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Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right - Updated Edition

Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right - Updated Edition

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Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right - Updated Edition

567 pages
8 hours
Jun 2, 2015


In the early 1960s, American conservatives seemed to have fallen on hard times. McCarthyism was on the run, and movements on the political left were grabbing headlines. The media lampooned John Birchers's accusations that Dwight Eisenhower was a communist puppet. Mainstream America snickered at warnings by California Congressman James B. Utt that "barefooted Africans" were training in Georgia to help the United Nations take over the country. Yet, in Utt's home district of Orange County, thousands of middle-class suburbanites proceeded to organize a powerful conservative movement that would land Ronald Reagan in the White House and redefine the spectrum of acceptable politics into the next century.

Suburban Warriors introduces us to these people: women hosting coffee klatches for Barry Goldwater in their tract houses; members of anticommunist reading groups organizing against sex education; pro-life Democrats gradually drawn into conservative circles; and new arrivals finding work in defense companies and a sense of community in Orange County's mushrooming evangelical churches. We learn what motivated them and how they interpreted their political activity. Lisa McGirr shows that their movement was not one of marginal people suffering from status anxiety, but rather one formed by successful entrepreneurial types with modern lifestyles and bright futures. She describes how these suburban pioneers created new political and social philosophies anchored in a fusion of Christian fundamentalism, xenophobic nationalism, and western libertarianism.

While introducing these rank-and-file activists, McGirr chronicles Orange County's rise from "nut country" to political vanguard. Through this history, she traces the evolution of the New Right from a virulent anticommunist, anti-establishment fringe to a broad national movement nourished by evangelical Protestantism. Her original contribution to the social history of politics broadens—and often upsets—our understanding of the deep and tenacious roots of popular conservatism in America.

Jun 2, 2015

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Suburban Warriors - Lisa McGirr




William Chafe, Gary Gerstle, Linda Gordon, and Julian Zelizer

For a full list of books in this series see: http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/series/title/politics-and-society-in-twentieth-century-america.html

Recent titles in the series

The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority

by Madeline Y. Hsu

A Class by Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s–1990s

by Nancy Woloch

The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power

by Leah Wright Rigueur

Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

by Lily Geismer

Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America

by Robyn Muncy

Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest

by Andrew Needham

Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA

by Benjamin C. Waterhouse

The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority

by Ellen D. Wu

The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left

by Landon Storrs

Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right

by Michelle M. Nickerson


The Origins of the New American Right

Lisa McGirr

with a new preface by the author



Copyright © 2001 by Princeton University Press

Published by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street,

Princeton, New Jersey 08540

In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press,

6 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TW

All Rights Reserved.


First printing, 2001

First paperback printing, 2002

New edition, with a new preface by the author, 2015

Paper ISBN: 978-0-691-16573-8

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015936432

British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available

This book has been composed in Sabon.

Printed on acid-free paper. ∞

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Joan and William McGirr and for Sven




CLOSE to a decade and a half after the publication of Suburban Warriors the American political Right continues to exert a powerful influence on national politics. Once dismissed by liberal commentators as extremist, fanatical, and marginal—its ideas now occupy a central place in the halls of Congress and Washington. From the 1980s until today, conservative Republicans have retrenched federal and state regulatory structures, instituted income tax cuts for the wealthy, and shallowed social provisions. Though sometimes hemmed in by Democratic presidents, the outsized power of the Right within the Republican Party has ensured that liberals operate in a defensive climate. The passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009 revitalized the Right, rebranded as the Tea Party. Conservative policies and positions have been continually contested, and conservatives have faced both setbacks and internal fragmentation, but the level of influence they have won would have been inconceivable to an earlier generation of conservative activists or, for that matter, to the vast majority of political observers or American historians.

