The Right's Agenda

By Suzanne Pharr Women's Project, Little Rock, Arkansas

We are living in a time of social, cultural, economic, and political
conflict in which many values are shifting and being redefined. It is
a time of upheaval and change and fear of loss. Much of the conflict
centers around what we believe the U.S. should be-a pluralistic (many
ethnicities, religions, cultures), democratic society that finds a
place and resources for everyone-or what the Right envisions-a more
monocultural, authoritarian society that puts tight limits on people's
participation. Should we have a society that uses its resources for
the common good or a two-tiered society with increased economic
stratification and poverty. It is a conflict between the politics of
inclusion and sharing, and the politics of exclusion and selfishness.
	At stake is the historical dream of this country and the
values we have held onto in the ongoing struggle to try to make that
dream real: that this country is open, providing a place where people
can come in search of freedom, where people can find a place to be who
they are and live peacefully, where people can be equal partners with
each other in the creation of family, community, and government, where
people have hope and resources to meet their basic needs.
	We are living in a time of danger. Because of decisions made
by corporate leaders in response to increased global economic
competition, our standard of living has been in decline for 20 years.
Structural changes in the economy, such as automation, "downsizing,"
and sending our plants overseas where "underdeveloped" countries
provide cheap labor, have accelerated the economic crisis in the U.S.
in the past decade. Economic and social problems, coupled with a sense
that a flawed government is failing the average citizen, make people
see answers in easy but aggressive right-wing populist solutions.
	People's fears make them susceptible to right-wing propaganda
that tells them there are not enough civil rights and resources to go
around. It could become the majority "will of the people," unchecked
by democratic process, that literally kills minority voices and
rights. Economic hard times make people particularly susceptible to
authoritarian leadership that scapegoats minority groups as the cause
of social and economic problems. Worldwide, due to similar economic
stresses and attendant cultural displacement, it is a time when
regressive populism could slip into fascism.
	It is a time when we must all be particularly vigilant that
justice is evenhanded, that all rights are equally protected, that
there is equal access to educational and employment opportunity for
everyone, and that we are careful to recognize and work on the complex
causes of our social and economic unrest. Avoiding emotional,
unexamined nationalism, we need to see ourselves as world citizens,
and act as responsible stewards of the honored trust to develop and
protect democracy and civil liberties. We must caretake and expand the
moral ground of justice and equal participation in democracy.

