American conservatism

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See also: American conservatism, history

Modern American conservatism is not strictly defined, but reflects a set of attitudes in a political and social context. Attempting to define political belief into a spectrum of conservatism on the right and liberalism on the left of a straight line is doomed to failure. Minimally, political opinion can be defined in two dimensions: economic freedom vs. control, and individual liberty vs. control. Additional dimensions may be needed to consider international relations.

American conservatives tend to be strong supporters of the free market, but vary in the degree of regulation needed, often to keep that market honest. They vary considerably in the importance they give to individual liberties versus a well-ordered society. At times, and in important ways, it has been leavened with populism and specific social and religious considerations and issues and these factors did not always manifest themselves in the political arena in ways consistent with conservative political theory as understood by all significant elements of the conservative political spectrum.

There is no one model, and no one person or organization that includes every aspect of conservatism; indeed some themes are mutually at odds or contradictory. The most influential political leaders in recent decades included Robert A. Taft in the 1940s, Barry Goldwater in the 1960s, Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. Important writers and spokesmen of the past included Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, William F. Buckley Jr., George Will and Thomas Sowell. Economists important to the conservative movement include Ludwig von Mises, Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman.

It is certainly possible for one to be a fiscal and economic conservative but not a social conservative; in the United States at present, this is the stance of libertarianism. It is also possible to be a social conservative but not an economic conservative — at present, this is a common political stance in, for example, Ireland — or to be a fiscal conservative without being either a social conservative or a broader economic conservative, such as the "deficit hawks" of the Democratic party. In general use, the unqualified term "conservative" is often applied to social conservatives who are not fiscal or economic conservatives. It is rarely applied in the opposite case, except in specific contrast to those who are neither.

Traditionally, many conservatives supported states' rights (in opposition to a strong federal government), but that position has been under debate recently. The "elite" style of conservatism, typified by William Howard Taft and his son Robert A. Taft, emphasized the court system as a conservative bulwark against popular threats to the rights of Americans. The "populist" version (which includes Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and many recent spokesmen), sees the courts as too elitist and wants more popular control over Supreme Court decisions, often arguing against "activist" judges.

A strong opposition to liberal intellectual elites has appeared since the 1950s, attacking the mainstream media, higher education, science, and K-12 teachers organized into the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The main criticism is they are a minority foisting liberal ideas on unsuspecting conservative majorities. Thus teachers are attacked for fostering poor education through government monopoly, inefficiency, high costs and liberalism.

Types of conservatism

Defining "American conservatism" requires a definition of conservatism in general, and the term is applied to a number of ideas and ideologies, some more closely related to core conservative beliefs than others.

1. Classical or institutional conservatism - Opposition to rapid change in governmental and societal institutions. This kind of conservatism is anti-ideological insofar as it emphasizes process (slow change) over product (any particular form of government). To the classical conservative, whether one arrives at a right- or left-leaning government is less important than whether change is effected through rule of law rather than through revolution and sudden innovation. Classical conservatives tend to be anti-ideological, and some would even say anti-philosophical,[1] promoting rather, as Russell Kirk explains, a steady flow of "prescription and prejudice." Kirk's use of the word "prejudice" here is not intended to carry its contemporary pejorative connotation: a conservative himself, he believes that the inherited wisdom of the ages may be a better guide than apparently rational individual judgment.

2. Ideological conservatism or right-wing conservatism -- In contrast to the anti-ideological classical conservatism, right-wing conservatism is, as its name implies, ideological. It is typified by three distinct subideologies: social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, and economic liberalism. Together, these subideologies comprise the conservative ideology of people in some English-speaking countries: separately, these subideologies are incorporated into other political positions.

3. Neoconservatism, in its United States usage, has come to refer to the views of a subclass of conservatives who support a more assertive foreign policy coupled with one or more other facets of social conservatism, in contrast to the typically isolationist views of early- and mid-20th Century conservatives. Neoconservatism was first described by a group of disaffected liberals, and thus Irving Kristol, usually credited as its intellectual progenitor, defined a "neoconservative" as "a liberal who was mugged by reality." Although originally regarded as an approach to domestic policy (the founding instrument of the movement, Kristol's The Public Interest periodical, did not even cover foreign affairs), through the influence of figures like Dick Cheney, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, Ken Adelman and (Irving's son) William Kristol, it has become more famous for its association with the foreign policy of the George W. Bush Administration.

