Sunday, April 02, 2006

Will Republicans Ever Deliver to "Family Voters?"

The Reagan coalition was an "alliance of opposites" which joined the traditional big business base of the Republican Party with social libertarians and religious conservatives, all of whom wanted "smaller government." The conflict between the libertarians and the Christian conservatives was always the most obvious fault line in the party. The alliance, though, was enough to put Reagan and Bush I in office, and sweep the Republicans to power in Congress. Of the three legs of the Reagan Republican stool, big business, and the rich people who run them, got the most, libertarians got something, and family values conservatives got not much. Some defended the conservative credentials of the party, though, for achieving what could be done over Democratic and "liberal elite" opposition.

The second time around, the current President Bush held together that coalition. Republicans expanded their control of government, and have been in power long enough to effectively control the judiciary, too. Unlike his two Republican predecessors, George W. Bush really is an evangelical Christian from a red state. He has talked the talk for a long time, and now has the political muscle to make it so.

So, what have family values voters gotten for their quarter century of loyal support of the Republican Party? Almost nothing. Whenever there is a conflict between business interests and traditional family interests (as there is on almost every issue), the governing party has sided with business.

This is not just my conclusion. Lately, some heavy hitters among conservative Christian Republicans have been critical of the Bush administration on exactly these grounds. Alan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Religion, Family, and Society, said "when the interests of big business and the interests of average families collide, the GOP almost always gives way to the interests of big business." Even more significant are the criticisms from Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, the research arm of Focus on the Family. He notes that "When you look at what the [presidential] discussion has been since 2004, marriage has been absent from the vocabulary."

One of the great achievements of both parties in the 1970s was to mobilize evangelicals to vote at all. In 1976, the "year of the evangelical," previously apolitical evangelical voters turned out for born-again Democrat Jimmy Carter to throw the Watergate rascals out. Four years later, evangelicals moved to their more natural home, the family-values-talking Republicans under Reagan.

It is hard to imagine evangelicals as a group deciding the reject all worldly politics. But it is easy to imagine a continuing erosion of evangelical voting, as they conclude that the Democrats are too opposed to their family values, and the Republicans, though they talk a good game, are too wedded to mammon to deliver for God. If Republicans won't actually produce traditional family laws under George W. Bush plus majorities in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, they probably never will.


Anonymous said...

From what I can gather, the evangelicals believe that they have gained something from Bush's judicial appointments. Whether this is the case or not is still not clear. However, it would behoove people to remember that Mr. Jefferson's party took over the presidency and Congress in 1800 and held both (more or less) for more than thirty years without really changing the Federalist character of the Supreme Court.

Gruntled said...

It is difficult to prove the negative case -- "we have not gained much with this party in power, but we would have lost much more with the other party in power." I think the basic structural problem is that the creative destruction inherent in capitalism is deep in the DNA of America. This is good in many ways, but it does mean that neither party, nor any other establishment institution, has a strong philosophical alternative to offer when capitalism also threatens to creatively destroy the family.

Anonymous said...

As a fiscally conservative type(not a neo-con!), who is also a Christian, I've always found that the Republican 'marriage' of evangelicals with big business to be a very strange sort of relationship!

I guess that I always respected the more pragmatic and libertarian approach of conservative Presbyterians like J.G. Machen, who were publicly Christian in philosophy, yet politically devoted to the rights of individuals to live their own lives.

How can this admittedly 'Old School' Presbyterian approach be reconciled with the Republican party's devotion to lip service evangelical values coupled to enslaving devotion to multinational corporations?

I'm just a strange relic, I guess...

Gruntled said...

Machen's libertarianism sit oddly in the church at the time, especially his "wet" stand in an adamantly "dry" church.

Michael Kruse said...

Frankly, I challenge the idea that tje Republican Party is THE party of big business. It depends on which big business you are talking about.

I worked for years in market research and competitive intelligence. Within industry competitive analysis there is something called “barriers to entry.” This speaks of how easy or hard it is for new competition to enter a given industry. Government regulation can place some limits on existing firms but it creates even more significant barriers to new competitors who might want to enter the market (in much the same way having to get a broker’s license limits the amount of competition that enters the real estate market.) Many big businesses use regulation as away to squash new entrants.

There is a statistic floating around that CEOs of large corporations are about 55% Republican and about 20% Democrat but this is based on campaign contributions. A contribution to political campaigns by these folks tells you little about actual political leanings. These folks need access to power, regardless of who is in power, and that is the primary motivation for giving.

In the late 1990s, I remember reading a report that suggested that in terms of private political preference that a very slim majority of Fortune 500 CEOs were Republican leaning with Democrats at nearly the same level.

While there are big businesses that are Republican friendly because of the market forces at play in their industries there are also big businesses that are Democrat friendly for the same reasons. As markets change the big businesses can switch from on to the other.

The Republican concentration is not among the CEOs and big business but among entrepreneurs and the new rich. They often have much to gain by less regulation and lower barriers to entry. I think one of things that the entrepreneurial/new rich folks have in common with lower to middle class traditional values voters is their mutual disdain for the intellectual elitism they perceive as dominate with Democrats.

Far from being an unnatural marriage of big business and traditional values, I think the Republican Party is a “common sense” populist party united by its disdain for intellectual elitism. That is why the New Rich and the traditional values folks stay connected.

Gruntled said...

Yes, I think that much of the Republican alliance is cemented by disgust with elitist disdain. And I see your point about the nuance of which big business we are talking about. There is a moneyed constituency which benefits from a party that doesn't go much beyond cutting taxes, especially personal taxes.

Anonymous said...

Family Voter? What is a Family Voter? Is this a voter that has "Family Values"? If so can you please educate me as to what these are?

Gruntled said...

The phrase "family voter" comes from the Republican critics I was quoting. I believe they mean voters who want the government to support marriage and childrearing by families, as opposed to supporting state-certified alternatives. Limiting abortion and homosexual marriage would be at the top of the family voter agenda just now, but it encompasses a broader range of issues.