point. If the administration defied modern norms of government policy-making, as conducted through rational analysis and competing briefs, they did so because Bush and his people didn’t see themselves governing within existing political (or geopolitical) realities but as in a position to change them.[218] .“Yup, he’s a revolutionary President”, Vice-President Dick Cheyney told a fellow conservative about George Bush.[219]

            Revolutionary is not necessarily the same as ideological. As Ronald Dworkin wrote of Bush’s Supreme Court “it would be a mistake to suppose that this right-wing phalanx (is) guided in its zeal by some very conservative judicial or political ideology or principles. It seems to be guided by no judicial or political principle at all, but only by partisan, cultural and perhaps religious allegiances”. The same was true of the Bush Administration as a whole, which combined revolutionary zeal with the absence of any real revolutionary principles (though it occasionally adopted some, like the neoconservatives’ plan to remake the Middle East for democracy, then dropped them again without making any real difference to its policy directions). The result was confusing for anyone trying to view Bush’s Presidency within established norms. Many commentators judged it a dismal failure. In fact, Bush’s people were very successful in achieving their aims, namely, to stamp their own power and authority- the power and authority of an unbridled late-capitalist elite- on America, and in turn to project American power in the world in no uncertain fashion.

This was true even when it came to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, which may well end up by weakening America in the long term, but in the short to medium term put American troops in the heart of the Middle East- the one important region of the world that US policy had failed to shape since 1945; extended the range of America’s system of military bases up into Central Asia; and made it clear to other countries the devastation awaited them in the event that they challenged US dominance. Domestically, too, the wider war on terror crushed all effective dissent and opened the way to a much more organised, disciplined and hierarchically controlled society, both in the US and in its closest ally and clone, Tony Blair’s United Kingdom.

In a world where Americans (figures consumption/resources vs world resources/poverty etc) protecting the status quo both of the USA vis a vis other nations, and of the political and economic elite within America, required- as the Bush’s top officials correctly concluded- aggressive action both at home and abroad[220]. Two things were necessary to the Bush project- overwhelming military power to project aborad and a continuing lock on domestic political power since America remains, broadly speaking, a democratic country.

Politics rather than administration therefore became the hallmark of Bush’s Presidency in quest of what was still called “a permanent Republican majority” but under Bush now meant a pernanent revolution of the Right. Karl Rove, Bush’s political advisor (known to some as “Bush’s brain”) went farther than any previous US administration towards politicizing the entire workings of the US government.[221] Rove linked not only the patronage- that was the norm in the US which sees a major turnover of office-holders with each new Administration- but also the policies of the Federal Government to politics. Now that the Southern strategy had had done its work (Bush was notably more relaxed about race than earlier Republican leaders), Rove believed the US had become a 50-50 nation, divided down the middle between Republicans and Democrats, with no real middle ground or group of undecided voters to appeal to. Winning in these circumstances had become a matter of motivating your own supporters, or as the Bush people called them, “the base” more successfully than the opposition could motivate theirs.

In pursuit of a 51-49% edge, Rove made sure that all the administration’s actions had a political angle. Tests for political purity were applied not only to office-holders themselves but also to anyone who wanted, or needed, to deal with the Federal government at every level. The most notorious result was the disastrously incompetent occupation of Iraq, staffed by people recruited for their conservative credentials rather than their professional expertise. But Bush paid little (if any) political price for that scandal. The truth was, the ruin of Iraq meant something only if you assumed that Iraq’s future was of any real interest to the US government- or to American voters- and that the shock and awe invasion followed by military occupation were preliminaries to bringing freedom and democracy, or at least some measure of stability and security, to the Iraqi people. Such assumptions, widely shared around the Western world, turned out to be false. The invasion and occupation were not means of delivering some ultimately beneficent message: they were the whole message.

If the Bush regime was a revolutionary administration, it was one deeply dyed in cronyism and favouritism, characterised by a strong strain of Christian-Fundamentalist religiosity and sustained by strident appeals to US nationalism. Factions in the Bush coalition like the neoconservatives or parts of the Religious Right did have supplementary ideologies of their own but the leadership stood for not much more than America’s power in the world and their own power in America. There were precedents for some of the Bush positions in American history- Manifest Destiny; or the socioeconomic attitudes of the Gilded Age. This was an Administration that claimed to be revolutionary in spirit but traditional in its beliefs. Such had been the paradox facing the Radical Right from its very beginning, but it was more apparent than real, resolved in the unspoken but widely understood ideology of Americanism as it had evolved into a right-wing populist nationalism- Texas values.

Bush won re-election in 2004 by waging a classic Fear campaign with the Republicans succeeding in making the threat of terrorism trump all other issues[222]. Pushed into the background of Bush’s two terms as President, economics resurfaced towards their end in an alarming fashion. After the 1990s stock market run-up there was a bust in 2001 (prior to 9/11, not after) before the boom recommenced with real estate speculation involving subprime mortgages, leading to another bust beginning in 2007.  Neoliberalism reached its predictable apotheosis, first under Clinton and then under Bush junior as the fate of the America’s-and perhaps the world’s- economy was turned over to the speculators. Economic growth in the advanced countries now depended on debt-financed booms in private consumption; while soaring asset values inflated by stock market bubbles underpinned business investment. Social democratic capitalism thus gave way to the Casino Capitalism, identified and critiqued by John Maynard Keynes, three quarters of a century before in the wake of the 1929 Crash and Great Depression. “Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise,” Keynes had written in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. “but the position becomes serious when enterprise becomes a bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes the by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.”[223]

To put it another way, Texanomics as well as Texas values had become US national policy, with a serial rollercoaster booms and busts shading into criminal fraud. The 2001 stock market bust exposed fraud on a massive scale, not only at the Bush family’s favourite company, Enron (which promptly collapsed), but at other telecoms giants Global Crossing, Qwest and World.com, as well as at flagship corporate names like Lucent, Merk, Reliant, Rite Aid, Vivendi, Xerox, AOL Time Warner, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase banks, and others. The world’s biggest accounting and consulting firms found themselves heavily implicated in these scandals.

But outright fraud was only one aspect of the corporate free for all that had developed under Anglo-American neoliberal governments. Between 1995 and 1999, the value of stock options given to US executives increased from 26.5 billion dollars to 110 billion (equal to one-fifth of non-financial corporate profits (net of interest) in 1999). Executives and directors from the 25 largest US public companies to go bankrupt in the 2001 downturn pocketed 3.3 billion dollars for themselves even as their firms went under and took their workforces and shareholders down with them.. In the telecoms industry alone, where speculation had created a classic bubble, insiders cashed out 18 billion dollars in shares between 1997 and 2001, when telecom stocks nose-dived.

 Robert Brenner summed up the Nineties boom as “among the most spectacular acts of expropriation in the history of capitalism.”[224] While it’s too soon to know, the final shakedown of the real estate bubble and bust that came next could be even more spectacular. This new boom was based on selling subprime mortgages to people who were poor or had bad credit histories and who therefore would not have qualified for a mortgage under traditional parameters-then packaging and selling on these loans as securities to equally unwitting investors. The bust exposed scandal at both ends of the process. Investors told they were buying AAA grade securities when they really bought junk bonds; borrowers were the victims of abusive or predatory lending. The late Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve expert, called the subprime market “the Wild West” (in an unconscious echo of Texanomics!). “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” Gramlich asked in his final paper. “The question answers itself- the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.”[225]

Even more than the 1990s dotcom boom, subprime, which preyed on the poor, is an example of Texanomics gone national, and then international in its fallout. In the past- for instance in the 1980s Texas oil boom- Texan booms and busts affected mainly Texas.[226] The effects have steadily widened over the years as other US businesses have adopted the same freewheeling approach, culminating in subprime, which involved major US financial institutions including great Wall Street names like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup behaving in ways they wouldn’t have considered twenty years ago and racking up multi-billion-dollar losses as a consequence. By the time it hit in 2007, the Bust This Time had the potential to drag not just Texas, or even the USA, but the whole world into recession.

Like all capitalisms, Texanomics is the product of a culture as much as of any of the laws of economics. The culture of Texas capitalism, to which both Bushes belong, is a flamboyant combination of the West’s boom-and-bust economics with Southern capitalism, itself created when the Federal Government transformed the material infrastructure of the South, starting with the New Deal, but failed to dent the South’s reactionary society and politics.. The Southern takeover of the Republican Party, when it was completed in the mid-1990s, consolidated these attitudes in figures like Tom DeLay, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, Trent Lott and Newt Ginrich.

Interviewed about his own power base in the booming Atlanta suburbs in the 1990s, Newt Ginrich described it as “a sort of Norman Rockwell world with fibreoptic computers and jet airplanes. But the values that would have been the Saturday Evening Post of the mid-fifties are the values of most of these people now ”. The “middle-class values” Ginrich cited were “low tax, low union, strong work ethic, strong commitment to family and community.”[227] But those are not values so much as a word-perfect description of the pre-industrial political economy of the Old South, with only the Confederate plantation owner and the black slave-turned-sharecropper airbrushed out. And what had happened to them in Ginrich’s brave new suburban South? The African-Americans migrated to the northern ghettoes, or retreated into invisibility in the fields: their reappearance when Hurricane Katrina swept its poor black tide out of New Orleans briefly shocked the rest of the nation. As for the old Mint Julep classes, they remained where they’d always been, in control, taking to crony capitalism as a natural, contemporary extension of their traditional oligarchy.