4. Small government conservatism -- Small government conservatives look for a decreased role of the federal government and weaker state governments. Small government conservatives rather than focusing of the protections given individuals by the Bill of Rights, they try to weaken the federal government, thereby following the Founding Fathers who were suspicious of a centralized, unitary state like the United Kingdom, from which they had just won their freedom.

5. Paleoconservatism, was typified by intellectuals of the 1950s and 1960s including Russell Kirk, Thomas Molnar, Stephen Tonsor, George Carey, Forrest McDonald, and Robert Nisbet. They were opponents of the New Deal and its legacy under Eisenhower and Nixon. They were opposed by the neoconservatism of the 1980s. The paleoconservatives stress tradition, civil society, classical federalism and the heritage of traditional Christian civilization]. They see socialism and liberal welfare states as malevolent attempts to remake humanity. Paleos warn that the dominant forces in Western society no longer support conserving the traditions, institutions, and values that created and formed it. Fearful of government, they hearken back to the anti-federalists (opponents of the Constitution) of 1787 and Thomas Jefferson, and call for decentralization, local rule, private property and minimal bureaucracy.[2] In society, they are traditionalist, support a Christian moral order and proclaim the nuclear family is a wise system. Some like Samuel Huntington argue that multiracial, multiethnic, and egalitarian states are inherently unstable.[3]

Paleos are generally isolationist, allowing for cash and carry foreign trade but arguing that American entry into foreign wars is unnecessary and unwise because it threatens liberties at home. In this regard they follow the republicanism of George Washington's Farewell Address.

In contrast to classical conservatism, social conservatism and fiscal conservatism are concerned with consequences as well as means.

Social conservatism

There are two overlapping subgroups of social conservatives—the traditional and the religious. In social issues the split is between those who tolerate many forms of private behavior and limits on social control, and those who invoke cultural or religious traditions, and advocate the necessity of various social controls and prohibitions. Social conservatives especially have opposed changes in traditional moral codes especially regarding sexual behavior and gender roles (such as opposition to divorce, contraception, abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage, and women in combat roles in the military). Most social conservatives are hostile to the use of illegal drugs, and before 1933 many supported the prohibition of alcohol. "Affirmative action" for blacks, women and minorities are often termed "quotas" and are opposed.

Traditional conservatives

"Cultural conservatism" is generally dominated by defense of traditional social norms and values, of local customs and of societal evolution, rather than social upheaval, though the distinction is not absolute. Often based upon religion, cultural conservatives, in contrast to "small-government" conservatives and "states-rights" advocates, increasingly turn to the federal government to overrule the states in order to preserve educational and moral standards.

Social conservatives emphasize traditional views of social units such as the family, church, or locale. They would typically define family in terms of local histories and tastes. Social conservatism may entail defining marriage as between a man and a woman (thereby banning same-sex marriage) and laws to criminalize abortion.

From this same respect for local traditions comes the correlation between conservatism and patriotism. Conservatives, out of their respect for traditional, established institutions, tend to strongly identify with nationalist movements, existing governments, and its defenders: police, the military, and national poets, authors, and artists.

Social conservatives hold that military institutions embody admirable values like honor, duty, courage, and loyalty. Military institutions are independent sources of tradition and ritual pageantry that conservatives tend to admire. In its degenerative form, such respect may become typified by jingoism, populism, and nativism.

Some conservatives want to use federal power to block state actions they disapprove of. Thus in the 21st century came support for the "No Child Left Behind" program, support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, support for federal laws overruling states that attempt to legalize marijuana or assisted suicide. The willingness to use federal power to intervene in state affairs is the negation of the old state's rights position.

Anti-intellectualism has sometimes been a component of social conservatism, especially when intellectuals were seen in opposition to religion or as proponents of "progress". [4] In the 1920s, liberal leader William Jennings Bryan led the battle against Darwinism and evolution, a battle which still goes on in conservative circles today.

Traditional conservatism is generally associated with the following views, as noted by Russell Kirk in his book, The Conservative Mind:

  1. "Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience."
  2. "Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems;"
  3. "Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and the Leviathan becomes master of all."
  4. "Faith in prescription and distrust of 'sophisters, calculators, and economists' who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs."
  5. "Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress."

libertarians generally reject the first point and may reject the second, or embrace it as a form of acceptance of diversity not always popular with social and traditional conservatives.