Given the Right’s influence in national life—there is ongoing interest, and arguably an urgent need, to understand conservatives’ road to power and the sources, tributaries, and social settings that have fueled this strand of American politics. This book charts the Right’s emergence from the shadows of American politics in the late 1950s to the halls of American power by 1980. Suburban Warriors locates the origins of the New Right in a new regional political formation that coalesced in the 1960s in booming Sunbelt suburban enclaves, nowhere more powerfully than in Orange County, California. In this new setting, ordinary men and women—engineers, physicians, dentists, and housewives—forged the nucleus of the grassroots conservative movement. Emergent Sunbelt communities such as Orange County provided a fertile seedbed for the Right drawing on a wellspring of regional southern and western libertarianism and conservative religiosity. Waving the flag of anti-communism, these suburban warriors came into public view when John F. Kennedy entered office championing a newly assertive liberalism in 1960. With the backing of national conservative businessmen and intellectuals who wielded resources and ideas, they transformed the Republican Party from the earlier moderate big-tent political force of mid-century into the ideologically disciplined programmatic party Americans are familiar with today. In contrast to earlier interpretations that psychologized and dismissed right-wing adherents as paranoid, marginal, backward-looking cranks, I emphasize a different interpretation. These men and women—many of whom embraced emotive, revivalist religiosity—were affluent and well-educated. They were comfortably at home in the modern, privatized, consumer-oriented high-tech world of the post-World War II southland, indeed, they helped create it.

In the first preface to Suburban Warriors, I called attention to historians’ neglect of the post-World War II conservative movement. Today, rather than decrying the absence of literature, historians are more apt to pose the question Kim Phillips-Fein did in 2011, Is there anything left to study about the Right? Since Suburban Warriors was published in 2001, an avalanche of books has dissected the post-World War II conservative movement. In the face of such a vibrant discussion and nearing the fifteenth anniversary of publication, it is time to revisit the findings of the book and also to see how the development of the Republican Party Right in recent years reflects upon some of its arguments.¹

Suburban Warriors presaged, influenced, and helped congeal the rich understanding of the history of the conservative movement we have today. It has been gratifying that the book’s major arguments have stood the test of time and that other scholars have expanded on many of the themes introduced here. We now have a nuanced portrait of the internal dynamics of the movement and the variety of settings that catalyzed its social base. The most influential work of the new suburban history has emphasized the role of ordinary men and women in enclaves from Orange County, California and Atlanta, Georgia to Charlotte, North Carolina and Phoenix, Arizona in forging a dynamic and flexible conservatism—a set of ideas that appealed to forward-looking and overwhelmingly white affluent suburban in-migrants. This New Right jettisoned white supremacy and staunch segregationism in favor of a philosophy of individual rights, private property, and homeownership. A softer color-blind conservative ethos, gained wide national traction, attracting a broad group of center-right voters into the Republican Party. Though differing in the relative weight given to a core cadre of committed conservative activists or the coalition they helped forge, this scholarship has provided a thick portrait of the new Republican majority. Ironically, the social policies and spending of the New Deal state built the communities that would ultimately prove so hostile to their parentage.²

Another theme of the book is the important role women played in the conservative movement. Men led flagship organizations such as the John Birch Society, but the kitchen table activists who joined the study groups, stuffed envelopes, and walked precincts were frequently women. Conservative women identified closely with their roles as wives and mothers. Their identity as guardians of their children’s moral virtue and their concerns over the penetration of liberal ideas into their children’s schools fueled their politics. Bethany Moreton, Michelle Nickerson, and Donald Critchlow have since further enriched our understanding of the cadres of female conservative adherents and the gender dynamics of the Right. They have teased out the appeal of conservative religiosity and Christian capitalism to women in the rural Ozarks, in Pasadena, and among such influential female standard bearers of anti-feminism such as Phyllis Schlafly.³

A third theme of Suburban Warriors is the role ideas played in the post-World War II conservative movement. An influential coterie of intellectuals and writers within foundations, newspapers, publishing houses, and journals helped forge Orange County’s cocktail conservatism out of amorphous anti-liberal impulses. Building on the unsurpassed work of George Nash, I emphasize the importance of anti-communism, libertarianism, and traditionalism to the conservative movement. Since 2001, other studies have expanded our knowledge of the tenets of conservative thought. On the one hand, Jennifer Burns’s study of Ayn Rand emphasizes the importance of free-market ideas to the Right, as does Dieter Plehwe and Phil Mirowski’s analysis of the neo-liberal intellectuals and academics of the Mont Pelerin Society. On the other hand, studies of Southern agrarians and Leo Strauss chart strands of thought emphasizing virtue, order, and moral absolutes. Still others have looked at leading polemicists such as William F. Buckley and their efforts to fuse philosophically contradictory strands of thought into one movement.

