Right after the 2004 election, it seemed as if Thomas Frank had been completely vindicated. In his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” Mr. Frank argued that America’s right wing had developed a permanent winning strategy based on the use of “values” issues to mobilize white working-class voters against a largely mythical cultural elite, while actually pursuing policies designed to benefit a small economic elite.But that "invincible political coalition" was a house of cards and a political wind is blowing across the plains of Kansas and elsewhere to bring it down.
It was and is a brilliant analysis. But the political strategy Mr. Frank described may have less staying power than he feared. In fact, the right-wing coalition that has spent 40 years climbing to its current position of political dominance may be cracking up.
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. 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.
Together, these groups formed a seemingly invincible political coalition, in which the religious right supplied the passion and the economic right supplied the money.
Future historians may date the beginning of the right-wing crackup to the days immediately following the 2004 election, when President Bush tried to convert a victory won by portraying John Kerry as weak on defense into a mandate for Social Security privatization. The attempted bait-and-switch failed in the face of overwhelming public opposition. If anything, the Bush plan was even less popular in deep-red states like Montana than in states that voted for Mr. Kerry.At the same time the social conservatives were feeling betrayed the economic conservatives recognized that the lunacy of the religious right might be bad for business and we see traditional Republicans attacking James Dobson's "Gang of Thugs". No this isn't Kansas anymore.
And the religious and cultural right, which boasted of having supplied the Bush campaign with its “shock troops” and expected a right-wing cultural agenda in return — starting with a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage — was dismayed when the administration put its energy into attacking the welfare state instead. James Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, accused Republicans of “just ignoring those that put them in office.”
So the right-wing coalition is showing signs of coming apart. It seems that we’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, Kansas itself doesn’t seem to be in Kansas anymore. Kathleen Sebelius, the state’s Democratic governor, has achieved a sky-high favorability rating by focusing on good governance rather than culture wars, and her party believes it will win big this year.
And nine former Kansas Republicans, including Mark Parkinson, the former state G.O.P. chairman, are now running for state office as Democrats. Why did Mr. Parkinson change parties? Because he “got tired of the theological debate over whether Charles Darwin was right.”
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