Religious conservatives

Religious conservatives focus on rules laid down by religious leaders. In the United States, they especially oppose abortion and homosexuality and often favor the use of government institutions, such as schools and courts, to promote Christianity. A branch of religious conservatism, Dominionism, explicitly believes the U.S. should operate as a Christian nation.

Economic conservatism

Fiscal conservatism is the economic and political policy that advocates restraint of governmental taxation and expenditures. Fiscal conservatives since the 18th century have argued that debt is a device to corrupt politics; they argue that big spending ruins the morals of the people, and that a national debt creates a dangerous class of speculators. The argument in favor of balanced budgets is often coupled with a belief that government welfare programs should be narrowly tailored and that tax rates should be low, which implies relatively small government institutions.

This belief in small government combines with fiscal conservatism to produce a broader economic liberalism, which wishes to minimize government intervention in the economy. This amounts to support for laissez-faire economics. This economic liberalism borrows from two schools of thought: the classical liberals' pragmatism and the libertarian's notion of "rights." The classical liberal maintains that free markets work best, while the libertarian contends that free markets are the only ethical markets.

Fiscal conservatives have complained about high-spending conservatives, such as Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, especially regarding their high military spending.

Some admit the necessity of taxes, but hold that taxes should be low. A recent movement against the inheritance tax labels such a tax a death tax. Fiscal conservatives often argue that competition in the free market is more effective than the regulation of industry, with the exception of industries that exhibit market dominance or monopoly powers. For some this is a matter of principle, as it is for the libertarians and others influenced by thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises, who believed that government intervention in the economy is inevitably wasteful and inherently corrupt and immoral. For others, "free market economics" simply represents the most efficient way to promote economic growth: they support it not based on some moral principle, but pragmatically, because it "works".

Most modern American fiscal conservatives accept some social spending programs not specifically delineated in the Constitution. As such, fiscal conservatism today exists somewhere between classical conservatism and contemporary consequentialist political philosophies.

The economic philosophy of conservatives in the United States tends to be liberalism. Economic liberalism can go well beyond fiscal conservatism's concern for fiscal prudence, to a belief or principle that it is not prudent for governments to intervene in markets. It is also, sometimes, extended to a broader "small government" philosophy. Economic liberalism is associated with free-market, or laissez-faire economics.

Economic liberalism, insofar as it is ideological, owes its creation to the "classical liberal" tradition, in the vein of Adam Smith , Friedrich A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman.

Classical liberals and libertarians support free markets on moral, ideological grounds: principles of individual liberty morally dictate support for free markets. Supporters of the moral grounds for free markets include Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. The liberal tradition is suspicious of government authority, and prefers individual choice, and hence tends to see capitalist economics as the preferable means of achieving economic ends.

Modern conservatives also derive support for free markets from practical grounds. Free markets, they argue, are the most productive markets. Thus the modern conservative supports free markets not solely out of necessity, but out of expedience. The support is not primarily moral or ideological, but driven on the Burkean notion of prescription: what works best is what is right.

Another reason why conservatives support a smaller role for the government in the economy is the belief in the importance of the civil society. As noted by Alexis de Tocqueville, a bigger role of the government in the economy will make people feel less responsible for the society. The responsibilities must then be taken over by the government, requiring higher taxes. In his book Democracy in America, De Tocqueville describes this as "soft oppression".

Classical liberals and modern conservatives selected free markets as ideals through different means historically, the lines have blurred under the "umbrella" of the conservative movement. Rarely will a politician claim that free markets are "simply more productive" or "simply the right thing to do" but a combination of both.

The archetypal free-market conservative administrations of the late 20th century -- the Margaret Thatcher government in the UK and the Ronald Reagan government in the U.S. -- both held the unfettered operation of the market to be the cornerstone of contemporary modern conservatism (this philosophy is sometimes called neoliberalism). To that end, Thatcher privatized industries and Reagan cut the maximum income tax rate from 70% to 28%. Contrary to the neoliberal ideal, Reagan increased government spending from about 700 billion in his first year in office to about 900 billion in his last year.

The interests of capitalism, fiscal and economic liberalism, and free-market economy do not necessarily coincide with those of social conservatism. At times, aspects of capitalism and free markets have been profoundly subversive of the existing social order, as in economic modernization, or of traditional attitudes toward the proper position of sex in society, as in the now near-universal availability of pornography. To that end, on issues at the intersection of economic and social policy, conservatives of one school or another are often at odds.

