A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

The Religious Right and the New
Republican Party

E. J. Dionne, Jr.

As the young conservatives who wrote the Sharon Statement (Part 6) discovered when they worked for Goldwater’s election in 1964 and found many supporters motivated by anti-integration States’ Rights doctrines rather than by belief in the free market, American conservatism is not a single, coherent movement. The tensions within conservatism—and, by extension, within the Republican Party—have played a major role in shaping American politics in the last half of the twentieth century and beyond. In this excerpt from his bestselling book, Why Americans Hate Politics, E. J. Dionne explores some of these tensions and their implications, focusing on the rise to power of the Religious Right in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dionne’s analysis was published near the end of the era of Reagan and Bush, Sr. How did the New Right continue to influence American politics during the Clinton and Bush, Jr., administrations? Is the troubled relationship Dionne describes between “Old” and “New” Right resolved, or does it still play a role in the nation’s political life?

In 1965, a young Baptist minister explained why he felt it inappropriate for fundamentalists such as himself to become involved in politics. “We have few ties to this earth,” the minister explained. “Believing in the Bible as I do, I would find it impossible to stop preaching the pure saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and begin doing anything else, including fighting communism or participating in civil rights reforms,” he said. “Preachers are not called upon to be politicians but to be soul winners. Nowhere are we commissioned to reform the externals.” The minister who spoke these words was the pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

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