Although the Bush regime was described as an ideological government, it was really a class one, based on the Southern oligarchy, the most self-conscious class in modern American history and the only one that has never been bourgeois. The South’s resurgence in the post civil rights era gave this class new wealth and power while its alliance with the backlash gave it a radical, right-wing edge. Just as the Southern elite’s brand of crony capitalism coincided with the way national capitalism developed in the 1980s and 1990s, so their willingness to lead a class war coincided with the objective state of US politics at the millennium, where the centre- the 1950s historians’ famous and famously liberal consensus- had eroded economically and politically since the 1970s under the impact of racial strife and the long downturn.

These trends acted to form a bloc of the rich against the poor and to squeeze the middle, but an overwhelming majority of Americans continued to believe they belonged to a single, unitary middle-class. The two main political parties advanced the same basic classical liberalism with only the smallest differences between them dictated by necessity of electoral competition. After movement conservatives took over the Republican Party in the mid-1960s, they launched a class struggle, but of the rich against the poor and middle-class, a struggle both sides seemed to have agreed in advance the rich should win. For a time, their conflict gave the American social and political scene an odd, unreal character while displacing the considerable violence involved on to the populations of Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan via colonial-style wars. ENDS











[1] H. G. Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ (London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2005). p.185, 186-7, 189-90.


[2] Variously called the Radical Right, the New Right, the Right Nation, Movement conservatism, the Backlash etc. The point of all these names is to distinguish modern American conservatism from more traditional varieties. The real parallel is with those mass political movements of the right that developed in Europe around the beginning of the 20th century together with, and in opposition to, the labour and socialist movements.


[3] Thomas Frank, ‘What’s The Matter With America? The Resistible Rise of the American Right’ (London: Secker and Warburg, 2004). The original US title was ‘What’s The Matter With Kansas?’.


[4] Kevin Phillips, ‘American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and The Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush’ (London: Penguin Books, 2004). The statistics about Texas are from Phillips Chapter 4;  and (on prisons) from Nate Blakeslee, ‘Tulia- Race, Cocaine and Corruption In A Small Texas Town’ (New York: Public Affairs, 2006) p. 211-212. The disenfranchisement figure is from www.sentencingproject.org 


[5] Hobbs, Frank and Nicole Stoops, US Census Bureau Census 2000 Special Report series LENSR-4, ‘Demographic Trends in the 20th Century’. (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office; and on the web at www.census.gov). The other eight states in the top ten were all Western states plus Florida.


[6] For the growth of the South see Peter Applebome, ‘Dixie Rising: How the South Is Shaping American Values, Politics and Culture’ (NY: Times Books/Random House, 1996) p.8-9. For the (white) Great Migration, James N. Gregory, ‘The Southern Diaspora and the Urban Dispossessed, Demonstrating the Census Public Use Microdata Samples’. The Journal of American History, vol 82 no 1 June 1995 p. 111-134.  For evangelical spread, ‘Dixie Rising’ p. 5; George M. Marsden, ‘Fundamentalism and American Culture’ (NY: Oxford University Press, 2006) p. 236-9. The South Gate statistic is from Becky M. Nicolaides, ‘My Blue Heaven- Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles 1920-1965’ (Chicago/London: U. of Chicago Press, 2002) p.107. Due to an historical anomaly, Baptist churches in California were forbidden to affiliate to the mighty Southern Baptist Convention until 1941, leaving a vacuum in which even more fundamentalist churches sprang up to serve the Southern migrants. By the 1980s, however, Southern Baptists had become the second largest denomination in California (behind Methodists) with 937 churches and around 400,000 members. See James Gregory, ‘American Exodus: the Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California’  (New York: OUP, 1989).


[7] Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich and David W. Rohde, ‘Change and Continuity in the 2000 and 2002 Elections’ (Washington DC: CQ Press, 2003) p. 63.


[8] Rove decided the key to winning in 2004 was to mobilise Christian conservatives who supported George Bush junior but had not voted in 2000. Accordingly, while the main national campaign concentrated on presenting Bush as commander-in-chief and a fearless opponent of terrorism, the Republicans mounted a subsidiary campaign in “swing” states on Christian radio, among Fundamentalist pastors and on billboards with slogans like ‘One Nation Under God- Bush/Cheyney’.


[9]The debate began as an argument over Thomas Frank’s book ‘What’s The Matter With America?’ which describes a phenomenon of white working-class conservatism on the basis of events in his home state, Kansas. Princeton political scientist Larry M. Bartels analysed US National Election Surveys data and concluded that working-class whites had not become more conservative over the past 30 years either in their voting or in their views on the main issues. Frank responded that Bartels’ use of statistical data evens out the historical record to the point where the rise of the US Right all but disappears, as if it had never taken place.

 Much (but not the whole) of the argument between the two men comes down to how you define “white working-class”. Bartels uses family income and takes the bottom third (incomes up to $ 35,000) as working-class. Other authorities have called whites without college degrees working-class (an approach traditionally favoured by pollsters like Greenberg Quinlan Rosner) or attempted to define class on the basis of occupations (like the Abramson,Aldrich,Rohde Change and Continuity series). There are problems with all approaches but Bartels’ approach means he disregards the 20-23 percentage point divide between white working class votes (defined as without college degrees) for Bush versus Kerry in 2004 (NES/GQR) while his decision to use $35,000 as his income ceiling means he omits the $35,000-$50,000 band that other observers would consider the core of the American working-class. In the 2006 mid-term elections, for instance, there was a 22-point switch among white voters defined as earning $35,000-50,000 and without college degrees from Republican to Democrat, according to GQR. The pro-Democratic political scientist Ruy Teixeira, who uses the educational definition of working-class, considers shifts of this sort crucial to his account of the US political scene and his predictions of an “emerging Democratic majority”. (see John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira ‘Back to the Future’ in The American Prospect June 19th 2007 at www.prospect.org ).

At the same time, Bartels does a service by pointing out that Frank over dramatises and over generalises from the particular experience of Kansas, which has a long history as a conservative state given to religious enthusiasms. Events like Wichita, Kansas becoming the informal national capital of the antiabortion movement in the 1990s are therefore not as extraordinary or resonant as Frank makes them sound. The detailed debate between Bartels and Frank appears in their rival documents at www.princeton.edu/~bartels/kansas.pdf  and www.tcfrank.com/dismissd.pdf .


[10] Robert Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture: The 2006 Elections and the Rightward Shift’ in New Left Review 43 January-February 2007. n.23.


[11] Old habits died hard, however. Trent Lott was forced to stand down as majority leader in 2002 after remarking at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party that “when Strom Thurmond ran for President” as a third party segregationist in 1948 “we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.” John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge, ‘The Right Nation- Why America Is Different’ (London: Allen Lane, 2004) p. 249-50


[12] The index, maintained by the American Conservative Union, is reprinted as an Appendix in  Micklethwait and Woolridge, ‘The Right Nation’.


[13] Micklethwait and Woolridge, ‘The Right Nation’ p. 6. Galbraith cited p. 8.


[14] James T. Patterson, ‘Grand Expectations, The United States 1945-1974’ in The Oxford History of the United States (Oxford: OUP, 1996) p. 701. For a close-up look at Nixon’s 1968 campaign by an astute contemporary writer see Garry Wills, ‘Nixon Agonistes- The Crisis of the Self-Made Man’ (New York: Signet/New American Library, 1971).


[15] Later still, it led to majorities on Congressional and statehouse levels in the South, once Southern voters convinced themselves they wouldn’t lose their historical hold over Congress, exercised by the bloc of conservative Southern Democrats, but could exchange them for equally conservative Republicans. This was a slow process. Republicans didn’t gain control of both houses of Congress until 1994.  Change at state level was equally tardy. In Texas, for instance, although a majority of white voters haven’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, the Republicans had to wait until the mid-1990s to win both Texas Senate seats and the Governorship, and until 2002 to gain control of the Texas state legislature.

 Another likely reason for the time lag at  local level is the burgeoning Southern black vote in the wake of civil rights, votes which mainly went to the Democrats, stalemating the move of whites to the Republicans in local races. It was not until the early 1990s that the Republicans were able to use a redistricting campaign-ironically based on court decisions meant to help blacks and minorities- to remove, or at least dilute, this obstacle.


[16] Frank, ‘What’s The Matter With America?’ p 204-5. The NEA is the National Education Association, the organisation for professional educators.


[17] Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ p. 213.


[18] Bush’s acceptance speech for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination cited in Bissinger ‘Friday Night Lights’ p. 193.


[19] Cited in Dan T. Carter, ‘Legacy of Rage: George Wallace and the Transformation of American Politics’ The Journal of Southern History vol 62 no 1 February 1996 p.3-26, from Hamill in Ramparts Magazine VII October 26th 1968.  I owe Carter the point about the twin politics of nostalgia and anger, which I have modified.


[20] Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ p. 220. In a typical Texas oil boom, a rise in oil prices created instant windfall wealth which then tried to prolong itself via frantic oil or real estate development funded by reckless loans from local banks that also boomed. As soon as the oil price turns down, the spiral collapses, leaving the public in the form of the Federal government to bail out the bankrupt banks, thus giving an ironic twist to Texan claims of rugged individualism and laisser-faire. Between 1980 and 1994, 559 Texas banks failed including 9 out of 10 of the largest, and amounting to 43.8% of the state’s total financial assets. See  ‘’An Examination of the Banking Crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s’ pdf at ‘History of the ‘80s’ at www.fdic.gov/bank/historical/history/contents.html  ; and Dr. Michael E. Williams and Dr. Michael W. Brandl, ‘The First National Bank of Midland Bank Failure: An Historical Perspective’ at www.mccombs.utexas.edu/faculty/MichaelBrandl/FNBM%20paperIV.doc .Williams and Brandl are more sympathetic to the FNBM than the account in Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ pps. 220-225, or the FDIC report, which described the bank as being “known for the ‘handshake’ loans it made on long-shot oil and gas ventures.”

