Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right
As Jimmy Carter ascended to the presidency the heir apparent to
Democratic liberalism, he touted his background as a born-again
evangelical. Once in office, his faith indeed helped form policy on
a number of controversial moral issues. By acknowledging certain
behaviors as sinful while insisting that they were private matters
beyond government interference, J. Brooks Flippen argues, Carter
unintentionally alienated both social liberals and conservative
Christians, thus ensuring that the debate over these moral "family
issues" acquired a new prominence in public and political life.
The Carter era, according to Flippen, stood at a fault line in
American culture, religion, and politics. In the wake of the 1960s,
some Americans worried that the traditional family faced a grave
crisis. This newly politicized constituency viewed secular humanism
in education, the recognition of reproductive rights established by
Roe v. Wade, feminism, and the struggle for homosexual
rights as evidence of cultural decay and as a challenge to
religious orthodoxy. Social liberals viewed Carter's faith with
skepticism and took issue with his seeming unwillingness to build
on recent progressive victories. Ultimately, Flippen argues,
conservative Christians emerged as the Religious Right and were
adopted into the Republican fold.
Examining Carter's struggle to placate competing interests
against the backdrop of difficult foreign and domestic issues-a
struggling economy, the stalled Strategic Arms Limitation Talks,
disputes in the Middle East, handover of the Panama Canal, and the
Iranian hostage crisis-Flippen shows how a political dynamic was
formed that continues to this day.
Subjects: History, Political Science
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