National security conservatism

Some conservatives favor a strong military and an interventionist foreign policy (e.g., neoconservatism, while others are isolationist (e.g., paleoconservatism). Both may oppose "internationalism" (in the sense of allowing organizations like the United Nations or public opinion in other countries to shape American policies). Similar isolationist opposition succeeded in keeping the United States out of the League of Nations in 1919, and strongly opposed American involvement in Europe prior to Pearl Harbor. The term national security conservatism is relatively recent, but has come to be associated with a strong military as a fundamental precept of political philosophy. Especially with the increase in non-national terrorism, such conservatives may rate domestic intelligence and counterterrorism as more important than civil liberties.

Ironically, some liberals, especially associated with Wilsonianism, may make common cause with conservative or neoconservative interventionalists. [5] Francis Fukuyama, in America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, discusses a "realistic Wilsonianism" as a synthesis of approaches to foreign policy for democracies. Andrew Bacevich also describes it is a basis for the thinking of Ronald Reagan and the post-Cold War period.

Nearly all conservatives have actively opposed Communism and Socialism at home; most opposed international Communism, especially in Cuba, the Soviet Union (before 1989) and China (before 1972). For those conservatives that believe in interventionist foreign policy, support of Israel is often a given. The goal of remaking Islamic countries into democracies is a more mixed one.

Many conservatives, especially of the paleoconservatism branch, display nativism, or strong hostility toward people who do they say do not belong in America (such as illegal immigrants in the 21st century, German and Irish immigrants, immigrants from Central and Southern Europe or anywhere in Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries, or Catholics in the 18th and 19th centuries).

Conservatism and change

"Conservatism" is not necessarily opposed to change. For example, the Reagan administration in the U.S. and that of Margaret Thatcher in the UK both professed conservatism, but during Reagan's term of office, the United States radically revised its tax code, while Thatcher dismantled several previously nationalized industries and made major reforms in taxation and housing; furthermore, both took, or attempted, significant measures to reduce the power of labor unions. These changes were justified on the grounds that they were changing back to the conditions of a better time.

Political memory can be of various durations, and the traditions conservatives embrace can be of relatively recent invention. The prevalence of the nuclear family and companionate marriage is, at most, a few centuries old--extended families and arranged marriages dominated before then. Western democracy itself is a late 18th century invention. Corporate capitalism is even newer. The reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance only goes back to the 1950s. The race-blind meritocracy now embraced by many conservatives as an alternative to affirmative action would have seemed quite radical to most U.S. conservatives in the 1950s.

Contemporary conservative platform

Sharon Statement

In 1960, a group of conservatives, meeting at William F. Buckley Jr.'s home in Sharon, Connecticut, issued a statement of principles. This was the basis for the foundation of Young Americans for Freedom. [6]

Criticism of George W. Bush

George W. Bush adopted a policy of what he termed "compassionate conservatism", which differed from the policies of Ronald Reagan.

Mount Vernon Statement

Conservatism and the Courts

One stream of conservatism exemplified by William Howard Taft extols independent judges as experts in fairness and the final arbiters of the Constitution. However, another more populist stream of conservatism condemns "judicial activism" -- that is, judges rejecting laws passed by Congress or interpreting old laws in new ways. This position goes back to Jefferson's vehement attacks on federal judges and to Abraham Lincoln's attacks on the Dred Scott decision of 1857. In 1910 Theodore Roosevelt broke with most of his lawyer friends and called for popular votes that could overturn unwelcome decisions by state courts. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not attack the Supreme Court directly in 1937, but ignited a firestorm of protest by a proposal to add seven new justices. The Warren Court of the 1960s came under conservative attack for decisions regarding redistricting, desegregation, and the rights of those accused of crimes.

A more recent variant that emerged in the 1970s is "originalism", the assertion that the United States Constitution should be interpreted to the maximum extent possible in the light of what it meant when it was adopted. Originalism should not be confused with a similar conservative ideology, strict constructionism, which deals with the interpretation of the Constitution as written, but not necessarily within the context of the time when it was adopted.