 The FDIC ascribed the failures in Texas (the worst-hit state in what became a nationwide banking crisis) to the rise and collapse of oil prices, boom and bust in commercial real estate, agricultural recession, large numbers of new banks and state prohibition against branching (regulations that limited the banks’ ability to diversify loans). They also found “speculative activity”, “fraud and misconduct” and over-optimism. The FDIC’s conclusion can have surprised only bankers, who always behave the same way, chasing booms, loaning recklessly and ending up, when the downturn comes, with mountains of bad debts and failures, amid charges of fraud. The spread of Texas-style banking and business practises to the US banking industry and corporate class as a whole remains a fascinating, as yet untold, story that parallels the rise of the political right. The recent resulting debacle, the so-called “subprime” crisis, has all the hallmarks of a Texas oil boom without the oil- the financial markets and banking industry themselves have become their own speculative engines without the need for any underlying boom in the real economy to trigger them. Indeed, the “boomer” traffic now goes the other way. On subprime, see p. 94 below.


[21] Jacob Weisberg, ‘The Bush Tragedy’ (New York: Random House, 2008) p. 59.


[22] Whether or not these criticisms were valid is, of course, a different matter. In the case of Iraq, his son’s war could be said to have proved the wisdom of Bush senior’s decision.


[23] A similar work of uniting Southwestern-style populism and business conservatism took place independently in California, where Okie migrants carried Southwestern grassroots conservatism in 1920s and 1930s. In both states, the overheated anti-communism associated with the early years of the Cold War was a third element acting as a catalyst to fire the other two. Texas was known as a hotbed of extreme anticommunism in the 1950s and 1960s- in President Kennedy’s pithy phrase,  it was “nut country”. However, to the extent that anticommunism is a peculiarly American form of nationalism, it was already an ingredient in popular grassroots conservatism in the South and Southwest.


[24] Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ p. 34


[25] Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ p. 103

[26] Cited in Anatol Lieven, ‘America Right or Wrong, An Anatomy of American Nationalism’ (London: Harper Perennial, 2005) p. 49.


[27] The population of Odessa in 1990 was 89,699.


[28] Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ p. 179.


[29] Blakeslee, ‘Tulia’ p. 183.


[30] Thanks to two journalists, H.G. Bissinger on Odessa and Nate Blakeslee on Tulia, where he went to cover a drugs enforcement scandal.


[31] The sharpest difference between the two towns was in their electoral history. While Odessa pioneered voting Republican, Swisher County (incorporating Tulia) clung to voting Democratic right up to 1994, when voters backed  incumbent Democratic Governor Ann Richards against challenger George Bush junior (Bush won). Thereafter, Swisher finally turned Republican, voting for Bush in the 1998 Governor’s race and in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections. Blakeslee traces this discrepancy to the lingering influence of a revered, liberal local newspaper editor. Despite the difference in voting patterns, political (and racial) attitudes in Tulia and Odessa were all but identical.


[32] Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ Ch. 5 ‘Black and White’ pps. 89-110.


[33] Blakeslee, ‘Tulia’ p. 184.


[34] By 1988, Bissinger noted, there was still not a single black councilman, county commissioner or school board member in Odessa. Bissinger, ‘Friday Night Lights’ p. 105.


[35] To a white defendant, Cash Love. “The sentiment in the black community was that Cash Love in particular, a young white man who had spent most of his life in the company of blacks and had a child with a black woman,was singled out to send a message about his lifestyle choice.” Blakeslee, ‘Tulia’ p. 195.


[36] Prior to Tulia, the biggest drugs enforcement scandal in Texas involved the Permian Basin Drug Task Force, based in Midland and directed by the Midland county sheriff. Blakeslee, ‘Tulia’ pps. 201-213.


[37] Exacerbating the problem is a statistical model of law enforcement whereby numbers of arrest and convictions, drugs confiscated and assets seized translate directly into funding and jobs for law enforcement. Only quantity is important, not quality such as “going up the chain” to target major dealers or importers, making most arrests irrelevant even to the War on Drugs’ own aims. The largest state prison system is California with c. 175,000 inmates in 2006 followed by Texas with c. 172,000 but adjusting for population (California 36.5 million to Texas c. 23.5m) makes Texas the clear leader. Prison statistics see Bureau of Justice Statistics ‘Bulletin: Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006’ as pdf on www.ojp.usdoj..gov/pub/pdf/pjim06.pdf . Also Blakeslee, ‘Tulia’ pps. 211-212; Mickelthwait and Woolridge, ‘The Right Nation’ pps. 300-301.


[38]The most recent bill instructed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide former inmates with a voter registration form and to inform them when they became eligible to vote again. Vetoing the bill in  May 2007, Governor Perry said it was not the state’s job to register voters and that former inmates needed “to take personal responsibility for all aspects of their life, including the right to vote” (Veto message May 25th 2007 at www.governor.state.tx.us ). Disenfranchisement figures from www.sentencingproject.org  publication (pdf) , ‘April 2007 Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States’; and Jeff Manz and Christopher Uggen, ‘Punishment and Democracy: Disenfranchisement of Nonincarcerated Felons in the United States’ Perspectives on Politics vol 2 no 3 September 2004 p. 491-505. Manz and Uggen claim that Al Gore would have won the Presidency in 2000 except that Florida is one of the states that disenfranchises all ex-felons (614,000 in 2000). See also Jason DeParle, ‘The American Prison Nightmare’, The New York Review of Books Vol 54 No 6 April 127th 2007, which is in part a review of Manz and Uggen’s latest work.


[39] George W. Bush’s first Cabinet contained two blacks, three women, one Latino and two Asian-Americans. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have been two of the most powerful blacks in US central government history. Micklethwait and Woolridge, ‘The Right Nation’ p. 263.


[40] Blakeslee, ‘Tulia’ p. 423.


[41] “The truth is that the rural South never has progressed beyond slave labor…when their slaves were taken away they proceeded to establish a system of peonage that was as close to slavery as it could possibly be and included Whites as well as Blacks,” Lorena Hickok wrote in 1933 when she toured the US reporting on Depression conditions for the Roosevelt administration. Cited in David M. Kennedy, ‘Freedom from Fear, The American People in Depression and War 1929-1945’ ((Oxford: OUP Oxford History of the United States vol IX, 1999) p. 193


[42] This is Thomas Frank’s view in his study of conservative Kansas where, Frank says, race per se has not been an issue.  Frank, ‘What’s The Matter With America?’.


[43] James T. Patterson, ‘Grand Expectations’ p. 676. However, Patterson emphasises that “racial antagonism” was “the most powerful determinant of electoral behaviour in the 1960s.” p. 708.


[44] Anti-Semitism itself was a significant element in the pre-war US right e.g. in Father Coughlin’s Social Justice Movement and in the Second (1920s) Klan.


[45] The Far West consists of 13 states- eight Mountain States; three Pacific Coast states; plus Alaska and Hawaii. See James L. Clayton, ‘The Impact of the Cold War on the Economics of California and Utah’ Pacific Historical Review vol 36 no 4 November 1967 p. 449-473.


[46] Richard White, ‘It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West’  (Norma, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991) p. 609.


[47] Blakeslee, ‘Tulia’ p.188.


[48] Peter Applebome, ‘Dixie Rising’ p. 45-6. According to Applebome, Cobb County was “Atlanta’s prime white-flight suburb” (34).


[49] Barry Goldwater with Jack Cassidy, ‘Goldwater’ (NY: Doubleday, 1988) p. 35. Goldwater was quoting his mother: “My mother spoke a lot about our country when we were kids- our heritage of freedom, the history of Arizona, how individual initiative made the desert bloom. Mun (sic) was a conservative Republican and proud of it.”


[50] For the CAP, see Richard White, ‘It’s Your Misfortune…’ p. 556-8.


[51] Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture’.


[52] The perception wasn’t wholly unfair. The ghostwriter for Goldwater’s ‘The Conscience of a Conservative’ was an ex-legislative assistant for Joe McCarthy.  Goldwater’s national campaign manager was a former member of the John Birch Society. Goldwater’s own staff felt the need to “dekook” their candidate by separating him from his wilder associations. See Garry Wills, ‘Nixon Agonistes’ p 236-7.


[53] Richard Hofstadter, ‘A Long View-Goldwater in History’ . The New York Review of Books, October 8th 1964.


[54]  Behaviour that was reproduced during the disputed Presidential election in 2000, when “spontaneous” mini-mobs of Republican Yahoos invaded Florida election stations to disrupt and prevent ballot recounts. If America’s New Left had its Sixties streetfighters, the New Right has always had its storm troopers or “bourgeois rioters”.


[55] ‘Salesman for a Cause’ Time Magazine June 23rd 1961, cited in Lee Edwards ‘Goldwater, The Man Who Made A Revolution’ (Washington DC: Regenery Publishing, 1995) p. 151.


[56] William A. Rusher, ‘The Rise of the Right’ (New York: William Morrow, 1984) p.255.


[57] Lee Edwards, ‘Goldwater’ p. 459 ff. 


[58] Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture’.


