Anyone remember Pat Buchanan?
He was a far-right conservative who ran an insurgent 1992 campaign against George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination. When Bush announced his desire to run for a second term, it was assumed that he would have no real challenger in his own party. But Buchanan was a bomb thrower and excoriated Bush for being too moderate. America needed a strong voice that didn’t want to compromise on core issues.
Buchanan actually had a strong showing during the primary, despite the fact that he was facing an incumbent president. He earned 38% of the votes in New Hampshire, just 15 points behind Bush. In most early states, Buchanan received 25-30% of the vote and hung around for a lot longer than many would have assumed.
Once Bush locked up the nomination, he did the traditional party building gesture of inviting his opponent to speak at the Republican National Convention. On August 17th, 1992, he delivered a speech that will be remembered for decades. Buchanan stated:
The agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America — abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs.
…[M]y friends, we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country.
This was quickly dubbed the “Culture Wars” speech and set the tone for electoral politics for three decades. Buchanan (a Roman Catholic) gave that speech right as Protestant evangelicalism was hitting its peak in terms of both raw numbers and political influence. It seemed like every discussion was about abortion, homosexuality, pornography or the role of women in a changing society.
Buchanan and his supporters wanted, at a minimum, to stop the leftward drift that they believed was happening in the United States on social issues. If not push the country in a more conservative direction. Well, I’ve looked at the data from the General Social Survey and it’s clear to me that Christian conservatives failed miserably in this endeavor. On every single social issue, the average American is more liberal today than they were just two decades ago.
I took five social issues that the General Social Survey has been asking about for decades and analyzed their trajectory over time. Here are the five positions:
What is your opinion about a married person having sexual relations with someone other than the marriage partner–is it always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all? (% who say not wrong at all.)
Homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another. (% saying strongly agree or agree).
Which of these statements comes closest to your feelings about pornography laws? There should be laws against the distribution of pornography whatever the age/There should be laws against the distribution of pornography to persons under 18/There should be no laws forbidding the distribution of pornography. (% choosing the first statement).
Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal or not? (% saying should be legal).
Here are the results: