A Conservative Policy
THE INCREASING ideological and racial polarization of the electorate had as early as 1968 and 1972 demonstrated the power of a strong emphasis on social issues to produce a conservative election-day majority. In the second half of the I970s, social and racial issues meshed with the tax revolt and with the political mobilization of the corporate sector to produce a powerful engine propelling substantive change in economic and regulatory policy.
Working-class whites and corporate CEOs, once adversaries at the bargaining table, found common ideological ground in their shared hostility to expanding government intervention; these former antagonists joined forces across traditional class lines to form the core of a center-right majority that survived past election day to become a driving force in support of conservative policy retrenchment.
The ideological convergence between, on the one hand, free-market doctrine promoted by the business-financed conservative movement and, on the other hand, the goals of whites seeking a roll-back of civil rights policies (such as affirmative action and busing), and of costly means-tested programs (such as welfare and food stamps)—together created the circumstances for a vigorous cross-class alliance. Business interests and key elements of the white, working and middle classes sought a major retraction of the regulatory state, with economic conservatives viewing government intervention as a source of market inefficiencies, and with segments of the lower and middle-class white community viewing government intervention as a threat to schools, jobs, unions, neighborhoods, families and to a range of cherished values.