[59] Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture’. Voting figures are from  Abramson, Aldrich and Rohde, ‘Change and Continuity in the 2000 and 2002 Elections’  p.112 (cited in Brenner ibid).


[60] Thomas Frank analyses the “Two Americas” fantasy in detail in ‘What’s The Matter With America?’ Part 1 Chapter 1.


[61] 2000-2006 voting figures from CNN exit polls at www.cnn.com


[62] Robert Pollin, ‘Anatomy of Clintonomics’ New Left Review 3., May-June 2000.


[63] The figures are for Presidential elections when voting is 10-30% higher than in other US elections.  Voter turnout as a whole is a controversial area with a debate between the majority, who believe turnout continues to decline, and a minority led by Dr. Michael Macdonald, who argue the contrary. However, the fact of the US having historically low average turnouts is indisputable. See Michael P. Macdonald and Samuel Popkin, ‘The Myth of the Vanishing Voter’ in American Political Science Review 95(4) pps. 963-974. plus the material from Dr. Macdonald’s US Election Project on his website ????. Thomas E. Patterson critiques the Macdonald/Popkin argument in ‘The Vanishing Voter’ (New York: Knopf, 2002) p. 8ff. Other political scientists have argued that nonvoting has little or no impact on election results or on the possibilities for left-wing politics in the US . Benjamin Highton, ‘Voter Registration and Turnout in the US’ Perspectives in Politics Journal vol 2 issue 3 2004 p.507-515; Stephen Earl Bennett and David Resnick, ‘The Implications of Nonvoting for Democracy in the US’ American Journal of Political Science vol 34 no 3 1990. p. 771-802. For the class bias involved in voter turnout, J.E. Leighly and J. Naylor ‘Socioeconomic Class Bias in Turnout 1948-1988’ American Political Science Review 86/3 September 1992. p. 725-36.


[64] Earl and Merle Black, ‘Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics’ (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008) p. 4-8; 240.


[65] The Blacks, ‘Divided America’ p. 241.


[66] Robert Alan Goldberg, ‘Barry Goldwater’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) p.253.


[67] Few people did see. A typical response was George Brown Tindall, who argued that Goldwater represented a dead-end for Republicans precisely because he appealed only to the rump of backward-looking, die-hard segregationists in the Deep South whereas the Republicans needed to be liberal to reach the more enlightened, modernising Upper South, as Eisenhower and Nixon had begun to do. Like most of us, Tindall didn’t realise that the South- together with the country as a whole- was moving towards the politics associated with the Deep South rather than vice versa. George Brown Tindall, ‘The Disruption of the Solid South’ (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1972).


[68] Alan Brinkley ‘The Problem of American Conservatism’ in American Historical Review 99 (April 1994) p.404-29.  The prototype for an organised Radical Right was the takeover first of the Young Republicans by conservatives and then, starting in 1961, of the Republican Party as a whole by the same core group, re-formed as the Draft Goldwater Committee, which was  founded by Clifton White and  William A. Rusher aided by Congressman John Ashbrook. Rusher was a hard-line anticommunist and publisher of ‘National Review’. White was a political strategist who went on to work for Ronald Reagan. The story of the Draft Goldwater Committee is told in several places, including by Clifton White himself in ‘Suite 3505: The Story of the Draft Goldwater Movement’ (?????); and by Jay D. Hartz in ‘The Impact of the Draft Goldwater Committee on the Republican Party’ (for details, see p.45 n.90 below). On the importance of the Goldwater “lists” in building the nascent conservative movement, see William Rusher, ‘The Rise of the Right’ p. 175-8.


[69] Pollin, ‘Clintonomics’.


[70], ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture’.


[71] The title of the famous book on the subject by Kevin Phillips that first identified the trend (New Rochelle, NY: 1969). When the Solid South was Democratic, it meant that the Democrats needed only one-third of Northern electoral votes to win the Presidency (or Northern Congressional seats to control Congress). While they have never quite managed to consolidate a permanent majority, the Republicans now benefit from this initial advantage, gained through dominating the Southern vote. One political difference between the two electoral eras- roughly divided by Nixon’s victory in 1968- has been that, during the Democratic ascendancy, liberal Democratic administrations faced opposition from conservative Southern Democrats in Congress. During the Republican ascendancy, on the other hand, conservative Republican administrations were able to depend on an often more conservative party in Congress, led by Southern Republicans. Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture’. The “one-third” figure is from The Blacks, ‘Divided America’.


[72] The paradoxical result was that marshalling Americans into modernity required especially strong doses of ideological and corporate conformism. This was an important underlying factor in US society in the 1950s, which was characterised by anticommunism and hyperpatriotism on the one hand, and on the other hand by a rigid private business culture described in books like ‘The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit’ and satirised in films like ‘The Apartment’.


[73] Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Age of Extremes’ (London: Abacus, 1995) p. 107.


[74] In 1935. Cited in David M. Kennedy, ‘Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929-1945’ Vol IX in The Oxford History of the United States (Oxford: OUP, 1999) p 178. Long and Coughlin were demagogues whose mass movements combined elements of left and right. Townsend was an obscure California doctor who gained fame with his Plan for the US government to pay over-60s cash stipends to retire, thus supposedly boosting consumption and reducing unemployment.


[75] Kennedy, ‘Freedom from Fear’ p. 247, 246.


[76] Both landslides were partly reversed two years later by conservative gains in the midterm elections. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed an even narrower window of opportunity for reform than Roosevelt, who had most of his first term. LBJ’s Great Society was (largely) the work of a single year- 1965- and a single session of Congress. By 1966, following the Watts riots and the start of US escalation in Vietnam, 47 House Democrats and three Democratic Senators lost their seats in the midterm elections, when conservatives also took eight Governorships.  Ronald Reagan’s victory over veteran Democratic Governor ‘Pat’ Brown in California stunned liberal America and represented the first major electoral success for the New Right. .


[77] In the 1930s, the mood in the country was probably even more radical than the Roosevelt administration. FDR himself thought so- see his dialogue with Harold Ickes in Kennedy, ‘Freedom from Fear’ p. 278.


[78] Kennedy, ‘Freedom from Fear’ p. 340-1.


[79] Barry Goldwater, ‘With No Apologies’ (New York: William Morrow, 1979) p.45.


[80] Kennedy, ‘Freedom from Fear’ p. 291.


[81] In addition to the unions’ electoral importance as a key element in the coalition put together by FDR that made the Democrats into the majority party from the 1930s until the late 1960s. Roosevelt’s coalition united Southern whites and northern “ethnics”, the descendants of late 19th century mass immigration- now the white working-class in northern and Midwestern cities who formed the rank and file members of the new industrial unions. The other groups in the Roosevelt coalition were racial minorities, especially blacks, and liberal intellectuals.


[82] The decline of US unions has been dramatic. From a postwar high of 35.5% in 1945, they were down to 27.4% of  non-agricultural workers by 1970, 15% by 1995. Only 7.4% of private-sector workers were union members by 2006. Among the core group of employed white males, 24% were union members in 1983 (the first year such data was collected) dropping to 13.4% by 2006. Union figures from US Bureau of Labour Statistics; and Patterson ‘Grand Expectations’ p.739 n.85. There are various different union figures, and ways to present them, but all show the same basic pattern of peak postwar membership in 1945 and/or 1953 (around the same totals at both peaks), declining after 1970, with the decline becoming rapid in the 1980s and 1990s. Decline solely in the private sector began earlier, in the late 1950s/early 1960s, but was masked by the expansion in unionised public sector jobs. . Aside from the unions’ economic importance to their members, Thomas Frank makes the point that people don’t automatically assume- or act on- their political identities. Organised movements play a vital role in creating political (and class) consciousness. The US Right has built a comprehensive movement, ranging from foundations and think tanks at the top through radio stations, magazines and newspapers, down to grassroots committees and meetings, all of which provides new recruits with a home and a political education in the same way that left-wing organizations, like the unions, used to do in their heyday. Frank ‘What’s The Matter With America?’ p. 245-8.


[83] Alan Brinkley, ‘The End of Reform- New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War’ (New York: Vintage, 1996) p. 141.


[84] Brinkley ‘End of Reform’ p.270-1.


[85] www.uselectionatlas,org . The Deep South states were Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina. Goldwater also won a majority of white voters in four other Southern and “border” states. Patterson, ‘Grand Expectations’ p. 560.


[86] Garry Wills, ‘Nixon Agonistes’ (New York: Signet Classic, 1971) p. 249.


[87] Share of working class vote, see Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture.’ The full figures for Texas Presidential popular votes are: 1964: Johnson/Humphrey 1,663,185 to Goldwater 985,566; 1968: Nixon/Agnew 1,227,844 to Humphrey/Muskie 1,226,804 and Wallace/LeMay 584,269; 1972 Nixon/Agnew 2,298,896 to McGovern/Shriver 1,154,291. Third party/Other votes in 1964 and 1972 were insignificant. See www.uselectionatlas.org


[88] Theodore H. White, ‘The Making of the President, 1960’ (New York: Pocket Books/Giant Cardinal, 1961) p. 243.


[89] Ibid p.276. In 1910, 90% of American blacks lived in the South; by 1960, only 52% did so.


[90] Ibid  p. 244. In effect , this is what came to pass. In 2004, African Americans voted 88% for Kerry to 11% for Bush. In 2000, they voted 90% for Gore to 9% for Bush (and 1% for Ralph Nader). Figures from exit polls at www.cnn.com


[91] George Brown Tindall, ‘The Disruption of the Solid South’  p.59. The Republicans’ ‘Operation Dixie’ is not to be confused with the CIO/AFL organising drive with the same name- see p. 32 above.