Semantics, language, and media

See also: Political opinion broadcasting

In the late 20th century conservatives found new ways to use language and the media to support their goals and to shape the vocabulary of political discourse. Thus the use of "Democrat" as an adjective, as in "Democrat Party" was used first in the 1930s by Republicans to criticize large urban Democratic machines. Republican leader Harold Stassen stated in 1940, "I emphasized that the party controlled in large measure at that time by Hague in New Jersey, Pendergast in Missouri and Kelly Nash in Chicago should not be called a 'Democratic Party.' It should be called the 'Democrat party.'"[7] In 1947 Senator Robert A. Taft said, "Nor can we expect any other policy from any Democrat Party or any Democrat President under present day conditions. They cannot possibly win an election solely through the support of the solid South, and yet their political strategists believe the Southern Democrat Party will not break away no matter how radical the allies imposed upon it."[8]. Although members of the Democratic Party consider it derogatory, the use of "Democrat" was has been standard practice in the George W. Bush White House since 2001, for press releases and speeches.

Much of the rhetoric is old-fashioned redefining friends and foes as good and evil. In electronic mass media, this began in talk radio, moved to cable news, and is a distinguishing characteristic of the Fox News Channel. In news commentator Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo"[9], editorials the most evil villains are illegal aliens, terrorists, and foreigners because they are apparently a physical and moral threat to the United States. Slightly less evil - but unambiguously bad - are groups (media, organizations, politicians) who share a political leaning to the Left. On the other side, the virtuous flank emerged as an all-American crew made up of the military, criminal justice system, the George W. Bush presidential administration, and ordinary US citizens.[10]

Conservatism in the United States electoral politics

In the United States, the Republican Party is generally considered to be the party of conservatism. This has been the case since the 1960s, when the conservative wing of that party consolidated its hold, causing it to shift permanently to the right of the Democratic Party. The most dramatic realignment was the white South, which moved from 3-1 Democratic to 3-1 Republican between 1960 and 2000. By 2000, for the first time, all southern states had a conservative GOP and a liberal Democratic party. The region favored the GOP heavily in presidential elections, but split in state contests. After 2004, Virginia began moving left.

Libertarians may or may not regard themselves as conservative. They are most likely to conflict with social conservatism. advocate significant economic and social changes – for instance, further dismantling the welfare system or liberalizing drug policy. They see these as conservative policies because they conform to the spirit of individual liberty that they consider to be a traditional American value.

On the other end of the scale, some Americans see themselves as conservative while not being supporters of free market policies. These people generally favor protectionist trade policies using high tariff or restrictive quotas and government intervention in the market to preserve American jobs. Many of these conservatives were originally supporters of neoliberalism who changed their stance after perceiving that countries such as China were benefiting from that system at the expense of American production. However, despite of their support for protectionism, they still tend to favor other elements of free market philosophy, such as low taxes, limited government and balanced budgets.

In the United States modern conservatism coalesced in the latter half of the 20th century, responding over time to the political and social change associated with events such as the Great Depression, tension with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, the deregulation of the economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the overthrow of the New Deal Coalition in the 1980s, and the terrorist threat of the 21st century. Its prominence has been aided, in part, by the emergence of vocal and influential economists, politicians, writers, and media personalities.

Politically, self-identified "conservatives" have voted 75-80% Republican in recent years. While conservatives were once significant minorities in both major parties, the conservative wing of the Democratic party has faded and most conservatives today identify themselves as Republicans or independents. In 2000 and 2004, about 80% of self-described conservatives voted Republican.[11]

A list of the 100 most influential conservatives compiled by the British newspaper Telegraph in 2007 was headed by Rudy Giuliani, former Republican Presidential Candidate (who was considered the most likely candidate to be nominated at the time); General David Petraeus, Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq; Matt Drudge, Internet journalist; Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House; and Rush Limbaugh, talk radio host. [12]

In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Senator John McCain, with a 82% conservative voting record and a maverick reputation, is the conservative nominee of the GOP, while the Democrats have nominated Senator Barack Obama the most liberal senator, who narrowly defeated Senator Hillary Clinton, who takes a somewhat more conservative stance in foreign policy issues. The lifetime American Conservative Union scorecard is 82.3% conservative for McCain, 8.0% for Obama, and 9.0% for Clinton. [13]

Nixon, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush

The Republican administrations of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s were characterized more by their emphasis on realpolitik, détente, and economic policies such as wage and price controls, than by their adherence to conservative rhetoric and more liberal actions.

