Cowboy Conservatism

Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right

Sean P. Cunningham
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Cowboy Conservatism
    Book Description:

    During the 1960s and 1970s, Texas was rocked by a series of political transitions. Despite its century-long heritage of solidly Democratic politics, the state became a Republican stronghold virtually overnight, and by 1980 it was known as "Reagan Country." Ultimately, Republicans dominated the Texas political landscape, holding all twenty-seven of its elected offices and carrying former governor George W. Bush to his second term as president with more than 61 percent of the Texas vote.Sean P. Cunningham examines the remarkable history of Republican Texas in Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right. Utilizing extensive research drawn from the archives of four presidential libraries, gubernatorial papers, local campaign offices, and oral histories, Cunningham presents a compelling narrative of the most notable regional genesis of modern conservatism. Spanning the decades from Kennedy's assassination to Reagan's presidency, Cunningham reveals a vivid portrait of modern conservatism in one of the nation's largest and most politically powerful states. The newest title in the New Directions in Southern History series, Cunningham's Cowboy Conservatism demonstrates Texas's distinctive and vital contributions to the transformation of postwar American politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7371-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    In May 1968, less than two months after announcing to the world that he would not run for reelection, Lyndon Johnson remained desperate to understand the convergence of political events that had so decisively unraveled his presidency. Surprisingly, no state puzzled Johnson more than his home state of Texas. In seeking to understand the changing political climate of the state that had sent him to Washington first as a representative, then as a senator, Lyndon Johnson charged George Reedy, his former press secretary and recently rehired special counsel, to prepare an analysis of Texas politics that could be used to...

  7. Chapter 1 The Eyes of Texas: Political Culture and Tradition
    (pp. 12-39)

    In his seminal 1949 study of southern politics, the esteemed political scientist V. O. Key offered a detailed analysis of the Texas political culture and tradition at midcentury. Assessing the state’s regional identity, he argued that the “changes of nine decades have weakened the heritage of southern traditionalism, revolutionized the economy, and made Texas more western than southern.” On the relationship between politics and economics, Key asserted that Texas was primarily “concerned about money and how to make it, about oil and sulfur and gas, about cattle and dust storms and irrigation, about cotton and banking and Mexicans.” In this...

  8. Chapter 2 Growing Pains: The Politics of Extremism
    (pp. 40-67)

    John Tower’s stunning victory in 1961 can and should be seen as a seminal moment in the process of constructing a legitimate two-party Texas. Tower, however, was not the first Republican in the postwar era to make electoral waves in Texas. Coinciding with Dwight Eisenhower’s popularity and a national trend toward fervent anticommunism was the rather anomalous success of Bruce Alger. In 1954, as the credibility of Joseph McCarthy began to crumble nationally, Alger became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win a congressional seat from Texas’s fifth district.

    Alger’s victory must be understood in the context of early 1950s...

  9. Chapter 3 Reconstructing Conservatism: Antiliberalism and the Limits of “Law and Order”
    (pp. 68-96)

    On March 26, 1968, Ben Carpenter, then president of the conservative Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, delivered a speech at the organization’s annual membership convention. Carpenter used the occasion to describe what he considered the slippery slope of American moral decline. He delivered a fourteen-page address on the dangers of “liberal moral relativism,” which had “permeated and threatened to destroy society.” “We pussyfoot among a lot of high-sounding names,” Carpenter told his audience. “We call drunkards ‘alcoholics,’ … homosexuals ‘deviates,’ slackers ‘pacifists,’ … and criminals ‘victims of society.’ … I think the time has come when we should and...

  10. Chapter 4 “I am a Sick American”: Race, Fear, and the Limits of Backlash Politics
    (pp. 97-126)

    On April 15, 1971, theLubbock Avalanche-Journalpublished an anonymous, full-page advertisement consisting only of text. At the top of the page, in big, bold letters, was a declaration: “I am a Sick American.” The text of the ad, credited to “Author Unknown,” read as follows:

    There are those that claim ours is a “sick” society; that our country is sick; our government is sick; that we are sick. Well, maybe they’re right. I submit that I’m sick … and maybe you are, too.

    I am sick of having policemen ridiculed and called “pigs” while cop killers are hailed as...

  11. Chapter 5 Poisons: Establishments in Crisis
    (pp. 127-154)

    Between 1971 and 1974, the political status quo in Texas was challenged from several angles. In these tumultuous years, Texans witnessed widespread scandal and corruption, intraparty factionalism at the national, state, and local levels, intensified challenges to partisan loyalties, and the infusion into the political culture of new and controversial challenges to existing social traditions and moral codes. Contextualized within this political culture was the critically important and simultaneous maturation of antiliberal and antigovernment animus, made more potent by the racial and social revolutions that had gripped American youth and seemingly destabilized American society in the preceding years. These widely...

  12. Chapter 6 Civil War: Populist Conservatism and the 1976 Campaigns
    (pp. 155-181)

    The rise of modern Texas conservatism experienced a critical turning point in 1976. That year, in the midst of a heated primary contest between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, what can best be described as a political civil war broke out within the Texas GOP. The war was essentially a split between the established party leadership, still committed to making Texas a two-party state, and a populist conservative grass roots energized by surging antiliberalism, a nationally reinvigorated antistatism, and the emergence of several new and politically active conservative special interest groups. Though this brief but significant intraparty conflict was initially...

  13. Chapter 7 The Gathering Storm: Republican Momentum and the Albatross of Jimmy Carter
    (pp. 182-208)

    As it turned out, Jimmy Carter was one of the best friends the Texas Republican Party could have ever asked for. Between 1977 and 1980, Carter, quite unintentionally of course, not only provided the Texas GOP with the context and ammunition it needed to finally achieve viable second-party status, but also helped lay the groundwork for the Lone Star State’s future status as a bedrock of national conservative Republicanism. The viability of a Reagan presidency grew during these years, especially when sharply contrasted with the growing perceptions of Carter’s weakness and inability to handle the mounting tally of foreign and...

  14. Chapter 8 Revolution: Reagan and Texas in 1980
    (pp. 209-236)

    Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, highlighted by his overwhelming win in Texas, was a culmination of more than two decades of political change, hastened by a host of economic, social, and demographic forces. It also established Texas as a legitimate two-party state and, eventually, as the preeminent bedrock of modern conservatism. For years, the state GOP had fought and failed to establish itself as a viable second party. When not presented with a clear dichotomy between conservatism and liberalism, Texas voters usually defaulted to Democratic tradition and loyalty. Yet after 1976, and particularly by 1978, intraparty factionalism within the GOP...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 237-242)

    Among the notable casualties of Reagan’s revolution in 1980 was Houston’s famously liberal congressman Bob Eckhardt. Eckhardt had represented Houston’s eighth congressional district since 1966, when he carried an astonishing 93 percent of the general election vote. Between 1968 and 1976, Eckhardt ran for reelection every two years, his percentage of the general election vote never falling below 60, or below 77 in the primary. In 1978, Joe Archer became the first to legitimately challenge Eckhardt in the Democratic primary by suggesting that the incumbent was more liberal than Democrat, at least by Texas standards. Calling out Eckhardt on issues...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 243-272)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-282)
  18. Index
    (pp. 283-294)