[92] Ibid p. 422.


[93] Jay D. Hartz, ‘The Impact of the Draft Goldwater Committee on the Republican Party’ published in Continuity journal Fall 2000; downloaded from www.ashbrook.org/articles/hartz-draftgoldwater.html . Hartz is a conservative scholar. The Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland U. is a right-wing center named after Ohio Congressman John M. Ashbrook (1928-1982), hard-line anticommunist and early conservative, one of the founders of the American Conservative Union and an original member of the 1964 Draft Goldwater Committee.


[94] Hunter S. Thompson, ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72’ (New York: Popular Library, 1973) p. 277.


[95] Goldwater did try to link his 1964 campaign to the nascent backlash, speaking about “riots and disorder in our cities” and “a breakdown in the morals of our young people”, but his speeches on domestic affairs were drowned out by the row over his “extremism” and by fears that his aggressive approach to foreign policy risked nuclear war. Moreover, Goldwater had neither the ability, nor the desire, to alter his rather patrician rhetoric in order to appeal to popular resentments. Ironically, Wallace ended up withdrawing from the 1964 Presidential race in favour of Goldwater.


[96] Wallace never really took himself seriously enough as a politician to develop a proper platform or organisation. Even before he was shot, this was his limitation, as Hunter Thompson recognised. See Thompson, ‘Fear And Loathing’ p. 278; but also see the revealing, though inconclusive, discussion between Thompson and McGovern about voters who claimed their choice in 1972 lay between Wallace and McGovern. Ibid p. 470. A 1972 National Election Survey showed that, among 1968 Wallace voters, 16% didn’t vote in 1972; 64% voted for Nixon; but 17% voted for McGovern. See Stephen Earl Bennett and David Resnick, ‘The Implications of Nonvoting for Democracy in the United States’. 


[97] Cited in Dan T. Carter ‘Legacy of Rage’.


[98] Ibid p. 469.


[99] Norman Mailer, ‘Miami and the Siege of Chicago’ (New York: New American Library/Signet Books, 1968) p. 14.


[100] “South Carolina is the home of Southern Republicanism, laid on Goldwater foundations”- Garry Wills, ‘Nixon Agonistes’ p. 252.


[101] “The Forgotten American” was the title of a speech written for Goldwater in 1961 by  Michael Bernstein, Republican Minority Counsel on the Senate Labor Committee (on which Goldwater sat). Bernstein noticed that a newly bourgeois  lower-middle-class/middle-class had evolved out of the blue-collar “ethnics” who had flocked to join the industrial unions in the 1930s. Bernstein wrote the speech in a deliberate attempt to change Goldwater’s image from a reactionary who wanted to demolish Social Security, destroy the unions etc. towards a more progressive stance. Conservatives attacked the speech as “neo-Nixonism” because it envisaged an active role for government, and Goldwater promptly dropped Bernstein. All told, the ‘Forgotten American’ speech implied a populist road not taken by either the right or the left in modern US politics.


[102] Garry Wills, ‘Nixon Agonistes’ p 244; 284-8. Not all Democrats for Nixon were blue-collar workers. As a senior professor at a New England liberal arts college, and a lifelong Democrat, told his family before reluctantly voting for Nixon in 1972 “better a crook runs the country than a fool”. His was the voice of the backlash in its ironic, academic register.


[103] Mailer ‘Miami’ p 35-6; Thompson ‘Fear and Loathing ‘72’ p. 345-6.


[104] Thompson ‘Fear and Loathing ‘72’ p. 469.


[105] Patterson, ‘Grand Expectations’ p. 676.


[106] Thomas B. Edsall and Mary D. Edsall, ‘Chain Reaction- The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics’ (New York: W.W.Norton, 1991) p.87


[107] Thomas Edsall and Mary Edsall, ‘Chain Reaction’  p.112-113.


[108] Much of what was most radical in the US Sixties came about as a direct result of, and in reaction to, LBJ’s escalation of the war. Prior to 1965, such legendary New Left groups as Students for a Democratic Society had little appeal. Patterson, ‘Grand Expectations’ p. 624 ff.


[109] NAME (Szeeman)?????


[110] Ibid p. 676.


[111] The only major radical mass movement in late 19th century America was Populism, whose base was agricultural in the wheat belt of Kansas and Nebraska.  Hence Populism’s pre-industrial mix of left and right politics and the incoherent remedy it proposed for a rapidly industrialising society  (‘bimetallism’, abandoning the gold standard and basing the currency on silver as well as gold).


[112] The intellectual stretch this process required was captured in a 1939 poll cited by David Kennedy. Asked about their incomes, 50% of those polled said they were in the lower or lower-middle bands. Asked about their social class, however, 88% said they were middle-class. Kennedy concludes that even in the midst of the Great Depression “workers realistically appraised their economic circumstances but also clung to their faith in an inclusive, egalitarian democracy and to the hope for social mobility.” Kennedy, ‘Freedom from Fear’ p. 322.


[113] Eric Hobsbawm, ‘The Age of Empire 1875-194’ (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1989) p.160.


[114] Anatol Lieven, ‘America Right or Wrong’ p. 133.


[115] Richard Hofstadter, ‘The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt’ in Daniel Bell ed. ‘The New American Right’ (New York: Criterion Books, 1955) p.33-55.


[116] Richard Hofstadter cites polls showing that McCarthy at his height (1953-4) gained 34-50% approval ratings whereas a more typical figure for right-wing positions was 15% ( approval of the John Birch Society was 5-10%). See Hofstadter, ‘Pseudo-Conservatism Revisited-1965’ in ‘The Paranoid Style In American Politics and Other Essays’ (New York: Vintage Books, 1967) p.70 note 2.


[117] The same hysteria, involving identical rhetorical elements, reappeared in the US after 9/11, this time directed against “Islamofascism”.


[118] For an example of such tortuous efforts, see William Buckley’s 1961 “questions and answers” about the John Birch Society written for his magazine, the National Review. Reprinted in William Rusher, ‘The Rise of the Right’ p. 119-121. It is true that by excluding the Birchers and other cranks from its pages, Buckley’s National Review did go some way towards defining what were acceptable positions on the Right.


[119] Reagan himself is said to have believed in an apocalyptic end-time theology though this, like much of what went on in Reagan’s mind, has never been entirely clear.


[120] The last reached its apogee in “Treason” (2003), an extraordinary book by right-wing celebrity Ann Coulter that describes Democrats and liberals (Coulter treats the two as synonymous) as traitors, both during the Cold War and  the “war against terror”.


[121] By all accounts, McCarthy was a self-aggrandising opportunist who happened on his anticommunist crusade almost by chance. That doesn’t make the forces he represented or the significance of “McCarthyism” any less real.


[122] For a striking example of this attitude on the part of one of the main figures in the conservative movement, see William A. Rusher, ‘The Rise of the Right’ .


[123] For “social democratic capitalism” and neoliberalism see Robert Pollin, ‘Contours of Descent, U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity’ (NY/London: Verso, 2003) pps 16-18; 184-6 and passim.


[124] Hobsbawm, ‘Age of Extremes’ p. 403, 408, 416.


[125] Frank Levy, ‘The New Dollars and Dreams’ (NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 1999) p 49.


[126] Robert Brenner, ‘The Boom and the Bubble, the US in the World Economy’ (London/NY: Verso, 2003) p. 236. Brenner’s figures are calculated for 2001.


[127] Quotes and figures in this paragraph are from Frank Levy and Peter Termin, ‘Inequality and Institutions in Twentieth Century America’ MIT Dept. of Economics Working Paper no. 07-17 June 27th 2007. available from SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=984330



[128] Some think these Census Bureau figures understate inequality, especially gains at the very top which they don’t capture. Picketty and Saez argue that the top 1% of families share of income doubled from 8% in 1980 to a staggering 16% in 2004 (while the share of the top 5% went from 27% in 1993 to 31% in 2004). The main reasons for the rise were massive increases in top people’s compensation combined with their shrinking tax burden.  See Saez’s website for their latest figures http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez


[129] Figures from the US Census Bureau ‘Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States 2006’ pdf at www.census,gov ; Except- productivity and wage inequality-Levy and Termin. 1947 5% income share and 2006 bottom 40%/top20% income shares - Levy ‘New Dollars and Dreams’. Defined-benefit pensions- Harold Meyerson, ‘The Other America May Be Coming Back’ The Washington Post, January 5th 2005. Health insurance from employers-US Census Bureau plus Kaiser Family Foundation as cited by Paul Krugman, ‘America’s Senior Moment’, New York Review of Books vol 52 no 4 March 10th 2005. Manufacturing jobs fall-Brenner, ‘Structure vs Conjuncture’. Median family income from late 1990s on and CEO incomes- the Economic Policy Institute’s ‘ The State of Working America 2006-2007’ by Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein and Sylvia Allegretto (NY: Economic Policy Institute/Cornell U. Press, 2007 ). ‘SWA06Facts-Wages’ pdf downloaded from www.stateofworkingamerica.org/media.html . Gilded Age- ‘America’s New Gilded Age’ in ‘The New York Times’ articles published with The Observer (UK) July 22nd 2007, cover story.

[130] It was his growing realisation of this point that led to Paul Krugman’s celebrated conversion from mainstream economist to leading liberal polemicist in the US.


