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Uncompromising Positions

Uncompromising Positions: God, Sex, and the U.S. House of Representatives

Elizabeth Anne Oldmixon
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 262
  • Book Info
    Uncompromising Positions
    Book Description:

    Cultural factions are an intrinsic part of the fabric of American politics. But does this mean that there is no room for compromise when groups hold radically different viewpoints on major issues? Not necessarily. For example, in a June 2003 Time/CNN poll, 49% of respondents identified themselves as pro-choice and 46% identified as pro-life. But in the same poll, 81% indicated that abortion should be "always legal" or "sometimes legal," suggesting that "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are not discrete positions but allow room for compromise. How do legislators legislate policy conflicts that are defined in explicitly cultural terms such as abortion, gay marriage, and school prayer? American political institutions are frequently challenged by the significant conflict between those who embrace religious traditionalism and those who embrace progressive cultural norms. Uncompromising Positions: God, Sex, and the U.S. House of Representatives investigates the politics of that conflict as it is manifested in the proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives. Oldmixon traces the development of these two distinct cultures in contemporary American politics and discusses the decision-making and leadership tactics used by legislators to respond to this division of values. She argues that cultural conflict produces an absolutist politics that draws on religious values not amenable to compromise politics. One possible strategy to address the problem is to build bipartisan coalitions. Yet, interviews with House staffers and House members, as well as roll calls, all demonstrate that ideologically driven politicians sacrifice compromise and stability to achieve short-term political gain. Noting polls that show Americans tend to support compromise positions, Oldmixon calls on House members to put aside short-term political gain, take their direction from the example of the American public, and focus on finding viable solutions to public policy-not zealous ideology.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-478-7
    Subjects: Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction: Guns, Race, and Culture
    (pp. 1-22)

    Inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, Puritan leader John Winthrop preached to the early European settlers in North America that they should model themselves as “a city upon a hill.”¹ In the years that followed, this image of America as a Godly “city upon a hill” became a popular metaphor for the nation. Although the Founders ultimately designed a decidedly secular government, Winthrop’s sermon demonstrates that well before the founding, the rhetoric of the nascent American community was infused with religious themes and a sense of providence. As President Reagan noted in his 1989 farewell address, Winthrop coined this...

  7. 1 Seeing and Believing in the Foreground
    (pp. 23-50)

    Regardless of historical era and context, in the foreground of American politics members of Congress want things. They are purposive and goal oriented, and they act to achieve their goals. Scholars have elucidated an array of legislative goals that to varying degrees structure behavior, institutional organization, and institutional change. As I note in the Preface, Mayhew (1974) assumes that reelection is a legislator’s singular goal. In his seminal work Congressmen in Committees, Fenno (1973) argues that legislators actively pursue policy, influence in the chamber, and reelection. Aldrich and Rohde (2001) suggest that legislators seek and balance policy and reelection goals....

  8. 2 The Culture of Progressive Sexuality
    (pp. 51-82)

    Representative Barney Frank envisions a role for government as the protector of public morality. The moral vision he advocates, however, is not informed by religious values. The moral vision Frank seems to promote is one in which government carves out and defends individual autonomy, directed toward making private moral decisions pertaining to families, marriage, and sexuality. Religion informs these decisions only to the extent that individuals wish. This moral vision, or culture, competes in the public space with the culture of religious traditionalism discussed in chapter 3. Given their autonomous vision of society, advocates of progressive sexuality regard an array...

  9. 3 The Culture of Religious Traditionalism
    (pp. 83-114)

    On August 17, 1992, Pat Buchanan took the podium in prime time at the Republican National Convention and characterized the presidential election as a choice between President George H. W. Bush, a “champion of the Judeo- Christian values,” and Governor Bill Clinton, a champion of “radical feminism . . . abortion on demand, . . . homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat.” Buchanan’s speech served to rally the evangelical base of the Republican Party.¹ His effort to frame the election as a cultural conflict is nothing new. This strategy has been effective since the New Deal (Leege...

  10. 4 Choosing Folkways
    (pp. 115-144)

    Sumner’s aphorism—often parsed as “You can’t legislate morality”—endures as a common refrain in American politics. Yet even if stateways cannot change folkways, stateways certainly can institutionalize and legitimate folkways. The U.S. Congress does this every year—or, at least, it tries. Whereas in chapter 1 I provide a sense of how legislators perceive and cope with culturally significant moral issues (folkways), in this chapter I turn my attention to an analysis of legislator decision making on gay issues, reproductive policy, and school prayer, at two stages of the legislative process (stateways).

    Legislators place these issues on the legislative...

  11. 5 Managing Morality
    (pp. 145-180)

    I now turn my attention to how the House of Representatives tries to “outlaw sin,” focusing in particular on the role leaders play in managing the politics of cultural issues. Individual legislators are free to pursue their own goals in the foreground, but leaders must concern themselves with larger issues of governance. Their goals are collective. Moreover, although legislators are continually forced to choose between dyadic alternatives, leadership shapes these alternatives (Arnold 1990, 7). Yet the U.S. Constitution charges House leaders with no specific tasks. Indeed, the Speaker of the House is the only House officer mentioned in Article I,...

  12. 6 Cultural Scuffles and Capitol Hill
    (pp. 181-192)

    The original working title of this manuscript was “Culture Wars and Capitol Hill.” That title, however, mis-characterizes the argument I pursue. As a national deliberative body, the U.S. Congress is an arena for punctuated cultural conflict (or scuffling) but probably not continuous culture war. Consider, for example, the spring 2005 conflict over judicial nominations. Democrats threatened to filibuster five of the president’s nominees, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) threatened to invoke the “nuclear” option (also known as the “constitutional” option), which would have eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominations with a ruling from the chair and would have...

  13. Appendix A Elite Interview Information
    (pp. 193-194)
  14. Appendix B Variable Specification, Coding, and Description
    (pp. 195-206)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 207-218)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-232)
  17. Index
    (pp. 233-244)