Ralph Brauer: Revolutions & Liberal America

I just yesterday discovered the work of Ralph Brauer.  I came across his book The Strange Death of Liberal America in Google books while doing a websearch about the religious right.  I found the passage rather insightful.  His view on American history makes even more sense when put in the context of Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning.

Below are some writings from Brauer.  The first is the beginning of an article.  The second is the aforementioned passage from his book.

A Call For a Third Revolution of Liberal America

By Ralph Brauer

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The third revolution
The history of Liberal America can be seen as encompassing two revolutions. The first centered on rights, as the notion of what Tom Paine termed “the rights of man” extended to include the propertyless, people of color and women. In the United States that revolution was in part derailed by the rollback of Reconstruction when the country essentially bought the South’s idea of segregation. A similar rollback has been under way since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in what I have referred to as the Second Reconstruction.

The Second Revolution focused on economic justice, embodied in this nation and other democracies as governmental programs designed to keep the playing field level for all people. Unfortunately the Second Revolution stalled out for much the same reasons as the first: the country as a whole had little stomach for pushing this to its conclusion. Most people, for example have probably never heard of the Economic Bill of Rights proposed by Franklin Roosevelt shortly before his death.

Part of the genius of Martin Luther King lay in his recognition of the connection between the First and Second revolutions, but his pleas were thwarted in Chicago and Memphis. Like many African American leaders during the Second Reconstruction, King was murdered while those who sought to pick up the banner were marginalized and/or ineffective.

Curiously the last half of the twentieth century played out much like the last half of the nineteenth as the revolution of economic justice went through the same counterrevolution as did the First Reconstruction.

In the case of both revolutions there was a very narrow window during which the cause might have managed to maneuver enough to fully realize its ideals. In both cases America flinched when it might have pressed the advantage. But African American congressmen and state office holders were driven from office in the rollback of the First Revolution and Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and others were murdered or sent packing in the rollback of the Second.


The Strange Death of Liberal America
By Ralph Brauer

pp 32-36

Three of the four partners of the Counterrevolutionary coalition had fallen into place.  The first were the corporate fundamentalists who detested any government regulation of business.  The second were the former Dixiecrats who fought for state’s rights.  The intersection between the Dixiecrats and the corporate fundamentalists sought to pull back the government’s role in leveling the social and economic playing field.   The intersection between the Religious Right and other Counterrevolutionary members involved a crusade that has come to be called the “Social Agenda.”  Although the fundamentalists’ position on such issues such as abortion has received much media and political attention, the linchpin has been education.

If Strom Thurmond personifies the first stage of the Counterrevolution, Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition Executive Director, personifies the second, for like Thurmond he has that Forrest Gump quality of being at critical crossroads.  Looking like a frat boy whose too-well-groomed apearance and smirking smile suggest he has played more than his share of pranks, Reed’s early career is characterized by questionable actions.  Nina J. Easton, author of Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade notes he was fired from the University of Georgia student paper for plagiarism.  He then worked with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist to take over the national college Republicans.  Later he built Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition into a major force in the Republican Party.  In the 2000 election he served as an advisor to George W. Bush.  He even managed to get himself hired by Enron.  After somehow landing on his feet after that fiasco, Reed became head of the Georgia GOP, running for the lieutenant governorship in 2006.  Reed illustrates the abilities — even necessity — of key Republican operatives to move seamlessly between three worlds of politics, religion, and business.  In fact these operatives probably do not see the three arenas as distinct, but part of one divine mission.

What helped consummate the marriage Land spoke of was one major cornerstone of Liberal America: education.  The Religious Right has been dissatisfied with public schools for some time because by law America’s classrooms have been nondenomenational.  The fundamentalists became especially incensed as courts and legislatures ruled against school prayer and the IRS moved to revoke tax exemptionfor religious schools that served as covers for segregation the way bed sheets covered Klansmen.  As public schools invested in programs such as diversity, fundamentalist Christians bailed out of the system, forming private religious academies or seeking to remove programs that did not agree with their theology.  Finally, Darwin again entered the picture as fundamentalists agitated against the teaching of evolution while advocating what they called “intelligent design.”

In Political Agendas for Education: From the Christian Coalition to the Green Party, author Joel Spring zeroes in on a statement in which Ralph Reed acknowledges, “More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right.”  Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the new GOP coalition, agrees with Reed’s analysis, noting that the Religious Right was born in response to two decisions by the Carter administration: the IRS ruling and the belief that the FCC planned to regulate Christian radio stations (although imaginary, it was widely believed).

