Thunder on the Right

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

Alan Crawford’s Thunder on the Right: The “New Right” and the Politics of Resentment serves notice to liberal and moderate Americans that the New Right movement grows stronger in numbers and power with each passing election. Yet, it also argues that the movement may fragment because of its continual impossible demands upon its spokespersons.

Crawford pictures himself as an American journalist of conservative persuasion who is disturbed by what he sees as the growth of a monster: the so-called New Right movement. His message is threefold: first, the New Right’s beliefs are a menace to fundamental constitutional guarantees such as free speech and the separation of church and state; second, the New Right is very much on the offensive, gathering adherents through efficient organization and planning; and, third, it may never be the political power broker it would like to be because New Conservatives find it hard to follow their own leaders.

As Crawford notes, the United States, almost from its inception, has had strong political parties representing divergent points of view: one advocating a powerful centralized government with considerable control over citizens’ behavior and another wanting a tightly reined, relatively weak government, allowing the states considerable powers to create legislation. Until recently, Crawford argues, conservative leaders have served America well by challenging the assumptions of liberals and moderates and thus diluting their influence. Crawford also believes that, until recently, conservatives were gentlemen of the old school—the so-called Eastern Establishment, persons best represented by pundit and gadfly William F. Buckley, Jr., whose National Review enunciates traditional conservative positions. As the author sees it, however, millions of conservative middle Americans living in the South and Midwest have never felt comfortable with Eastern Establishmentarians as leaders, since they are considered out of touch with ordinary people and their problems.

The ranks of New Rightists are filled not by the rich and well connected but rather by middle-American small businessmen, farmers, and ranchers, those without old wealth or Ivy League ties to fall back upon. This newer strain of conservatives finds the older one “lackluster” in response to the perceived threat from the left and center as well as suspect because of the Old Guard penchant for learned argument and reasoned policymaking. If Buckley is the hero of the Old Guard (and it is very possible that he is such a thing), then Joseph McCarthy, the Communist-hunting extremist of the 1950’s, is the hero of the newer faction.

At base, the New Rightists see themselves as possessing the machismo lacking in old-line right-wingers. Their heroes, Crawford states, are those tied to the myth of the old West: John Wayne and his band of cowboys fighting off the redskins or shooting “bad guys” who threaten virtuous settlers. The old right-wingers picture themselves as John Waynes fighting those who would destroy the simple codes of Western life. By speaking the language of machismo, such New Rightists as the Reverend Jerry Falwell, a television minister from Virginia, and Phillip Crane, a former Illinois presidential contender, reach their carefully targeted audience, telling it what it wants to hear.

According to Crawford, the “tough guy” message enunciated by the leaders of the New Right is invariably the same: namely, that America has fallen on terrible days and is rotten through and through because of liberal permissiveness and atheism. To them, America is a helpless giant (to borrow Richard Nixon’s phrase), a captive of the liberal establishment and those conservatives who are “soft” on liberalism. Behind the feeling of helplessness is real fear.

Fear takes different forms. First, there is the fear of the United States becoming another Great Britain mired in the slough of welfare and dying industries, perfect prey for Russia and her Communist allies. To Crawford, many Americans from lower-middle- and lower-class backgrounds are genuinely alarmed about Russian power to the extent that they feel communism to be winning the ideological war with capitalism. To these people, such programs as welfare, school busing, socialized medicine, and other liberal inventions are slowly sapping the strength of the free enterprise system by taking care of those who should be...

(The entire section is 1822 words.)