In a related vein, Suburban Warriors emphasizes the contributions of a still different set of actors who shaped the movement. Local and regional businessmen who sharply opposed the New Deal regulatory state spread an anti-union and anti-regulatory cowboy capitalist ethos among middle-class men and women in these communities. Though small in number, their control of resources and channels of communication gave them outsized influence. In a welcome development that reveals just how far the literature on the Right has come since this book appeared, a larger body of work has enriched our understanding of these businessmen at the state and national level. Scholars such as Kim Phillips-Fein and David Witwer turned the angle of vision away from the grassroots and back toward these elite actors, finding an anti-union deregulatory movement stretching back to the New Deal and the right to work campaigns of the 1950s.

Finally, Suburban Warriors excavates the importance of revivalist Protestant religiosity to the grassroots conservative movement. In Orange County, entrepreneurial Protestant preachers in the 1950s and 1960s found an auspicious climate for their churches in a privatized world with shallow cultural soils and few public spaces. Many Orange County in-migrants found solid moorings and a powerful sense of community in the thriving evangelical churches that emphasized moral absolutes and conservative religiosity. By the 1970s, these churches came into increasing public view and into politics. Other scholars have now added new dimensions to the portrait of politicized evangelicalism drawn here. Bethany Moreton has provided a rich analysis of Sam Walton’s Christian capitalism and the Ozarks setting that nurtured it. Her book, along with Darren Dochuk’s revisit of Southland evangelicalism, charts the importance not only of preachers and their followers to politicized evangelicalism, but of businesses and institutions of higher education—from Harding College to Pepperdine University—to educating future generations of conservative, religious women and men.

Historians have uniformly praised the contribution of this wave of scholarship to providing a better understanding of the post-World War II United States. Most historians now accept that conservatism was more than a simple backlash against the social gains of the 1960s. Strands of popular conservatism had deep roots in American history. At the same time, some historians have asked if the paradigm of the rise of the Right offers the most useful way to understand the sea change in American politics in the last third of the twentieth century. Julian Zelizer, for example, raised the concern that this paradigm may overemphasize the outsider position of conservatives in the early post-war period and, as a result, the extent of conservatives’ achievement later. But understanding the Right’s role in reshaping that landscape of politics—and the movement of conservative ideas from the margins closer to the center of American politics—should not imply either that the Right lacked powerful supporters earlier, nor that its triumph later was a complete or unchallenged one. The contest between liberals and conservatives is ongoing. Conservatives, indeed, built their movement in no small part off of the back of continued liberal successes. And the marginal position of the Right in the 1960s was also relative. Compared to the dominance of conservative ideas in Washington prior to the New Deal, conservatives did feel displaced. But conservative elites were always insiders to economic power, and grassroots conservatives retained significant allies in government even at the high-water mark of 1960s liberalism. Conservatives, for example, had influential friends in government bureaucracies. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was one such ally. Hoover’s Masters of Deceit was welcome reading in conservative circles. The conservative counter-revolution after 1980 was also partial. Institutional stickiness and Democratic control of Congress limited their efforts to dismantle key New Deal programs. Nonetheless, the balance of power in the ongoing contest between liberalism and conservatism, particularly in policy making circles in Washington, has shifted decisively over the past forty years to the Right.

Telling the story of the Right’s rise within the Republican Party, in addition, does not need to overemphasize the unity of the conservative movement, as some critics have worried. As Suburban Warriors points out, the New Right brought together divergent groups in face of a common enemy. Since its early formation, the Right self-consciously worked to overcome internal fragmentation. Despite threats to the movement’s coherence and political unity, however, the conservative coalition between free-market elites and a more social conservative base has never imploded. It has held because the Right shares an enemy, but also because the more socially conservative grassroots base shared key ideas with the free-market wing of the movement. Both groups oppose the use of government to distribute power downward and more equitably in society. Both groups, moreover, place a strong emphasis on law and order.

