The American right is a coalition of millionaires and trailer park dwellers stitched together by cultural anger. It is ascendant but not invincibleby James Crabtree / October 23, 2004 / Leave a comment
The last four years have provided endless ammunition for those who believe that Europe and America are irrevocably drifting apart. The 2003 Pew world values survey found big divisions between traditional America and postmodern Europe, especially on the family, religion and patriotism.
George W Bush, and 9/11, have certainly helped to shift the US’s political centre of gravity further to the right, but two important new books reveal a more complex background. They argue that the shift has involved not just cashing in on America’s inexorable conservatism, but outsmarting the opposition. They also present the American right as a fractious governing coalition in the ascendancy, but in danger of breaking apart.
The Right Nation: Why America is Different by two British journalists from the Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, argues that 50 years ago, “America lacked a real conservative ideology, let alone a cohesive Right Nation.” What changed? The book answers this question first by tracing American conservatism through the Bush dynasty. Grandfather Prescott, a patrician east-coast Wasp and moderate Republican, supported tax rises, family planning and the minimum wage. Father George HW was born into privilege, but moved south to seek his fortune in oil. Conservative Texans saw him as “the sort of man who steps out of the shower to take a piss,” but most agreed with Nixon’s description of him as “different from those usual Ivy League bastards.” His eldest son George W, in turn, was an authentic sunshine belt conservative. His conservatism was comfortable in Reagan’s footsteps, with beliefs grounded in “business, religion and Texas.”
Just as the Bushes journeyed from Kennebunk-port to Crawford, so did America. The Right Nation explains the three forces – demography, organisation and intellectuals – that have pushed the country to the right over the past 40 years. That first is a familiar tale, beginning with Lyndon John-son’s accurate lament that in signing the Civil Rights Act he was signing away the south for 50 years. As a consequence, the Republicans swapped the industrial belt and liberal coastal elites for the sunshine states and conservative south. This turned out to be much the better demographic deal. It has helped deliver them six of the last nine presidential elections, and growing majorities in almost every other area of government.
Contrary to the image of a united right, however, the authors describe the factionalism of modern American conservatism. George W Bush…