[131] Such a graph covering 1960-2000 appears in Robert Pollin “Contours of Descent’ p. 43. A similar graph covering the later period 1995-2005, taking in the brief surge in wages at the end of the Clinton boom and subsequent decline under Bush junior, is in ‘The State of Working America 2006-2007’. Graph downloadable from www.stateofworkingamerica.org/media.html  pdf fact sheet on wages,  ‘SWA06Facts-Wages’.


[132]  Clinton’s response was promptly to dump the more populist economic elements he had campaigned on under the slogan ‘Putting People First’. Cited in Robert Pollin ‘Contours of Descent’ p 22, from Bob Woodward, ‘The Agenda’ (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1994) p. 239.


[133] Thomas Edsall and Mary Edsall, ‘Chain Reaction’ p. 105.


[134] Edsalls, ‘Chain Reaction’ p.18.


[135] Three ad hoc committees played important roles in the rise of the US Right. Dean Clarence (‘Pat’) Manion summoned the first in 1959, after Barry Goldwater’s speech to state Republicans in South Carolina. Goldwater had attacked Brown vs. the Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision on civil rights. The speech made the Senator an instant hero in the South and Manion formed his Goldwater for President Committee out of his own card index of right-wing friends and supporters of his radio show. It consisted of “a phalanx of proprietors of small family-owned manufacturing companies” according to Rick Perlstein (‘Before The Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus’. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001 p. 48)- in other words, people much like Goldwater himself.

Manion’s effort was premature and technically inept, but important for showing both the potential and the traditional weaknesses of the US extreme right. The second Committee, which became known as the Draft Goldwater Committee, represented a qualitative leap in competence and professionalism. Formed only two years later, after John F Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, it had 22 original members organised by Clif White and Bill Rusher assisted by Congressman John Ashbrook. Of the 8 individuals described as “businessmen”, two were Millikens, major Southern textile mill-owners and veteran backers of hard- right-wing causes; one was a political lobbyist for Standard Oil; while four others were already active or held formal posts in the Republican Party.  In essence, all 22 members were seasoned political professionals and activists from the Republican right, most of whom had known each other as Young Republicans. This Committee was highly effective, accomplishing a conservative takeover of the Party at the 1964 Convention that nominated Goldwater as Republican candidate.

 The third Committee was Reagan’s so-called “kitchen cabinet” of millionaires. It came into existence in 1965, following Goldwater’s defeat by LBJ. Members of the Friends of Reagan Committee included Henry Salvatori, who owned an oil geophysical company, Walter Annenberg, a magazine publisher, Charles Wick, who built nursing homes, Justin Dart, the owner of a chain of drugstores, Holmes Tuttle, an LA car dealer, AC Rubel, chairman of Union Oil, and Reagan’s attorney, William French Smith.  The core group were local shopkeepers made good, with the typical attitudes of “self-made men”. As a capitalist class, they were mostly “new men”, neither owners of family firms nor “old money” Republican magnates, free from ideas of corporate social responsibility and of the governmental or international ties that accrue to major enterprises and great fortunes.

While the first Committee was about principles and the second about political strategy, the third was largely concerned with supporting Reagan financially (who had no fortune of his own). In other words, in just six years, the Right had progressed from a “crackpot fringe” to behaving like any other group on the US political scene, mustering the money and energy to promote their chosen candidate. A year later, the Right gained their first significant tranche of  victories at the polls, including Reagan’s sensational win in California.


[136] Addressing an all-white crowd of around 10,000 at Neshoba county fair, Reagan told them “I believe in states’ rights”- the segregationist rallying cry. Reagan chose Philadelphia Miss. on the advice of Trent Lott. See Earl and Merle Black, ‘The Rise of  Southern Republicans’ (Cambridge Mass: Harvard/Belknap press, 2002) p. 216.


[137] Christopher Lasch, ‘The True and Only Heaven- Progress and Its Critics’ (NY: W.W. Norton, 1991) p. 39; 515.


[138] Quoted in F. Clifton White and William J. Gill ‘Why Reagan Won’ (Chicago: Regenery Gateway, 1981) p. 196.


[139] Earl and Merle Black, ‘Divided America’ p.240.


[140] Union membership has continued to decline in the private sector.  In 2007, Frank Levy and Peter Termin concluded “the current trend towards growing inequality in America is primarily the result of a change in economic policy that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” This included Reagan’s tax cut, the fall in minimum wage value, the attack on union power, privatization, deregulation, and the financialization of US capitalism with the appearance of Wall Street mega-salaries and stock options in CEO packages. Frank Levy and Peter Termin, ‘Inequality and Institutions in Twentieth Century America’. The assault on the NLRB resumed full force under George Bush jr. See board member Wilma B. Liebman’s essay ‘Decline and Disenchantment: Reflections on the Aging of the National Labor Relations Board’ in Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law vol 28:2 (2007) ; available on the NLRB website at www.nlrb.gov/shared_files/Press%20Releases/2007/6_Liebman_PDF_11_29_07_sgs.pdf   downloaded January 14th 2008. Also her (similar) testimony before a joint Senate/House subcommittee on December 13th 2007, available at www.nlrb.gov/shared_files/Press%20Releases/2007/WBL_Hearing_Testimony_3.pdf  downloaded January 14th 2008.


[141] Cited in the Edsalls, ‘Chain Reaction’ p. 218 from Sheldon Goldman, ‘Reagan’s Judicial Legacy: Completing the Puzzle and Summing Up’ in Judicature, April/May 1989.


[142] Thomas and Mary Edsall, ‘Chain Reaction’ p. 275. The minimum wage is important not only because of workers who actually receive the statutory minimum but because it acts as a benchmark against which wages in general are  pegged.


[143] Robert Brenner, ‘The Boom and the Bubble, the US in the World Economy’ (London/NY: Verso, 2003).  p. 70; 239-40.


[144] Earl and Merle Black, ‘The Rise of Southern Republicans’ p. 3.


[145] Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture’


[146] But see note 222 to page 96, below, on the role of “moral values” and “cultural issues” in the 2004 election.


[147] “Fundamentalism” is used here in its loose, common sense rather than as a precise doctrinal description. For the theological debates involved in the American uses of the term, see George W. Marsden, ‘Fundamentalism in American Culture’ passim.


[148] See Marsden ‘Fundamentalism’ Ch. XXIII- ‘Fundamentalism As A Political Phenomenon’ p. 206-211 and Richard Hofstadter ‘Anti-Intellectualism In American Life’ (New York: Vintage Books, 1963)  p.123-136 for the way the anti-evolution battle elided into anticommunism. By the 1950s, Hofstadter argues, the political polarities had reversed themselves and the Cold War  “(gave) the fundamentalist mind a new lease of life” (134). Hofstadter also notes the right-wing politics associated with America’s second great religious grouping, the Catholic Church as created by mass immigration in the late 19th century, and the relatively early date at which a rapprochement between WASP fundamentalists and ‘ethnic’ Catholics took place- a rapprochement personified by the Irish Catholic Joe McCarthy. ‘Anti-Intellectualism’ p.136-141.


[149] Falwell made his statement in a 1965 sermon ‘Ministers and Marchers’, which became famous in Fundamentalist circles. Marsden, ‘Fundamentalism’ p. 238.


[150] During the same period, the Pentacostal churches grew from 2 to 12 million members while mainstream denominations shrank- the Episcopalians from 3.5 to 2 million and United Methodists from 10 to 8 million. See Phillips, ‘American Dynasty’ p. 142, 224,  216. On Fundamentalism as a sociopolitical movement, George W. Marsden argues “if organised fundamentalism is to arise not only does there have to be a conservative religious community but also the more liberal-secular culture has to be strong enough to be impinging on the once-dominant religious culture and seem to be threatening to replace it.” Nevertheless, Marsden himself claims the prime motive for fundamentalism is religious. Marsden,  ‘Fundamentalism in American Culture’ p. 237.


[151] Brenner, ‘Structure vs. Conjuncture’.


[152]David D. Kirkpatrick, ‘The Evangelical Crackup’ in The New York Times Magazine Sunday October 28th 2007.


[153]  Lasch cites a 1980s study of pro-and anti-abortion advocates. Pro-choice advocates were better educated, professional, not religious. Anti-abortion advocates were housewives with big families and 80% Catholic. Christopher Lasch, ‘The True and Only Heaven’ p.491.


[154] Of all the Fundamentalist leaders, Shaeffer most resembles an Old Testament prophet, with everything such a description implies in the modern world.


[155] Even then, the Religious Right might not have become a national political force if conservative Republican activists like Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie (a Greek Catholic and a Roman Catholic respectively), and later Ralph Reed had not sought them out, offered them alliances and helped them to organise.


[156] Writing in the mid-1980s, William J. Reese noted “new ‘Christian’ schools as well as other forms of private education generally assemble when school busing plans are implemented.” William J. Reese, ‘Soldiers for Christ in the Army of God: The Christian School Movement in America’ Educational Theory vol 35 no 2 Spring 1985 p. 175-194. The classic attack on the Southern Christian schools is David Nevins and Robert E. Bills ‘The Schools That Fear Built- Segregation Academies in the South’ (Acropolis Books, 1973). For a more (overly?) sympathetic view see Paul F. Parsons, ‘Inside America’s Christian Schools’ (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1987). The extent to which Southern education contrived to remain segregated, despite the headline battles of the civil rights era, is often overlooked.