Still, some historians have asked if, perhaps, the narrative of the Right’s rise places too much agency on a small band of women and men, instead of on secular changes in the nation’s political economy, as the central causal force to explain the shift in American politics in the last third of the twentieth century. They also point to a wider group of more pragmatic businessmen and politicians who championed anti-regulatory policies and thinned social provisioning nets in the 1970s and later, but who did not consider themselves ideological conservatives. It was, after all, a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who abolished Aid for Families with Dependent Children in 1996, a key welfare program established during the New Deal. Clinton did so, however, faced with Newt Gingrich’s conservative Contract for America and a set of powerful conservative ideologues in Congress. The nation’s adoption of conservative approaches when confronted with economic challenges was not preordained. New Democrats ponied up such policy proscriptions in the face of powerful conservative interests. The growing traction of free-market ideas, and the weakening support for the use of public policy to protect against the ravages of poverty and to ensure a minimal level of economic security for all Americans, owed a significant debt to the self-conscious and self-interested conservative movement.

My study of the New Right as a social movement does emphasize contingency. While acknowledging the centrality of structural shifts in political economy, the decline of United States hegemony internationally, and demographic shifts to the reorientation of late twentieth-century American politics, it hones in on the agency of a highly motivated set of ideological actors and the social settings that nourished their politics. A new coalition of elite and ordinary men and women re-centered the core identity of the Republican Party. A growing number of conservative, white Sunbelt residents’ earlier Democratic loyalties were loosened in the 1960s by the Party’s more assertive liberalism, but that these men and women found a comfortable new home within a sharply redrawn Republican Party was the result of a set of activists and their allies who strategically worked to reshape the party to their liking. The Republican Party New Right forged first in the suburban enclaves of communities such as Orange County in the 1960s, laid the edifice for the ideas and policies that animate the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party today.

Charting the Right as a social movement cannot tell the whole story of the sea-change in American politics in the late twentieth century. Business profit squeezes, failed Keynsian economic policies, and a reorientation of Democrats were also part of that story. But the Right leveraged opportunities to gain wider influence in shaping public policy during the 1970s and beyond. Without understanding the principled conservative ideologues in Orange County and nationally who forged the conservative movement, and their rising influence in the Republican Party, we miss a key component of the shift of the center of gravity of American politics since the 1970s.

That said, with fifteen years of hindsight, there are themes in the book that I would have given fuller treatment were I to write it today. Suburban Warriors identified one of the key glues that brought social conservatives together with libertarians as anti-communism. When anti-communism faded as a powerful mobilizing tool, moral issues came increasingly to the fore of conservative concerns. Anxieties over black power, inner city rebellion, drugs, crime, permissive sexual norms, as well as gay and women’s rights, occupied an ever more central place in conservative discourse. I discussed the sharpened law and order discourse that animated the Right during the 1960s, championed first by Barry Goldwater and later by Ronald Reagan, but I did not sufficiently emphasize its policy implications. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, he dismantled key components of the New Deal regulatory state, but he backed tough on crime laws and dramatically escalated the war on drugs. The implications for the criminal justice system, and the millions of Americans—disproportionately minority—who have found themselves in its net, have been devastating. In the last three decades of the twentieth century, the nation’s rate of incarceration quadrupled. With a stunningly large prison population, the United States now vies with Russia for the status of being the nation with the highest rate of its citizens behind bars.

