Decades of Distortion - Page 14
The New Right has achieved popular acceptance for the annihilation of a federal entitlement to welfare by misleadingly portraying the very small AFDC program as the cause of a broad range of perceived social ills. As a result, public concern for material poverty has been transformed into a concern over the behavior of the poor. Understanding how this story passed from the margin to the mainstream, how Old Right ideas were turned into popularly acceptable public policy,75 is key to unraveling the current discourse regarding welfare and formulating a counter strategy.
In many ways, the New Right's victory is the final victory of the Old Right. The evolution of a family values and behavioral poverty analysis as part of a consciously constructed "culture war" (which in part replaced the "class war"),76 was a way of furthering the Old Right's previous agenda. These include minimizing government and creating anti-government hostility on grounds that government equals "liberalism," and restoring Christian hegemony, patriarchal dominance, individualism77and western civilization as superior to any other.
The development of a right-wing populist movement, based on fear and nostalgia rather than economic issues, led to the scapegoating of welfare recipients as the cause of all economic and social woes. Race and gender played central roles in the promotion of the stereotype of the unworthy welfare recipient. The Right utilized welfare as a wedge issue, an issue which could pry voters away from their traditional allegiances.78 "Several different forms of prejudice can now be advocated under the guise of populism."79
The attack on welfare coalesced multiple ideological strands- protecting private property, maintaining traditional gender roles and protecting the family, and playing to encoded racism. It also provided a mechanism for recruiting many people and groups that had not been part of the Right in the past. In so doing, the New Right co-opted many voters at a time of intense economic anxiety because of a decline in buying power, economic restructuring and a dramatic upward redistribution of wealth.80
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