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  • Beyond Big Bucks and Media Savvy:An Interview with Jean Hardisty and Esther Kaplan on the Rise of the Conservative Movement in the U.S. and Jewish Social Justice Work Today
  • Cole Krawitz (bio), Jean V. Hardisty, and Esther Kaplan

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Figure 1.

Photomontage by Lisa Link
Forever Free
Text from White House website news releases: President Participates in Social Security Conversation in New York Greece Athena Middle and High School, Athena Performing Arts Center, Greece, New York; photo of my pen at the Gallery of Social and Political Art in Boston, MA, September, 2005 during the "What is Freedom Exhibition?" in which I participated.

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Figure 2.


If the shofar hadn't blasted loudly enough, a recent article in The Nation (November 7, 2005), "Wrong About the Right" by Jean Hardisty and Deepak Bhargava, has sent necessary shock waves through progressive circles and organizations, challenging the dominant narrative of how the right has risen to power. In my position at a national public policy organization,1 I often meet policy wonks and advocates who confidently describe the rise of the conservative movement as a result of big bucks and media savvy. In a joint interview with Hardisty, who has spent the last thirty years monitoring the rise of the Christian right,2 and Esther Kaplan, author of With God on Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right,3 both confirmed the hazards of this perspective. "The idea that money and a good PR machine are all the progressive movement needs doesn't recognize that the conservative mood in the country is real and widespread," said Hardisty. "We have to understand [End Page 77] what left people open to the conservative message."

Both Hardisty and Kaplan report on the extensive grassroots organizing and mobilization that have galvanized the electoral and political power of the right. In Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers,4 Hardisty details the formation and nuances of right-wing movements as they built upon strong social and political opposition to the expansion of rights for women, people of color and LGBT people over the last thirty years. Documenting the historical proliferation of conservatism, and how the right used specific campaign strategies to win the hearts of the nation, Hardisty's work has become a cornerstone for liberals and leftists. Kaplan's work in With God on Their Side focuses on the Bush administration's rise to power in the larger context of the nation's swing and embrace of the heavily-coded "moral values" issues.

In her introduction, Kaplan highlights voting statistics from the 2000 presidential election to demonstrate the political base behind the Bush administration—evangelical conservatives. "Though white evangelicals constitute only about 25 percent of the national population, this highly motivated voting bloc made up 40 percent of Bush's electorate in 2000, an amount he hopes to boost in 2004. When that number is combined with the most religiously observant Catholics, the total comes to 51 percent of all Bush votes in 2000. The Christian right is not just another special interest group, like the NRA. This is Bush's base." In the afterword, Kaplan commented on this continuing trend in the 2004 elections "On November 2… Bush [won] both the election and the popular vote, with a historically high evangelical turnout and a plurality of Americans saying that 'moral values' had guided their decision. That 22 percent swath of American voters chose Bush by an 85 to 14 margin and beat out those who were most concerned with jobs and the economy, terrorism, and Iraq….Bush increased his total votes by around 9 million over 2000—and 7 million of those were Catholic and evangelical conservatives."

As many of us struggle with our yearning for what Hardisty called the "magic bullet" to fix this problem, there is still a strong need for the progressive movement to stop shrugging off the deep political base and power of the right as mere manipulation, or expressing arrogant disregard for people...


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pp. 76-88
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2012
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