[157] The Christian Schools movement, like the Southern Christian schools that began it, refers to conservative or Fundamentalist Christian schools, not to the long-established educational systems run by mainstream denominations like Catholics or Lutherans, which have a different history.  Reliable statistics on the Christian schools are very difficult to come by since many are small and some regard the government, and secular society in general, as the enemy, refusing to be involved in its bureaucracies or to release information about themselves.


[158] It should be apparent my remark refers to fundamentalisms as movements with mass appeal and not to their theological status.


[159] A description of the first Christian schoolers in the South in the 1970s situates them squarely among the white lower-middle-class and petit bourgeois, the  “little men” (and women) who have always formed the basis of mass political movements of the right: “Most of the students come from unbroken homes and live in houses that stand half-paid-for in undistinguished suburbs with a second car or a pickup outside or a small boat in the yard. Many of these families have moved from relative poverty to relative comfort by very hard work and are not yet secure in their social standing. They tend to relate to material success, to be impatient of the less successful, to see change as a threat”. Nevins and Bills, ‘The Schools That Fear Built’ p.40


[160]David D. Kirkpatrick, ‘The Evangelical Crackup’.


[161] From Jeffrey Toobin, ‘The Nine:Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court’ (New York: Doubleday, 2007) cited in Anthony Lewis, ‘The Court: “So Few Have So Quickly Changed So Much”’ in The New York Review of Books, vol 54 no 20 December 20th 2007.


[162] Richard Hofstadter, ‘Pseudo-Conservatism Revisited-1965’ in ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays’  p. 73.


[163] Leo P. Ribuffo, ‘God and Contemporary Politics’ in  the Journal of American History,  March 1993 p.1515-1533.


[164] Richard Hofstadter, ‘Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics’ in ‘The Paranoid Style etc.’ p. 117-118. Analysing Goldwater’s speeches on domestic issues, Hofstadter concluded they  “resound(s) with the fundamentalist revolt against the conditions of modernity…”


[165] 2000 election figures in Esther Kaplan, ‘With God On Their Side: George W. Bush and the Religious Right’ (New York: The New Press, 2004/5) p. 3; 2004 figures from John C. Green, ‘Religion and the Presidential Election, A Tale of Two Gaps’ downloaded December 22 2007 from www.pewforum.org/docs?/DocID=240 .

Primary figures from ‘Republican Primary Preview’, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, released December 4th 2007. Downloaded from www.people-press.org/reports/pdf/375.pdf . Viewing the same phenomenon from a wider angle, Earl and Merle Black count all white Christians as making up 64% of  voters in 2004 with 56% of white Christians voting Republican (or conservative independents) to 32% Democrat (or liberal independents). According to the Blacks, white Catholic women are the only sub-group of white Christians not to move decisively into the Republican camp (in 2004, 44% Democrat to 42% Republican). Earl and Merle Black, ’Divided America’.


[166] Frank Rich, ‘Rudy Giuliani, the values slayer’ International Herald Tribune, Views page. Monday October 29th 2007. Also David D. Kirkpatrick, ‘The Evangelical Crackup’ .


[167] Esther Kaplan ‘With God On Their Side’ p. 3  (author’s itals).


[168] Cited in ibid  p. 291.


[169] For the businesslike attitude California estate-owners took to their holdings, contradicting their self-image as a farming class rooted in their love for the land, see Joan Didion ‘Where I Came From’ p.?????


[170] Thomas Frank dates the Religious Right’s arrival in Kansas precisely to 1991 and an ‘Operation Rescue’ antiabortion protest, which he describes as the catalyst for Kansas politics moving to the radical right. ‘What’s the Matter with America?’ p.91-7.


[171] Directly after the election, to Hunter Thompson. Thompson, ‘Fear and Loathing ‘72’ p. 470-1. Some Democrats did continue to attempt to organise from the left but were defeated at primary level, the best-known example being Jesse Jackson’s ‘Rainbow Coalition’ in the mid-1980s.


[172] For an intelligent (American) observer and a fine writer’s attempt to make sense of this development as it played out through the 1990s, see Joan Didion, ‘Political Fictions’ (New York: Vintage International/Random House, 2002).


[173] Abramson, Aldrich and Rohde, ‘Change and Continuity in the 2000 and 2002 Elections’ p 7; also p. 295.


[174] Interpreting US election results is an arcane art at the best of times but near-impossible in 2000, which introduced the world to machine-voting terms like “hanging chads” and “under” and “over” votes.  According to reports, the consortium of major US news organisations set up to establish the true vote in Florida eventually concluded that Bush would have won the (partial) recount which was halted by the Supreme Court (the news organisations sidelined their own effort after 9/11). Others continue to disagree. It’s worth noting that, like Nixon in 1968 and Clinton in 1992, Bush won an election involving a significant Third Party candidate. Without Ralph Nader’s small but strategic vote, the Florida recount and the issue of a coup wouldn’t have arisen. Indeed, the relevant figures- Gore plus Nader 51.11% to Bush 47.87%- would have amounted to a Democratic landslide by recent US standards. See Michael Lind, ‘Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics’ (New York: Basic Books, 2003) p. 79.


 For a brief summary of the Florida controversy  see Abramson, Aldrich and Rohde ‘Change and Continuity in the 2000 and 2002 Elections’ Ch. 3 p. 46. For alternative views see Walter R. Mebane jr ‘The Wrong Man Is President! Overvotes in the 2000 Presidential Election’ and Kosuke Imni???? and Gary King ‘Did Illegal Overseas Ballots Decide the 2000 Presidential Election?’, both in Perspectives on Politics Journal vol 2 no 3 September 2004.


[175] Engels to Sorge February 8th 1890, cited in Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, ‘It Didn’t Happen Here- Why Socialism Failed in the United States’ (New York: W.W. Norton paperback, 2001) p. 21.


[176] The idea came from Clarence Manion, Dean at Notre Dame law school, friend of John Birch Society founder Robert Welch, and an extreme right-winger whose radio show ‘The Manion Forum’ anticipated conservative talk-radio of the 1980s. As part of his 1960 effort to promote Goldwater as a Presidential candidate, Manion came up with the idea of the “pamphlet” and found the ghostwriter, L. Brent Bozell, who eventually produced ‘The Conscience of A Conservative’.


[177] Some would say the dark side was there from the beginning, since the settlement of America involved genocidal Indian wars as well as Southern slavery. Both of these were extremely savage and destructive events. Hence comments like D. H. Lawrence’s famous description of the American spirit as “hard, stoic, isolate, a killer.”


[178] Wills, ‘Nixon Agonistes’ p.533-4.


[179] Ibid p. 532; 513.


[180] Brinkley, ‘The Problem of American Conservatism’.


[181] Wills, ‘Nixon Agonistes’ p. 528. “(H)e is the apt spokesman for (and the final product of) classical liberalism.”


[182] Hence the spectacle, 200 years later, of a consummate professional politician and US Senator, Barrack Obama, running for President on a liberal platform yet filling his speeches with ritual denunciations of  “Washington”, the code word for government and politicians like himself.


[183] James Gregory, ‘American Exodus’ p. 142. Gregory’s name for the culture that succeeded the Populist Party proper in its heartlands in the Western South is “plain folk Americanism”.


[184] Michael Kazin, ‘The Grass Roots Right: New Histories of US Conservatism in the 20th Century’. American Historical Review vol 97 no 1 February 1992 p.136-155. This is not the same as saying that modern populism had no progressive elements. Christopher Lasch attempted to salvage a populist tradition for the left in his book, ‘The True and Only Heaven’. For Fundamentalism’s Great Reversal after 1900 see p. 68 above.


[185] The best-known took place in the 1850s, when panic over mass immigration by Irish Catholics produced the Know Nothing Party, later renamed the American Party. Members were supposed to reply, “I know nothing” when asked if they belonged to the quasi-secret organisation.


[186] “nativist-fundamentalist fires”- James Gregory, ‘American Exodus’ p. 160.


[187] When Senator John Edwards campaigned for the Democratic Presidential nomination on economic populist themes, but found few takers.


[188] Both examples are from Becky Nicolaides,, ‘My Blue Heaven’ p. 193 (1930s); and p. 311 (1960s)


[189]The historian Frederick Jackson Turner famously declared the American frontier closed in the early 1890s.


[190] Nicolaides, ‘My Blue Heaven’ p. 315. Operating on the same logic, in the 1990s white West L.A.opposed plans to extend the new L.A. subway system to the Westside, fearing it would bring marauding black and brown street gangs from South Central and East L.A. into their area. In both cases, the rejection was self-defeating: South Gate end up with poor shopping; West L.A. with gridlocked traffic by the early 21st century.


[191] Just as “Okies” came to mean all the Southwestern migrants, so the ‘Dust Bowl’ became the symbol for everyone forced off the land in the Southwest in the 1930s. In fact, only around 16,000 or 6% of the migrants came from the  ‘Dust Bowl’ itself, an eroded zone in the wheat belt at the intersection of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. James Gregory, ‘American Exodus’ .


[192] The tail end of that Dream finally played out in California’s Central Valley in the 1940s. Once again, the Okies were involved and once again they were losers, when New Deal forces waged a bitter political battle to maintain the Federally-mandated limit of 160 acres on irrigated land  (effectively, all the land in the Far West). The limit was meant to ensure that small farmers rather than the big growers farmed the Central Valley, the last great undeveloped “frontier within the frontier” for US agriculture. Instead, the growers won a de facto victory, turning the Valley into a showplace for giant agribusiness (Big Ag) and the most productive agricultural region in the world- but at the cost of a degraded environment, brutalised migrant labour and massive, concealed government subsidies. The story is memorably told through the career of the Valley’s biggest cotton grower in ‘The King of California: J.G. Boswell and The Making of a Secret American Empire’ by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman (New York: Public Affairs, 2003) (for the struggle over the 160-acre limit, see p.183 and ff.).