While concerns over crime spiked during the late 1960s, and led Democratic policy makers to back new crime legislation, the Republican Right has been a core driver of draconian approaches toward crime and drugs at the federal and state level. Conservatives’ hawkish positions on defense and military spending were increasingly complemented by militarized law and order policies at home. In the wake of inner city uprisings, Lyndon B. Johnson established the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of massive inner city riots. The 1967 report called for the infusion of vast public resources into poor, inner city, and heavily minority communities to grapple with unemployment, poverty, and poor-police and community relations. Conservatives championed, instead, tough on crime and zero tolerance policies on drugs that have fueled the modern American garrison state. Orange County’s pioneering gated-developments with their emphasis on security within privatized, homogeneous, overwhelmingly white, affluent suburban enclaves is one side of the equation of the formula that has built America’s unprecedented prison industrial complex. The Sunbelt’s super-max prisons are now the other.

The law and order policy proscriptions of the New Right further amplify one argument Suburban Warriors makes. The New Right’s free-market and anti-statist discourse has coexisted with a willingness to deploy state power for particular purposes. Except for a small group of principled libertarians, the conservative movement’s central goal was not a small state as such. While some among Orange County’s suburban warriors sought to privatize all public functions, from the police to schools, and abolish any form of public power, most conservatives favored a particular kind of state. The Right favored limiting state power to distribute resources and power more equitably, but was comfortable with the use of state power for military defense and for law and order. Hard-hitting penal policies championed by the Republican Right in the 1980s enabled Republican elites to grant their social conservative base one of its signal wishes. Despite frustration over their inability to press their leaders to offer more than lip service to reigning in gay rights and reproductive freedoms, these policies have helped grant this coalition staying power.

How much does the New Right, whose origins I chart in these pages, share with today’s Tea Party? The Tea Party burst into public view in 2009 when Barack Obama threatened to bring a new wind of progressive policy to the White House, much as John F. Kennedy had fifty years earlier. Though initially branded a populist revolt of the dispossessed, the Tea Party was actually the newest incarnation of the Republican Party Right. Its longer lineage, indeed, can be traced back to the 1960s. It draws upon the same regional waters for support and its adherents have much in common with Orange County’s suburban warriors. Indeed, one study of Tea Party activists found that an extraordinary number…dated their first political experience to the 1964 Goldwater campaign. These men and women, just like their predecessors in the 1960s, are largely economically comfortable, middle-class, white Americans, better off and better educated than the average citizen. Their ideas, too, share the incoherent but potent mix of social conservative and libertarian ideas fused together in common opposition to liberalism. And the Tea Party, much like Orange County’s suburban warriors, dips heavy into the Right’s deep religiosity. Approximately forty percent of Tea Party adherents identify as evangelical Christians. The Tea Party, then, is the direct heir of the Republican New Right charted in these pages.

The 1960s and 1970s New Right not only shares ideological and social characteristics with their Tea Party brethren, it also shares other intergenerational links. One of the founding members of the staunchly anti-collectivist John Birch Society in the 1960s was Fred Koch, a staunch anti-Communist patriot. His super-wealthy and staunchly libertarian children, David and Charles, have been key to spreading the Tea Party message. The earlier Right and the newer Tea Party, moreover, share the same set of intellectual influences and read many of the same writers. Right-wing author Cleon Skousen, for example, popular in Tea Party circles, was also a favorite writer among the grassroots Right of the 1960s.¹⁰

While the Tea Party, then, is the direct heir of the earlier incarnation of the Republican Party Right that this book charts, there are also important differences between the two that reveal just how profound the sea change in the Right’s fortunes has been over the past fifty years. The earlier incarnation of the New Right sought to shift the direction of the Republican Party when the Party was dominated by moderates and partisan politics were far less polarized. The Tea Party has followed on the heels of an earlier movement that brought Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980 and already recast the Republican Party in a conservative mold. For the Tea Party to operate to the right of this rigidly conservative establishment Republicanism has meant to end any commitment to compromise and to a minimal level of responsible government.¹¹

The large number of conservative think tanks and policy institutions in existence today reveals another significant difference between the mobilization this book charts and the Tea Party. Orange County’s suburban warriors relied on well-placed national allies: print publications such as National Review for example, and a small core of committed conservative funders. In contrast, the Right today enjoys the full backing of powerful right-wing media outfits such as Fox News and the support of the panoply of well-heeled conservative foundations and right-wing advocacy organizations. The disproportionate power and influence of national media outlets and advocacy organs in directing, mobilizing, and publicizing activism makes the recent incarnation of the Right more top-down than the grassroots conservative movement charted here.¹²

