Election 2006 II
Bill Long 11/11/06
The Cresting of the "Theocon" Wave
It dawned on me while watching election night coverage and listening to William Bennett try to make losing PA Senator Rick Santorum sound like a genuine American hero that if there is any real lesson in the elections it is not that Bush is unpopular or that the American public feels the War in Iraq has gone awry, but that the agenda of the so-called theocons has finally been derailed and put to the side for quite a while. This essay explains a little of who the theocons are and then suggests why their agenda will no longer dominate the airwaves.
Many have heard of the neo-conservatives (i.e., "neocons") who may be defined as those conservatives, many of whom are Jewish intellectuals disenchanted with the liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s, who have an unbridled love for American capitalism and a desire to see American power spread widely over the globe. The War in Iraq, for example, is a quintessentially "neocon" war. What is their agenda? Divide the Muslims, put an island of American influence in the Middle East, protect Israel thereby, get access to a huge supply of cheap oil, and assure American prosperity and world dominance for the foreseeable future.
Beginning in the late 1970s, however, we had the emergence of those who were only in the 1990s denominated as "theocons," that is conservatives with a strong religious, moral and cultural agenda. Neocons and theocons, actually, would often be at loggerheads with each other. The "theocons" arose in the wake of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, even though they didn't really get their sea legs until the 1980s. Their argument was that America was a culture in decline, that its moral authority was rapidly eroding, that a culture of death was being spawned by abortion-friendly court decisions and that we had to renew America by bringing an explicitly moral/religious dimension in to politics. Damon Linker's new book The Theocons, explores these themes in great detail. Centering around Lutheran-turned-Catholic theologian and activist Richard John Neuhaus, the theocons engineered a unique agreement between conservative Catholics and Evangelicals to pursue a moral "agenda for life" in a 1994 joint statement.
Since that time their emphasis has been on developing a religious/political agenda which not only would give religious communities priority in American life but would try to undercut the historic role of courts in granting additional personal liberties. Teaching of creationism, limitations on stem-cell research, cutting back or reversing Roe v. Wade, returning prayer and Bible reading to the public schools--these ideas and others would lead to a sort of moral and religious revival in America which would assure a conservative dominance for the foreseeable future in American life.
Many people thought, and many more feared, that this agenda was actually going to dominate us. Indeed, the Republican control of all branches of government, an apparently religious ideologue in the White House, and economic prosperity in our time (the most underreported story of 2006) suggested that these folk might be correct. And, if the War in Iraq were going "better," that is, if there were some milestones that could be pointed to that things actually were "improving" there, such an agenda would perhaps have emerged victorious. But, thankfully, on Nov. 7, it didn't.
The "Lesson" of November 7
But before we get too elated, we must realize that the Democratic gains in the House of Representatives were not historic by any means. For example, when Bill Clinton faced his first mid-term election (Fall 1994), he not only saw the House and Senate fall into Republican hands (the first time for the former since the 1950s), but the D's actually lost more than 50 seats in the House! By contrast, in 2006, it looks as if they will be picking up about 30 seats. Again, even though the D's "control" the Senate now, they do so by the slimmest of margins. The only thing, then, that seemingly has slowed down the theocon steamroller is a fully incompetent President who now is saying words that literally no one believes (such as when he commended Defense Secretary Rumsfield for doing a "fantastic" job at the beginning of November...just a few days before giving him the axe). So, my elation isn't complete; rather it is a more cautious optimism.
But the fact that someone like Rick Santorum (R-PA), one of the more pugilistically-inclined voices of the theocons, should have been spanked so significantly by Robert Casey in PA and the fact that William Bennett, who has thoroughly discredited himself in the minds of most thinking Americans in the past few years, wistfully longs for a Santorum-for-President drive, means that the "social conservatives," as they are sometimes known, are now facing hurdles of their own. They will not, for the next two years, be able to see hyper-conservative Justices confirmed; they won't win the day on stem-cell research; they won't even be able to define the terms of the debates in Congress. To that extent, it will be a new day. And, if George Bush continues to disgrace himself, his party, and his nation, then Americans will be so fed up that they will not only elect a Democrat for President in 2008, but perhaps even a woman...
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long