Who the Right Is

	The Right has a long history in this country, stronger in some
periods of time, less visible in others. It is usually visible and
active after people's victories in their efforts to achieve equality.
For instance, the Right was particularly active after the abolition of
slavery, creating the racial discrimination and segregation of Jim
Crow laws and terrorism of the Klan to create a climate of fear. After
successful growth of labor unions and the battles of World War II, the
Right organized virulently around anti-Communism and was particularly
visible in the McCarthy and House un-American Activities Committee
hearings. More recently we have seen the Right grow in strength since
the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, organizing around
economic and social issues that limit access to democratic processes
and the workplace. Race, gender, and economic class have been central
	The Right consists of groups that range from the conservative
free-market capitalists to white supremacist neo-Nazis. It is not
monolithic but a confederacy of loosely related groups, individuals,
and organizations, some of which work in coalition with each other,
some of which simply work toward similar goals, and some of which
oppose each other. The Right is supported by numerous institutions:
policy think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, legal arms such as
the Rutherford Institute, and media outlets such as the Christian
Broadcasting Network.
	The Religious Right emerged as a contemporary phenomenon
around 1972, at the same time that conservative strategists were also
shaping racist backlash to the Civil Rights movement, especially
affirmative action and busing. The Religious Right would focus its
energy on issues of sexuality and gender (i.e., homosexuality,
abortion, feminism) rather than directly on race. The Religious Right
also opened up an attack on a public school system struggling to meet
the challenges of racial integration through campaigns against
"secular humanism" and in favor of prayer in the schools and "school
	The Religious Right generated a network of private religious
schools, many of them all-white. Both thrusts - the overtly racist
Right and the Religious Right - began to provide scapegoats for the
national malaise at a time of declining standard of living and a tax
base eroded by government giveaways to Fortune 500 companies in the
form of massive tax breaks. The vehement Cold War anti-communism
propagated by the Religious Right also mitigated against clear
discussion of the redistribution of resources in the 1970s and 1980s
towards the wealthiest people in this society.
	Because their views are highly visible through their own
outlets and coverage by the corporate media, and because they have
launched successful grassroots organizing, the Religious Right is the
Right's most visible face. In this time of social and economic crisis,
they build a wide support base of people by appealing to their fears.
They then lead them to support social and political exclusion of those
different from themselves through mobilizing to change institutions
and government to limit who gets to be full working partners in the
every day life of this country, with full access to food, clothing,
shelter, safety, and health.
	Some of their dominant organizations and leaders are the
Christian Coalition (Pat Robertson), Focus on the Family (James
Dobson), Traditional Values Coalition (Lou Sheldon), American Family
Association (Donald Wildmon), Concerned Women for America (Beverly
LaHaye), Eagle Forum (Phyllis Schafly), and Operation Rescue (Randall
Terry). On the local level, there are organizations that are
affiliated with these national groups. For instance, in Oregon, their
primary organization is the Oregon Citizen's Alliance (Lon Mabon)
which has developed groups in Washington and Idaho in a strategy for
dominance in the Northwest.

Their Goals

	Generally, the Religious Right is attempting to replace
democracy with theocracy, merging church and state so that
authoritarian leaders enforce a fundamentalist vision in this
country's public and private life. This vision, developed from a
narrow and literal interpretation of the Bible, is of one white God
who gives authority directly to man to have power and dominion over
the earth and its people, and its material resources.
	This system requires a rigid hierarchy in which white men
dominate women, people of color, and nature. Consequently, any strides
toward autonomy and independence and full participation in society
threaten this hierarchy. Therefore the Religious Right works to
dismantle the gains of the Civil Rights movement for people of color
and women, tries to prevent lesbians and gay men from achieving
equality, and opposes efforts to protect the environment. Its work is
done in the name of morality, law and order, and free market

Their Targets

	In the past decade, the Religious Right has vigorously opposed
reproductive rights, teaching evolution, multi-culturalism or sex
education, school-based clinics, HIV education, gay and lesbian
equality, welfare, parental leave, tax increases for public funding of
entitlements and social services, the Equal Rights Amendment,
affirmative action, pay equity for women, immigrants, and union
	They have supported creationism, home schooling, school
vouchers, censorship of books and the arts, fathers' rights, laws
limiting protection for victims of abuse, privatization of social
programs, severe immigration laws, right to work laws, English only
laws, and laws requiring tax increases be limited and submitted to the
public vote for approval.
	In all that they oppose or support, it is people of color,
women, children, lesbians and gay men, and the environment that will
suffer if they succeed in their goals. In the end, it is all of us.