So too, the earlier anti-Democratic ethos that animated the John Birch Society occupies an even more aggressive place in the Tea Party today. Sharpened inequality, driven by conservative economic deregulation and Republican tax policies, has meant that wealthy conservatives have even more resources to provide to the Tea Party. At the same time, high levels of economic inequality have deepened the Right’s aggressive self-preservation. To protect themselves against what two Tea Party leaders described as the economic despotism by those with lower incomes, the Republican Party Right is now driving strict state voter registration and identification laws. Florida Tea Party Congressman Fred Yoho, indeed, confessed to radical ideas of voting in May 2014, suggesting the suffrage be limited to property owners. Tea Party Nation president Judson Phillips went so far in 2010 as to declare that returning to nineteenth century voting laws makes a lot of sense. The Right’s long-standing tenuous relationship toward democracy is even more evident in the Tea Party today than in its parentage birthed in the Sunbelt’s suburban enclaves.¹³

The Tea Party’s influence within the Republican Party has profited from the establishment conservatism of the Republican Party. Key Republican strategists, such as Karl Rove, embraced the Tea Party to infuse new energies into the Republican Party in the wake of Barack Obama’s election in 2008. The earlier East Coast dominated Republican establishment in the 1960s, by way of contrast, sought to distance the Republican Party from the premier mobilizing organ of the grassroots Right during the 1960s, the John Birch Society. They called on Barry Goldwater to condemn the organization as extremist, and his failure to do so, led an influential segment of the party to jump ship and support Lyndon B. Johnson for president in 1964. Now, the party is tethered so closely to its staunchly conservative social base that a similar condemnation of the anti-democratic and conspiratorial edges of Tea Party discourse by influential Republican Party leaders is unimaginable.

At the same time, the energized Tea Party base does not necessarily share all the same priorities as their wealthy Republican backers. While national Republican and Tea Party leaders emphasize fiscal issues, the grassroots Tea Party mobilization is, in fact, far more diverse—fueled by social and cultural, as well as economic concerns. A large segment of Tea Partiers are libertarian in orientation, but many others are energized by concerns over abortion, the place of religion in national life, gay rights, and immigration. Such tensions, however, as this book shows, have long troubled the conservative movement, but the coalition has managed to hold. Conservative leaders in the past have fudged their differences with their grassroots base to mobilize against a common enemy. Historians are not in the business of predictions; but the linkage between the conservative and libertarian social base forged in such Sunbelt enclaves as Orange County and the Republican economic elites, however fragmented by distinct sets of interests, is likely to prove enduring for the foreseeable future, with significant consequences for millions of poor and middling Americans and for the fabric of the nation’s democracy.


1. For an excellent review of this extensive literature, see Kim Phillips-Fein, Conservatism: A State of the Field, Journal of American History (December 2011): 723–743; See also Julian E. Zelizer, Reflections: Rethinking the History of American Conservatism, Reviews in American History (June 2010): 367–392. For the earlier neglect by historians of the conservative movement, see Alan Brinkley’s influential essay, The Problem of American Conservatism, American Historical Review (April 1994): 409–437.

2. See, for example, Kevin M. Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Matthew D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). For the Southwest, see also Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, Sunbelt Capitalism: Phoenix and the Transformation of American Politics (Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Nancy MacLean, Neo-Confederacy versus the New Deal: The Regional Utopia of the Modern American Right, in The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism, Matthew D. Lassiter and Joseph Crespino, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 308–330. On the new conservative ideas in the Deep south, see Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

3. Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Walmart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Michelle Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014); Donald T. Critchlow, Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

4. George Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976); Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, eds., The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neo-Liberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Markets since the Depression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Paul Murphy, The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Paul Edward Gottfried, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement: A Critical Appraisal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Carl T. Bogus, Buckley: William F. Buckley and the Rise of American Conservatism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

5. See Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009); David Witwer, Westbrook Pegler and the Anti-union Movement, Journal of American History (September 2005): 527–552; Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, Origins of the Conservative Ascendancy: Barry Goldwater’s Early Senate Career and the De-legitimization of Organized Labor, Journal of American History (December 2008): 678–709; Nelson Lichtenstein and Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, eds., The Right and Labor in America: Politics, Ideology, and Imagination (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); Ben Waterhouse, Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).

