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Aftermath and Future Shock

The acquittal of Clinton in the Senate was met with stunned disbelief within the hard right. "The failure to remove Clinton was a devastating blow, especially for the Christian Right," says PRA director Jean Hardisty. "People need to understand the depth of disappointment." The ultra-conservative magazine The Weekly Standard devoted an entire issue to a symposium on the acquittal, with 22 articles from rightist luminaries such as Elliott Abrams, Jeffrey Bell, Peter Collier, James Dobson, Charles Krauthhammer, Charles Murray, Norman Podhoretz, Tod Lindberg, and Dennis Prager.156

Human Events, which in November 1988 had decried Henry Hyde for undermining the hearings, now lionized him with a full front page mostly filled with a flattering drawing of his face, and the banner headline with giant type: "Henry Hyde, Hero."157 "Culture War Personified" read the subhead in a section on Clinton as part of a band of "perverse rebels" from the 1960s crop of "self-indulgent...baby boom liberals."

For Christian Right strategist Paul Weyrich, the failure of the impeachment drive prompted an exasperated admission of defeat. In late 1997 Weyrich had been squeezed out of the NET television network he had founded, apparently for his divisive behavior in attacking GOP pragmatists.158 Weyrich, dubbed by the New Republic the "Robespierre of the Right," is known for his doctrinaire views.159 Now, in a widely-circulated and debated letter, Weyrich promoted a separatist post-impeachment strategy:

    I believe that we probably have lost the culture war. That doesn't mean the war is not going to continue, and that it isn't going to be fought on other fronts. But in terms of society in general, we have lost. This is why, even when we win in politics, our victories fail to translate into the kind of policies we believe are important.

    Therefore, what seems to me a legitimate strategy for us to follow is to look at ways to separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of Political Correctness, or by other enemies of our traditional culture.

    What I mean by separation is, for example, what the homeschoolers have done. Faced with public school systems that no longer educate but instead "condition" students with the attitudes demanded by Political Correctness, they have seceded. They have separated themselves from public schools and have created new institutions, new schools, in their homes.

    I think that we have to look at a whole series of possibilities for bypassing the institutions that are controlled by the enemy. If we expend our energies on fighting on the "turf" they already control, we will probably not accomplish what we hope, and we may spend ourselves to the point of exhaustion.160

This view is not, in fact, new. In 1996 militant Protestants and Catholics unhappy with the pragmatism of the Christian Coalition began to question the legitimacy of electoral politics, the judiciary, and the government itself. These groups began to push openly theocratic arguments.161 A predominantly Catholic movement emerged from this sector to suggest civil disobedience against abortion is mandated by the primacy of natural law over the constitutional separation of powers which allowed the judiciary to protect abortion rights. An example of this theocratic movement is the newspaper Culture Wars with its motto: "No social progress outside the moral order."

Christian Right ideologues such as James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, and Carmen Pate, president of Concerned Woman for America, rejected Weyrich's call.162 A debate quickly emerged among Christian Right leaders with comments and roundtable essays appearing in the evangelical media. Weyrich clarified his meaning in several printed responses where he said he never meant to suggest giving up. In the influential evangelical magazine World he wrote:

    "...when critics say in supposed response to me that `before striking our colors in the culture wars, Christians should at least put up a fight,' I am puzzled. Of course they should. That is exactly what I am urging them to do. The question is not whether we should fight, but how."

    "...in essence, I said that we need to change our strategy. Instead of relying on politics to retake the culturally and morally decadent institutions of contemporary America, I said that we should separate from those institutions and build our own.163

Weyrich is proposing a separatist strategy as a way to build enclaves with parallel institutions such as "schools, media, entertainment, universities" from which to continue the culture wars-essentially "creating a new society within the ruins of the old."164

The evangelical right is discussing several strategies. At the 1998 Christian Coalition "Road to Victory" conference, the workshop on education included two panelists Marty Angell and Marshall Fritz who argued in favor of expanding separate, parallel Christian school systems. Fritz blasted the idea of state-funded public schools.165 Conservative evangelicals Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson wrote a book, Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? suggesting that evangelicals had compromised their piety by pushing too far into electoral politics.166

Separatists, purists, and pragmatic political players in the Christian Right have in the past and will in the future agree on what needs to be done and be able to form coalition and work jointly in what Sara Diamond calls "projects," which are less formal than coalitions. The justification for pursuing the emerging agendas will most likely be phrased cleverly in secular language to mask the underlying theocratic agenda. Among possible campaigns:

    ·Attach "rider" amendments that restrict abortion and gay rights to pending legislation.

    ·Reduce federal funding for public education while encouraging private and home schooling. Push for vouchers and charter schools.

    ·Reduce federal spending on education research and model curricula, especially programs promoting multiculturalism and gay tolerance.

    ·Abolish the National Endowment for the Arts because it promotes blasphemy and pornography.

    ·Continue to undermine multiculturalism and affirmative action, masking the underlying racism through re-framing of rhetoric.

Some conservative critics of this "domestic moralism," such as Andrew Sullivan, warn that failure to move away from puritanical campaigns against abortion and homosexuality and back to bedrock economic issues will destroy the conservative revival.167 He blames Religious Right ideologues William Kristol, Richard John Neuhaus, and Robert Bork for leading the "neoreligious revival" toward abandoning "the secular underpinnings of the American constitutional experiment," and replacing it with "a radically theocratic reinterpretation of the Constitution itself."168

It is entirely possible that the right wing of the Republican Party has overreached and hurt its credibility through zeal and divisiveness. But how can the Republican Party successfully retain political power by casting adrift the Christian Right, its single biggest voting bloc? Moderate Republicans respond by noting that while hard-line conservative Republicans took over the House in 1994, Republicans then lost seats in 1996 and 1998. They say it's time for a return to moderation.

The rhetoric of some hard right Republican Presidential hopefuls, however, combines Christian Right moral absolutes with Patriot movement xenophobia and suspicion of collectivism. New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith speaking at the Christian Coalition's Road to Victory conference sounded like he was addressing a meeting of the armed militia movement. Even Dan Quayle hits Patriot and Christian Right hot buttons. In an exploratory "Campaign for America" direct mail solicitation containing a "National Referendum on Security and Sovereignty, Quayle sketched out his game plan:

    ·NO to the surrender of our sovereignty to the U.N.;

    ·YES to the vital Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI);

    ·NO to further military disarmament;

    ·YES to keeping America's Armed Forces the world's strongest;

    ·NO to women in combat and avowed homosexuals in uniform;

    ·YES to more intelligence agents in enemy lands;

    ·NO to further "U.N. peacekeeping" operations

    ·... and YES to a full-scale investigation into Red China's possible infiltration of our government at the highest levels...

    ·... and YES to determining how much damage the Clinton/Gore cozy relationship with the Red Chinese may have caused our nation's security.169

In this context, Pat Buchanan sounds restrained. If moderate Republicans take control, then a third-party candidate could emerge, but historically such candidacies have little hope for success. The bungling of the impeachment by the House managers has given breathing room to moderate Republicans, who now will emerge looking like liberals simply because they aren't the purist wing of the Christian Right. Contrary to Weyrich's assertions, the right has won so much that the Christian Right purists only look extreme because they are pushing for the last, most zealous pieces, of their theocratic agenda. In the past, the Democrats have met Republican shifts to the right by matching them.

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