How the GOP Became God's Own Party
Now that the GOP has been transformed by the rise of the South, the trauma of terrorism and George W. Bush's conviction that God wanted him to be president, a deeper conclusion can be drawn: The Republican Party has become the first religious party in U.S. history.
We have had small-scale theocracies in North America before -- in Puritan New England and later in Mormon Utah. Today, a leading power such as the United States approaches theocracy when it meets the conditions currently on display: an elected leader who believes himself to speak for the Almighty, a ruling political party that represents religious true believers, the certainty of many Republican voters that government should be guided by religion and, on top of it all, a White House that adopts agendas seemingly animated by biblical worldviews.
Indeed, there is a potent change taking place in this country's domestic and foreign policy, driven by religion's new political prowess and its role in projecting military power in the Mideast.
The United States has organized much of its military posture since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks around the protection of oil fields, pipelines and sea lanes. But U.S. preoccupation with the Middle East has another dimension. In addition to its concerns with oil and terrorism, the White House is courting end-times theologians and electorates for whom the Holy Lands are a battleground of Christian destiny. Both pursuits -- oil and biblical expectations -- require a dissimulation in Washington that undercuts the U.S. tradition of commitment to the role of an informed electorate.
The political corollary -- fascinating but appalling -- is the recent transformation of the Republican presidential coalition. Since the election of 2000 and especially that of 2004, three pillars have become central: the oil-national security complex, with its pervasive interests; the religious right, with its doctrinal imperatives and massive electorate; and the debt-driven financial sector, which extends far beyond the old symbolism of Wall Street.
President Bush has promoted these alignments, interest groups and their underpinning values. His family, over multiple generations, has been linked to a politics that conjoined finance, national security and oil. In recent decades, the Bushes have added close ties to evangelical and fundamentalist power brokers of many persuasions.
Over a quarter-century of Bush presidencies and vice presidencies, the Republican Party has slowly become the vehicle of all three interests -- a fusion of petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex. The three are increasingly allied in commitment to Republican politics. On the most important front, I am beginning to think that the Southern-dominated, biblically driven Washington GOP represents a rogue coalition, like the Southern, proslavery politics that controlled Washington until Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860.
I have a personal concern over what has become of the Republican coalition. Forty years ago, I began a book, "The Emerging Republican Majority," which I finished in 1967 and took to the 1968 Republican presidential campaign, for which I became the chief political and voting-patterns analyst. Published in 1969, while I was still in the fledgling Nixon administration, the volume was identified by Newsweek as the "political bible of the Nixon Era."
In that book I coined the term "Sun Belt" to describe the oil, military, aerospace and retirement country stretching from Florida to California, but debate concentrated on the argument -- since fulfilled and then some -- that the South was on its way into the national Republican Party. Four decades later, this framework has produced the alliance of oil, fundamentalism and debt.
Some of that evolution was always implicit. If any region of the United States had the potential to produce a high-powered, crusading fundamentalism, it was Dixie. If any new alignment had the potential to nurture a fusion of oil interests and the military-industrial complex, it was the Sun Belt, which helped draw them into commercial and political proximity and collaboration. Wall Street, of course, has long been part of the GOP coalition. But members of the Downtown Association and the Links Club were never enthusiastic about "Joe Sixpack" and middle America, to say nothing of preachers such as Oral Roberts or the Tupelo, Miss., Assemblies of God. The new cohabitation is an unnatural one.
While studying economic geography and history in Britain, I had been intrigued by the Eurasian "heartland" theory of Sir Halford Mackinder, a prominent geographer of the early 20th century. Control of that heartland, Mackinder argued, would determine control of the world. In North America, I thought, the coming together of a heartland -- across fading Civil War lines -- would determine control of Washington.
This was the prelude to today's "red states." The American heartland, from Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to Ohio and the Appalachian coal states, has become (along with the onetime Confederacy) an electoral hydrocarbon coalition. It cherishes sport-utility vehicles and easy carbon dioxide emissions policy, and applauds preemptive U.S. airstrikes on uncooperative, terrorist-coddling Persian Gulf countries fortuitously blessed with huge reserves of oil.