6. On this earlier literature see, for example, Joel Carpenter, Revive us Again: the Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982); Paul S. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). More recently, see Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Walmart; Heather Hendershot, What’s Fair on the Air: Cold War Rightwing Broadcasting and the Public Interest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) and Hendershot, God’s Angriest Man: Carl McIntire, Cold War Fundamentalism, and Right-Wing Broadcasting, American Quarterly (June 2007): 373–396; Steven P. Miller, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). For an expansion of my argument on the importance of evangelicalism to the Southland’s grassroots conservative movement, see Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011); On Christian capitalism in another Sunbelt setting, see Bethany Moreton’s excellent book on Sam Walton’s Walmart empire, To Serve God and Walmart; Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2014); Fein, Conservatism: A State of the Field, 733.

7. For a discussion and critique of the rise of the Right narrative, see Julian Zelizer, Rethinking the History of American Conservatism, Reviews in American History (June 2010): 367–392. Beverly Gage’s forthcoming biography of J. Edgar Hoover points to the importance of such influential allies to the conservative movement. Beverly Gage, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the American Century (New York: Simon and Schuster, forthcoming).

8. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010); Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (London: Verso, 2000). See also Ruth Gilmore, Golden Gulag; Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate (New York: New Press, 1999); William Stunz, Collapse of American Criminal Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), especially 158–195. Stunz’s comparative analysis of prison rates in the United States and Europe reveal in stunning terms the extremely punitive policies in the United States.

9. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

10. Grassroots conservatives devoured Skousen’s The Naked Communist in the 1960s. More recently, his book The Five Thousand Year Leap (1981) has been favored reading among many Tea Party activists. Lisa McGirr, The Tea Party and the One Percent, American Prospect, (January/February 2012): 62–65.

11. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.

12. McGirr, The Tea Party and the One Percent, 65.

13. See McGirr, The Tea Party and the One Percent, 65; Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots (New York: Henry Holt, 2012); Ted Yoho’s comments found in http://www.salon.com/2014/05/21/gop_rep_ted_yoho_voting_should_be_limited_to_property_owners/ (accessed 1/21/2015).


NUMEROUS individuals and institutions have contributed to bringing this book to fruition. Archivists and librarians in many places were generous with their time and expertise. I would like to thank the staff of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; the University of California Special Collections divisions at Irvine and Los Angeles; California State University, Fullerton Oral History Program and Special Collections; and the National Archives, Pacific Southwest Region. I am grateful to the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in New York and Los Angeles for providing assistance. The librarians of the numerous branches of the public libraries of Orange County I visited, along with the staff of the Sherman Library in Corona del Mar, also provided vital help.

I would also like to thank the many women and men of Orange County who granted me oral history interviews. Without their willingness to share their memories of conservative politics in the 1960s, this book would not have been possible. In retelling their stories to a wider audience, I have placed them within a historical and analytical framework and drawn conclusions that they will, at times, take issue with. I am therefore especially grateful that they opened their homes and shared their recollections with me.

Other kinds of help have been essential to this book. The Pew Program in Religion and American History provided a generous faculty grant for the final year of writing. Harvard University’s Joseph H. Clark Fund provided a much-needed travel grant. In addition, my department chair, William Kirby, facilitated my academic leave year and, more broadly, has provided gracious support to young faculty members at Harvard University.

At the early stages of this project, Elizabeth Blackmar, Joshua Freeman, Ira Katznelson, and Jonathan Rieder provided encouragement, insights, and criticisms. Alan Brinkley generously offered suggestions, and his advice proved invaluable to the direction this project took. I also owe a special debt to Eric Foner. His own work has stood as a model of engaged scholarship, but most of all, his commitment to my intellectual development made my dream of becoming a historian a reality; for this, I will be forever grateful.