[193] Nicolaides, ‘My Blue Heaven’ Chapter 7 p.272 ff on “the racialising of local politics”.


[194] In 1968 Nixon and George Wallace between them won 59% of South Gate’s votes to 40.7% for Hubert Humphrey. In 1972, Nixon won 61.6% to George McGovern 33.9%). The reversal was so rapid that, as Nicolaides points out, many of the South Gate voters who voted for Nixon in 1968 were still registered Democrats.


[195] Resistance to tax and tax increases had a particular, long-standing resonance in places like South Gate, where a white working-class based their identity both on their race and on owning their own homes. For many years, they struggled economically. One of the ways they could- and many did- lose their houses, and plunge into penury was through being unable to pay rising local property taxes. As a result of this syndrome, once the connection was made between race and taxes in the 1960s, it proved to be political dynamite- see the story of  Mary Frisina, below.


[196] The Taxpayers’ Rebellion’s avowed aim was “to vote out of office those governmental officials who ignore the wishes of the people to cut the costs of government”.  In effect, the group “racialized public spending,” (in Becky Nicolaides’ phrase) by opposing using public money on programs to advance integration or to benefit blacks. See Nicolaides, ‘My Blue Heaven’p.302.


[197] Ibid.p.302.


[198] The 1992 riots caused a predictable soul-searching among members of L.A.’s white (and a few black and brown) elite. With much fanfare, they announced that a civic crusade led by private enterprise would transform life in L.A.’s ghettoes. But no real change took place. REBUILD-LA failed to achieve even its most modest aim- persuading the major supermarket chains to open branches in poorer areas. Attempts to reform the LAPD were so ineffective the force ended up being taken under Federal supervision. Today, white Angelenos refer to the 1992 riots as the “civil unrest”, blacks call them “the rebellion”, and Los Angeles remains one of the most segregated cities in America.


[199] ‘Disembodied’ because the issues the Right picked on like prayer in public schools, respect for the flag, even abortion and ‘gay marriage’ did not in themselves embody the conflict of principles they were supposed to raise. They were either more complex or more minor issues, or both. The Right’s “culture wars” were really about returning to a more traditional, hierarchical society, such as they believed existed in the US prior to the 1960s.


[200] Anatol Lieven, ‘America Right or Wrong’ p. 220.


[201] For a graphic encounter with the crippled, ageing Wallace in his “I was never a racist” mode, see Peter Applebome, ‘Dixie Rising’ p. 90-94 and ff.


[202] Harry S. Dent, ‘The Prodigal South Returns to Power’ (John Wiley and Sons, 1978) p.6.


[203] Rowland Evans and Robert D. Novak, ‘Nixon in the White House’ (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) p. 137.


[204] Harry S. Dent, ‘The Prodigal South’ p. 250.


[205] In 1974, Dent pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour over a 1970 Nixon fundraising operation (“the townhouse operation”) considered by some to have been a precursor to Watergate. The judge in the case described Dent as more a victim than a perpetrator and sentenced him to one month’s probation.


[206] When George W. Bush was Governor of Texas in the late 1990s, he gave a small, low-security Texas prison over to Colson as an experiment for Colson’s Ministry. At the same time, Bush was dismantling the state-financed drug and alcohol rehab programs established in the prison system by his Democratic predecessor. 


[207] Harry S. Dent, ‘The Prodigal South’ p. 4.


[208] Harry S. Dent, ‘The Prodigal South’ pps. 17-18.


[209] Kevin Phillips, ‘American Dynasty’.


[210] Norman Mailer ‘Miami and the Siege of Chicago’ p. 62-3.


[211] The most important events were the Iranian Revolution and resulting American hostage crisis; and the handover of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. While the first was a serious blow to US influence in the Middle East, conservatives were almost as outraged at the second, largely symbolic action- as Reagan proved in 1989 when he invaded Panama, deposed its strong man and reaffirmed American dominance of the country.       


[212] “Willie Horton represented for key sectors of the electorate the consequences of an aggressively expansive liberalism, a liberalism running up against public opinion, against “traditional values” and, to a certain degree, against common sense.” Thomas and Mary Edsall, ‘Chain Reaction’  p. 224.  While the Horton case may indeed have represented these things, Massachusetts’ furlough program was successful when judged as an overall policy..


[213] Robert Pollin, ‘Contours of Descent’ p. 54.


[214] The “faith-based initiative’s” first Director, John DiIulio, quit after six months; Deputy Director David Kuo followed him after the 2004 elections. Both men made essentially the same complaint, that the White House had sidelined the program once Bush’s people realised they could gain a political advantage simply by announcing the initiative without spending serious money on it. What new money there was went to favoured Fundamentalist groups plus a handful of black churches situated in key electoral districts, whose allegiance the Administration hoped to switch from Democrat to Republican. Instead of a new approach to social policy, the initiative thus amounted to a patronage programme for the Religious Right  (plus some political propaganda) . See Esther Kaplan ‘With God on Their Side’ p. 53. David Kuo ‘Please, Keep Faith’ on www.beliefnet.com/story/160/story_16092_1.html downloaded January 14th 2008. Also on Kuo, see ‘Aide Says White House Mocked Evangelicals’ in The Guardian Saturday October 14th 2007 downloaded January 14th 2008 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,1922408,00.html


[215] Esther Kaplan, ‘With God On Their Side’ p. 83-86; and on the second Bush administration after 2004 p. 286.


[216] Anthony Lewis, ‘The Court etc’ in The New York Review of Books op cit.. Justice Breyer made his comment on the last day of the 2006-7 term (June 28th 2007). 


[217] There are many accounts of this process in print by now. One of the first and freshest- especially because it was written by a top official in the US National Security apparatus- was Richard A. Clarke, ‘Against All Enemies’ (London: The Free Press/Simon and Schuster, updated edition 2004).


[218] This is the point Bush’s first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, made in ‘The Price of Loyalty’ (London: The Free Press/Simon and Schuster UK, 2004). The journalist who wrote O’Neill’s book, Ron Suskind, elaborated on it in ‘Faith. Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush’ in The New York Times Magazine October 17th 2004. www.nytimes.com 


[219] Cheyney’s remark is reported in Ian Buruma, ‘His Toughness Problem-and Ours’, The New York Review of Books vol 54 no 14. 27th September 2007.


[220] Whether or not the status quo should be maintained, as well as what chance policies like the Bush regime’s have to maintain it, are both different questions.


[221] Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, ‘One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the Twenty-First Century’ (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2006).


[222] The definitive account of why Bush won in 2004 is Mark Danner, ‘How Bush Really Won’ The New York Review of Books, vol 52 no 1 January 13th 3005; and Andrew Hacker, Paul Cohen and Mark Danner, ‘Bush’s Victory: Second Thoughts’ NYRB vol 52 no 4 March 10th 2005. Many contemporary commentators wrongly ascribed Bush’s victory to “values voters” or “social conservatives” protesting a supposed “moral decline” in America. However, for a partial restatement of the case, see the 2004 post-election survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. GQR found that “for Bush waverers, who were the key swing group in the election, moral values is as important as terrorism and national security” or the economy. In an additional wrinkle, GRQ found that all the electorate wanted an election about the economy and health care, when they would have voted for Kerry over Bush, but in the last couple of weeks the focus of the election shifted decisively to Iraq and terrorism, where Kerry and Bush were tied. At that point, and only at that point, the Bush waverers’ strong feelings about “values” came into play, leading them to vote for Bush and produce “the most striking feature of this election-the inverted class election among white voters- with the very best educated voting for Kerry and the least educated voting for Bush. The former are the least and the latter the most concerned with moral values and cultural issues” (eg abortion/gay marriage/gun ownership etc).  See www.greenbergresearch.com/articles/1239/784_Post-Election 2004.pdf downloaded Apirl 28th 2008.


[223] John Maynard Keynes, ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’ (London:  Macmillan 1961; first edition 1936) p.159.


[224] Robert Brenner, ‘The Boom and the Bubble-The US in the World Economy’ (London: Verso, 2002). Postscript p. 297-299


[225] Edward M. Gramlich, ‘Booms and Busts: The Case of Subprime Mortgages’ . Paper presented at Jackson Hole, Wyoming on August 21st 2007. Available as pdf at www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411542_Gramlich_final.pdf. What makes Gramlich such a powerful critic is that he considered boom-and-bust a natural and acceptable feature of capitalism in general; and that only some technical regulatory adjustments were needed to solve the problem. Meanwhile, the US Congress’ Joint Economic Committee has predicted there will be 2 million foreclosures on subprime properties by the end of 2008. Most subprime mortgages went to poor blacks and Hispanics.


[226] See pps. 7-9 above.


[227] Peter Applebome ‘Dixie Rising’ p. 44-45. Applebome adds the parts of Cobb County that Ginrich leaves out- its deeply racist past, its continuing attempts to exclude blacks, its extreme- right tendencies (Ginrich’s predecessor as Congressman was a former head of the John Birch Society), its paradoxical dependence on federal subsidies, a 1993 County resolution condemning the “gay lifestyle”, and continuing local controversy over the 1913 Leo Frank lynching- a landmark event in the history of US anti-Semitism.

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