Their Strategies

	The Right hopes to accomplish its anti-democratic goals
through casting a wide net of governmental, corporate, legislative,
and social strategies that destroy the possibility of equal
participation in this country's public and economic life. One must
always remember that misinformation is a primary tactic in all that
they do.  Some examples:
	This is perhaps the core issue. Throughout the country there are
anti-taxation measures on the ballot. Generally, these measures reduce
existing taxes, put a cap on future taxes, and require that all tax
increases be put to the public vote, requiring a two-thirds majority
to approve them.
	Because elections are generally won today by the amount of
media that groups can purchase, and since anti-tax proposals have the
financial backing of major corporations, massive media campaigns
effectively sway the general public which is frightened by the current
economic conditions. This issue has enabled the Right to bring
together a very politically diverse group of people and introduce them
to a piece of their anti-Democratic agenda.
	Result: There are inadequate public funds to pay for basic
services such as police, fire departments, schools, libraries, and
social programs. These services are eliminated or become privatized
and fall into the control of corporate America or religious
institutions. In California, the premier tax revolt initiative,
Proposition 13, which imposed tax limits, has led to near disaster in
state and local services. For instance, in Merced County, officials
announced in November 1993 that to save $1.4 million a year, all 19 of
its public libraries would have to close in 1994. (Richard Reeves,
Money, Jan. 1994, P. 93) If public institutions are privatized, then
they cannot be held accountable to the general population for their
policies and practices.
	The elimination of taxes for public services is perhaps the
most devastating of all the strategies because lack of funds causes
the basic infrastructure of the country to crumble, leaving services
(when available) only for those who can purchase them. This
destruction of the financial infrastructure sets the course of our
economic problems. Voting by a two-thirds majority on every tax and
fee increase basically ensures defeat and hamstrings government in
fulfilling its duties to the general population. It is the
anti-taxation movement that can render government incapable of

 Lesbians and Gay Men  
	The issue of homosexuality has been the Right's best fundraiser for
their organizations and their best vehicle for changing the country's
thinking about civil rights. For several years, homosexuality has been
a flashpoint of the Religious Right's organizing as they have mounted
an extraordinary campaign of distortion to play on the public's
economic and social fears. Naming and demonizing lesbians and gay men
as disease-carrying, sexual predators whose purpose is to destroy
families, they oppose through legislative and ballot initiatives the
enhancement and enforcement of civil rights protections. The Right
constructs its argument around an incorrect and misleading analysis of
civil rights, stating that lesbians and gay men must be prevented from
gaining "minority status" (no such category), affirmative action (a
program, not a civil right), and quotas (never enacted).
	Result: As are immigrants and welfare recipients, lesbians and
gay men are scapegoated as the cause of social and economic problems.
A primary purpose of the attack against lesbians and gay men is to get
the public to think of all civil rights as "special rights" that
"majority" people have the power to bestow on deserving or undeserving
minorities. By muddling the definition of civil rights (to be
protections one is given based on deserving behavior that will then
supposedly give a person immediate preference and gain in the job
market) and linking these rights to the deserving behavior of
minorities which must be approved by public vote, the Right has thrown
fundamental rights on the public auction block. Rather than remaining
the cornerstone of democracy, these rights for everyone now become
turned over to media-driven, fear-based campaigns that are won by
those who have the most money and are able to best sway public
opinion. In the end, any group that is stereotyped as having bad
behavior (such as immigrants and welfare recipients) - crime, drug
use, welfare abuse, teenage pregnancy, etc. - can have its rights
eliminated by current public sentiment taken to the voting booth.

 Welfare Reform 
	Well before Clinton vowed to "end welfare as we know it," there was a
movement to punish the poor by eliminating welfare. Under the guise of
"reform," there are efforts to limit benefits to two years, require
fingerprinting of recipients, require identification of the father of
children, force teenage girls to live with their mothers, require
workfare, limit the number of eligible children to two per family, and
reward employers rather than recipients for employment.
	Result: Welfare recipients, portrayed usually as people of
color, are being scapegoated as a primary cause of economic and social
problems in the U.S. As poor people they also become targeted as a
major cause of social problems as the general public is led to think
that they engage in criminal activity such as theft, drugs, homicide,
alcohol, and welfare fraud. They are depicted as people who are on the
take and unwilling to work. The reduction of support for those whom
capitalism requires to be unemployed leads to increased homelessness,
infant mortality, unserved health problems, violence against women
(who lack the support to leave their homes), etc., as well as the
moral bankruptcy of the American people who lose the values of living
in caring community.

