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Wed January 4, 2012
Dr. David Courtwright, University of North Florida - America's Political Shift
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. David Courtwright of the University of North Florida examines the perceived conservative shift in politics in the United States.
David Courtwright is Presidential Professor in the Department of History at the University of North Florida where he teaches courses on the history of medicine, aviation, and the politics and culture of the 1960s. Courtwright is the author of numerous works, including 2010's No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America. He holds a Ph.D. from Rice University.
Dr. David Courtwright - America's Political Shift
When did America take a right turn? Most people think it began with the chaos of the 1960s and the rise of the New Right. Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory in 1980 confirmed the conservative shift. But how conservative, really, were the four decades after the 1960s? I believe that they were not very conservative at all.
The dreams of liberalism's enemies to overturn the New Deal, to overturn the sexual revolution, to overturn reliance on government all went unfulfilled. True, Republicans won elections with wedge issues. But they could not govern as reactionaries. Corporate interests, boomer lifestyles, entitlement expectations, and the media weighed too heavily against them.
What Republicans could achieve was selective reaction, mostly directed at crime, drug abuse, and welfare dependency. But religious conservatives made little progress on abortion and school prayer. They lost ground on obscenity, gay rights, and legalized vices. Fiscal conservatives watched in dismay. Finally, they turned on George W. Bush. "Not a conservative," Rush Limbaugh declared. William F. Buckley Jr. said the same thing. So that settles that.
The Tea Party proves the conservative rebellion is still alive. Slow recovery gives conservatives a fair chance at 2012 success. But whether they can rein in the Washington culture (much less the popular culture) remains in doubt. For historians for all of us this is the question that will be answered by the conduct not the rhetoric of those who win the next election.