The Right Talk: How Conservatives Transformed the Great Society into the Economic Society

Princeton University Press
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Political analyst Mark Smith offers the most original and compelling explanation yet of why America has swung to the right in recent decades. How did the GOP transform itself from a party outgunned and outmaneuvered into one that defines the nation's most important policy choices?

Conventional wisdom attributes the Republican resurgence to a political bait and switch--the notion that conservatives win elections on social issues like abortion and religious expression, but once in office implement far-reaching policies on the economic issues downplayed during campaigns. Smith illuminates instead the eye-opening reality that economic matters have become more central, not less, to campaigns and the public agenda. He analyzes a half century of speeches, campaign advertisements, party platforms, and intellectual writings, systematically showing how Republican politicians and conservative intellectuals increasingly gave economic justifications for policies they once defended through appeals to freedom. He explains how Democrats similarly conceived economic justifications for their own policies, but unlike Republicans they changed positions on issues rather than simply offering new arguments and thus helped push the national discourse inexorably to the right.

The Right Talk brings clarity, reason, and hard-nosed evidence to a contentious subject. Certain to enrich the debate about the conservative ascendancy in America, this book will provoke discussions and reactions for years to come.

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About the author

Mark A. Smith is Associate Professor of Political Science and Adjunct Professor of Communication at the University of Washington. He is the author of American Business and Political Power: Public Opinion, Elections, and Democracy.
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Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 24, 2011
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Political Science / Political Process / Political Parties
Political Science / Propaganda
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Eligible for Family Library

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When Pope Francis recently answered “Who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuality, he ushered in a new era for the Catholic church. A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for a pope to express tolerance for homosexuality. Yet shifts of this kind are actually common in the history of Christian groups. Within the United States, Christian leaders have regularly revised their teachings to match the beliefs and opinions gaining support among their members and larger society.

Mark A. Smith provocatively argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is. In fact, in the long run, religion is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them. Smith makes his case by charting five contentious issues in America’s history: slavery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights. For each, he shows how the political views of even the most conservative Christians evolved in the same direction as the rest of society—perhaps not as swiftly, but always on the same arc. During periods of cultural transition, Christian leaders do resist prevailing values and behaviors, but those same leaders inevitably acquiesce—often by reinterpreting the Bible—if their positions become no longer tenable. Secular ideas and influences thereby shape the ways Christians read and interpret their scriptures.

So powerful are the cultural and societal norms surrounding us that Christians in America today hold more in common morally and politically with their atheist neighbors than with the Christians of earlier centuries. In fact, the strongest predictors of people’s moral beliefs are not their religious commitments or lack thereof but rather when and where they were born. A thoroughly researched and ultimately hopeful book on the prospects for political harmony, Secular Faith demonstrates how, over the long run, boundaries of secular and religious cultures converge.
#1 New York Times bestselling author and radio host Mark R. Levin delivers a "bracing meditation” (National Review) on the ways our government has failed the next generation.

In modern America, the civil society is being steadily devoured by a ubiquitous federal government. But as the government grows into an increasingly authoritarian and centralized federal Leviathan, many parents continue to tolerate, if not enthusiastically champion, grievous public policies that threaten their children and successive generations with a grim future at the hands of a brazenly expanding and imploding entitlement state poised to burden them with massive debt, mediocre education, waves of immigration, and a deteriorating national defense.

Yet tyranny is not inevitable. In Federalist 51, James Madison explained with cautionary insight the essential balance between the civil society and governmental restraint: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

This essential new book is, against all odds, a likeminded appeal to reason and audacity—one intended for all Americans but particularly the rising generation. Younger people must find the personal strength and will to break through the cycle of statist manipulation, unrelenting emotional overtures, and the pressure of groupthink, which are humbling, dispiriting, and absorbing them; to stand up against the heavy hand of centralized government, which if left unabated will assuredly condemn them to economic and societal calamity.

Levin calls for a new civil rights movement, one that will foster liberty and prosperity and cease the exploitation of young people by statist masterminds. He challenges the rising generation of younger Americans to awaken to the cause of their own salvation, asking: will you acquiesce to a government that overwhelmingly acts without constitutional foundation—or will you stand in your own defense so that yours and future generations can live in freedom?
General William T. Sherman’s 1865 Carolinas Campaign receives scant attention from most Civil War historians, largely because it was overshadowed by the Army of Northern Virginia’s final battles against the Army of the Potomac. Career military officers Mark A. Smith and Wade Sokolosky rectify this oversight with No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar, a careful and impartial examination of Sherman’s army and its many accomplishments.

The authors dedicate their professional training and research and writing abilities to the critical days of March 11-16, 1865—the overlooked run-up to the seminal Battle of Bentonville (March 19-21, 1865). They begin with the capture of Fayetteville and the demolition of the arsenal there, before chronicling the two-day Battle of Averasboro in more detail than any other study. At Averasboro, Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee’s Confederates conducted a well-planned and brilliantly executed defense-in-depth that held Sherman’s juggernaut in check for two days. With his objective accomplished, Hardee disengaged and marched to concentrate his corps with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston for what would become Bentonville.

This completely revised and updated edition of “No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar”: Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865 is based upon extensive archival and firsthand research. It includes new original maps, orders of battle, abundant illustrations, and a detailed driving and walking tour for dedicated battlefield enthusiasts. Readers with an interest in the Carolinas, Generals Sherman and Johnston, or the Civil War in general will enjoy this book.
The Battle of WiseÕs (Wyse) Forks, March 7-11, 1865, has long been thought of as nothing more than an insignificant skirmish during the final days of the Civil War and relegated to a passing reference in a footnote if it is mentioned at all. Mark A. SmithÕs and Wade SokoloskyÕs ÒTo Prepare for ShermanÕs ComingÓ: The Battle of WiseÕs Forks, March 1865 erases this misconception and elevates this combat and its related operations to the historical status it deserves. By March 1865, the Confederacy was on its last legs. Its armies were depleted, food and resources were scarce, and morale was low. General Lee was barely holding on to his extended lines around Richmond and Petersburg, and Gen. William T. Sherman was operating with nearly complete freedom in North Carolina on his way north to form a junction with Union forces in Virginia. As the authors demonstrate, the fighting that is the subject of this book came about when Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant initiated a broad military operation to assist Sherman. The responsibility for ensuring a functioning railroad from New Bern to Goldsboro rested with Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox. On March 2, 1865, Cox ordered his hastily assembled Provisional Corps to march toward Goldsboro. In response to CoxÕs movement, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston executed a bold but risky plan to divert troops away from Sherman by turning back CoxÕs advance. Under the command of the aggressive but controversial Gen. Braxton Bragg, the Confederates stood for four days and successfully halted Cox at WiseÕs Forks. This delay provided Johnston with the precious time he needed to concentrate his forces and fight the large and important Battle of Bentonville. ÒTo Prepare for ShermanÕs ComingÓ is the result of years of careful research in a wide variety of archival sources, and relies upon official reports, diaries, newspapers, and letter collections, all tied to a keen understanding of the terrain. Sokolosky and Smith, both career army officers, have used their expertise in military affairs to produce what is not only a valuable book on WiseÕs Forks, but what surely must be the definitive study of one of the Civil WarÕs overlooked yet significant battles. Outstanding original maps by Mark A. Moore coupled with period photographs reinforce the quality of this account and the authorsÕ commitment to excellence.
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