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Uncompromising Positions

God, Sex, and the U.S. House of Representatives

Elizabeth Anne Oldmixon

Publication Year: 2005

Cultural factions are an intrinsic part of the fabric of American politics. But does this mean that there is no room for compromise when groups hold radically different viewpoints on major issues? Not necessarily. For example, in a June 2003 Time/CNN poll, 49% of respondents identified themselves as pro-choice and 46% identified as pro-life. But in the same poll, 81% indicated that abortion should be "always legal" or "sometimes legal," suggesting that "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are not discrete positions but allow room for compromise. How do legislators legislate policy conflicts that are defined in explicitly cultural terms such as abortion, gay marriage, and school prayer? American political institutions are frequently challenged by the significant conflict between those who embrace religious traditionalism and those who embrace progressive cultural norms. Uncompromising Positions: God, Sex, and the U.S. House of Representatives investigates the politics of that conflict as it is manifested in the proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives. Oldmixon traces the development of these two distinct cultures in contemporary American politics and discusses the decision-making and leadership tactics used by legislators to respond to this division of values. She argues that cultural conflict produces an absolutist politics that draws on religious values not amenable to compromise politics. One possible strategy to address the problem is to build bipartisan coalitions. Yet, interviews with House staffers and House members, as well as roll calls, all demonstrate that ideologically driven politicians sacrifice compromise and stability to achieve short-term political gain. Noting polls that show Americans tend to support compromise positions, Oldmixon calls on House members to put aside short-term political gain, take their direction from the example of the American public, and focus on finding viable solutions to public policy—not zealous ideology.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Series: Religion and Politics series

Figures and Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

My father used to regale me with stories of his days as an altar boy growing up on Staten Island, New York. He loved being an altar boy. For one thing, altar boys were excused from school to serve at funerals. For another, sometimes he and his friends had the opportunity to steal communion wine...

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pp. xv-xvi

Many people contributed to this project, and I am happy to have the opportunity to acknowledge them. Thank you to Larry Dodd, Ken Wald, Jim Button, Peggy Conway, Marty Swilley, and Debbie Wallen, all of whom are at the University of Florida. Larry and Ken, in particular, continue to be...

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Introduction: Guns, Race, and Culture

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pp. 1-21

Inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, Puritan leader John Winthrop preached to the early European settlers in North America that they should model themselves as “a city upon a hill.”¹ In the years that followed, this image of America as a Godly “city upon a hill” became a popular metaphor for the...

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1. Seeing and Believing in the Foreground

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pp. 23-49

Regardless of historical era and context, in the foreground of American politics members of Congress want things. They are purposive and goal oriented, and they act to achieve their goals. Scholars have elucidated an array of legislative goals that to varying degrees structure behavior, institutional...

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2. The Culture of Progressive Sexuality

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pp. 51-82

Representative Barney Frank envisions a role for government as the protector of public morality. The moral vision he advocates, however, is not informed by religious values. The moral vision Frank seems to promote is one in which government carves out and defends individual autonomy, directed...

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3. The Culture of Religious Traditionalism

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pp. 83-113

On August 17, 1992, Pat Buchanan took the podium in prime time at the Republican National Convention and characterized the presidential election as a choice between President George H. W. Bush, a “ champion of the Judeo- Christian values,” and Governor Bill Clinton, a champion of...

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4. Choosing Folkways

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pp. 115-144

Sumner’s aphorism—often parsed as “You can’t legislate morality”—endures as a common refrain in American politics. Yet even if stateways cannot change folkways, stateways certainly can institutionalize and legitimate folkways. The U.S. Congress does this every year—or, at least, it...

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5. Managing Morality

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pp. 145-180

I now turn my attention to how the House of Representatives tries to “outlaw sin,” focusing in particular on the role leaders play in managing the politics of cultural issues. Individual legislators are free to pursue their own goals in the foreground, but leaders must concern themselves with larger issues...

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6. Cultural Scuffles and Capitol Hill

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pp. 181-192

The original working title of this manuscript was “Culture Wars and Capitol Hill.” That title, however, mischaracterizes the argument I pursue. As a national deliberative body, the U.S. Congress is an arena for punctuated cultural conflict (or scuffling) but probably not continuous culture...

Appendix A: Elite Interview Information

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pp. 193-194

Appendix B: Variable Specification, Coding, and Description

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pp. 195-205


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pp. 207-218


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pp. 219-232


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pp. 233-244

E-ISBN-13: 9781589014787
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589010710

Page Count: 262
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Religion and Politics series