With the approach of the crucial mid-term elections, and especially after the media obsession with the internet correspondence of Congressman Mark Foley, numerous liberal commentators eagerly anticipate a shattering crack-up of the conservative movement. While the outcome of the November balloting remains very much in doubt, these gleeful predictions of GOP disaster demonstrate an ignorant misunderstanding of the essential nature of the Republican coalition, and grossly exaggerate the gap between “religious” and “economic” conservatives.
Paul Krugman, for instance, New York Times columnist, bestselling author and Princeton professor, recently published a piece called “Things Fall Apart.” In it, he declared: “At its core, the political axis that currently controls Congress and the White House is an alliance between the preachers and the plutocrats- between the religious right, which hates gays, abortion and the theory of evolution, and the economic right, which hates Social Security, Medicare and taxes on rich people…Together, these groups formed a seemingly invincible political coalition, in which the religious right supplied the passion and the economic right supplied the money.”
Krugman insists that the movement will inevitably self destruct because its members don’t share a philosophy or even common aims. “The coalition, however, has always been more vulnerable than it seemed because it was an alliance based not on shared goals, but on each group’s belief that it could use the other to get what it wants,” he writes. In other words, he suggests cooperation within the conservative movement has always been self-serving, hypocritical, contradictory and cynical. He makes the fatal mistake of many ideologues: feeling so certain of his own enlightened righteousness that he can’t even acknowledge the sincerity of his opponents. “Surrounding this core is a large periphery of politicians and lobbyists who joined the movement not out of conviction but to share in the spoils,” he sniffs.
This attitude reflects the common assumption that the impassioned members of a Pentecostal church in Alabama can’t possibly endorse the same worldview as Ivy League-educated intellectuals at a conservative Washington think tank – an assumption that ignores the obvious fact that some ideological commitments cut across class, religious, educational, economic and even racial lines. The agreement on major issues that has fueled Republican successes since the Reagan Revolution is authentic and organic, not strategic or calculating.