The Social Conservative Agenda
By 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft had succeeded, to a dreadful extent, in advancing social conservative causes and undermining civil liberties in this country. This chapter focuses on social conservative issues; the next, on civil liberties. Ashcroft had pushed far out on right-wing religious and social causes ranging from depriving women of their abortion rights to creating a national personal right to firearms. This chapter starts with the rise of social conservatism as a key Republican base, Ashcroft's own ascent, and the social issues arising during his tenure. The chapter's heart concerns how Ashcroft undermined Roe v. Wade so as to muster political support without overly awakening centrist opposition. The Bush administration's right-wing judge picking and some other prospects also receive attention.
The Burger Court's 1973 abortion rights decision, Roe v. Wade,1 liberated the nation's women in a vital respect, giving them legal control over their bodies, choices about their lives, and an alternative to life- and health-threatening, illegal back-alley abortions. But politically, Roe v. Wade brought two levels of opposition. First, the population's acceptance of the decision was mixed. Second, the ruling allowed political figures in the Republican Party, or those helping it, to shape the various ensuing subissues for decades thereafter so as to get support from groups of voters who were otherwise not particularly committed to partisan political action. Roe provided the means to whip up a partisan frenzy in some members of