	There is growing opposition to both illegal immigrants and to
the number of documented immigrants who are people of color coming in
through the western and southern borders of the U.S. They are falsely
targeted as a threat to American jobs, as a drain on social services,
and as a cause of overpopulation and criminal activity.
	Result: As people grow more distressed over economic and
social problems, immigrants become scapegoated as the cause of these
problems. Scapegoating leads to discrimination and ultimately
violence. Racism keeps the focus on immigrants who are people of
color, not the large numbers of white European immigrants, and this
leads to an increased consensus that our social and economic problems
are racial problems. Because it is impossible to determine who is and
is not an immigrant among people of color, all people of color are
gradually considered to be problems. However, keeping up the rhetoric
of "illegal immigrants" as opposed to American-born people of color
only serves to divide racially marginalized groups against one

 Public Schools  
	There is an attack on public schools from both within and
without. From without, there are extremely costly lawsuits, reduced
tax revenues, corporate privatization where corporations manage
schools, and efforts to get voters to approve vouchers for private
schools. From within, there are takeovers of school boards,
censorship, struggles to control the curriculum, and attacks against
teachers which establish them as the central problem in public
	Carol Glaser reports in Sojourner (Dec. 1993, p. 15) on Bob
Simond's promise to the 130,000 members and 1,210 chapters of Citizens
for Excellence in Education, a Religious Right organization: "We can
take complete control of all local school boards. This would allow us
to determine all local policy: select good textbooks, good curriculum
programs, superintendents, and principals. Our time has come!" His
proof of his movement is the claim that CEE followers won 3,200 school
board seats in 1992.
	Result: Public schools are first controlled by
fundamentalists, then ultimately destroyed and replaced by private
schools operated by religious organizations or corporations that are
not held to any standard of equal participation or curriculum along
the lines of race, gender, or class.
	Because our ideas of gaining equality in participation in
democratic institutions, the workplace, and public life are built on a
foundation of equal access to education, the destruction of public
schools means that education is limited to only those who can purchase

 Books, Libraries, the Arts  
	From the local level to the national, there is a massive drive
for censorship through local citizens demanding removal of "offensive"
books and materials, lawsuits, and government defunding of libraries,
the arts, public radio and television. A recent example is the
Traditional Values Coalition objecting to a short story by Alice
Walker, stating that it led children to question marriage and belief
in God. Without any hearing, school officials removed the book.
	Result: Freedom of ideas and expression is destroyed,
particularly the expression of those ideas that differ from those in
power. The dissenting or minority voice, which is essential to
democracy, is extinguished. Without differences and choices, critical
thinking cannot survive-nor can freedom.

	For the last two decades, leaders of this country's major
corporations have united to attack and co-opt the environmental
movement. More recently, they have provided major funding for
anti-environmental groups such as the Wise Use Movement and for the
election of anti-environmental candidates. An example of their goals
is their desire to create a national mining system that would allow
mineral and energy production on all public lands, including
wilderness and national parks.
	Result: The major corporations become gradually deregulated
and the economy reprivatized so that for capital gain, they can
exploit the environment and labor in any way they choose.
Privatization reduces the avenues people have for redress. Currently,
three out of five African-Americans and Latinos live in communities
that have illegal or abandoned toxic dump sites, according to a study
by the UCC Commission for Racial Justice. Native Americans are under
siege by major corporations seeking new sites for dumping toxic
wastes. Public lands such as national parks are being opened up for
commercial use. In the name of economic growth, the environment
becomes a landscape of disease and death for all of us.

 Reproductive Rights 
	For over 20 years the Religious Right has been vigorously
opposing women's right to control our own bodies. They have fought
women's right to choose through legislation, terrorization of clinic
workers, doctors, clients, major ad campaigns, boycotts, the courts,
and murder.
	Result: Abortion becomes an option only for those wealthy
enough to purchase it and for those who are forced to subject
themselves to frequently unsafe alternative measures. Reproductive
rights are a core issue: if one does not have ownership of one's own
body - which is all one brings into the world and all that one takes
out - then what do any of the other freedoms mean? There is nothing
more essential than the right to control one's own body because it
forms the base of autonomy and freedom.