Finally in 1980 and the subsequent eight years of Ronald Reagan's presidency the American conservative movement achieved ascendancy. In 1980 the GOP took control of the Senate for the first time since 1954, and conservative principles dominated Reagan's economic and foreign policies, with supply side economics as well as a strict opposition to Soviet Communism. Reagan promised to cut welfare spending but failed to do so. He did cut taxes, but raised military spending and created large federal deficits of the sort conservatives had complained about for decades. They stopped complaining, as the deficit issue switched to favor the Democrats (who did balance the budget in the late 1990s).

An icon of the American conservative movement, Reagan is credited by his supporters with transforming American politics, galvanizing the Republican Party, uniting a coalition of economic conservatives who supported his supply side economic policies, known as "Reaganomics," foreign policy conservatives who favored his success in stopping and rolling back Communism, and social conservatives who identified with Reagan's conservative religious and social ideals.

It is hotly debated whether the successive Republican Administrations of Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush are truly conservative. George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative," but in his second term, conservative critics have negatively cited his increases in Federal spending and the Federal deficits; in contrast, he is often lauded by some conservatives for his commitment to conservative social and religious values, tax-cut initiatives, and a strong national defense.

Post-George W. Bush

See also: Restructuring of the U.S. political right

In the 2008 election, many felt that the Republican brand was spent. The Republican primary voters had difficulty choosing a candidate to run against the tide of Bush's unpopularity. They rejected more ideological conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo, but also rejected the centrist New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney also didn't do well, partly because of his Mormonism. Eventually, Senator John McCain, who had formerly run against George W. Bush in the 2000 primaries, and had been critical of President Bush and Christian Right leaders like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.

McCain's political positions didn't explicitly appeal to the religious right. He sought to appeal better to the right-wing base by choosing little-known Alaska governor Sarah Palin, a strong anti-abortion and pro-gun rights advocate. As well as filling out McCain's ideological shortcomings for the right, the McCain campaign hoped that Palin might be able to pick up women voters disaffected with Senator Hilary Clinton's loss in the primary elections to Barack Obama.

The strategy did not work. McCain and Palin lost to the Democrats who took the White House, as well as losing the House and Senate to the Democratic Party. Palin has become highly visible, and associated with a activist Tea Party Movement.

How the party relates to its ideological base has become a subject of considerable debate since the departure of George W. Bush from the White House. Many blame the "ideological wing" of the Republican Party for its lack of electoral success: too concerned with culture war issues like abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, God and stirring up anti-immigrant sentiments, and not so interested in fiscal responsibility, civil liberties and national security.

Many commentators are suggesting that the "Reagan coalition" - of religious conservatism, neoconservative foreign policy, free markets and Wall Street is required to revive the party.

Conservative geography, "Red States"

Today in the U.S., geographically the South, the Midwest, the non-coastal West, and Alaska are conservative strongholds. The division of the United States into conservative "red states" and liberal "blue states" works well for elections but is too crude to deal with individuals. artificial and does not reflect the actual distribution of voters of either stripe. College towns are generally liberal and Democratic. People who live in rural areas and the "exurbs" tend to be conservative (socially, culturally, and/or fiscally) and vote Republican. People who live in the urban cores of large metropolitan areas tend to be liberal and vote Democrat. The medium cities and suburbs are split. Thus, within each state, there is a division between city and country, between town and gown. [14]


Certain conservatives gained a major new communications medium with the advent of talk radio in the 1990s. Talk radio provided an immediacy and a high degree of emotionalism that seldom is reached on television or in magazines. Pew researchers found in 2004 that 17% of the public regularly listens to talk radio. This audience is mostly male, middle-aged, well-educated and conservative. Among those who regularly listen to talk radio, 41% are Republican and 28% are Democrats. Furthermore, 45% describe themselves as conservatives, compared with 18% who say they are liberal.[15]

Major hosts who describe themselves as either conservative or libertarian include: Michael Peroutka, Jim Quinn, Ben Ferguson, Lars Larson, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Larry Elder, Neal Boortz, Michael Reagan, and Ken Hamblin. Some, such as David Frum, are intensely opposed to self-styled conservatives whom they believe are destroying the movement, such as Levin, Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh.