Thus began the second phase of the Counterrevolution, built around a series of Devil’s bargains that made their coalition the equivalent of the New Deal coalition of Franklin Roosevelt.  The Counterrevolution’s road to power was paved by two crucial decisions that played a major role in creatign the Era of Bad Feelings.  The first came from the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case revolving around reforms initiated after Watergate designed to lessen the impact money on the electoral process.  Those reforms resulted in making the election of 1976 one of the few in which both candidates spent identical amounts.  The Buckley decision upheld the Watergate reforms with one notable exception: the Court ruled that individuals and groups not affiliated with the official campaign had no spending limits.

The GOP pounced on this loophole.  In the 1984 campaign when Ronald Reagan faced Walter Mondale, Republican Political Action Committees (PACs) spent almost four times the amount of their Democratic coutnerparts: $15.8 million to $4.2 million.  In 1988, independent expenditures amounted to $13.7 for the Republicans and $2.8 for the Democrats.  A Brown University study summed up the effect of the changes: “Since the GOP historically had a stronger base among big businesses and wealthy individuals, independent expenditures advantaged Republicans more than Democrats.”

This came as Sunday morning religious programs became serious business, turning preachers into instant conglomerates with tentacles reaching into every part of the media and, along with this, money for political organizing.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, to give them their due, were doing nothing that had not been done before by the liked of John D. Rockefeller and Jay Gould.  Only this time the money lay in churches with an ideology to advance, particularly the remodeling of the American public education system.  Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, no slouch himself when it comes to raising PAC money, detailed the considerable clout of the Religious Right in a 1998 article, toting up the coffers of various religious organizations and then favorably comparing them with such heavyweights as the Chamber of Commerce.  He admirably pointed out, “The Christian Coalition has one million donors, 1.5 million activists, and 2000 local chapters that distributed 66 million voter guides in the 1996 election cycle.  Since 1990 the Christian Coalition has trained 52,300 community activists, 18,000 in 1996 alone.  The 1997 budget was $17 million dollars.”  Much of this considerable war chest came from the efforts of Ralph Reed.

A second decision that became equally important for the Counterrevolution was the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  First enacted in 1949, the FCC ruling looked into the future and decided that because they operated in the public interest, the mass media should present all sides of controversial questions.  The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in the 1969 Red Lion case, still generally considered as one of the Court’s landmark decisions.

Red Lion  not only involves the Religous Right but also foretells exactly what would happen with repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  The case began when the Reverend Billy James Hargis, the Jerry Falwell of his day, accused the author of a book on Barry Goldwater of being a communist.  The author sued under the Fairness Doctrine and the Court found in his favor.  In its decision the Court said the Fairness Doctrine serves to “enhance rather than abridge the freedoms of speechand press protected by the First Amendment.”  It also noted that “when a personal attack has been made on a figure involved in a public issue” the doctrine requires that “the individual attacked himself be offered an opportunity to respond.”

In 1987, an FCC packed with commissioners appointed by Ronald Reagan voted to repeal the Fairness Doctrine.  When Congress tried to overrule the decision by passing a law extending the doctrine, Reagan vetoed it.  Just as the Buckley decision opened the door to single-issue PACS, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door wide for ideologues like Robertson.

On stage stepped a key actor in the next phase of the Republican Counterrevolution, Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich helped engineer the GOP take over of the House of Representatives in 1994 by making great use of Ralph Reed and his allies.  At the center of the takeover lay the Contract with America, a Gingrich inspiration laying out his party’s agenda.  The preamble makes no bones about what the takeover would bring, stating, this “historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with public’s money.  It can be the beginning of a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.”  The second sentence spells out the next phase of the Counterrevolution: linking distaste for big government with the agenda of Jerry Falwell and the fundamentalists.

Manifestoes have always served as the core of radical movements composed of true believers convinced they have the answer to every problem.  Nothing signifies this better than a sentence from the opening of the Contract with America, which puts a religious cast on everything after: “Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act ‘with fairness in the right, as God gives us to see right.'”  In other words, the zealots of the Counterrevolution evoked the secular saint Abraham Lincoln, linked him to God and themselves.  History is full of people who believe they are acting in God’s name and their record is hardly one that would inspire confidence in the Contract with America.

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