Part 2 of series. Part 1 ran last issue.
What does the worst economic disaster of the 20th century have to do with the fight over Obamacare? As introduced in last week’s column, the former provides a context for the latter.
In 1929, the New York Stock Market crashed and the resulting worldwide depression brought a worldwide debate on the value of capitalism and the role of government to control capitalism and provide financial security for its citizens. The debate led to the rise of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Franco in Europe and FDR in the United States. While the former four brought Nazism, Communism and Fascism as an answer, FDR brought the New Deal. FDR, first elected in 1932, increased the role of the federal government in providing a minimal level of financial security for all Americans but maintained the operation and individual ideals of free market capitalism. Traditional values and economic conservatives opposed FDR and the philosophy behind the New Deal programs from their inception. FDR prevailed in three subsequent elections (1936, 1940 and 1944) and the programs became a staple of modern American life.
After World War II, the nation had not only defeated Nazism and Fascism; it had defeated the Great Depression and had emerged as a world superpower with an economic and industrial base that was second to none. But more importantly, Americans developed the world view that American dominance in the world and economic security from depression was the norm not the exception. More importantly, the FDR years had built into the American political system the idea that the national government was the primary governmental institution. In 1946, the federal government assumed responsibility of maintaining full employment and maintaining economic stability. By the end of World War II, all political and economic roads now led to Washington, D.C. The federal government was no longer first among equals, it was now first with no equals, and the state governments were secondary, if not subservient, in the new federalism.
Now add to this (1) the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s (and the fall of the one hundred year old social / political system of segregation) backed by the federal government with military troops, (2) the Supreme Court that not only said to the states that black children had to be allowed to sit with white children because we (the Supreme Court) say so and while those children are sitting together the states cannot force them to say the Lord’s Prayer in school, (3) the fear of communist infiltration into American society as a whole and specifically in the federal government and (4) a growing rise in white middle class fear of urban juvenile and black crime. Social conservatives in the 1950s were convinced that America was moving in the wrong direction.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, conservatives as a whole were united in their opposition of the growing federal government and the social changes that were occurring in society. These conservatives included, William F. Buckley and his magazine the National Review, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Milton Friedman, the editors of the Wall Street Journal, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, just to name a few. They came onto the political and social stage with conservative principles that attacked not only the liberalism of the 1960s (and the civil rights acts of the 1960s) but both parties that supported and/or tolerated these movements rather than opposing them at all costs. During this period, conservatives were attempting to develop a coherent, unifying theory of what American conservatism was. Although united against forced integration by the federal government and an anti-communist foreign policy, different strands of conservative thought developed rather than a single theory of conservatism. As Eisenhower left office in 1961, there were schisms between social conservatives, business conservatives and economic conservatives in both parties over social and foreign policy.
By the assassination of Kennedy, white flight from the cities had begun, and the rise of the suburbs like Levittown, N.Y. began the social and political separation that would later create the silent majority (and the southern strategy) that elected Nixon in 1968. By the time of the assent of Johnson in 1963 and his election in 1964, America was adopting liberal policies on every sphere of society, but there had also developed a growing backlash to those very policies. That backlash would center conservatism into the Republican Party.
As discussed in the third column of this series, the 1964 election is a key to understanding the rise of the Tea Party and the conservative domination of the Republican Party today.
Dr. Arthur Garrison is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University. This piece is the work of Dr. Garrison and does not reflect the opinions or Kutztown University or its faculty, staff, students or alumni.