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2 Contemporary American Political Culture and News Media Often left out of the exploration of how individual politics develop are the structural outlines of American political culture and news media that form the backdrop—or, more to the point, are part of the larger, interrelated environments—of that process. This chapter analyzes the key characteristics of this backdrop from the late 1960s to the present. Most important , it traces the rightward turn in American politics during this time and the political disconnection that both accompanies and facilitates it. A RIGHTWARD SHIFT Politicians and Policy One indicator of how American political culture has shifted to the right is the roster of politicians that Americans have voted in to office, and the policies they have enacted. After Democrats occupied the White House for twenty-eight of thirty-six years between 1933 and 1969, Republicans have been president for twenty-four of thirty-six years from 1969 to 2005. One could also argue that the two Democratic presidents since 1969, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were essentially political moderates, and to the right of much of their own party. By way of contrast, three of the four Republican presidents, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, were solid conservatives. The Congress has followed suit: Democrats were in the majority in the House of Representatives from 1955 to 1995, but Republicans have been in control for the past ten years as of this writing. And while Democrats had the majority in the U.S. Senate from 1965 to 1981, Republicans have been in control for fourteen of the last twenty-four years. Finally, there are the changes in what party Americans have chosen to run the governor’s office. In 1965, there were thirty-three Democratic governors and seventeen Republican; by 2001 those numbers had almost reversed, to the point where twenty-nine governors were Republicans and nineteen were Democrats. To be sure, part of this change is attributable to the party realignment that took place in the South after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s (Phillips 1969; Glaser 1998; Lawrence 1998). Then again, that realignment was not entirely confined to the South, and the backlash of which it was a part was not specific to race alone (Phillips 1969; Ehrenreich 1989; Freedman 1996). Even given this predominantly Republican political leadership (especially by the end of the millenium and beyond), and even with the many conservative court appointments for which it paved the way, especially during the Reagan Administration, actual public policy and law has of course not moved uniformly to the right. Reflecting changes in certain attitudes and mores during this time—including opinion on so-called cultural and lifestyle issues—laws discriminating against racial and sexual minorities were eliminated and civil rights protections for those groups and for the physically challenged were enacted (or enforced for the first time), Affirmative Action programs were introduced, and abortion rights were granted to women. Even with Republicans in the White House, the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s also saw liberal legislation and reform in such diverse areas as the environment, consumer rights and product safety, campaign finance, covert military operations, and foreign and domestic intelligence. And in the 1990s, the Clinton Administration was able to point to family and medical leave and somewhat more progressive income taxation as key liberal victories. That said, in terms of actual policy the late 1970s to the early 2000s were more often than not conservative times, with an accent on libertarian conservatism (notwithstanding the military buildup and expansion of the criminal justice system’s punitive arm). The reinstatement of the death penalty, the trying and sentencing of juveniles as adults, welfare reform, tax cuts and subsidies that predominantly benefited corporations and the wealthy, select limitations on abortion rights, cuts in social services, military spending increases, challenges to Affirmative Action, movement toward the privatization of education, health care, and Social Security, and more than anything else, deregulation—all of these (variable and fluctuating) changes in policy and law indicated a political culture moving to the right (Johnson 1992; Berman 1998; Frank 2000; Judis 2001). The Concentration of Wealth and Power The concentration of private wealth and power, and its effects on the political system, is another important indicator—and engine—of a political 18 APPREHENDING POLITICS culture that has taken a right turn. Aided by deregulation, the increase in business mergers and takeovers since the 1960s has left many industries— communications being one example...


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