 Sex Education  
	The Religious Right opposes sex education in the schools, in
government funded programs, in books and materials - anywhere outside
the home and religious institutions. Obsessed with sex, they believe
that any discussion of sex leads to sexual activity that is outside
marriage and control of the theocratic hierarchy of God and man.
	Result: Information is closed down that could help prevent
unwanted pregnancies, the spread of AIDS and other sexually
transmitted diseases, domestic violence, child sexual assault, and
promote good parenting and healthy relationships. As with reproductive
rights, promoting sex education supports personal autonomy and freedom
- and consequently the Right opposes it.

	In both higher education and public schools, the Right has
vigorously opposed teaching multi-culturalism (literature and history
of our diverse cultures), arguing that it destroys traditional western
values and has used the inclusion of books about lesbians and gay men
in the curriculum as the emotional organizing point to bring together
both white people and people of color to oppose it.
	Result: We entrench ourselves as a mono-cultural,
English-only, white dominated society in which all those who are
different from the norm must adapt themselves to white, heterosexual,
Christian, middle-class behavior and standards. Multi-culturalism
presents all cultures as having equal value, providing the student
with many beliefs and customs to choose from. To find one's way within
these choices requires critical thinking which is essential both to
the workings of a democracy and to freedom itself. Critical thinking
is the major weapon against authoritarianism and fascism. It stands
directly in opposition to the Right's goals.

 Violent Crimes  
	The Right supports greater enforcement of the death penalty
and its expansion to cover more crimes. The current crime bill before
Congress calls for 54 crimes requiring the death penalty. They support
larger police forces, increased jail capacity, tougher border patrols,
reduction of the age for juveniles to be tried as adults, while
opposing gun control, rehabilitation programs for the incarcerated,
and orders of protection for battered women. They consistently link,
either overtly or covertly, violent crimes with people of color,
despite evidence showing that violent crimes cut across race and
class. Omitted from this get-tough-on-crime movement is significant
discussion of violence against women who are raped, battered,
assaulted and violently killed in large numbers every day.
	Result: The public's fears about safety, plus pervasive
racism, are used to bring about a call for a more authoritarian
government whose police state will save us from violent people of
color and social deterioration. While all other public services are
being cut back, police forces and jails are being expanded rapidly.
The Right is moving the body politic to a belief that democratic
principles can be sacrificed for the sake of our personal safety.
Race/racism is a major weapon the Right is using to justify the
destruction of democracy.


	Several conclusions are probably apparent from this
discussion. For instance, it is no doubt obvious that the Right is not
just one group, but is a linkage of people and groups that share many
of the same beliefs - and many of those beliefs also reside in the
general population, including those of us who consider ourselves
progressive. The Right is not working in a vacuum as it moves the body
politic, including Bill Clinton, to the right. It is working with the
racism, sexism, homophobia, and capitalist greed that exist in
ordinary people in this society.
	Much of the current analysis of our ills masks the fact that
it was a combination of corporate greed and government policies,
particularly under Ronald Reagan's administration, that led us to this
time of social and economic crisis. When people are ignorant or
forgetful of the cause of their problems, they can be moved easily to
scapegoat those closer to them as the source of their dissatisfaction
and discontent. They welcome anything that relieves their discomfort
and pain, even if it is state violence and loss of freedom.
	Ironically enough, it is once again the corporations, in
partnership with religious institutions, that stand to gain from all
of the issues we just discussed. Through a theocracy, they gain
control of the populace while capitalism runs unchecked, with obscene
profits going into the hands of the few, while less is spent on
services and human needs for the many. The Right, particularly the
ground troops of the Religious Right, paves the way for
authoritarianism by eliminating personal freedoms, autonomy, access,
participation, and critical thinking.  

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