The Enclave Option For the Christian Right

In a reasonably conventional analysis of the question of how the Republican Party handles the toxic “social-issues” views of its Christian Right/Tea Party “base,” Tom Edsall hits on one option during a conversation with Grover Norquist that might actually be promising: de-politicizing cultural issues by the construction of a parallel universe that no longer relies on government to vindicate “traditionalist values.” Check it out:

Norquist told me in a phone interview that he thinks policies initiated by Republicans at the state and local levels, by breaking the link that joins individuals and families to government, are laying the groundwork for a continuing expansion of the conservative electorate.

Nearly two million children are now home-schooled, Norquist said, and their families have rejected government-run public schools and decided that they can do a better job on their own. Some eight million men and women have concealed-carry handgun permits, with the result that they feel “more self-assured, more independent, not as worried police will draw chalk marks around their body” and certainly less inclined, according to Norquist, to support a pro-gun-control Democratic Party. Along similar lines, Norquist notes, the number of poor students receiving vouchers to attend private schools is rising steadily as the passage of state right-to-work laws is gutting dues-paying membership in public employee unions, a financial mainstay of the Democratic Party.

“I’m reasonably confident that at the state level we are creating more people who want to be part of the ‘leave us alone coalition,’ ” Norquist said. He predicts that within the next decade, Republicans will take control of the Senate and regain the White House.

In other words, having been thwarted repeatedly in political efforts to impose their views on the country through public policy, the Christian Right just needs enough “room” to build its own enclaves, beyond which it can happily cooperate with less “traditionalist” conservatives in disabling government’s role in the economy.

This is precisely the strategy for the Cultural Right that the late Paul Weyrich decided on in 1999, before George W. Bush’s election revived prospects for the achievement of its goals through government action.

For people like Norquist, this is obviously an ideal scenario: conservative evangelicals will stop pressing their politically unpopular demands on the GOP but will continue to support its non-cultural agenda.

It sounds pretty pat, but there are, of course, problems with this approach. On abortion, for example, conservative evangelicals who believe we are living in a genocidal society like Nazi Germany can’t solve that problem by minding their own business and building up their own counterculture of God-fearing women who are told to view themselves as divinely ordained vessels for procreation. And even on such fronts as education, it’s not as though homeschoolers and private-schoolers can have their way without political action to destroy the funding base for “government schools.”

If you look at the history of radically conservative evangelicalism in this country, there is an alternating pattern of political activism and “quietism,” with the latter characterized by the resolution to form a “righteous remnant” of obedient Christians who simply refuse to play the devil’s game of politics. Perhaps Norquist is sure we are approaching a “sweet spot” where these folk stay out of sight on cultural issues but still flock to the polls to support a libertarian economic and fiscal agenda. It’s not so clear he’s right, but it is decidedly useful as a happy-talk analysis that turns today’s defeats into impending conservative victory.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.