The Salem Radio Network syndicates a group of religiously-oriented Republican activists, including Catholic Hugh Hewitt, and Jewish conservatives Dennis Prager and Michael Medved. One popular Jewish conservative Laura Schlesinger offers parental and personal advice, but is an outspoken critic of social and political issues. Libertarians such as Neal Boortz (based in Atlanta), and Mark Davis (based in Ft. Worth and Dallas, Texas) reach large local audiences. Art Bell held some Libertarian views before his talk show adapted a new paranormal format. Many of these hosts also publish books, write newspaper columns, appear on television, and give public lectures (Limbaugh was a pioneer of this model of multi-media punditry).

At a rarer level, University of Chicago psychology professor Milt Rosenberg has been hosting a talk show "Extension 720"[16] on WGN radio in Chicago since the 1970s.


Pew further reports that conservatives and liberals are increasingly polarized in their TV news preferences.[15] The cable news audience is more Republican and more strongly conservative than the public at large or the network news audience. Among regular cable news viewers, 43% describe their political views as conservative, compared with 33% of regular network news viewers; 37% of cable viewers are moderate, compared to 41% of network viewers; and 14% are self-described liberals versus 18% of network viewers.

The audience for the Fox News Channel has grown since 1998, attracting more conservative and Republican viewers. In 1998, the Fox News audience mirrored the public in terms of both partisanship and ideology. However, the percentage of Fox News Channel viewers who identify as Republicans has increased steadily from 24% in 1998, to 29% in 2000, 34% in 2002, and 41% in 2004. Over the same time period, the percentage of Fox viewers who describe themselves as conservative has increased from 40% to 52%.


Some criticisms of American conservatism on ideological or philosophical grounds are:

  • In the 1930s and 1940s, there was a generic criticism that conservatives wereold-fashioned reactionaries out of step with the times. Since Goldwater (1964) the more common attack is that Conservatives are really "radicals" who want to upset the status quo and engage in new and unexplored ventured (such as forcing democracy in Iraq).
  • Stopping workers' rights gained (under the New Deal Coalition) by workers and labor unions.
  • Opposition to civil rights advances, in the 1960s and 1970s, by African Americans, women and Hispanics. Thus Barbara R. Bergmann warns that conservative opposition to affirmative action might lead to a return to de facto segregation.[17]
  • They support huge tax cuts and tax advantages for people who already are super rich.
  • Acceptance of economic inequality is contrary to America's egalitarian values, and blame pro-business and pro-rich policies.
  • Opposition to spending on social programs. However President Bill Clinton reached a deal with conservatives in Congress in 1995 to end most of the New Deal-style welfare programs, and the criticism has subsided.
  • Libertarians criticize conservatism positions for freer trade, weaker unions and limited government intervention (with regards to welfare programs and a minimum wage), contribute to the rise in income inequality in America. [18]
  • The philosophy of Dominionism, held by some religious conservatives, that the United States is or should be a Christian nation.[19] Critics say that forcing students (or anyone) to acknowledge a particular religion violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Likewise critics, such as People for the American Way, say conservatives who believe that government or public schools should judge scientific questions (especially regarding evolution) by the Bible are violating the constitution.


  1. Joseph Baldacchino, The Value-Centered Historicism of Edmund Burke, National Humanities Institute
  2. Paul Gottfried, "Paleoconservatism," in Frohnen, ed, American Conservatism (2006).
  3. Huntington, Samuel P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster. 
  4. Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963)
  5. Robert Kagan (5 March 2010), "On foreign policy, Obama and the GOP find room for agreement", Washington Post
  6. Sharon Statement, Young Americans for Freedom, 11 September 1960
  7. Safire 1994
  8. Robert Taft, Taft Papers 3:313
  9. not to be confused with the liberal
  10. Mike Conway, et al. (2007), "Villains, Victims and the Virtuous in Bill O'Reilly's 'No-spin Zone': Revisiting World War Propaganda Techniques.", Journalism Studies 8 (2)
  12. "The most influential US conservatives" Telegraph March 3, 2007
  13. online ACU scores
  14. Robert J. Vanderbei, Election 2004 Results: The changing colors of America (1960-2004
  15. 15.0 15.1 "News Audiences Increasingly Politicized", Pew Research Center Survey Reports, June 8, 2004
  16. [1]
  17. Barbara R. Bergmann, In Defense of Affirmative Action, (1997)
  18. "Technology and Inequality", NBER Reporter, Winter 2003
  19. America's Christian History, Rebuilders of the Foundations of America's Christian Heritage