In addition, I am indebted to several scholars who have read the manuscript in its entirety. Jerome Himmelstein and Michael Kazin offered rigorous criticisms and identified a number of areas that needed more depth and clarification. So, too, Bill Chafe and Gary Gerstle have helped to make this a better book through their numerous suggestions for improving the narrative and sharpening the interpretations I wished to present. At Princeton University Press, Brigitta van Rheinberg has skillfully guided the book from unrevised manuscript to production. Several friends and colleagues consented to read portions of the manuscript at various stages. Aaron Brenner, Liz Cohen, Ruth Feldstein, Tami Friedman, Joan Roe, Bruce Schulman, Jonathan Soffer, and Cyrus Veeser have all offered useful criticisms. Charles Forcey deserves special mention. His unsurpassed editing skills and keen insights have proven invaluable to this project. I have also relied on a number of skilled research assistants at Harvard. I would like to thank Adam Beaver, JuNelle Harris, Luke McCloughlin, Andrew Owen, Rebecca Shapiro, and Jennifer Tattenbaum.

Friends and family have sustained me emotionally through the early stages of this project, as well as its completion. Lisa Badner, Julien and Marcela Kalina Bonder, Janet Braun, Sadhana and Devesh Kapur, Petra Kaufhold, Linda McLean, Bill McGirr, Maureen McGirr, Constance Newman, Rosemary Rice, Donna Roberts, Julia Rodriguez, and Mindy Roseman have provided love, diversion, and a constant reminder that there is more to life than history. I am especially grateful to my dear friend Maria Jebari-Carrillo, who, in many ways, made the writing of this book possible; she is truly one in a million. And the energy and unwavering support of my parents, Joan and William McGirr, have helped me in ways impossible to measure.

The past years of research and writing have been indelibly marked by the birth of my sons, Noah and Pascal, whose coming into the world taught me what really matters in life. This has been the greatest of all possible gifts. I have also been lucky enough to share the odyssey of academic life (and parenting) with Sven Beckert. His incisive criticisms and careful reading of drafts of this manuscript have made an enormous contribution to this project. Above all, his love, support, laughter, and friendship have made it all a joyful adventure and much, much more. This book is dedicated to him and to the future journeys we take together and to my parents for their inspiration.


Orange County, 1960. Inset: Southern California region.


ON MARCH 4, 1964, Estrid Kielsmeier, a mother of two young children and the wife of an accountant, rose bright and early at her home on Janet Lane in one of the newer suburban developments of Garden Grove, California. She made her way into the kitchen to set out coffee, putting dozens of cups on the table. Mrs. Kielsmeier was expecting visitors. But this was not to be an ordinary suburban coffee klatch. Next to the coffee, she placed blank nominating petitions to qualify Barry Goldwater as a candidate for president in her state’s Republican primary. Starting at six o’clock, the first neighbors arrived to sign the petitions. Throughout the morning they came alone, as families, and in small groups. Goldwater was their candidate.

On this spring day, Kielsmeier and thousands of grassroots conservatives worked feverishly in a show of support for their standard-bearer. They had set up Operation Q for the March 4 opening, in the words of one commentator, as meticulously drilled and planned as an expeditionary force waiting for D-Day.¹ Some, like Kielsmeier, set up coffees. Others pounded the pavement. Doorbells rang throughout Southern California as volunteer cadres gathered signatures. In a remarkable organizational feat, before noon on the first day of their drive, these volunteers had gathered over 36,000 names, about three times as many as were needed to qualify their candidate for the ballot. Yet despite their having accomplished their goal, the torrent of support for Barry Goldwater continued, and by March 6, they had gathered another 50,000 names.²

Kielsmeier’s effort on behalf of Goldwater that early spring morning was just one step in her deepening conservative activism—an activism spurred by her strong conviction that the world’s first Christian Republic was in danger. America was, in her eyes, on a course of political, economic, and moral decline; a course steered by the nation’s liberals. To counter the tide, Kielsmeier, and many men and women like

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