Persistent Success

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Conservative evangelicalism spent much of the 20th century on the political sidelines and at the margins of religious respectability. Now the movement and its political expression, the Christian Right, is contending for power within the mainstream of American culture and political life, and a generation has come of age that has no memory of what life was like before there was a Christian Right. Over the past 25 years, the Christian Right has matured, built durable institutions, and demonstrated both staying power and capacity for growth. It has also generated a large class of Christian Right professionals who serve as managers, public policy strategists, lobbyists, and campaign managers, among other movement jobs. The Christian Right has nurtured politicians who have been elected to office at all levels of government, especially at the state level. These politicians in turn have groomed a stable of specialists in policy and administration.1 Once largely taken for granted by GOP leaders, the Christian Right now controls the party apparatus in a number of states-including George Bush's home state of Texas-and routinely vies for control in others. Its leaders are rarely labeled as "extremist" anymore in mainstream discourse. The Christian Right is now able to expect and compel the appointment of key leaders to major governmental posts.

Further evidence of the Christian Right's success is the prominence in the Bush Administration's social policy of the theme of "compassionate conservatism," a slogan that embodies Bush's ostensible commitment to conservative Christianity. This notion, generally credited to Christian Right theorist Marvin Olasky, represents a shift in conservative doctrine. Secular rightists have supported defunding of social programs-a laissez faire approach to social problems in which the free market is seen as the key to meeting social needs. Reflecting the growing influence and clout of the Christian Right, the Bush Administration's "compassionate conservatism" directly acknowledges and supports the role of "faith based" organizations in providing government services, directing government funds to these organizations. 2

As Governor of Texas, Bush had an alliance, albeit a sometimes-uneasy one, with the Christian Right. For example, on the Texas State Board of Education in the late 1990s, Bush-allied Republicans coalesced with Democrats on most issues, while the Christian Right functioned as the de facto opposition party. Beginning in 1994, Christian Right candidates, largely bankrolled by business advocates of school privatization schemes, mounted primary challenges to more moderate Republicans in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to gain control of the state board.3 While Bush won his races for governor with the support of the Christian Right, he did not attend the Christian Right-dominated 2000 GOP Texas convention. Bush did extend an olive branch, among other things, by backing state charters for religious schools and by establishing the first-ever state-sponsored Christian prison ministry in a Texas prison.

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