I don’t know who John Stoole Gordon is, but this is an excellent post:
However hard he labors at wishing away the serious legacy of conservative racism, homophobia, and nativism, John Steele Gordon�for all his powers of the pen�can�t make it so.
Let�s begin by grounding this argument in good historiography. We are, after all, a history Web site, first and foremost.
Over the past 20 years, a host of scholars have written extensively on the central role that race-baiting played in the rise of the conservative right.
Dan Carter�s work on George Wallace (The Politics of Rage), that unrivaled merchant of hate, demonstrates that Wallace was, in fact, an important gateway politician who helped many opponents of racial integration , both North and South, make the move from the Democratic party to the Republican party.
Matthew Dallek�s fine book on the 1966 California gubernatorial election, The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan�s First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics, is very persuasive in its argument that Reagan played heavily on popular opposition to residential integration in order to defeat the incumbent, Pat Brown. Similarly Thomas Sugrue�s absolutely indispensable work on Detroit, Origins of the Urban Crisis, goes a long way in demonstrating that popular, white working-class opposition to neighborhood integration helped bring down the labor-Democratic party coalition in Michigan, a point that Stephen Meyer makes in a national context in his important book, As Long As They Don�t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods.
Thomas Edsall and Mary Edsall, in their seminal study of 1970s and 1980s politics, Chain Reaction, reveal the clever, but not always subtle, way in which GOP operatives have used issues like taxes, crime, and welfare to appeal to raw race prejudices.
More recently, my friends Kevin Kruse, a Princeton University historian and author of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, and Matt Lassiter, a history professor at the University of Michigan, and author of The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, have shown how deeply bound up were race antagonism and the rise of post-1960s conservatism. Both of these books are essential reads for anyone wishing to know more about how the Republican party achieved its monumental rise to power after 1968.
So I�m sorry, Mr. Gordon. But unless all of America�s leading experts on the rise of the conservative right are wrong, race-baiting has been a central part of the conservative project for at least 30 years, and probably longer. It�s not the only component of conservatism, but it�s a central one.
We needn�t necessarily take a crash course in the recent historiography of race relations to prove the case. The newspapers make the same point about conservative intolerance�and here the intolerance isn�t always directed toward African-Americans. It reflects a general conservative problem with pluralism.
Gordon writes, �the notion that conservatives, either in general or the ones Mr. Zeitz quotes, exhibit a tendency �to lament (or ridicule) a world where women, African-Americans, immigrants, and gays and lesbians have full citizenship rights� is, to be charitable, a liberal fantasy.�
Let�s examine my liberal fantasy.
Exhibit 1: Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Senator John McCain�a widely respected conservative figure and erstwhile critic of the religious right�explained that he thought �the Christian right has a major role to play in the Republican Party� and further acknowledged his own plans to speak next month at Liberty University, a fundamentalist institution founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell. Falwell, I needn�t remind Mr. Gordon (who claims not to need a history lesson on . . . anything), has identified the Antichrist as a male Jew, has claimed that Jews are to be consigned to hell, and said of the tragedy that was 9/11: �…feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say �you helped this happen.�� So, does this make John McCain an �agent of intolerance?� (McCain�s words, not mine�directed at Falwell during the 2000 campaign.) Nope. It just means that a prominent conservative is comfortable getting into bed with an agent of intolerance, and it further means that Falwell continues to enjoy a prominent place in the conservative coalition. Mr. Gordon may wish it weren�t so. But it�s so. He may wish that Jerry Falwell weren�t an important American conservative. But he is.
Exhibit 2: Until March 2000, Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist institution in South Carolina, banned interracial dating on campus. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently doing academic research on the roots of the conservative right and have had extensive�and very satisfactory, professional�dealings with the BJU library archivists, whom I�ve found to be generous, exceedingly good at their jobs, very well-versed in the history of evangelical Christianity, and altogether very pleasant to interact with.) This didn�t stop George Bush and a host of other Republican candidates from speaking at the university. Does this mean that George Bush winks at intolerance? By Gordon�s rules, no. By mine, yes. Does this mean that a prominent conservative institution until very recently opposed, in the most literal way possible, racial pluralism? Yes. Sorry, Mr. Gordon, but you can�t argue your way around it.
Exhibit 3: Let�s review the utterances of prominent conservatives on the question of civil equality. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had this to say in 2004: �The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power. . . . That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That�s a gay agenda.� South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint has argued that gays and lesbians should be banned from the teaching profession. The list goes on and on. In effect, gays and lesbians are to conservatives what African-Americans were 20 years ago: foils. Get working-class citizens to identify as heterosexual first, and working-class second, and you can peel off their votes.
Conservatives like Mr. Gordon�or defenders of conservatism like Mr. Gordon�should to spend less time denying the self-evident truth and more time purging their ranks of professional haters. I�ve never said there wasn�t a principled conservative argument to be made on just about any issue. My contention is simply that modern conservatism has been laced with hatred, and it has stubbornly refused to accommodate itself to religious, sexual, gender, and racial pluralism.
When Mr. Gordon and those like him turn a blind eye to this legacy, they do so at their own risk. Yes, hate plays well in politics, and sadly, history has shown that it�s too often a winning strategy. But with hundreds of thousands of Latinos (an increasingly important electoral demographic group George Bush has intelligently tried to court, despite opposition within his own party) currently taking to the streets to decry the GOP immigration-restriction bill, and with super-majorities of young Americans indicating support for gay marriage, the future of conservatism looks bleak if the movement doesn�t get right with pluralism.
John Steele Gordon can cover his eyes, but it doesn�t make the rest of us blind.