Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Religious Right, desperation & the reality of an oppressive elite

By Diane Silver

Every once in a while two bits of information come together to make a light bulb go off in your head. Such was the case this week when two articles prompted me to mull over the source of the Religious Right's fury. I can't claim that this is the only reason they're angry, but it may well be key.

Part of their anger, of course, is based on cultural change. What's considered sinful is being transformed by the greater culture. What they thought were absolute truths are being challenged.

However, I wonder if part of their fury -- and trust me, sitting in Kansas, I've seen the full force of their anger -- comes from their own sense of helplessness.

Some of that, of course, is cultural. No matter how loud they scream, how much they march, the rest of the world keeps moving on.

Some of it, though, may well be based on the growing economic helplessness of the middle class. Life right now for the great middle is tough. I can vouch for that personally, but this week we got even greater evidence of that.

What were the two bits of information that led me to ponder all of this?

Tuesday, Thomas Frank's column in the New York Times highlighted the far right's passionate hatred of elites. Despite the defeat of anti-evolution members of the Kansas state Board of Education, Frank said the Kansas cultural crusade isn't going away. That's because the religious right's fury at the so-called elites isn't going away.

Today, Christian E. Weller, senior economist of the Center for American Progress, talked to Newsweek about his new study. For the first time since economists have been keeping track, Americans "owe more money than they make," Weller found.

This isn't happening because of a run on big-screen TVs or a love of new gadgets, Weller said. People are being forced into debt. Weller notes:
The labor market has been rather weak, employment growth has barely kept pace with population growth, wages have been flat, income has fallen for five years in a row, and at the same time, prices for critical big ticket items-items such as health care, housing, college education -- have gone through the roof. In that bind, the only escape valve for middle class families is to borrow more money.
Frank says the religious right is made up of people who are furious at what they identify as the liberal elite. Weller says folks are being impossibly squeezed financially.

We all know, probably from personal experience, that debt takes a horrible toll emotionally. Folks are furious because they're being hurt, financially, emotionally, and they see the culture as beating them down. It makes sense that they would look for a bad guy, or bad guys to strike at.

As Frank noted in his book, What's the Matter with Kansas, the Republican Party has done a good job of capitalizing on people's anxieties and performing the ultimate bait and switch.

Feel oppressed, dying under debt, just plain angry at how helpless you feel? the GOP asks. Blame those elitist queers, the activist judges, the lawyers, the liberal politicians, well, blame somebody! Just don't blame us.

Does this explain all that's happening? No. Many folks in the same situation don't look for scapegoats, but some people always will.

What do you think? Have I lost my marbles, or is there something to this crazy theory?


Anonymous said...

Hey Silver,

Don't have another email address, so I'm just trying to drop a line to you this way, in the odd chance you hadn't found out yet about Alaska.

I thought you'd want to know.

Nomad (Chris)

Anonymous said...


I just recently stumbled across your website. I am currently at NYU but remain extremely interested in the politics of my home state. Thanks for the service you are providing, and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

And yes, I think Thomas Frank's op-ed articles in the Times during the month of August were all too appropriate in describing the Religious Rights paranoia; they are the victims. They are against the "latte drinking liberal elites" out east destroying their culture.